Whenever I hear someone ask, “What happened to X in this election?” or “How X as changed in this past year!” (where X is an individual, a demographic, an institution…), my response is always to think, “That’s probably the wrong question. I do believe this election will change things – mostly for the worse – but so far it has revealed patterns and dispositions that were already there.”
It’s always this paragraph from Eric Klinenberg’s Heat Wave that comes to mind. Klinenberg argues that Chicago’s 1995 heat wave “was a social drama that played out and made visible a series of conditions that are always present but difficult to perceive.” The event itself reveals the social order of the city.
I think Klinenberg was right about the Heat Wave and that his approach has something to teach us about 2016. The 2016 presidential election reveals, illuminates, or makes legible all sorts of preexisting social conditions and prior commitments of individuals, demographics, and institutions. While we can’t assume that a superficial glance will tell us all we need to know about what those conditions were – just as Klinenberg’s work took years of study and hundreds of pages of analysis, ours may, as well – I think we can know that the election hasn’t changed things over the past year as much as it has made them more legible.