Let the post-mortems begin!


Now that the election is over, there are plenty of analyses of why the results were so unexpected. It is the task of the party that loses to do serious soul-searching about their performance. The temptation will be to look for scapegoats, some external factors over which they had no control to blame and, if none of them are sufficiently plausible, to blame the voters for their ignorance, since such a conclusion lets them off the hook.

That temptation should be strongly resisted, especially in this case. The Democratic party went into this election with enormous advantages. They had plenty of money and organization and a unified party while the Republicans were fractured with many in their leadership lukewarm or even hostile to Donald Trump. The media establishment was almost entirely in the Clinton camp, including the staunchly conservative and Republican ones like the National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. The financial sector largely backed her. Even the neoconservative war hawks were solidly anti-Trump and pro-Clinton. This establishment rightwing and Wall Street support for her was something that disturbed many progressives but they swallowed their concern in order to not help Trump win.

So the blame for the loss has to be placed squarely on the party’s message and the messenger. Any attempt to evade that conclusion is only going to prevent any meaningful change from occurring. But Glenn Greenwald warns that the wrong reasons are already being adduced for Clinton’s loss. He says that the elites have brought this on themselves, even as they now flail around looking for others to blame.

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.

You know the drearily predictable list of their scapegoats: Russia, WikiLeaks, James Comey, Jill Stein, Bernie Bros, The Media, news outlets (including, perhaps especially, The Intercept) that sinned by reporting negatively on Hillary Clinton. Anyone who thinks that what happened last night in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Michigan can be blamed on any of that is drowning in self-protective ignorance so deep that it’s impossible to express in words.

When a political party is demolished, the principle responsibility belongs to one entity: the party that got crushed. It’s the job of the party and the candidate, and nobody else, to persuade the citizenry to support them and find ways to do that. Last night, the Democrats failed, resoundingly, to do that, and any autopsy or liberal think piece or pro-Clinton-pundit commentary that does not start and finish with their own behavior is one that is inherently worthless.

But that’s just basic blame-shifting and self-preservation. Far more significant is what this shows about the mentality of the Democratic Party. Just think about who they nominated: someone who — when she wasn’t dining with Saudi monarchs and being feted in Davos by tyrants who gave million-dollar checks — spent the last several years piggishly running around to Wall Street banks and major corporations cashing in with $250,000 fees for 45-minute secret speeches even though she had already become unimaginably rich with book advances while her husband already made tens of millions playing these same games. She did all that without the slightest apparent concern for how that would feed into all the perceptions and resentments of her and the Democratic Party as corrupt, status-quo-protecting, aristocratic tools of the rich and powerful: exactly the worst possible behavior for this post-2008-economic-crisis era of globalism and destroyed industries.

It goes without saying that Trump is a sociopathic con artist obsessed with personal enrichment: the opposite of a genuine warrior for the downtrodden. That’s too obvious to debate. But, just as Obama did so powerfully in 2008, he could credibly run as an enemy of the D.C. and Wall Street system that has steamrolled over so many people, while Hillary Clinton is its loyal guardian, its consummate beneficiary.

It was only a matter of time before instability, backlash and disruption resulted. Both Brexit and Trump unmistakably signal its arrival. The only question is whether those two cataclysmic events will be the peak of this process, or just the beginning. And that, in turn, will be determined by whether their crucial lessons are learned — truly internalized — or ignored in favor of self-exonerating campaigns to blame everyone else.

Greenwald also makes the point that I have repeated here many times, that liberals who gave president Obama a pass on some of the excesses of his use of authority because they thought he was a good person who would not have done things he did not think were right, were playing with fire because those same powers could just as easily fall into the hands of someone they feared. They now face the prospect of those powers being in the hands of Trump.

Over the last six decades, and particularly over the last 15 years of the endless war on terror, both political parties have joined to construct a frightening and unprecedentedly invasive and destructive system of authoritarian power, accompanied by the unbridled authority vested in the executive branch to use it.

