On November 4th, 2008, students at Columbia University chanted their way up to Harlem following Obama’s victory, while supporters from Harlem rallied downtown. The two groups met in the middle of 120th St. and Broadway. People threw their arms open and hugged each other in ecstasy as the two crowds, a hodgepodge of different genders, races, ethnicities, and nationalities, merged into one – it was one of the most beautiful moments to be in New York City.
8 years later, as a Canadian-Chinese now living in Beijing, the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election seems to have very little to do with me. Yet I found myself practically glued to my phone all day, checking results by the minute.
Somehow, this election seems different. This isn’t about weighing two near-equal options, or getting the first female president elected. This is about keeping the world balanced, or turning it upside-down.
As the Chicago Tribune puts it, “Political campaigns are supposed to kick off debates about how we should feel about the candidates. Donald Trump’s campaign has started a debate about how we should feel about the candidate’s supporters, too.”
At this very moment, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with “I can’t believe Trump is president” and “We are immigrating to Canada” type of posts. I eagerly put one up myself, about how the conservative sentiment from Brexit to Trump is spreading and the world will become more divided for years to come. Across the board from Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn, I don’t see a single post supporting Trump.
The polls told a similar story up until the election. Across the NYT, Huffington Post, Princeton Election Consortium, and virtually every single poll, nearly everyone predicted a Democrat President.
Yet here we are, President Trump-ed.
Sure, I’m interested in finding out how Trump won, but I’m much more interested in finding out how we got it all wrong. And as I looked at the election result maps, the answer became more and more clear:
Presidential Election Results by County
Presidential Election Results – Change from 2012
In both maps, I have highlighted Manhattan – the only U.S. electoral “county” I have ever lived in, where 87.2% of voters voted Hillary.
To prove my point further, I dug an old map of where my Facebook friends are geographically:
Not clear enough? Let’s zoom in.
This map looks remarkably similar to this map:
Presidential Election Results by Size of Lead
Call this the “echo chamber.” Unknowingly, I have been only looking at newsfeed by residents of Democrat’s biggest strongholds. And that is why I could never see Trump supporters. That is the big divide.
Mainstream media face a similar problem. The Guardian calls it “The greatest American mystery at the moment”:
I call it a “mystery” because the working-class white people who make up the bulk of Trump’s fan base show up in amazing numbers for the candidate, filling stadiums and airport hangars, but their views, by and large, do not appear in our prestige newspapers. On their opinion pages, these publications take care to represent demographic categories of nearly every kind, but “blue-collar” is one they persistently overlook. The views of working-class people are so foreign to that universe that when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wanted to “engage” a Trump supporter last week, he made one up, along with this imaginary person’s responses to his questions.
By now, I know that most people whom this post will reach would probably share similar views with me. So like many of you, I had hoped that Hillary would win. I had hoped to see live on YouTube a rally on Broadway just like the one for Obama in 2008 and celebrate the first-ever female president. But that didn’t happen today. Not in places where we could see them anyway. A rally probably took place in Montgomery County, Texas, where Trump had a 74% victory over Hillary’s 22.5%. But we wouldn’t know. Few of us would ever meet many people from working-class Middle-America, never mind going there to understand what issues they face and how they think.
In Trump’s victory speech, I found relief in the fact that he did not bring up the wall or say anything racist. But the most memorable line was probably this:
“The forgotten men and women of our country, will be forgotten no longer.”
To these men and women with whom most of us probably share no mutual friends, we owe them the respect they deserve, and honor the leader they have chosen. Regardless of what the future may look like, we will always fight to make it better, because that is what will always unite people, no matter how different their political stances may be. If we truly believe in “stronger together,” then that is what we should do.