Trump Victory Whipsaws Elites, Raises Hopes of the Voiceless
NEWS ANALYSIS: The Republican’s upset victory reflects the U.S. electorate’s dissatisfaction with their government’s shortcomings.
WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., did not expect a Donald Trump victory on Election Day 2016.
“I can’t say I expected it, but I was very hopeful. In my own district there were a lot of late breakers who said, ‘Enough is enough’ and decided to support Trump,” Smith told the Register.
He linked the sea change, in part, to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s stomach-churning refusal to oppose partial-birth abortion during the third presidential debate and the damaging portrait of Clinton that emerged from WikiLeaks’ posting of hacked emails from the account of her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Looking back, it seems like hardly anyone saw Trump’s election-night victory coming.
His systematic control of the electoral map ambushed Clinton, who delayed her concession speech until the morning after the election, and stunned Republican Party leaders, many of whom had rejected the real estate tycoon as a dangerous outlier.
It came as a surprise both to the hopeful Catholics who embraced his vow to defund Planned Parenthood and to others who deplored his character and pledge to restrict the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country.
And, according to some accounts, Trump’s astonishing ability to flip previously blue states like Wisconsin and Michigan amazed the candidate himself.
On election night, Trump tried to explain the success of the presidential campaign that was outspent and outmanned by the other side.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign, but, rather, an incredible and great movement — made up of millions of hardworking men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their families,” said Trump during a speech that signaled his desire to mark a close to a nasty and polarized campaign season that set a new low for mudslinging on both sides.
“It’s a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will.”
“Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream. I’ve spent my entire life and business looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world. That is now what I want to do for our country,” he said.
While international financial markets initially plummeted on the news of a Trump victory, they corrected after the candidate, backed by President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, reassured the nation and the world Nov. 9 that the country would come together to support a peaceful transition of power to a new administration.
And though some Republican leaders, like former President George W. Bush, had said they would not vote for Trump or Clinton, the president-elect signaled that he would need the GOP’s best talent to help build his administration and fulfill his promises to voters.
“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people,” said Trump, “I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help, so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed a similar theme of national unity in a statement that congratulated the president-elect on his victory and underscored policy issues of vital importance to Church leaders.
“Now is the moment to move toward the responsibility of governing for the common good of all citizens,” said Archbishop Kurtz.
“The bishops’ conference looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end. We will advocate for policies that offer opportunity to all people, of all faiths, in all walks of life.
“We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security. We will call attention to the violent persecution threatening our fellow Christians and people of other faiths around the world, especially in the Middle East.”
“And we will look for the new administration’s commitment to domestic religious liberty, ensuring people of faith remain free to proclaim and shape our lives around the truth about man and woman and the unique bond of marriage that they can form,” Archbishop Kurtz continued.
Archbishop Kurtz's gracious, but cautious statement, reflected the uncertainty of many religious believers, who applaud Trump's willingness to hear their concerns, but are reserving judgment about the tone and practical impact of his presidency.
“We have witnessed something epochal and grave,"said Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist who tried to give voice to this moment in a column published today.
"It is the beginning of a new era whose shape and form are not clear, whose personnel and exact direction are unknown. But something huge and incalculable has occurred. God bless our beloved country.”
Changing the GOP Agenda
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who had earlier repudiated some of Trump’s policy proposals and sought to distance House members from the real estate tycoon’s personal scandals, was quick to congratulate him for executing an “enormous political feat.”
Trump not only pulled in the nation’s shrinking number of white voters by a 21% margin, thus topping Mitt Romney’s numbers in the 2012 presidential race, but the surge of support for Trump helped protect vulnerable GOP senators, like Richard Burr of North Carolina, thus securing their party’s control over the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time in 10 years.
Speaker Ryan acknowledged that Trump had won the right to set the GOP’s political agenda, and party leaders are eagerly preparing the way for the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. But a shake-up within the party is also expected, as Trump wants to upend the GOP’s long-standing commitments to entitlement reform, free trade and a hawkish foreign policy.
Though Trump has vowed to beef up U.S. military readiness, he stirred alarm when he questioned America’s treaty obligations with NATO, called on Mexico to pay for a wall along the border it shared with the United States, and said he would challenge China’s currency values.
