Already a lot of column inches have been filled by analysis of Donald Trump’s unprecedented victory. A lot focus on how racially divided the results were: 58% of white voters opted for Trump, whereas only 21% of non-white voters did. Despite the fact that Trump won the support of the majority of white voters, there was no white surge, i.e. he did not turn out millions of white non-voters. The support he did get was from traditional Republican voters. Trump turned out 90% of the Republican coalition that Mitt Romney did in 2012, and got around 1 million less votes than Romney did.
Trump won the election because Hillary Clinton did not turn out Democratic voters; she got 5 million votes less than Barack Obama in 2012. The effect of Trump and his extraordinarily racist campaign was to turn voters off, hence the lower turnout, rather than encouraging support for Clinton. It turns out that Americans would not vote for the candidate of another party, even if one party’s candidate is a sexist, xenophobic demigod without experience of government and temperamentally unsuited to the Presidency. Trump’s awfulness failing to translate into support for Clinton is because of the huge political divide that has opened up between the two different Americas that inhabit one country.
This divide ensured that Republicans would not vote for Clinton to keep Trump out. Republicans were willing to overlook racism to vote for their party's candidate; they knew how awful Trump was, but they did not care enough to vote for another candidate. Endorsing, with your vote, an openly racist candidate is racism, however, I do not believe voters were consciously voting for a candidate of white supremacy. They were voting for a party they supported against a party and a candidate they loathed.
How did we get to the point where millions of people are willing to support racism instead of changing their political allegiance? Certainly the false equivalence we saw during the campaign played a huge part. Anyone, whether professional pundit or casual social media commentator, claiming that both candidates were equally flawed was supporting the view that Republicans should stick with their disgusting monster of a candidate, because Clinton was just as bad. This is not true. One candidate was objectively worse than the other. Anyone engaging in false equivalence directly contributed to a Trump victory.
The filter bubble created by social media is crucial, it means that we do not see news that challenges our worldview. In order to curate the information environment that you will agree with, Facebook or Twitter also engage in a false equivalence of news sources. A blog putting out unsubstantiated, heavily biased “news” that you agree with is presented as equally credible to a news source putting out news you disagree with. A Republican may see an article about Trump being accused of sexual harassment from the New York Times, but below it is a Breitbart article or a post from a smaller blog claiming that Hillary Clinton had people killed. One of these is legitimate news from legitimate news source. The other is not, but our own confirmation bias and social media’s false equivalence mean that they are given equal weight.
Hatred of mainstream media feeds into this. We are quick to dismiss anything from a mainstream news source that might challenge our worldview and quick to accept anything, regardless of how flimsy or dubious it might be, that chimes with how we see the world.
There are lots of problems with how mainstream publications cover many stories, but the solution is not turn instead to news sites that have no reputation to uphold, no sense of journalistic standards, print outright lies or conspiracy theories. The Internet has provided a whole Universe of different news sources so that we can turn our backs on the mainstream media and never hear anything that challenges our deeply held beliefs. This has grown the political divide and leads us to a situation where people believe that Hillary Clinton is a worse candidate for President than Donald Trump.
Some have chosen to blame “safe spaces”, “political correctness”, or any aspect of social liberalism or pluralism that they do not like, as a cause of this divide. This is not the case. Political correctness is the desire for minority groups to be treated as equals to others, not a plan to marginalise white heterosexual males. Safe spaces are places where people can be sure they will not experience racism, sexism or other forms of prejudice. If you accept that they caused the divide then the solution is to abandon attempts to treat other people fairly, get rid of spaces where people can shelter from prejudice and accept more of the discourse of Trump and his followers into our politics.
Western society is very close to a breakthrough in the difficult struggle for racial equality. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and thousands of other grass roots campaigners, writers and journalists have detailed the struggle of ethnic minorities. The emphasis is now on politicians and members of privileged groups to act, however we are now confronted with a backlash from white people who believe that giving rights to others takes away their own rights. We have seen this in GamerGate, the Sad Puppies, accusations of ‘feminazis’ - and now in Brexit and Trump.
Calls to end political correctness and abolish safe spaces are calls to slow down the journey towards racial equality in favour of a slide backwards to a world where white privilege stands unchallenged. Some have claimed that social liberalism and pluralism is too confrontational and is exacerbating the political divide. They would prefer that women, people of colour and other oppressed groups made their objections as quietly as possible so that they can be easily ignored.
Social liberalism or pluralism is not the problem. The problem is that many of us have gone on a journey and not taken others with us. This is the cause of the divide. We have not made the case for political correctness in a convincing way, and that is where we have faltered. The problem is not being too confrontational - rights were never won by not being confrontational. The problem is not standing up for social liberalism and making the case.
We are deeply divided but not entirely irreconcilable. People on both sides of the divide hold common values of a sense of justice, fairness and community. It is through these values that we can appeal to other people, make our case and heal this division.