However, on the 8th I began reading a book I purchased on Kindle so many years ago on a lark. That novel was Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take American Back 2009-2041 by right wing novelist Kurt Schlichter.
What originally attracted me to it I cannot recall other than it had a catchy cover and comparisons to World War Z's writing style. It has the writing style down pat, but hardly as compelling a story. In brief, it is, since its 2014 publish date, it is now a piece of alternate history wherein "constitutional conservatives" are launching a long campaign of taking back their country through a political and cultural campaign against the nebulous forces of 'progressives' and 'liberalism' and to re-institute "the conservative vision of the Founders" against progressive dominance as exemplified by a two term President Hillary Clinton.
During this re-read I was struck by the uncanny similarities between many of the ideas espoused by these fictional characters, and the real life supporters of Donald Trump. Such were the similarities that I could not get many of them out of my head. So I thought that one interesting way to comment upon the unexpected events of our own time was to look at the ideology and methods that let this happen through the fictional lens of a novel.
In the novel itself it discusses a "cultural war" being waged against the forces of liberalism, and many would say that this is true today from one side of the political aisle. Most of the view point characters in the novel themselves express that they are trying to win their country back from the forces of the unpatriotic liberals. In order to do that, they set out to detach themselves from an ineffective GOP, wage a cultural war to make 'constitutional conservatism' more palatable to the masses by showing them that it is the liberals who are the racists, the liberals who don't support women, and the liberals who support big government and spying on the American people. Make of these claims what you will of course, but the book is all about attempting to show that these ideas of small government conservatives are palatable to people because they encourage personal liberty and freedom versus the liberals who just hunger for power for powers sake. And that the "progressives" will just use slander and lies to discredit and dismiss conservatives as "racists" and "bigots" who can be safely ignored in public discourse.
Ironically the book manages to hit on a number of points which are rather pertinent both in understanding the outcome of the recent election, and in hopefully understanding the common ground that can be found to lessen the division brought about by the election.
For instance, in the novel it discusses the idea of banding together with 'pot culture' as a symbol of personal freedom which is a means of taking away a section of people who would vote Democrat by passing laws which allow the freedom of choice in the matter and remove the burden that smoking or growing pot on the justice system. This is heralded as a step forward in forging a consensus around 'conservative' values. In real life though, during this election California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada all passed legislation which would legalize marijuana, and so did the states of Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota. So there may be something in the idea that this can bridge gaps. Rather than the false equivalency supported by the novel that "Right leads to freedom, left leads to tyranny."
The novel also manages to hit an interesting number of highlights on the campaign which propelled Trump to power. For instance it discussed that due to the new conservative presidency there was a "border wall" which stopped illegal immigration and prevented millions of unregistered voters from supporting the Democrats. This rather succinctly foretells Trumps long term (and impractical) promise to construct a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, and his promise to deport millions of illegal immigrants. This was the mean and potatoes of Trumps speeches from near the beginning, and one which seems to have meshed nicely with the views of enough Americans to propel him to power.
There is also touched upon the ideological feeling that global warming is a hoax [3a,b]. This seems to be a popular position as well, one cultivated by Fox news, and one happily espoused by Donald Trump, who at one point called it a Chinese hoax. This has been something he has campaigned on getting off of, and most specifically to remove the United States from various global warming related treaties.
However, there are two important points which I think the novel addressed which were very important in explaining the rise of Trump to the White House.
The first is that the novel is constantly harping on the GOP as not standing for 'conservative values' or not standing for the voters. That is something I believe the novel had right then, and is most certainly something the United States electorate agreed on in elevating Donald Trump to the Republican front runner. A political outsider, he has floated the idea of running for president since at least 1988, and he has never had any political experience, and compared to the insiders like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz he was a breath of fresh air. However, he and the novel made the point that the GOP itself is not speaking for its own constituents. There was a feeling of frustration with the GOP establishment and one which we have seen has been fed since the rise of the Tea Party in 2008. The frustration voters must have felt as they saw their jobs disappearing and infrastructure crumbling, all against the backdrop of both a party elite which did not care about them, and an opposition which routinely mocked, marginalized, and discarded them.
That dovetails into a second point that these people were by and large reacting to a culture which regularly abuses and disregards them. That is to say, this is a rural vs urban divide, as David Wong eloquently articulates in his own article. In the novel though, this is presented as a great media gap of the "liberals" disregarding anyone who is conservative as 'racist, bigoted, or stupid' and simply writing them off as a lost cause. In the novel, as in real life, this is something that frustrates and alienates. In real life of course this is a problem where media has merely worked to portray these rural, culturally conservative folk as backwards and bigoted people who are best consigned to the dust bin of history. Calling half of your opponents base 'bigoted deplorables' is hardly engineered to garner either sympathy for you, or your policies.
