Analysis

Fear Trumps Hope and Defies Logic - Trump’s Victory Proves It

Fear of change. Fear of old certainties being swept away. Fear in the erosion of traditional values and, above all, fear of hope in a better but unassured future.

Donald Trump supporters gather at an election night rally in Manhattan, November 8, 2016.
Donald Trump supporters gather at an election night rally in Manhattan, November 8, 2016. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Don’t blame Hillary Clinton. She was a flawed candidate, but no one can be sure that a Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders would have won this election. Don’t blame the Democratic Party or even the entire American political establishment – it simply wasn’t built to channel these passions. Don’t blame the pollsters. No statistical model has ever been devised to predict these outcomes. And don’t blame the American voters who voted for Donald Trump. They’re only human.

Trump’s victory on Tuesday night doesn’t change the fact that he was the worst candidate in living memory to run for president for a major party. His campaign was the worst ever waged and his ground operation sucked. He didn’t win thanks to any genius strategy or political tactic. He won despite everything.

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This American election wasn’t about politics. Americans voted for a misogynist, racist, undemocratic and deceitful man not because most of them are racist and xenophobes themselves. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the United States knows what bighearted and kind people Americans are. Their vote for Trump does not mean they all share or admire any of his nasty characteristics.

It just means that there was a more powerful factor that motivated them to disregard all his seemingly fatal deficiencies and vote for him. Trump’s manifest failings, his crookedness, indecency and deep hatred for anyone who would not worship at the shrine of the Donald simply did not concern them as much as something much more powerful.

Fear. Fear of change. Fear of old certainties being swept away. Fear in the erosion of traditional values and, above all, fear of hope in a better but unassured future. Fear trumps reason. It trumps decency and values. It defies logic.

Anyone who wants proof of the logic-defying power of fear only has to look at the Jewish vote in this election. According to The New York Times exit poll, 24 percent of Jews voted for Trump. In statistical terms, that may seem like a small minority. But in numbers that means at least a million Jews voted for the man endorsed by neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. That’s over a million Jews who voted for a candidate whose last election broadcast was basically a take on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The only thing that can make a million Jews vote for the man who has mainstreamed anti-Semitism in the American political discourse is fear.

This fear prevailed after two consecutive elections in which a man who ran on a platform of hope prevailed. The fear is a backlash against hope. It is a repudiation of all Barack Obama stands for. And while it is Hillary Clinton who lost this election, it is all that Obama stood for that is the true loser here.

This may sound ridiculous – after all, Obama’s approval rating is sky-high right now – but he is on the way out. Obama the man may still be popular, but his values have just been thrown out by a majority of the American electorate.

The fear defeated not only Obama’s brand of hope. Also, it caused a generational swing of the pendulum: from 47 years of liberal progress, from the Civil Rights Act of 1968, to last year’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

The illusion that progress was an inexorable process has now been shattered. The United States has gone straight from its first black president to a KKK-endorsed president. And while the overwhelming majority of Trump’s voters were white, the fear motivating them was not just about racism. If only racists has voted for Trump, Clinton would have won by a landslide.

Trump won because, ultimately, a majority of people fear progress, fear globalism, fear free trade and freedom of speech, and fear a world where people of color, women and gays can reach the highest office.

The proponents and champions of all those fine values felt they were so self-evident that they didn’t have to waste time explaining their worth to those who were fearful. They didn’t believe that so many could be afraid of what, to them, was so evidently good. If there is one culprit to be blamed for Tuesday night’s results, it’s this complacency of liberals – who are so certain in the justice of their beliefs that they feel there’s no need to explain them to those who are less confident.

Trump didn’t win because of politics or because of Clinton’s many failings as a candidate. He won because he succeeded in touching on all those fears. It defies logic, but then nothing guarantees that a democratic majority is motivated by logic. Five months ago, it was illogical for 52 percent of British voters to be motivated by fear of immigrants and foreign domination and vote – so obviously against their personal interests – to leave the European Union. Fear trumps all.

The sinking feeling when it became clear that American voters were voting for fear over logic and hope is so familiar to liberal-minded Israelis in countless elections over the last three decades.

But this is no longer just an Israeli, a British or even an American feeling. It is sweeping across the Western world, which for too long has taken democracy and the supremacy of liberal values for granted.

It is a vote against democracy and liberalism, but it isn’t a triumph of the right over the left. Many decent right-wingers refused to vote for Trump, while there were left-wingers who opted for ridiculous “third candidates” or even voted Trump in a fit of Manichaean anarchism. Fear doesn’t recognize party partisanship.

Lights are now going out across America, but despair over the rise of Trump is the wrong response. The United States has had 240 years of independence since it threw off the yoke of English monarchy. Trump may be every bit as awful as the world fears. He could be even worse, and the harbinger of worse things to come in other Western nations. No one will now dare to rule out a victory of the neo-fascist Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election in six months, and even sensible German Chancellor Angela Merkel is no longer safe.

But 240 years of independence and progress are not so easily reversed. Democracy and hope in a better future are still more ingrained in the American character than Trumpism. It is too early for the old world to stop looking to the new world in hope. Trump’s spell of fear will not last.