The Trump Election: Why Explanations Still Matter—and How They Intersect

by William Minter, Editor, AfricaFocus Bulletin

Page text last updated: November 29 2017 (date each entry added to database can be found in database).

Why Explanations Still Matter

More than a year after the November 2016 election, the news cycle is fast-paced, driven by presidential tweets, legistative fights, and by an unprecedented range of resistance to the assault on democratic values and rationality by the Trump administration and the Republican Party majority in Congress. Debate about the election itself and explanations for the result have faded into the background or merged into the debate about strategy for the 2018 elections. But explanations are still highly relevant for the present and future, for evaluation of Trump's 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.

Thus, for example, the debate about Russian cyber intervention is not only relevant for the new president's legitimacy, but also for analyzing the global "white nationalist" alliance stretching from the White House through the Kremlin and passing through Western Europe, as well as the influence of the transnational fossil-fuel industry on corruption and climate-change policy.

Focusing on how voter suppression decisively influenced the outcome also has relevance both for legitimacy and for strategy to combat ongoing efforts to futher reduce the electorate based on false claims of "voter fraud." And it is the most concrete expression of the deeper structural history and present reality of white racism in U.S. society, and its expressions in institutions such as the Republican Party and hate media given new power by social media and cyber-manipulation.

These two explanations are two of the 21 distinct but intersecting explanations I have been tracking since the election. For at least 19 of these, I am convinced, there is no reasonable doubt that each had an effect sufficient to tip the very close election result of some 107,000 votes in only three swing states, less than one-tenth of one percent of the total votes cast.

And Intersections Matter

That is sufficient to warrant further investigation of each explanation. But the overheated debate after the election, pitting contending explanations against one another as mutually exclusive, was so intense precisely because their relative importance affects both legitimacy and strategy going forward, as well as where to assign "blame" for the loss. For example, just how much and how did Putin's intervention affect the outcome, either by itself or with other specific events reinforcing attention to Clinton's emails such as the last-minute announcement by FBI director James Comey?

And among explanations tied to white racism, which should get more attention: the shifting views of white working class voters who had previously voted for President Obama? the systematic racism of the Republican campaign of voter suppression? or the particularly influential role of white racist billionaires in both media influence and funding of politicians?

Excluding an explanation as insignificant simply because it is not "the most" important is clearly wrong. But it is also unrealistic to seek a single ranking by level of importance. Different explanations are different in character. Thus, while the interventions by Putin and Comey were both time-limited actions that affected the prominence and weight of the already existing narrative of "Clinton's emails," the deep structure of white racism in U.S. society and the Republican decades-long campaign of voter suppression functioned at different levels to set the political framework of the election.

In short, "explaining" any significant historical event is complicated. One may or may not link that fact to relevant theoretical concepts such as intersectionality, overdetermination, or path-dependent causal chains. The essential common point, however, is the imperative to pay attention to the specific realities of specific intersections.

Background on Database

Since the week after the election, I have been tracking and archiving in a simple database articles, books, and monographs for 21 "intersecting explanations" for the election outcome. 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." I argue that 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.

For an overview of the database, and links to sources on other specific explanations, visit

Once your cursor is in the database, you can search by using normal search commands, such as control-f (Windows).


Books and Working Papers

This page is part of the No Easy Victories website.