Donald Trump not only shook up the electoral map, but also completely changed the conversation.
Going into this election, I thought the big issue remained the budget and out of control government spending. This is what animated the Tea Party Movement which helped Republicans regain control of both houses of Congress. Like many voters, I anticipated to good debate among Republicans about how to address this critical problem.
Trump, however, made illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign, accentuating it with references to disappearing American jobs. The influx of illegal immigrants from central American and the Obama Administration's plan to take 10,000 Syrian refugees as a start made Americans more conscious than ever of this looming demographic and economic disaster. Trump dared to speak about what progressives and other pro-immigrant groups believe is the unspeakable--facts they do not want Americans to know: that millions of immigrants comes here illegally for work, even though it is illegal to hire them; that the majority of immigrants--legal and illegal--receive public, tax payer funded benefits; and many illegal aliens had criminal records in their place of origin and have committed additional crimes since coming to the United States. And politicians have done nothing about it. Trump inflamed the issue with the false charge that Mexico is actually sending these immigrants, implying that Mexico determines our immigration policy. It might as well be true. Mexico does little to stop it, and it solves some of its economic problems. Remember--the reason we absorb so many immigrants from Mexico is NOT because our immigration system is broken. Rather, it is Mexico that is broken. And, of course, he made those undeliverable promises about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it.
Trump also focused on jobs. Again, he found someone to blame--the politicians for trade agreements that send jobs overseas such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the soon to be considered Trans-Pacific Partnership. He also blamed companies themselves for laying off American workers for cheaper labor elsewhere, even threatening a hefty tax on goods manufactured in American owned plants in foreign countries and imported into the United States. He thus painted a picture of the worst economic scenario imaginable--exporting high paying jobs abroad while importing uneducated, low-skilled, and low wage immigrants from Latin America.
Hillary Clinton, in contrast, offered nothing new. As the representative of the incumbent party, she had to run on the uneven achievements of the Obama administration. Her message was essentially a stay the course message. The economy has come a long way from 2008; Clinton would build upon Obama's success. She would continue to work on creating more jobs. She would work for better wages. She would work for more social mobility. She would work for more social equality. She specifically addressed those Americans left out of the recovery. And, of course, noting the presence of millions of illegal immigrants, she would work on creating a path for citizenship. (It is noteworthy that she did describe them as immigrants, and not illegal immigrants; but everyone knew who she was talking about).
For too many Americans, staying in the course meant more years of struggling to make ends meet.
They voted, once again, for hope and change.