As a result, the president of the United States commands a vast nuclear arsenal that can destroy the planet many times over; the deadliest and most expensive military ever developed in human history; legal authorities that allow him to prosecute numerous secret wars at the same time, imprison people with no due process, and target people (including U.S. citizens) for assassination with no oversight; domestic law enforcement agencies that are constructed to appear and act as standing, para-militarized armies; a sprawling penal state that allows imprisonment far more easily than most Western countries; and a system of electronic surveillance purposely designed to be ubiquitous and limitless, including on U.S. soil.

Those who have been warning of the grave dangers these powers pose have often been dismissed on the ground that the leaders who control this system are benevolent and well-intentioned. They have thus often resorted to the tactic of urging people to imagine what might happen if a president they regarded as less than benevolent one day gained control of it. That day has arrived. One hopes this will at least provide the impetus to unite across ideological and partisan lines to finally impose meaningful limits on these powers that should never have been vested in the first place. That commitment should start now.

Thomas Franks also wonders what the liberals and Democrats were thinking by selecting Hillary Clinton as their nominee.

Maybe there is a bright side to a Trump victory. After all, there was a reason that tens of millions of good people voted for him yesterday, and maybe he will live up to their high regard for him. He has pledged to “drain the swamp” of DC corruption, and maybe he will sincerely tackle that task. He has promised to renegotiate Nafta, and maybe that, too, will finally come to pass. Maybe he’ll win so much for us (as he once predicted in a campaign speech) that we’ll get sick of winning.

But let’s not deceive ourselves. We aren’t going to win anything. What happened on Tuesday is a disaster, both for liberalism and for the world. As President Trump goes about settling scores with his former rivals, picking fights with other countries, and unleashing his special deportation police on this group and that, we will all soon have cause to regret his ascension to the presidential throne.

Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.

And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.

The even larger problem is that there is a kind of chronic complacency that has been rotting American liberalism for years, a hubris that tells Democrats they need do nothing different, they need deliver nothing really to anyone – except their friends on the Google jet and those nice people at Goldman. The rest of us are treated as though we have nowhere else to go and no role to play except to vote enthusiastically on the grounds that these Democrats are the “last thing standing” between us and the end of the world. It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability. Enough with these comfortable Democrats and their cozy Washington system. Enough with Clintonism and its prideful air of professional-class virtue. Enough!

Michael Moore has compiled a to-do list for Democrats, starting immediately.

If Clinton had barely won by eking out victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all these critical analyses would still hold but the party would have ignored them in the euphoria of victory. They would have proudly said that it was their triangulation strategy that led to electoral success. The Democrats after Bill Clinton won in 1992 were like the UK Labour Party after Tony Blair won the prime ministership, deciding that electoral success required the marginalizing of the left in favor of a neoliberal, quasi-Republican centrism on economic and foreign policy, mixed with social liberalism. This is reflected in the way they genuflected to, and did the bidding of, Wall Street and ignored and sometimes aided in the suppression of the Occupy, anti-globalization, and other protest movements. That formula led to some electoral success and even Barack Obama rode that wave of hoped-for change but like in the UK, ordinary people eventually caught on that the party leadership that supposedly was looking out for them was instead looking out for their own economic interests and that of their wealthy friends, not that of the people. The social liberalism was not enough to compensate for that betrayal.

But I don’t expect the political, media, and business elites to learn the lessons stated by Greenwald and Frank and Moore. They will likely point to the fact that Clinton slightly won the popular vote to justify retaining the neoliberalism that so favors them and wait for the people who put Donald Trump in the presidency to turn on him in due course and hope that his presidency will self-destruct. Trump’s policies, whatever they turn out to be, are after all not going to harm the elites, and the ruling classes of both parties are solidly among the elites. They can afford to ride it out.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Trump’s policies, whatever they turn out to be, are after all not going to harm the elites…

    You can only shoot so many holes in one end of the boat before the rest of it founders too.

  2. polishsalami says

    I made a comment on Twitter ages ago that an Establishment candidate was an enormous risk in a year of populism. But I still thought that Clinton would scrape over the line.

    Judging by what I’ve seen on social media, a lot of people aren’t going to learn any lessons from this. One can only hope that a Bernie-style social democrat is nominated in 2020 (and folks get out for the midterms).

