Back­lash and ‘gay­lash’

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Peter Espeut Peter Espeut is a so­ci­ol­o­gist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. Email: col­umns@glean­

SOME­TIMES ELEC­TION ob­servers al­low their per­sonal pref­er­ences to in­ter­fere with how they read the signs of the times to pre­dict the out­come of elec­tions. For many, Don­ald Trump’s out­ra­geous racist and misog­y­nis­tic ut­ter­ances on the cam­paign trail dis­qual­ify him from hold­ing ar­guably the most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal of­fice on the planet; for oth­ers, it is his anti-free trade and anti-en­vi­ron­men­tal po­si­tions that make him ob­jec­tion­able. Oth­ers just wanted a woman – good or bad – to be­come pres­i­dent. Yet Trump got enough votes on Tues­day to be on his way to be­come the 45th Pres­i­dent of the United States, and many peo­ple just can’t un­der­stand it.


The fun­da­men­tal as­sump­tion be­hind sci­en­tific at­tempts to un­der­stand hu­man be­hav­iour is that Homo sapi­ens is a rational species; there­fore, there is al­ways ra­tio­nal­ity be­hind hu­man be­hav­iour, and the sci­en­tific task is to dis­cover it to be able to un­der­stand it.

In my column of Au­gust 12, ‘Trump did not nom­i­nate him­self’ I pointed out: “I feel the frus­tra­tion of the main­stream US me­dia dur­ing this present elec­tion cam­paign. What is sup­posed to hap­pen is that when the foibles and fool­ish­ness of a can­di­date are ex­posed to the pub­lic, the pop­u­lar­ity of the can­di­date is sup­posed to fall in the opin­ion polls ... .

“This has not been hap­pen­ing with Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump. Over the last many months on the cam­paign trail, Trump has made out­ra­geous and big­oted state­ments ridi­cul­ing women, eth­nic mi­nori­ties, the hand­i­capped, and Mus­lims, yet his favoura­bil­ity rat­ings in the polls con­tin­ued to in­crease. He has in­sulted jour­nal­ists, threat­ened press free­dom, stated an in­ten­tion to pull out of NATO, and to can­cel free trade agree­ments; he has char­ac­terised il­le­gal im­mi­grants trav­el­ling over the Mex­i­can bor­der into the USA as ‘crim­i­nals, drug deal­ers, rapists, etc.’, and has made out­landish pro­pos­als to build a ‘great wall’ be­tween the USA and Mex­ico – which, he claims, he will make Mex­ico pay for; yet his num­bers con­tin­ued to im­prove. He has con­tra­dicted him­self, back­tracked on ear­lier state­ments, and been caught in lies; in De­cem­ber 2015, Poli­tifact named ‘The many cam­paign mis­state­ments of Don­ald Trump’ as its ‘2015 Lie of the Year’, not­ing at the time, that 76 per cent of Trump state­ments rated by the fact-check­ing web­site were rated ‘Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire’, more than any other politi­cian; yet his num­bers have in­creased all the more.”

For me, some­thing else was at work here. What was of in­ter­est was not Trump and his scan­dalous be­hav­iour, but how the US elec­torate was re­spond­ing to it as re­flected by poll­sters. In the pri­maries, Trump beat out 11 other can­di­dates to be­come the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, re­ceiv­ing the most pri­mary votes of any Repub­li­can can­di­date in US his­tory. I wrote: “I think the fo­cus of the an­a­lysts is wholly mis­placed: it should be on the be­hav­iour of Repub­li­can vot­ers and not on the be­hav­iour of Trump him­self.

“Clearly, the mil­lions who faith­fully sup­port Don­ald Trump for pres­i­dent – de­spite his ob­vi­ous de­fi­cien­cies and dan­ger­ous per­son­al­ity flaws – feel se­ri­ously threat­ened by some­thing. Their un­re­lent­ing sup­port of Trump ... seems al­most patho­log­i­cal. What could they be so an­gry about?”

The phe­nom­e­non deep­ened, with more egre­gious Trump sex­ism, and many sen­si­ble women com­ing to his de­fence. I re­alised some­thing re­mark­able was about to hap­pen. In my column of Oc­to­ber 27, ‘Vot­ing for a change’ I pointed out that “we in the Third World com­plain about how we are be­ing dis­ad­van­taged by mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ists, mostly in the USA; but over the years bluecol­lar work­ers in the USA have been suf­fer­ing, too, from the Wash­ing­ton Con­sen­sus poli­cies prac­tised by their own govern­ment”.


It was clear to me that, by sup­port­ing Trump, the un­der­class in the USA was try­ing to send main­stream Democrats and Repub­li­cans a mes­sage: a back­lash against the Wash­ing­ton Con­sen­sus. They were hurt­ing so bad, that they were pre­pared to look be­yond the racist, misog­y­nis­tic, and big­oted state­ments of Don­ald Trump, and fo­cus on his an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion, pro­tec­tion­ist, and semi-iso­la­tion­ist poli­cies which they per­ceived to be in their best in­ter­ests.

I am cur­rently in Lon­don, and I stayed up all Tues­day night watch­ing the com­men­tary and in­ter­views on the BBC. A stream of US evan­gel­i­cal pas­tors and ad­her­ents de­clared in in­ter­views that their sup­port of Don­ald Trump was rooted in his anti-abor­tion and anti-gay mar­riage agenda. They were afraid that a Hi­lary Clin­ton pres­i­dency would ap­point more pro-LGBT Supreme Court jus­tices, who would deepen the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the an­tiChris­tian anti-tra­di­tional fam­ily LBGT agenda.

The ex­tent to which the Trump elec­toral vic­tory is due to a back­lash against ad­vances in the gay revo­lu­tion is yet to be fully ex­plored.

Please do not mis­un­der­stand me: I am not a Trump sup­porter. I ex­pect to be un­happy with the Trump pres­i­dency; he is likely to be even more antien­vi­ron­ment than the pro-Goat Is­lands peo­ple. But so­cial sci­en­tists must seek to un­der­stand the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal phe­nom­ena around them.

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