How Did We, The Elite, Get It So Wrong When We’re Usually So Right
by: Carol Apt, Ph.D.
There are many definitions of elite, but the one that’s the most relevant for the purpose of this article is ‘a small, privileged, and often powerful group.’ If only 30% of the American population has earned a four-year college degree, those of us who have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees are definitely among the elite. We over-educated types are often found in the hallowed halls of academia (where I currently draw a paycheck), in the media (I’m also the host of a radio program), and in the higher levels of state and federal governments (don’t look for me there). During this election season our insights and opinions were made available to millions of people around the world. In the aggregate, we were so sure that Hillary Clinton would triumph over Donald Trump that we didn’t stop to consider any other possibility. How did we get it so wrong?
Safely ensconced in our cocoon of superiority, we made a number of self-destructive assumptions. We decided that voting for Donald Trump was so glaringly politically incorrect thatfew people would do so. When Hillary Clinton referred to his supporters as a ‘basket of deplorables,’ we winced, but quietly agreed with her. Actually, by that point millions of voters had decided to vote for him, but chose to keep quiet about it. We also assumed that because Hillary Clinton is a woman that female voters would surely choose her over a man who had bragged about groping women. We failed to realize that women are not a homogeneous group and the sense of moral outrage felt by middle and upper middle class women was not shared by women in the working class. In that case, their precarious financial circumstances and their overall sense of frustration took precedence over their gender.
When the polls showed Trump leading, we didn’t believe it. In America we make celebrities out of almost anyone on television, so much so that their reporting is often taken as the absolute truth even when it isn’t. When members of the media abandoned their allegedly objective reporting to claim that Clinton was the more qualified candidate they assumed that they were right even in the face of evidence to the contrary. In addition, polls usually indicate the political leanings of likely voters; one explanation for Trump’s victory is that people who typically don’t vote flocked to him in droves.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we made was to ignore the white, working class. Seventy percent of the American population does not have a four-year college degree; they have the kinds of jobs that have disappeared in the economic downturn of the last 8-10 years, and that provide little security beyond a paycheck. Hillary Clinton ignored them primarily because she doesn’t understand them. I can remember seeing her on television during a pre-election visit to a state in the Deep South. I was appalled to hear her speaking in an obviously fake Southern accent. There is a stereotype among people from the North of this country that people from the South are stupid; when media geniuses develop a television show or a movie for a mass audience and want to portray a character as dim-witted, they give him/her a Southern accent. It seems that Secretary Clinton succumbed to that stereotype; as a Northerner who lives in the Deep South, I was offended. It wasn’t a stretch for her to apply some insultingly stereotypical notions to the white, working class – that they wouldn’t vote, that they would recognize her superior qualifications, or that they could be dismissed all together.
The pundits are still trying to decide whether the result was because Trump won the election or Clinton lost the election. I think it was both. Clinton stereotyped and subsequently ignored a significant voting bloc. Trump paid attention to them and gave a national voice to their concerns.