I’ve read several different explanations of last Tuesday’s election results. President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise win has been attributed to the pain rural voters feel with the loss of good manufacturing jobs of a bygone era, has been explained as a pushback by rural voters against the shame they feel is hurled at them by out-of-touch urbanites, has been viewed as a “whitelash” of white voters against a nation they view as increasingly diverse and dangerous to themselves and “their people,” and has been understood as less an endorsement of his person and policies and more as a rejection of Hillary Clinton and the corruption that she represents.
To some degree, each of these above explanations is true. There is a case to be made that rural communities are often overlooked in the media and in policies governing the country and its path forward. The coverage of Trump’s candidacy often resembled something like one would expect of a local carnival, even as millions of people nationwide clearly connected with his message. Similarly, there definitely exists a racial undercurrent behind the Trump support, as evidenced by numerous examples of racially motivated hate speech occurring in the days following Trump’s victory. And it goes without saying that even the most favorable reading of Clinton’s career in the public life suggests she used her and former President Bill Clinton’s political influence to garner personal benefits.
Yet, to be honest, none of the explanations of Trump’s victory over Clinton last Tuesday interest me in the least. What happened and why seems less significant to me than what the results say about us, the voters. In past presidential election cycles, an individual candidate’s demeanor and public morality mattered. One need only look to 2000 and see that revelations of George Bush’s DUI record swayed voters toward Gore in the days prior to the election, causing one of the closest elections in modern history and the last time the popular vote winner and the Electoral College winner were not the same candidate-prior to Tuesday. Yet, this election, Trump support only grew as his public behavior worsened. President-elect Trump demeaned Hispanic immigrants, insulted members of the second-largest religion in the world, encouraged supporters to both physically assault protestors and verbally assault media members, and demonstrated a history of verbal and potentially physical assaults on women throughout his life. He is also perhaps the first president-elect, at least in the modern era, who will enter the White House under a cloud of lawsuits against both himself and his companies.
And still, despite the litany of disqualifying behaviors by President-elect Trump, millions of voters cast a ballot for him. Many of these voters were self-proclaimed Christians as well, with Trump carrying the majority of evangelical Christians, Catholics, Mormons and Protestants/other Christians, according to Pew Research. (Jews, on the other hand, voted overwhelmingly against President-elect Trump, perhaps having something of an idea of what aggressive authoritarian leadership can mean for religious minorities.) Indeed, major Christian leaders even extended public endorsements of Trump’s candidacy. It seems striking to me that Christians, a demographic who frequently spend their lives decrying the decline of American morals, voted overwhelmingly for a candidate that is the persona of moral deficiency.
Indeed, this is perhaps what is most striking about last Tuesday’s election results: The party that literally has God written into its party platform and the voting demographic that reviles modern America for its moral inadequacies successfully undermined its ethical superiority and sacrificed its moral authority, all in the name of partisanship. Hillary Clinton was an objectively untenable candidate, but she wasn’t running draped in the support of conservative ethics and with the de facto endorsement of the Christian church. That principle and character no longer matter, least of all in conservative and religious circles, seems altogether disappointing. Perhaps American morality is on the decline, but if so, it is the GOP and conservative Christian leaders and voters who have hastened us on the way.
It is, truly, the end of irony.
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