I’m sure I’m not alone in having spent my spare moments where this election went wrong.I have a few ideas, but first let me say where I don’t place the blame.
I don’t blame Hillary Clinton. She’s a competent, experienced, savvy politician, and in a normal election, she would have won. Notice that the winner was actually the opposite of all those things — we should not take from this experience the lesson that we should have nominated an idiot psychopath.
She was not a perfect candidate, but they don’t exist. In particular, I had legitimate concerns about her militarism (being chummy with Kissinger was disturbing), but the ideas that bothered me would not have disturbed the people who elected Trump. They’re all for bombing foreigners.
I don’t blame Bernie Sanders. I am not convinced he would have been a more successful candidate — a better candidate, I think, but again, what appealed to me wouldn’t have appealed to the Trumpkins. He did try to shake the Democrats out of their complacency, but they eventually settled on a “safe” candidate, who legitimately won by playing the existing Democratic machine better.
I don’t blame Stein or Johnson. They were terrible, awful candidates, but the kind of people who would vote for those bozos would have voted badly anyway. There is always noise, and that’s what they were — inevitable statistical fluctuations.
So whose fault was it?
The out-of-touch Democratic Party. We lost because the white middle class doesn’t see the Democrats as siding with them. Robert Reich has a good summary: it’s the unions.
Democrats also abandoned the white working class.
Democrats have occupied the White House for sixteen of the last twenty-four years, and in that time scored some important victories for working families – the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.
But they’ve done nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that has rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top, and undermined the working class. In some respects, Democrats have been complicit in it.
Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements, for example, without providing the millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.
They also stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. Clinton and Obama failed to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated them, or enable workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down votes.
I remember when the Democrats were the labor party. That hasn’t been the case for a long, long time. If you’re in the rust belt or the farm belt, Democrats have been doing a crappy job of supporting your interests.
The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino-gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.
That message was heard loud and clear. The institutions and elite factions that have spent years mocking, maligning, and pillaging large portions of the population — all while compiling their own long record of failure and corruption and destruction — are now shocked that their dictates and decrees go unheeded. But human beings are not going to follow and obey the exact people they most blame for their suffering. They’re going to do exactly the opposite: purposely defy them and try to impose punishment in retaliation. Their instruments for retaliation are Brexit and Trump. Those are their agents, dispatched on a mission of destruction: aimed at a system and culture that they regard, not without reason, as rife with corruption and, above all else, contempt for them and their welfare.
Democratic leaders have been feeding at the same trough as the Republicans. No wonder they aren’t trusted. They’re so mistrusted that the white middle class effectively voted against their own interests to oppose them. Does anyone believe Trump will do anything to help the schmoes who actually work for a living? Nope, but he did a great job playing on their resentments.
Another factor must not be forgotten: good old American racism and sexism. There’s more to it than lack of support for the middle class — after all, it was only the white middle class that succumbed to Trump’s lies. Unfortunately, it was the non-white middle class that was victimized by Republican voter suppression.
The media. The awful, no good media. We have 24 hour news channels that aren’t interested in information or news, but need noise to fill up the time. So they provide cheap babble and superficial propaganda nonstop — and they’re suckers for the kind of sensationalist tripe people like Trump at providing. And what have they spent the past few months focused on?
Fucking polls. It’s all we hear about, that and scandals. Policy and plans are all ignored. Nate Silver is treated as a hero.
Remember the election where Romney and the Republicans were living in a rainbow world where their crappy polls were predicting victory? We’re in the same boat now: our polls all predicted triumph, and oh, what a surprise. When will we learn? Screw all the pollsters. Ignore them. Not that the news will.
It also leads to good-enoughism. Hey, the polls tell us we’ve got 52% of the vote! For some reason, that’s not read as hey, 48% of the population dislikes us. All you have to do is edge out the competition, and you win all the marbles. No need for deep structural change in our policies, always pick the safe candidate who will maintain the status quo with as little upheaval as possible, even when upheaval is exactly what the electorate is asking for.
The machinery to make Donald Trump president of the United States had been idling for two decades waiting for Trump or someone very much like him to come along, set off the afterburners, and zoom off with the entire party. Just to use our previous example, while nobody on your television Tuesday night saw fit to make much of it, the Republican triumphs in several states were helped immeasurably by the mechanism of voter suppression that had been painstakingly built by state legislatures and painstakingly reinforced by the larval Rehnquists who’d been salted throughout the federal judiciary. It was just sitting there, the entire mechanism, waiting, its full power as yet untested because no conventional politician wanted to push the mechanism to full limits, because very few conventional politicians wanted to risk the damage to the institutions of democracy that might occur if that machine revved up to full throttle.
I blame the Republican party, too. They’ve been feeding this beast for decades. Trump was not an anomaly, but a logical conclusion.
It has been said that Trump hijacked the Republican Party. This is said by Republicans who still wish in their timid dreams that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had been strapped into the machine for another safe run on the same old track. That is not entirely true. He didn’t hijack the machine. He just turned it into a high-performance vehicle. Trump’s visceral appeal—the sexism, the racism, the xenophobia, the crude stupidity and know-nothingism, the appeals to a lost America, to people who most deeply felt its loss, none of whom was him—was merely fuel of higher octane than anyone had dared put into the machine before. He poured it in by the gallon, disengaged the emergency brake, mashed the accelerator to the floorboard and was off.
The white middle class has been soaking in Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Michael Savage and Alex Jones and Fox News. The Republicans embraced it. The Democrats provided nothing to counter it.
So what do we do now? In the short term, we fight. We oppose everything Trump stands for every step of the way. We learn from the Republicans: intransigence and obstructionism doesn’t hurt your party when the public despises the government as it stands. No more making nice, no more of this “reaching across the aisle” bullshit. Kill Republican policies dead whereever you can, and for once, the Democrats have to be vocal about their opposition.
In the long term, the Democrats have to wake up and realize that a comfortable slight edge isn’t enough, especially when Republicans cheat like hell with gerrymandering and voter suppression. That means they have to take a deep look at what they’re doing — they might have to give up those nice benefits from monied interests to actually appeal to workers, the poor, and the voters who don’t pour money into the trough. Clinton spent twice as much as Trump on the campaign — maybe we should realize that feeding the advertising machine isn’t as valuable as feeding the needs of the electorate.
What I’m afraid will happen, though, is that the Democrats will turtle up and play even more cautiously. They’ll look at the fact that they won the popular vote by a slim margin and think that all they have to do is change nothing and wait for the rising tide of minorities to eventually lift them into power. They must not do that. We will be surprised again. This is not a horserace. We are not gambling. We are not playing the odds and hedging our bets.
I’ve lived through three crushing political disappointments now: the elections of Reagan, Bush II, and now, Trump. It’s tempting to say we’ll get through this and have a better day in 2020. The lesson I’ve learned is that we won’t: that I lived through them doesn’t mean that others didn’t suffer and die. Reagan presided over the deaths by negligence of so many gay people; he laid a foundation of racism and contempt for government that we still have to deal with. Bush wrecked our foreign policy and killed thousands of our own and hundreds of thousands of others — don’t dismiss that by announcing that you survived his reign. Who knows what chaos Trump will sow, but people will be hurt. They will be hurt right now. Black people are being murdered by the police, immigrants are being oppressed right now, and we do not have the luxury of waiting the new regime out. It is not consolation to say that the pain will be selective and that the survivors will survive.
That’s exactly what has led to this situation. We need to stop engaging in this fine-grained balancing act where we try to ‘triangulate’ and build coalitions of the barely tenable, because it leads to fragile support that can be disrupted by one loud-mouthed boor who promises to break everything.