  3. says

    There is still just one problem I have with these claims that it is a “year of populism” as polishsalami put it. Why didn’t more come out in the primaries and vote for Bernie Sanders?

    I suppose one possible answer is they actually did, but couldn’t tip the scales due to a reason I recognized during the primary, and that is loyalty tests. Back in 2008, Obama had at least been a Democrat. I did encounter a number of Democrats who absolutely refused to vote for Bernie this year because he didn’t pass their loyalty tests. These are people, then, who could have potentially voted for Obama in ’08 because he would have passed that test. I suppose this could be seen most clearly in the Superdelegates who heavily supported Clinton this time around, but were more split in ’08.

    Sadly, I’m hearing Corey Booker already being thrown out there as the candidate for ’20. He seems cool and shows some signs of caring about people, but I’ve also heard he’s a little too Wall Street friendly (perhaps on this very blog?).

  4. says

    I should add that I was saying to my wife that we may have lucked out in 2012 in that the Republicans didn’t really have a good anti-establishment candidate running in their primaries (that I can remember) and, thus, the establishment got one of their candidates, Romney, into the general election. Hence, they failed to tap into the anti-establishment fervor that was already building then. If Trump had run then, could this have happened four years sooner? (And, given that Clinton had more of the popular vote, would we have been totally forked over by the electoral college? Because I would have expected a wider margin in the popular vote.)

  5. Owlmirror says

    Isn’t it still possible for Trump to lose the presidency?

    I mean, it is absolutely unprecedented for the Republican party leaders to collude with the electors to have the appropriate majority switch their votes to something else — Pence/Trump being the most probable — but Trump is the unprecedented result of an unprecedented campaign and election.

    I can see why it would not happen — the party is probably on the one hand very happy with their Senate and House majorities, and very reluctant to upset the populace that voted for them (and they might well fear reprisal voting in the next election cycle). But on the other hand, I can also see them thinking that Trump is enough of a loose cannon that they would be willing to risk the ire of the people to shunt him out of the top position.

    I’m probably just desperately dreaming, here.

  6. eddie says

    People blaming this on a GOP smear campaign against clinton are deluding themselves. You didn’t have to look at GOP smears, or even email leaks. Her own stated positions and policies showed her as an evil, warmongering psychopath. The fact of her candidacy showed the heart-deep corruption. In fact, some of the ‘GOP smears’ can be seen as her own side trying to make the others look ridiculous.

  7. eddie says

    “Trump’s policies, whatever they turn out to be, are after all not going to harm the elites…”
    Isn’t one of trump’s policies to end shipping jobs overseas? This will indeed harm the elites. People need to look at what’s happening instead of the MSM bullshit machine.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Owl mirror @#5,

    Technically anything possible until the electoral college votes are counted but in practice the election is over. For the electoral college to put someone else in power would be tantamount to a coup of some kind.

  9. deepak shetty says

    Glenn Greenwald is one of the elite :).
    Again its clear that Trumps message resonated with the people but its because he could lie unashamedly. Its hard to see how one can counter that , if the public is in a mood to not listen to reason.
    For people laying all the blame at the way the campaign was conducted and why the hell was Hillary nominated can try a simple experiment. Go to a place that depends on oil and coal and craft a message that says Climate change legislation /regulations are needed and compare how effective you are against someone who says Climate Change is hoax by elites and a ruse to offshore your jobs.

  10. mnb0 says

    The GOP will come to terms with The Donald. I have written it before. Wile The Donald posed as an anti-establishment candidate he in fact is just nouveaux riche who wants to be accepted by old money. Now he has won old money will accept him. Reluctantly, but they will.
    Prospects are good for The Donald, whether he accomplishes something or fails.

  11. anat says

    eddie, jobs are not going overseas. They are disappearing. Automation means less total work for everyone. Manufacturing can come back with hardly any increase in hiring.

    Not sure which aspect of Clinton’s positions make her a psychopath? And what aspect of supposed psychopathy would be distasteful to Trump supporters?

    Back in 2012 I said that I couldn’t decide if Romney came across as a narcissist or a psychopath due to his total lack of basic empathy, at any age, at any time. Trump is very likely some flavor of narcissist. Yet he is popular among those who lean right.

