An Apology, and an Invitation
As Americans, we would like to apologize to the world. America is a great country, but, like people all over the world, we make mistakes. So we apologize if our newly elected president has given you the impression that Americans don’t welcome foreigners who want to visit or even move to the United States.
As former president George W. Bush said today, "I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law."
America is a very diverse country, and that’s what makes it interesting. But generally, Americans are friendly, generous spirited people – including many, perhaps most, of the people that voted for Trump.
We would appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to try to understand what is really happening in America. The first thing that you should understand is that most Americans did not vote for Donald Trump; almost 3 million, or a bit more than 2%, more voters choose Clinton than Trump. Roughly 66 million people voted for Clinton, and about 63 million for Trump.
A superficial analysis would say that Trump won because several circumstances came together in an unusual way that will never happen again: The combination of the electoral college system, intervention by Russia, a poor but well intentioned decision by the director of the FBI, and other factors that normally don’t determine who wins the presidential election in America.
The Democrats selected a weak candidate. It was clear that all Hillary Clinton really passionately believed in was the personal glory of becoming America’s first female president; everything else was subject to focus group research. Trump is a liar and a cheat, but he does, for better or worse, hold sincere, passionate beliefs. And people respond to that. Trump managed to alienate just about every voter constituency, and he would have lost in a landslide if the Democrats had presented a stronger candidate, male or female.
Trump entered the presidential race as a 25 to 1 long shot. Hillary Clinton entered it as a favorite. Not only did she have one of the world’s most astute politician by her side – two-term president Bill Clinton – but she raised far more money than Donald Trump. The first lesson is if you don’t want a terrible candidate to win, you have to give voters some better alternatives.
But 63 million votes for Trump is still a lot of votes, and indicates a real division within the United States. Most Trump voters aren’t stupid, uneducated racists, as many Clinton partisans have asserted. The fact that Trump could insult as many people as he did, and still get 60 million votes, tells you how dissatisfied many Americans are with the existing status quo, which was represented by Hillary Clinton.
Trump has never held political office, and had no real political experience. He promised to shake up the system, and, apparently, a lot of Americans are desperate for real change. Barack Obama promised change, and didn’t deliver. So now Americans are facing real change; some good, some terrible.
If you’re from a foreign country, you might wonder why so many Americans are so desperate for change that they would vote for someone like Donald Trump. One reason is that people are tired of politicians in general; Democratic and Republican. They sound like robots, always saying the politically correct thing. Donald Trump always says what he really thinks, even when he’s not really thinking, which is scary, but also weirdly refreshing.
Another reason is that while America is still, by world standards, a very rich country, economic growth has been very slow, and economic gains for those in many parts of the country, especially those without a college degree, have been nonexistent. While the general official rates of inflation have been quite low, real costs for health care, housing, food, education and other necessities have risen sharply.
If you’re visiting the US, you’ll probably come to one of the places like New York, where many people work in finance and salaries are quite high. Or Washington DC, where consultants and contractors feed off the vast wealth of the federal government – the richest counties in the country are suburbs of Washington. Maybe you’ll visit San Francisco, where tech money is very evident, or Los Angeles, where big money can be made if you’re lucky enough to make it in media or entertainment. In all of these places you’ll find very few people that voted for Trump.
But the places where you’re less likely to visit have been far less prosperous, and those places voted overwhelmingly for Trump. There is great irony in this of course, as Trump made his fortune building glitzy buildings for the rich in Manhattan, and he has absolutely no idea what it’s like to make an honest living in Kansas or Texas. But, then again, neither does Clinton or the pundits who overwhelmingly predicted her election. And that’s just the point. More than anything else, Trump tapped into the sense of many Americans – especially white, rural Americans – that they have been ignored in the “new America”.
Trump fanned fear, and fear is really about not being in control of your own personal destiny. Far, far more Americans die in traffic accidents or from heroin overdoses than die from terrorism, but people are more scared of terrorists, because it seems random and out of their control. When you start seeing a lot of people around town who don’t look like you, and come from some place you’ve never heard of – the natural reaction is fear, especially if you’ve seen yourself on the losing end of economic changes. Free trade ultimately makes most people better off, but if you’re a steel worker in Pennsylvania and you just lost your job, you’re probably not going to see it that way. There was a direct connection to people voting for Trump and the rate of immigration change in their communities.
Adding hugely to the problem is that the coastal elites – college educated , affluent liberals living in New York or Seattle or Washington or San Francisco, are absolutely oblivious to the problems of the rest of America. For tech billionaires like Sheryl Sandberg, the biggest problem they can imagine is that their wildly over privileged daughters might be called bossy. The wildly overcompensated minions at Google basically spit in the face of working class America and their values with the sorts of causes Google supports – like transgender rights. For a San Francisco tech worker, getting the right restaurant reservation is a big deal; for a Detroit autoworker, putting food on the table for your family is a big deal.
So America, like your country, has a lot of problems. But we still hope you visit, and we apologize in advance if you have problems getting your visa. If you come, what you’ll find is an America very different than what you read about in your newspaper. Just as in your country, most people are trying to lead productive lives, and working around the stupid barriers imposed by politicians. Most people want to be useful, make a decent living, and help their families and community. Most Americans understand that American was founded by immigrants, and America’s strength has always been its immigrants. Most Americans will be kind and helpful to you if they see you in person, regardless of who they voted for.
America has always struggled for greatness, and often been on the verge of losing its way as its people struggle with figuring out how to live together. But give us a chance, forgive us for our weaknesses, and we’ll try to make you glad you came.