The Trump Election: Intersecting Explanations

by William Minter, Editor, AfricaFocus Bulletin

"White racism, pure and simple."
"It is fundamentally an urban-rural split."
"Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate."
"Democrats ignored the white working class."
"The electoral college is structurally skewed."
"The Comey letter did it."
"Putin did it."

Page text last updated: March 26 2017 (date each entry added to database can be found in database).

The weeks since the Nov. 8 election have been rife with competing theories about how the unthinkable, in fact, happened. Pundits and analysts, not to mention ordinary people on social media, have been quick to reduce the election results to a single factor that they insist is to blame for handing the presidency to Trump.

But as David Leonhardt noted in a New York Times op-ed, "One of the sillier aspects of postelection analysis is the notion that any one factor determined the result." Instead, there are many factors that acted intersectionally to produce the outcome. In analyzing which were more important, how they interacted, and what implications there are for strategy, that complex intersectionality must be taken into account.

This database of articles, monographs, and books was prompted by my frustration with arguments that seem to reduce the reasons for Trump's win to one factor while downplaying all others. Since beginning it in the week after the November election, initially to keep better track of my own reading, I have added more than 200 articles I have read, as well as more than 20 books relevant to this analysis, related to 21 distinct but interrelated "explanations."

Given the extremely small margin of votes responsible for Trump's electoral college victory, in my opinion, there is enough evidence to conclude that at least 20 of these explanations were at least "sufficient to tip the balance of the election." How "important" each was beyond that threshold level of signicance remains highly disputed, not least because that has implications for the legitimacy of the outcome, for assignment of blame, and for strategy for both opponents and supporters of this seismic shift in political power.

I am sharing the database, as well as occasional short comments, not with the impossible ambition of producing a "comprehensive" or "conclusive" analysis, but to have a way of making this selection of sources available for others for their consideration. You can follow the Facebook page Intersections, where I will occasionally highlight new articles of particular interest. I do not plan to cover all the ongoing debate in the news, but to add only sources that have particularly relevant insights or analyses. Readers are welcome to send any comments or suggestions for additional sources to me at wminter (at) gmail.com.

Observations (fourth installment, Feb 28, 2017)
Much of the commentary on the narrow victory by Tom Perez over Keith Ellison in Saturday's election for the chair of the Democratic National Committee has had a narrow focus, interpreting it as a victory for the Democratic establishment over progressives who had backed Bernie Sanders in 2016. While to some extent true, that is a highly over-simplified view, and neglects the wide-ranging mobilization and rethinking within the broader context of the highly decentralized Democratic Party, progressive movements, and their common social base.

Several articles on Saturday's results with more nuanced analysis:
Peter Dreier, "Three Cheers for the Perez-Ellison DNC Team To Move the Democrats in a Progressive Direction," Huffington Post, February 25, 2017 http://tinyurl.com/gkqmp46
David Weigel, "Why did Keith Ellison lose the DNC race?" Washington Post, February 26, 2017 http://tinyurl.com/zq7hf9r
James Downie, "Tom Perez's biggest problem as DNC chair: His backers," Washington Post, February 27, 2017 http://tinyurl.com/hqu2vxd

And, for a wide range of articles digging more deeply into the mistakes and structural limitations of the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and their implications for current strategy, see http://www.noeasyvictories.org/usa/clinton.php (10 articles from Nov. 11 - Dec. 20, 2016 and http://www.noeasyvictories.org/usa/democratic-party.php (15 articles from Mar. 30, 2016 - Feb. 21, 2017

earlier observations

As of February 11, 2017, the database includes

  • 21 different "explanations," of differing levels of generality and significance,
  • 278 recommended articles from a wide range of sources, and
  • 23 books and working papers, some of which I have read and all of which look "worth reading."

A few entries have comments, which can be seen by clicking on the double-pointed arrow at the left. Most do not, but you can assume a default comment that I think the article or book "worth reading" and not nonsense.

You can see the full database below by scrolling down, or go directly to this link: https://www.obvibase.com/p/UTN6nGNWIphh/#table/UTN6nGNWIphh/*

For articles on a particular factor/explanation:
Overview analyses | White racism | Urban-rural split | Economic decline or stress | Electoral college
Putin intervention | Social media | Voter suppression | Clinton campaign mistakes | Democratic Party failures
Anti-immigrant attitudes | Right-wing populism | Right-wing ideology & organization | Mainstream media
Misogyny and gender roles | Islamophobia and anti-semitism | Values/attitudes | Religious identity
FBI Intervention | Right-wing media | Republican party | Third parties and related

All articles

For books and working papers click here.

This is a guide to sources, not an analysis. The explanations/factors included are not mutually exclusive nor are they all clearly defined. And they are of varying relevance in either analysis or strategy for the future. However, all are in my opinion "significant," in the sense of being important enough to have possibly changed the outcome of the election, and to be relevant for thinking about strategy for the future.

The columns in the table include "nested sub-tables" with lists of relevant sources. The sources are put under the explanation most applicable, although of course many could fit under more than one. The ones under "Overview analyses" are the ones which in my opinion most adequately try to relate multiple explanations.

The database used (http://www.obvibase.com) is an effort to combine the advantages of a simple spreadsheet with those of a more complex database, particularly in terms of maximizing the ease of data entry. I find it very user-friendly for input, and a new edition promised by the developer will offer additional capacity with an application program interface (API) for using the data and displaying it in a form more friendly for access for viewing.

Note: Largely limited to current articles and books, this is a much more modest project than the in-depth and highly recommended Trump Syllabus 2.0, which dives deeply into the historical roots of the Trump phenomenon rather than focusing specifically on the election results. For another listing, organized in the form of a syllabus, but without comments on the readings suggested, see http://www.publicbooks.org/trump-syllabus-3-0/


Earlier observatons

Observations (third installment, Feb 7, 2017)
Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20, the news cycle has been driven by the rapid pace of executive orders, tweets, and, most surprisingly, by an unprecedented range of resistance to the assault on democratic values and rationality by the new administration. But although the debate about explanations for the Trump election have faded into the background, they remain highly relevant for the present and future, for evaluation of his questionable legitimacy, analysis of both medium-term and long-term strategies for resistance, and, at a deeper level, as x-rays or CAT scans to help piece together a deeper analysis of the history and driving forces underpinning the U.S. and global socioeconomic and political order. continued

Observations (second installment, Jan 23, 2017)
In the period between the election and the inauguration, the highest profile debate about reasons for the Trump electoral win was about Putin's intervention. But that debate produced more heat than light, while key issues such as the common interests of Putin and Trump in promoting the fossil-fuel industry received only marginal attention.

Observations (first installment, Jan 15, 2017)
Of all the explanations cited to explain Donald Trump's unexpected victory in the presidential election in 2016, despite his loss of the popular vote by almost 3 million, one of the best documented and least discussed in the public debate is voter suppression. This is also arguably the one with the most immediate and substantial implications for progressive strategy in the next two years before the 2018 mid-term elections.



This page is part of the No Easy Victories website.