Opinion: Should Americans really be living in fear of the future?

Following Donald Trump's victory in the US election, is fear warranted or just a knee-jerk reaction to a shock result?

Opinion: Should Americans really be living in fear of the future?

Picture by Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP/Press Association Images

“The Republic Repeals itself”, “The End of the World (as we know it)”,  “the republic established by America’s Founders is probably gone”.  And there are more. Many more.

Since Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States on Tuesday of this week, there has been no shortage of commentators proclaiming the death of the old political order.

And it’s understandable why. The real estate tycoon and reality television star has shown himself to be a xenophobic and misogynist bigot who expounds a philosophy that is anti-truth and anti-establishment. His election to the highest office in the land is of immense concern to minorities, immigrants and the LGBT community. In the short term, there are a lot of things to fear about a Trump presidency.

But should people fear for the future of the country itself?

Numbers

The population of the United States is 319 million people. There are nearly 226 million eligible voters. Of those, only a little over half turned up to vote. Which left Trump with less than 60 million ballots cast in his name.

In other words, a little over one quarter of eligible voters chose Donald Trump. That’s only 18% of the total population of the country. To suggest that the nation has been overrun by a subset of people that Hillary Clinton might describe as “deplorable” is patently untrue.

Trump’s numbers are so low, that Mitt Romney got more votes when he was beaten in 2012 by the incumbent Barack Obama. Romney, in many ways the archetype establishment Republican, received over a million more votes than Donald Trump.

These numbers add credence to the argument that this election was not so much won by Donald Trump as it was lost by Hilary Clinton. Had another candidate been able to inspire some enthusiasm amongst voters, the result could well have been different.

Demographics

As the results of the election on Tuesday became clear, CNN analyst Van Jones called it a “whitelash”. This was middle class white Americans rejecting the changing face of their country.

That may well be true and there is strong evidence amongst the voter data to suggest that it is. But the ‘whitelash’ shouldn’t be considered an unstoppable rising tide because with each passing year, the number of white people in the United States is dwindling. More white people are dying than are being born.

And this is evidenced in the profile of the US electorate. There are more than 10 million more eligible voters in 2016 than there were in 2012 and over two thirds of those are from racial or ethnic minorities. White people now make up 10% less of the electorate than they did when George W Bush came to power in 2000.

This trend is unlikely to change. The largest group in the US, by age, are millennials. They account for over 80 million of the overall population. 44% of them are from a racial or ethnic minority.

So while white disenfranchisement might well be an issue over the next few election cycles, it’s influence will  consistently shrink with each 4 year cycle.

Cyclical

While the reasons for Trump’s victory are indeed myriad, one simple explanation seems to have been overlooked. Politics is cyclical. This is true in most Western democracies but particularly so in the US. In fact, Arthur Schleslinger first gave voice to the theory in the Yale Review as far back as 1939.

He wrote that shifts in the mentality of the masses occur that drive Americans to pursue a new trend. This shift in mentality is borne out of disenchantment and a growing feeling of negativity about ones surroundings. Sound familiar?

You don’t have to seek out a copy of the Yale Review from 1939 to understand this theory or see it in action. Since the end of the Second World War, the Presidency has only passed between individuals from the same party once – when George HW Bush took over from Ronald Reagan. Even then, Bush only ended up being a one term President.

The evidence backs up the theory. People crave change. And in what was essentially a binary choice between Clinton and Trump, only one represented that change. Before either candidate ever declared their intention to run, it was always more likely a Republican would win this election.

2011

On the 25th of February 2011, Fianna Fail lost 51 Dail seats in their worst electoral performance ever. Experts were queuing around the block to explain why the party had no future in Irish politics. They were too closely associated with the economic crash to ever fully recover.

Irish politics would never be the same again.

Except none of that turned out to be true. Fianna Fail may still be in opposition (technically) but Micheal Martin is the bookies favourite to be Ireland’s next Taoiseach.

In much the same vein, it’s entirely probable that in 4 or 8 years time, running for President in the United States will be two mainstream, establishment, Washington-insider candidates.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.