“The promise of a Trump administration is a restoration of a strong military and diplomatic posture for the United States that is much less prone to promiscuous military intervention not in the vital interests of the U.S.,” John Lenczowski, a Catholic who is the president of the Washington-based Institute for World Politics, told the Register.
“The potential danger is that he may have certain attitudes that he has developed that have not been sufficiently informed by facts, and that might possibly lead him to take decisive action” without advance consideration of all of the implications of that action.
On the domestic front, pro-life activists expect a Trump administration to put their priorities front and center, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that funds and supports pro-life candidates. Dannenfelser endorsed Trump as he closed in on the GOP presidential nomination, while some in the national pro-life coalition hung back, worried that the candidate’s personal baggage would tarnish their movement.
Dannenfelser emphasized that Trump secured the support of organizations like hers by vowing to defund Planned Parenthood and reallocating those federal dollars to other programs that help women; confirm a pro-life justice to the U.S. Supreme Court; pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act; and make the Hyde Amendment permanent.
Dannenfelser said that seasoned pro-life activists need to help a political novice in the Oval Office execute this ambitious agenda. At the same time, she acknowledged that Trump’s character issues and murky record on life issues have raised legitimate questions that will linger well after he takes office.
“There has been an honest struggle within the pro-life movement” over support for Trump, she told the Register, as she reflected on his treatment of women, among other issues.
“The goal now is that this former disagreement not impede our ability to move forward.”
Younger pro-life leaders, like Lila Rose, the founder of Live Action, said Trump could defuse some of those concerns if he fulfills his pledge to his pro-life coalition partners and so helps to energize a new generation of activists.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” Rose told the Register.
Priorities for Catholics
Gerard Bradley, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who opposed Trump’s candidacy in the Republican primary but voted for him in the general election, agreed that Trump should move quickly on a range of issues of special concern to Catholics. And while some of his goals, like the repeal of Obamacare will involve legislative action, the new president would have the power to immediately reverse Obama’s most controversial executive orders and regulations.
“Come Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump will possess the authority to roll back by executive order a host of other Obama administration evils, including the HHS ‘contraception’ mandate and the Orwellian ‘he-is-a-she-if-he/she-wants-to-be’ bathroom regulations,” said Bradley.
He also called on Trump to “roll back the awful Common Core K-12 curriculum.” And while education policy received little attention during the presidential debates, critics of Obama’s national K-12 standards hope Trump will act quickly.
“I hope that he divorces the federal government from the Common Core,” agreed Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which has strongly opposed the curriculum standards.
That said, Reilly also predicted that the cultural divisions that have roiled the electorate will not recede after Election Day, and so the next generation of Catholics will need to be formed by authentically Catholic schools that will prepare them to challenge toxic culture norms.
“Politics reflects culture. We won’t keep wining on these issues if we don’t change the culture,” said Reilly, who expressed the hope that Trump would help overturn Blaine amendments that have impeded the passage of school-voucher initiatives that could be a boon to Catholic parents.
A Trump win has clearly injected a new level of energy and hope into the conservative movement, even as it retains a cautious view of his next steps. More broadly, however, the success of his insurgent campaign is widely viewed as a stinging rebuke to the America’s political and business establishment, which warned against his rise to power, and to the record of the sitting president.
“The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs. Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled,” said The New York Times in an analysis of the election returns and its message for elites.
Trump’s triumph, said the Times and other media outlets, also marked a show of power by a mostly overlooked segment of voters: working-class whites.
Much of their sense of alienation and grievance reflected the reduced economic prospects of the Rust Belt, even as coastal states continue to attract jobs.
“Trump won because of his victories in the Midwest, an area Republicans have not been competitive in for decades,” noted Bradley Lewis, an expert on political philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
“McCain and Romney both told people in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that the jobs lost by industry there were never coming back and that the people living in those places needed to adapt to the new economy, and the result was that they lost those states.”
Trump has promised to help them, in part, by junking U.S. trade deals that he believes have sent U.S. jobs overseas.
‘A Deep Disagreement’
But the willingness of working-class whites to cross party lines and vote for Trump also reflects a deeper disquiet with the status quo in Washington and other power centers, said Lewis.
“Trump’s voters are people who think the political class simply doesn’t care about them, and many of these people even doubt that the political class is really patriotic at all,” Lewis told the Register.
Lewis made a connection between Trump’s Rust Belt supporters and the British voters who supported Brexit, in part, because they believed the European Union was anti-democratic and unresponsive to their distinct local concerns. In the U.S., he said, “worries about globalization and free trade” tap into similar currents.
