(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week’s US election was both a shock and a disappointment for many people around the world. It’s important to think about what happened and why. There are important lessons to learn for all, including those of us working for a more sustainable society.
What’s clear is that there are a lot of people in America who are struggling, people whose lives had fallen outside of the traditional scope of the compassionate liberal vision, with its focus on “underrepresented minorities.” As ironic as it seems, this election was decided by primarily white, working class voters, who had come to feel that they were underrepresented. Donald Trump spoke to these people. Whether or not he will help them remains to be seen, but when a person is suffering, what they want first is to be seen and heard.
The reason this matters in the sustainability fight is, that for these voters, the issue is not one they felt they could afford to pay attention to. When a man who is barely scraping by, has to drive 50 miles each way to a minimum wage job in a beat-up old pickup truck to feed his family, all he wants to know is how much will gas cost. Not only can he not afford a Prius, he wouldn’t want one. He needs that pickup to do odd jobs with, collect firewood, and find other ways to make ends meet.
Many of these people have lost the good-paying jobs they once counted on, in areas like manufacturing and the energy sector. These jobs were often swept away by changes in technology, as well as by global trade. Robots, ATMs, self-checkout lines, and soon, autonomous cars and trucks continue to squeeze out livelihoods, as does the export of manufacturing jobs to lower wage countries. Environmental concerns have also been cited, in slowing down coal production, for example, though cost competition from natural gas has been a far bigger factor. Laying all this at the feet of the president is a bit unfair. Most of these decisions are made by company executive, sometimes because their products are not competitive.
Democrats are angry and scared, but calling these people names, or painting them with the flaws of their candidate will not be helpful. All that can said definitively is that they felt strongly enough about the need for change to overlook those faults.
The biggest block of Trump supporters was rural, while the smallest came from big cities. While demographers talk about the migration to cities and planners are looking at how make those cities sustainable as the potential salvation of our planet, there are still plenty of people—enough to swing an election—still living in the past century, for whom this is a corner they haven’t gotten to yet.
Many of these supporters come from areas that lack diversity. They have not had the opportunity to go to school with or become friends with children from other backgrounds while growing up. I don’t mean to oversimplify the issue of racism here, or in any way excuse it, but those who have had firsthand experience of other groups tend to be more tolerant. There is also the question of education, and perhaps even more disturbing is the impact that the right-wing media echo chamber (e.g. Fox News, Limbaugh, etc.) have had by spreading false information couched in inflammatory rhetoric.
These are the patterns and trends that now potentially block the path to a sustainable future. On the plus side, these folks obviously love their families, care about their children’s future and their own health. Many of them surely love the land and are sad to see it being despoiled. If provided with the facts of the situation, they will see that a flourishing, sustainable future is in all of our best interests.