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.