As outlined in the excellent Cracked podcast on the subject this pattern of alienating a dismissing the people who supported Donald Trump and his policies, both by targeting them indirectly, and their candidate, merely served to strengthen the movement that rallied behind him. This was a direct reaction to eight years of Democrats in the White House, a Republican Party which had become out of touch with its own base, and fear of an uncertain future. Yes, these people are afraid, and concerned about their future. 59 million Americans did not just out themselves as closet racists. Dismissing them as such is counterproductive, much like this novels attempt to dismiss all liberals as power hungry hypocrites who follow a morally bankrupt ideology all for the sake of enriching themselves. It's merely a recipe for creating a toxic environment in social and political discourse.
When one examines how close this election was, with Hillary winning roughly 47.7% of the popular vote to Trump's 47.5% then we can see that creating a further gulf between the people on both sides of the aisle should probably be avoided.
Though allow me to address one thing here. Just because people who voted were Trump were not themselves bigots, does not mean Trump did not rise to power on a wave of bigotry and he was not bigoted. Because boy did he ever. Trump has legitimized some disgusting attitudes and prejudices (which we can already see having a negative impact) that give lie to the idea racism and sexism are not a problem, and ones that, in my humble opinion, make him unfit to govern in Washington in the 21st century. His supporters were willing to overlook this though (much like supporters of Bill Clinton overlooked his sex scandals, and like many have overlooked Obama's poor record with expanding the NSA and drone warfare) because he brought them hope that they finally had someone willing to listen to their concerns.
Though let me be clear, just because someone voted for Trump does not mean they're beliefs, concerns, and fears for the future are invalid. It means that they voted for someone who they felt would address their concerns with what they see as the slow collapse of their country. Simply labeling all these people as bigots and racists and shutting their voices out is so destructive to long term reconciliation that I think such an idea should be rejected out of hand. The future voters need to be building bridges and trying to bring each other together to accomplish more, much as the novel here describes doing (but not in the way the author would like of course) in order to accomplish things that will truly make the United States great again.
There is a reason why rather than professing doom and gloom, commentators who had savaged Trump were able to speak through their disappointment and push for reconciliation between the two divided sides. They don't want a country split into two armed camps. They want a nation which will be stronger. Even Trump himself was asking for unity in his acceptance speech. Hell as David Wong said, Don't Panic. There is no reason to fear Trump will usher in a fascist empire, and even if he wants to roll back the clock on civil rights, he has to go through the voters first. Even if he does, he can't stay in office forever, and everything awful he might accomplish (or try to accomplish) can be undone. It's a democracy, the voters can push back!
Now why am I, a Canadian, writing about this?
Being honest, I think Trump is unfit for the office he has been elected to hold. However, he is the elected president of the United States. Everything he does will effect my country and many of his campaign promises may be devastating in the short term, or even in the long run if you compare his health and tax plans.
He has promised to make American great again. So did another man:
The Reagan years left a legacy of voodoo economics, enormous government debt, and an AIDs epidemic. And he campaigned on similar emotional appeals to fears and hopes.
It is my hope that Trump will be a blip on the map, a last hurrah for ugly populist rhetoric in the United States. He may have though, broken the traditional way politics is carried out, upsetting the political apple cart and letting more diverse candidates into the system and forcing the parties to listen to their constituents needs, and not tell them what they need. This has positive effects in the long run as it may shake up the system and allow new blood in.
In conclusion however, I know many people are hurting, confused, and shocked. But remember, there is hope. My prayers are with my neighbors to the south and I encourage every one to hold on. We are in what the Chinese call, interesting times. Thankfully, times much less interesting than the ones portrayed in the novel mentioned above.
1] Schlichter, Kurt. Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take America Back 2009 - 2041 (Kindle Location 1910). Post Hill Press. Kindle Edition.
2] "Of course, we’ve deported a fair number and with the border wall up there’s no more tidal wave coming north." Schlichter, ibid, (Kindle Locations 1131-1132).
3a]"The guy who was into global warming? Remember that scam? It’s freaking six degrees outside!”
Schlichter, Kurt. ibid, (Kindle Locations 2044-2045).
3b]"Al Gore made a fortune off the global warming swindle—" Schlichter, ibid, (Kindle Locations 556-557).
4] Yes, the article is rather nakedly partisan, but it has one of the most succinct descriptions of the total failings of the American infrastructure I could find.
5] Making this the 5th time this has happened in US history. As of time of writing these numbers are accurate.