Patrick Gower's 'dangerous argument' - a reader responds

Donald Trump supporters celebrate on election night (Getty)
Donald Trump supporters celebrate on election night (Getty)

On Thursday, Newshub political editor Patrick Gower wrote an opinion piece arguing New Zealanders who were surprised by the US election result don't understand Americans or their reasons for voting in Donald Trump.

Gower said it was "embarrassing how little we knew", given how much time we dedicate to watching and commenting on US politics.

"We don't know anything about the people of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Or the folks from Sarasota, Florida. We don't have any mates in Grand Rapids, Michigan," Gower wrote.

"For them, the election wasn't about electing the first woman President of the United States and stopping a demagogue. It was about sending a message that they feel left behind by the economy - and left out and ignored by the political process."

The piece sparked a strong response online and also this email to Gower from Kiwi Lachlan Taylor, who says Gower's argument is "dangerous" and ignores the gendered and racial elements to the victory.

Mr Gower,

I'm not one to write any kind of response to an article, actually I never have before, but on reading 'Why Kiwis have America wrong' I was fairly alarmed by your argument and felt I had to voice my concerns.

The first problem is that you kind of fall prey to your own thesis. You argue that, as New Zealanders, we paint Americans with a single brush that simplifies nuance and removes cultural difference. And yet, that is exactly what you're doing to us. As a Kiwi that has followed this election closely over the last 18 months, it's a little disturbing to be described in generalising terms that suggest our distance and limited exposure to American cultural products renders all of us ignorant. But this is just a side point to my main issue.

The argument that the heart of Trump's support comes from dissatisfaction with federal governance, deep held economic anxiety and a feeling that millions of Americans have been left behind in an advancing world is a powerful one. And while it is true, it is not the whole truth. Describing these phenomena as the driving force behind Trump's election normalises the process of this election and ignores some really crucial factors.

Firstly, there's the gendered element to this election. While you are right that many Americans were ready for female President, just not Clinton, this ignores the fact that a motivating factor behind many voters, whether intentional or subconscious was sexist in nature. By suggesting that sexism was not a fundamental factor in Trump's victory, you ignore the deeply held misogynistic beliefs of, not only America, but all Western nations. Despite the advances of feminism, institutional and cultural sexism pervades every facet of our lives. Ignoring this in an evaluation of the American electorate is almost as bad as the argument that paying men and women the same amount for the same job means that sexism has been defeated in the work place. It ignores structural sexism and the ever-present spectre of patriarchal oppression.

Secondly, there is what I imagine will come to be the defining element of this election cycle, its racial implications. By simplifying the election into a narrative of economic anxiety and a feeling of abandonment, you run the risk of normalising the deeply held racist beliefs of many Trump supporters, the very thing his candidacy achieved. We must never forget that this was an unprecedented nominee who courted white nationalists and let the conspiratorial ethnonationalism of the alt-right into the mainstream of political discourse. Trump offered an image of an America before pluralism, a place where the ethnic hegemony of whites reigned supreme. It was a campaign of race-based nostalgia that appealed to the core of America's original sin. There was definitely a sense of lost identity at play here but it was not only economic. From the Rust Belt, to the Mid-West, from Dixie to the Panhandle, whites have felt their cultural capital diminished by an increasingly multi-cultural society.

This feeling was only emphasised by eight years of an African-American presidency. Just because a white voter may not wear the hood or bear the torch, this does not mean that they were not motivated by two feelings of racial identity: one towards a consolidation around those who like me, and one against those who do not. By focusing on the economic aspects and the problems of the political system, you risk letting the incredibly important racial dimension go by the way side. And it is the dimension that requires the most of our attention if it is going to be addressed by the next cycle. Additionally, we have to hold our focus on the fact that this was the first post-Shelby County election. And of the states that flipped republican, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin passed oppressive voter-restriction laws targeted at minorities.

In the coming days and months, while your argument needs to be addressed, we can't let it dominate the news coverage and become the narrative of this election. We need to emphasise these other elements. It's not only American politics that matters when telling the story of 2016. It speaks directly to the nativism that is proliferating throughout the West. From Marine Le Pen in France to, dare I say, Winston in our neck of the woods.

Anyway, apologies for this rant, I do really respect and admire your journalism but just wanted to voice my worries.


Lachlan Taylor

(Mr Taylor gave Newshub permission to publish his email.)