“So there is a deep disagreement here about what really is constitutive of the common good,” Lewis suggested.
Rep. Smith agreed with this assessment and noted the sense of entitlement and condescension toward non-liberals that oozed from the leaked Podesta emails.
“Trump’s campaign tapped into a profound frustration with elites who dictate policy and manage people as if they are caricatures to be moved around on a chess board, rather than treeted as people who really matter,” said Smith, who emphasized that the election outcome should inspire Republicans to work much harder to help working-class Americans gain access to better jobs and stabilize their families.
In the election’s aftermath, mainstream media outlets expressed regret that they failed to pick up on the festering anger of working people, and their critics say the oversight reveals a lack of diversity — regional, economic, intellectual and religious — in mostly liberal-minded newsrooms.
During a Nov. 9 post-mortem on the PBS News Hour, one guest asked the anchor, Judy Woodruff, whether many reporters were pro-life or went to Mass on Sunday. If so, the suggestion was made, the media might have covered the campaign season differently.
Catholic Voters Favored Trump
Likewise, if Clinton had not equated religious believers who opposed the redefinition of marriage with racists who supported segregationist policies — as she did in her “basket of deplorables” comments at a “LGBT for Hillary” fundraiser in New York City in early September — she might not have alienated so many religious voters.
“Trump’s strong support among white Catholics propelled him to a seven-point edge among Catholics overall (52% to 45%), despite the fact that Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton over Trump by a 41-point margin (67% to 26%),” stated the Pew Research Center, in its preliminary analysis of the election outcome.
“Those who said they attend religious service
s more sporadically (i.e., somewhere between a few times a month and a few times a year) were closely divided. And those who said they don’t attend religious services at all backed Clinton over Trump by a 31-point margin (62% to 31%).”
Asked to comment on religious voters’ sense of frustration with the Democratic Party’s tendency to frame traditional believers as extremists, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, agreed that the electorate had pushed back on political correctness.
“Part of the attraction to Trump was that people were tired of political correctness and new social mores being shoved down their throats by the federal government,” Archbishop Naumann told the Register.
“Yes, we want to be an inclusive society, but that … doesn’t mean that somebody who is a biological male … should be in a dorm with women,” he said in reference to new federal regulations that pressure colleges and universities to accommodate transgender students.
Archbishop Naumann said he hopes Trump will move quickly to address the unresolved legal challenges to the HHS mandate filed by many U.S. dioceses and religious nonprofits. But he also stressed that Church leaders will carefully monitor how Trump implements policies to deal with immigration, among other issues of concern.
Latino Catholic Perspective
Abel Sanchez, a member of the Orange County Chapter of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders and a certified public accountant, acknowledged that Trump’s talk of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, among other proposals designed to restrict the flow of undocumented immigrants, led many Hispanic Americans to vote Democrat. Yet reports of an unprecedented “surge” of Latino support for Clinton failed to materialize.
The political impact of Latinos, said Sanchez, was constrained by the fact that many are concentrated in states like California, where the outcome is already decided. But a battleground state like Florida, home to GOP-leaning Cuban-Americans and Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans, was a key victory for Trump.
Sanchez urged Trump to “reach out to the Latino community and let them know he was not trying to attack them, but rather attack certain policies of the current administration.”
But any such initiative could prove difficult for Trump, now that news outlets have confirmed his transition team’s plans to build a wall along the nation’s southern border.
“I hope this is a wake-up call for the faithful,” Sanchez told the Register, as he considered Trump’s rise to power amid a campaign season dominated by two candidates with serious character flaws and divisive political goals.
Given that the public’s sense of unease will likely persist as a political neophyte grasps the reins of power in Washington, Sanchez sees an important and unique role for Catholic leaders and the faithful.
“Catholics can provide a bridge to reconcile the two polarized positions in the country. We should think not as partisans, but as Americans and Catholics,” committed to fundamental principles that transcend partisan orthodoxy.
“There are only a few institutions in American life that can build bridges across racial, ethical, political and ethnic lines, and the Catholic Church has the responsibility to pursue the common good in a divided and polarized society,” agreed John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.
Trump, for his part, has vowed that he won’t let the American people down.
“We will do a great job,” he said at the close of Election Day. “We will do a great job.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is a Register senior editor.