The United States: A 225 year joke that ended last night with that punchline.
I am so tremendously sad that I can barely function today. I always wondered what it would be like to live in a time when it seemed like things were genuinely getting better. Now I know that I will never find out since the best we will probably do in my lifetime is put back what is taken apart in the next four years. Say goodbye to the ACA, goodbye to legal abortion, goodbye to public sector unionism (if not most of the labor movement), goodbye to any possibility of dealing with climate change, etc., etc. That this is happening in an evenly divided nation where one party now controls the entire government with an extremist agenda is an unmitigated disaster for all the policy and moral reasons that you all know already.
We are just beginning to figure out what happened. As better polling data comes in over the next few days, it will become more clear. Before I get into what we do know and what seems to be the case, let me just say up front that I blame no one in the Democratic Party. I do not blame Hillary Clinton. She has her weaknesses as a candidate, but would have made a very good president. I certainly do not blame Bernie Sanders. In this case, I don’t even blame Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, as Stein polled abysmally and we can generally presume that many of her voters simply never would have voted for a Democratic candidate. As for Johnson, we simply need more data to my knowledge about where those voters would normally fall. I imagine he drew from both Trump and Clinton. FWIW, my pro-life but generally Democratic father-in-law voted Johnson because Hillary was “too liberal,” but I have also spoken to students who were Republicans that couldn’t deal with Trump’s racism and bigotry. What happened last night was expected by almost no one. None of the polls saw this, not even Trump’s own people saw this happening. So, with all due respect to my colleagues here, other than saying that political scientists bring no special insight into a given election, I don’t think there’s too many people within the political establishment to actually blame. Unfortunately, I fear a civil war within the larger left-of-center world between liberals and the left at a time when we need to unite and resist the horrible things that are coming.
That said, there are plenty of disturbing trends. The first is that Hillary Clinton simply did not inspire people to vote. Hillary’s total was down a solid 4 million or so voters from 2012. Union support for Clinton was the worst showing for a Democrat in at least 20 years. African-Americans in key cities like Milwaukee and Philadelphia simply did not come out in the needed numbers. Why? This is a critical question. Second is that racism won the day. Trump won all categories of whites. America is a racist nation. Appealing to white nationalism works. We have not even begun to deal with our legacy of racism. Third, misogyny also won the day. That Trump did better than Romney with both Latino and African-American males is the big jaw-dropper of the election. Misogyny is a big part of the story here.
What is however sadly clear is that in fact Democrats cannot win without white working class voters in Rust Belt states. Whatever that means in creating policy and appeal, it is true. We have to deal with this point. Watching CNN last night, the county maps of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan between 2012 and 2016 were telling. Erie County, PA, for instance, is a classic old-school union Democratic county. Trump won it. The country that Scranton is in, Joe Biden’s home town, went from about 60% Obama in 2012 to 50% Clinton in 2016. This is ultimately the people Democrats need to win. The demographic changes to the nation, which are real enough, are also not enough. Democrats did great in the West. Everything that needed to happen there happened, including Cortez Masto holding Reid’s Senate seat with surprising ease. That’s not enough. Democrats have to win in the Great Lakes or in the South. These are pretty white states. That does mean appealing to white voters.
And let’s not beat around the bush–yes, the election of Trump is a great triumph for American racists. But a sizable number of these voters did vote for Barack Hussein Obama on two occasions. It’s not just racism, even if it is indeed racism. It’s also people who legitimately feel left behind in the global economy. It doesn’t even matter if it’s true. It’s how they feel. Actual good job creation at home in the places where people live is part of the answer. People want to feel hope in their lives. In western Pennsylvania, they do not. It’s not as if Trump’s policies are going to give them that real hope. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the white people in Wisconsin and North Carolina and Kansas and Louisiana and other states that are dominated by Republicans will respond to the terrible policies of their officials by doubling down on resentment and white supremacy and voting for them again.
I also think it’s pretty clear that presidential candidates need to be inspiring leaders more than any other quality. No one cares about policy. People care about leadership and inspiration. That’s true whether it was Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in his 2 elections, or Barack Obama or Donald Trump. These four people have very little in common except that people saw them as an individual which they could either relate to personally or someone they see as a leader to improve their lives. And that they are men. Women have a much harder row to hoe on these sorts of things and that’s a terrible thing to realize. But in order to actually win a presidential election, the single most important skill is charisma. We need to consider this going forward.
As for looking forward toward 2018 and 2020, I barely know where to start. The Democratic Party doesn’t either. Neither, really, does the left. I do think the left will be OK in terms of being relatively ready to organize resistance. The Democratic Party itself is a disaster. Given that the Trump administration is almost certainly going to be an unmitigated disaster of scandal, corruption, grotesque behavior, militarism, and the decimation of generations of domestic policy, one would like to think that an aggressive left could organize to take back Congress in 2018. After all, winning parties much stronger than this one routinely get their clocks cleaned in the midterms. And maybe that happens. But between increased voter suppression and gerrymandering, Republicans are looking to successfully bake their advantages into the cake for the House. As for the Senate, 2018 was looking tough anyway. Maybe disgust for Trump helps Jon Tester and Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill hold on, but I don’t know where we pick up new seats. Nevada seems to be the only place that Democrats will really have a shot.
And of course the prelims for the 2020 Democratic nomination start now. And who the hell is that going to be? The idea of course was for Hillary to win and then people like Tom Perez and Kirsten Gillibrand start building their name recognition for 2024. But forget that. Bernie Sanders will be very old. Elizabeth Warren will be pretty old too. Maybe one of them can lead the way. They both have very important roles to play right now in bringing the left together. I suspect Cory Booker might be the early frontrunner. He does have the charisma and while he has much to answer for to unions, at this point, winning is going to matter more than anything else.
If you were someone who wanted to “burn it all down,” well, you got your wish. It’s going to take the rest of your lives, if you are lucky, to put it all back together again. It’s going to be an ugly, horrible process with tremendous suffering to real people, probably including you.
More later. Excuse me while I weep for a just America.