  12. anat says

    Owlmirror, I’d take Trump over Pence any day. Pence supports terrible positions and actually has the political experience to carry them out.

  13. sonofrojblake says

    Got stopped at the first sentence.

    The results were NOT “unexpected”. They were predicted. The only problem was, the people doing the predicting were ignored, ridiculed and abused, even when they explained, showed their working out, and enumerated in detail ALL the reasons now suddenly being held up as the reasons for Clinton’s defeat.

    You know what? If you’d taken Trump seriously 15 or 12 or even just six months ago, he could have been stopped. It was just sheer fucking arrogance and entitlement that allowed the Democrats to ignore what was going on, and pick Hillary “Why am I not fifty points ahead?” Clinton as their candidate. I’m not disappointed, I’m angry. Angry that people on the left are wandering around in shock going “we didn’t expect this”, while I and others like me are going “well WE DID and we fucking warned you and YOU IGNORED US”.

    Sorry.

  14. says

    “The Democratic party went into this election with enormous advantages. They had plenty of money and organization and a unified party while the Republicans were fractured with many in their leadership lukewarm or even hostile to Donald Trump. The media establishment was almost entirely in the Clinton camp, including the staunchly conservative and Republican ones like the National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. The financial sector largely backed her. Even the neoconservative war hawks were solidly anti-Trump and pro-Clinton. This establishment rightwing and Wall Street support for her was something that disturbed many progressives but they swallowed their concern in order to not help Trump win.”

    Sorry, Mano, but you are wrong. None of those were advantages, they were liabilities. The ones that aren’t are simply untrue.

    -Having plenty of money is not an advantage when people already think you are corrupt.

    -The Democrats were not unified, rust belt workers who voted for Obama turned their backs on her. The youth who were not discouraged by the abysmal treatment they got from the DNC voted for her, although not enthusiastically. Blacks and Latinos left the Democrats and joined the Republicans. She got less than Obama, he got more than Romney. The only united democrats where the leadership, running against their base.

    -The Republican leadership was divided, the republican voters were very much together in their rage at the system.

    -The Media Establishment being on her side only fed to the idea that she was just being crowned without merit. It made many conspiracy theories seem plausible by having the media seem so damn unreliable.

    -Conservative politicians and publications supporting her only demonstrated to the public that she was faking her liberal stances. I’m sure plenty of the apologists here will have 5432 excuses to her “private/public position” gaffe, but she basically wrote LIAR on her forehead.

    -Most progressives bit their tongue and voted for her despite her connections to Wall st. but this is precisely the year of everybody hates Wall Street. Parading their Chosen One around the country may not have been a great idea this time around.

  15. Blood Knight in Sour Armor says

    Doesn’t really matter… Either the Dems take back the Senate in 2018 or we’ll effectively have a one party system at the national level for decades to come.

    Good bye Voting Rights Act.

  16. eddie says

    Re Anat – “Not sure which aspect of Clinton’s positions make her a psychopath? And what aspect of supposed psychopathy would be distasteful to Trump supporters?”

    For the first part; her public face/private face is classic psychopathic behaviour. As is her: sure, climate change is real. FRACK! FRACK! FRACK!. The second part is very strange. The point is her psychopathy was distasteful to us potential dem voters. The numbers don’t lie: clinton lost because she sickened us.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Blood Knight… @ # 17: Either the Dems take back the Senate in 2018 or …

    Democrats are expected to have 23 seats up for election, in addition to 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans are expected to have 8 seats up for election.

    A turnover will require the Dems to gain several seats while losing none, which in turn requires that Trump & Company blow it so badly they lose not only their public support but all their major media allies as well – while the D’s retain all of theirs.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    anat @ # 11: Not sure which aspect of Clinton’s positions make her a psychopath?

    Remember when a Libyan lynch mob killed Qaddafi by, among other things, anally raping him with a bayonet, and SecState Clinton, on tv, made a joke about it?

