Millions of Americans who flocked to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots on the opposite sides of a national political tug-of-war have more in common than they think.
The nail-biter election where Republican Donald Trump edged ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the race to 270 electoral votes is nothing short of a statement of unrest, the punctuation on a months-long description of deep divisions that lurked beneath the facade of our democracy.
It offered a rare occasion for middle-class and working-class folks who lost homes, jobs or both during the Great Recession — while bankers and CEOs got bailouts and buyouts — to lodge their discontent and effect change. It was an opportunity to make a statement, to shout through a megaphone toward a captive audience.
They were unhappy and unheard for too long.
Elections are the only time when a blue-collar worker wields the same influence as a billionaire: a single vote. And for some, casting that ballot for Trump felt good, really good — a middle finger to the political elite.
To others, his statements and behavior on the campaign trail — often insensitive and sometimes hateful — placed our nation’s divisions under a magnifying glass. But it struck a chord.
The billionaire real estate tycoon’s oft-boorish and consistently irreverent rhetoric won support from droves of voters from all walks of life, not because of his political credentials or expertise on international policy issues. No, Trump won favor because he is the antithesis of the status quo.
Therein lies the lesson, the clear message for those who set the course for our democracy as the dust settles. The election fractured the population along fault lines that haven’t erupted for decades, especially race and class.
The outcome wasn’t a landslide, or anything that could be misconstrued as a clear mandate, but it is an intense message for change that must be heard in Washington, D.C.
It is in that division we find unexpected common ground. Americans on both ends of the political spectrum found themselves fighting for the same reforms, but disagreeing on how they should be achieved.
Middle-class Americans — really, all but the wealthiest among us — feel left behind by the economic recovery. They don’t trust their government, they can’t afford the Affordable Care Act and steep prices place higher education beyond their reach. The electorate wants representatives who make progress and protect the interests of ordinary people, not wealthy donors and business associates. Voters told everyone they recognize cronyism bred by D.C. insiders — and they called for its end.
Voters worry about national security, lopsided international trade and financially unstable social safety net programs. They have grown weary of empty political promises and slick talk.
Now they’re demanding a democracy that represents their interests.
Voters on both sides want change — they both deserve to see change. But they also need unity and an end to partisan gridlock.