After Jackson, I began to make my way back towards Texas. Heading west on I-20, I once again crossed the Mississippi river into the state of Louisiana. After passing through cities like Tallulah, Monroe, and Ruston, I approached the outskirts of Shreveport. Located about 70 miles south of where I had first stopped on my trip in Texarkana, Shreveport serves as the commercial center of the broader Ark-La-Tex region, where the three states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas meet.
Shreveport was founded in 1836 at the juncture of the Texas trail and the Red River, a major tributary of the Mississippi. Once again using Airbnb, I rented a room in a house that was located on the banks of the Red River, just north of downtown Shreveport. The house was owned – and as I would later come to find, built by hand – by a native Louisianian man in his early 60s. He told me he had once been a railroad engineer, having worked at various railways from Texas to Wyoming to Alaska for over 20 years. He then got sick of it, and began building houses along with his father and brother in the Shreveport area, where he was born and raised. He had recently completed the house in which I was staying, which was of modest size but well-built and attractively designed with wood fixtures and an outdoor porch that looks out onto the Red River.
As we sat and talked in his living room which was lined with various deer heads (he was an avid hunter), a TV displaying a Fox News program hovered above us. I asked him what he thought about the election, to which he quickly responded, “Trump and Hillary are both lunatics.” I asked if that meant that he wouldn’t vote, and he said, “Nah, I’ll probably vote for Trump. I don’t know how anyone in their right mind can vote for Hillary.” Such disillusionment with both candidates was something that I frequently came across in conversations throughout my trip, though – with a few exceptions – the lesser evil in most people’s minds (or at least white people) was Trump. When asked to explain why, some referenced perceived transgressions by Hillary such as “Benghazi” and “emails”, but most people were just “sick of the establishment.
I ended up not doing much exploring in Shreveport, the last stop of my road trip in the South, instead enjoying my time in the secluded house undisturbed by city life on the gurgling waters of the Red River. It gave me time to reflect on what I had seen and the people I had met and talked to on my trip, and on the state of the US more generally. I had spent only around a week on the road, mostly just passing through places, but I still felt that the trip had shed some light on things that I had not previously considered.
So what were some of my takeaways from the trip? One is that there are some very serious issues in the country, some long-standing and others more recent, but all of which will play major roles in shaping the next president. Another is that the rise of Trump on the Republican side (and also in many ways the rise of Bernie on the Democratic side, though his run eventually came up short) was no coincidence. When large segments of society feel that their interests and needs are not being met, and when many of those people are worse off now than they were in previous years, this can have major consequences.
This phenomenon of popular disillusionment leading to political shake-ups is not new, and it is not limited to the United States. One need only look across the pond to the United Kingdom, which recently voted to leave the European Union in a referendum and as a result has sent shockwaves throughout Europe. At a basic and broad level, there are many parallels between the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump in the US election. Concerns over immigration and terrorism, the loss of traditional blue-collar manufacturing jobs, and frustration with the political establishment were all important factors in swaying a slim but decisive majority in the UK to vote Leave, just as they have been in swaying Republicans to vote Trump as their candidate for president.
There is much to criticize about the rhetoric of Trump, who has effectively used the frustration and fears over such issues among a sizable portion of the population to propel himself to the Republican nomination. Such is also the case in the rhetoric used by the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farrage in swaying the Brexit vote towards Leave. But to simply criticize such ‘outsider’ figures for their personal style or what they say misses the point that tens of millions of people in both countries chose to vote for their respective campaigns.
The fact is that maintaining the political status quo is seen as increasingly unacceptable by much of the population in the US, just as it is in the UK, many other countries in Europe, and beyond. This is something that must be recognized and acknowledged for some kind of constructive dialogue to take shape on how to effectively deal with these issues, or else the increasing divisiveness and the instability and political unpredictability this produces will only grow. With the future of the US, of Europe, and of much of the rest of the world at stake, now is the time for compassion and compromise, for if we do not accept diversity in others’ views and seek commonalities in ways to deal with serious issues, it is the common good that is most likely to suffer.
More analysis by Eugene Chausovsky may be read on www.Stratfor.com