  19. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    IMHO, the needed analysis is that the two-party system allowed the liberal party to become this, and allowed the “conservative” party to become this. We need to end the two-party system. We need election reform. I’ve been saying this for over 8 years now. Today we reap those consequences.

    Change at least US federal president, senate, and house elections to instant-runoff. Anything but biggest-plurality-take-all. Instant-runoff is perhaps not the best alternative out there, but it’s amazingly better than the current system. Honestly, I’m open to alternatives, but any of the alternatives is better than the current systems. I’m still quite partial to the Israeli system of party-list proportional voting.

    I’ve also become convinced over the last few days that we need nationwide school integration mandated by the federal government. I’m talking hardcore busing for elementary, middle, and high schools, and especially for elementary, determined by lottery. This will require a federal constitutional amendment. For the long term stability of this country, in order to end racism and xenophobia, this must be done. God knows how we get there.

  20. anat says

    eddie, you seriously think anyone in politics reveals their honest thoughts in public all the time? That’s not the way to get stuff done.

  21. KG says

    The trouble with Greenwald’s analysis is that it’s based on a very dubious premise: that it was those left behind by neoliberalism that gave him his “victory” (scare-quotes because of course he lost the popular vote). As far as can be discovered, Trump won majorities among men, whites, those over 40, and those earning over $50,000 a year; Clinton won majorities among women, all other racial groups, those under 40, and those earning less than $50,000 a year. Do Trump’s supporters look like a coalition of those at the bottom of the heap, enraged by being ignored by the elite? The only axes on which those “left behind” voted more for Trump are educational (where there would be a strong confounding effect of age), and, arguably, big cities against rural areas and small towns. Greenwald has a point with regard to the midwestern states that have suffered from the decline of manufacturing industry – but even there, I wouldn’t be surprised if people were more likely to vote for Trump the richer they are. This was not true for the Brexit vote – poorer people were somewhat more likely to vote to leave – but other demographic axes were similar: those voting Brexit were on average older, less educated and whiter (and less English). Additionally, of the two largest parties, a majority of 2015 Conservative voters voted to leave, of 2015 Labour voters to remain. Greenwald’s defence of Trump bvoters against charges of racism is also dubious: he cites the fact that some of the same areas voted heavily for Obama and for Trump; and points to Obama’s current popularity. But the latter also tells against Greenwald’s claim that the popular mood is strongly anti-establishment: Obama may have appeared to be anti-establishment in 2008, but hardly in 2012 or now – and the great majority of incumbent Senators and Congresspersons were returned. Those who voted for Trump – all those who voted for Trump – were at the least comfortable enough with his racism to vote for him alongside the KKK.

    Do the Democrats, and the left internationally, need to craft a position and a program that will appeal more strongly to those who have lost out economically? Yes, of course. But they have to do that without falling into the illusion that those voting for the racist, misogynist, all-round-bigoted right are doing so despite that bigotry. Some are – but it doesn’t bother them enough to change their vote; for many, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

  22. Dunc says

    I think that looking at Trump voters to explain the result is a mistake. The real question is not why people voted Trump, but why people didn’t vote Clinton. I have the following in moderation over on Great American Satan:

    I’ve been crunching the numbers on the states that flipped from blue to red from 2012 to 2016, and the scale of the fall in the blue vote is stunning. Florida is an outlier, in that both Dem and GOP votes were up. In all of the other states that flipped, Clinton would have won if she had polled the same numbers as Obama did in 2012. In Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the Dem vote was down by more than 10%. (17.93% in Ohio, and 20.88% in Iowa!)

    Yes, Trump did increase the GOP vote in all of these states, but that wasn’t the factor that won it.

    I don’t know exactly why the blue vote was down in those key states – could be voter suppression, could be half a dozen other things, but that’s why Trump won.

    We don’t need any factor to explain Trump’s vote other than “Republicans vote Republican”.

    Actually, I’m working on a hypothesis that you can explain most US presidential elections in recent history with two simple principles, neither of which has anything to do with policies, or even personalities:

    1. Incumbent presidents standing for re-election will usually win.
    2. A presidential election is rarely won by a different candidate from the same party as the incumbent.

    There are exceptions, but they’re mostly in exceptional circumstances.

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