Commentary: How and why was Donald Trump elected president?
By Wendell Nelson
Thanks to Fred Hardt for his brave letter to the editor, “Trump: The Art of the Lie (GAZETTE, July 6, 2018). But how and why was Donald Trump elected president?
First, according to former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, only 54.2% of Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election. That’s only slightly over one-half of the eligible voters. Kerry said he had monitored elections all over the world, often in remote villages in Africa and Asia. There people—as many as 96 % of them–walked ten and 15 miles through hot, roadless deserts just to vote. The right to vote was that important to them.
Why did so few Americans vote? I heard many excuses. Let’s examine them.
“My vote doesn’t count.”
Not true; votes DO count. Many elections, including the 2016 election, have been so close that a few thousand more votes nationwide could have changed the outcome. In other words, if only one or two more citizens had voted in a few towns and cities across America, Hillary Clinton might be president today.
“I don’t have time to find out about the candidates.”
Yes, you do. In 2016, you had more time than anyone else in our history to learn about elections and candidates. Voters in 1790, by contrast, had to walk or ride a horse five or ten miles to the polls. And that was after they worked 12- or 15-hour days on farms or in shops. Then, lacking fast-food cafes, they had to kill their food; chop wood, build a fire, and haul water to cook it; plus chop and haul wood to heat their houses. All of that is now done for us, so we have plenty of time to inform ourselves and vote.
Some nonvoters say, “All politicians are corrupt,” and “all elections are rigged.”
First of all, if that is true, it is the fault of lazy, apathetic voters who put corrupt candidates into office. And only informed, dedicated voters can get rid of them. Our wonderful system did not begin corrupt, but with the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And despite the universal human flaws of greed, selfishness, and the lust for power, our country and its system have survived through 44 presidents for over 225 years. America now has the world’s oldest continuous democracy.
Then there was “I can’t stand Hillary/the Clintons.”
But life isn’t perfect or simple, and life’s choices are often between, as we say, the lesser of two evils. No one said Hillary Clinton was perfect. But she was well-qualified for the presidency, and would not giving us Trump’s outrages: higher prices, lower incomes, and less insurance for poor people; dirtier air and water; richer corporations and billionaires; more restrictions on nonwhite voters; more deportations, even for long-naturalized citizens; and more.
Likewise for the non-voters who say, “I don’t like either party,” and “We need a third party.”
The two-party system is and has been one of America’s great strengths through over 200 years of tremendous challenges and stresses. Nations with several or many political parties—Italy, France, and Israel, among others—have often been unstable, because their many factions often can’t agree long enough to govern. Also, one splinter party can hold a whole nation hostage by refusing to join a coalition unless its extreme conditions are met. In our own two-party system, change evolves as new ideas appear and are gradually incorporated into the platform of one party or the other, and eventually become law.
More recently, I’ve heard Trump voters say, “We didn’t think he’d do that.”
“That” is, in addition, having Russian help winning the election, insulting our nation-friends, cozying-up to our adversaries/enemies, and campaigning for an all-white America. But Donald Trump is not a quiet, subtle, secretive man. All during the 2016 campaign, he announced loudly and often his opinions and, if elected, his plans. Anyone who didn’t know or believe he would do what he is now doing, wasn’t listening, or didn’t want to know.
Finally, there was the copout excuse of “I voted for Trump, but I’m relying on mainstream Republicans to keep him in line.”
This excuse not only passes the buck, but has a catastrophic precedent. In Germany in the early 1930s, the generals and the industrialists supported Hitler, expecting that if he became chancellor, they would control him and use him for their own ends. But he outwitted them by taking his power from the anger and hatreds of all of the German people.
Now Trump gets to mold the Supreme Court the way he wants. That means the United States could have a conservative court for the next 50 years. So Republicans will move to overturn Roe v. Wade (to ban abortions), and then may go on to rescind the Affirmative Action, Voting Rights, and same-sex-marriage decisions. They may even try to overturn the 1954 decision that outlawed segregation in American public schools. I’m sure many Southern whites—and probably some in the North—would love to force blacks back into segregated schools.
“They can’t do that!”
Wanna bet? As Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Michael Minuchin, said, “Elections have consequences.” Trump and the Republicans are playing for keeps. Politics, government, our democracy, are not a game. Russia and China are also playing for keeps.
If you voted for Donald Trump, he and whatever he does are your fault. If you voted for a third-party candidate who had no chance of winning, Trump is your fault. And if you didn’t vote at all, Trump is your fault. America has no guardian angel protecting her from harm, and guaranteeing her survival and prosperity forever. We, the voters, are her only protection. Edmund Burke famously said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Obviously, when only 54% of citizens vote, we are no longer vigilant.
The stark fact is: if we are not worthy of this wonderful land, we will lose it. “In a democracy, people get the governments they deserve,” someone said. Donald Trump is our punishment for taking our beloved nation for granted, and for not being good stewards of the gift our Founding Fathers created and bequeathed to us.