Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States
That vomit-inducing sentence is particularly awful for me to write, because of the crow I’ve had to eat recently (from myself mostly, because I punish myself more than anyone else can for failure). I wrote in December 2015, in the days when Trump announced his horrific Muslim ban policy, that he would lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. Not only did I feel confident predicting the two major party nominees, I was even more confident projecting the failure of one.
But I was wrong about which candidate.
It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts here. These last two weeks after the election has been the repetition of the stages of grief, the growing realizations of what is to come, and the growing distress as those awful realizations slowly come true. I wrote almost two weeks ago today that I would sleep safe if Hillary Clinton was president.
I have not slept well or felt safe since America went the other way. Why did Trump win? Here’s what I missed:
- Clinton was a worse candidate than I thought who ran a campaign with faulty assumptions
Like me, the Clinton campaign thought they knew better. I knew Hillary Clinton didn’t generate great enthusiasm personally and historically. I was aware of a deep distrust and dislike of her. I did not think these factors were greater than the monstrosity of Trump. But enough people did.
I underestimated how much antipathy for Hillary Clinton existed and how much was manufactured like a goddamn growth industry. Did Clinton do herself favors her? No, she didn’t; setting up the private email server was like cutting off her own nose to spite her face. But the sins did not justify the response, while Trump set about threatening the safety and lives of people across the globe.
Nonetheless, Clinton’s trust gap, magnified by the right-wing echo chamber, might have been mitigated if she a ran a campaign that reached out to these voters or broke through the Trump noise. But Clinton’s campaign didn’t visit Wisconsin, dashed to Michigan too late, and ended up losing white women to the avowed pussy-grabber.
This leads to the second point. To defeat the diverse Obama coalition, the Republicans had two options: appeal to minorities or go after “missing white voters.” While their autopsy post-2012 indicated the former, Trump almost literally pissed on the idea, beginning his campaign calling Mexicans “rapists” and ticking off minority group after minority group with insults and bullying. Ultimately, there were more angry white people than angry minorities and those who would stand up for them.
One reason I missed this was because the election and re-election of Barack Obama blinded me to how many of his white supporters would vote for Trump. The Democrats’ fabled “blue wall” in the Midwest proved nonexistent and Trump’s raw white supremacy powered the white voters, particularly in the Rust Belt – before a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition – to the voting booth.
These voters, incited further than ever against a toxic opponent who didn’t cater to their needs, were left with Trump. This FiveThirtyEight report about potential white voters was eye-opening about prior to the election and its more relevant than ever now. Another report from the polling analysis website showed education, not income, determined Trump support. That is, if people were uneducated, they were more likely to vote for the orange blob. Nate Silver posits several hypotheses for this evidence: uneducated voters are more likely to be racist, ignorant, or distrustful and more likely to be swayed by Trump’s raw, emotional appeal than Clinton’s thoughtful, logical one.
All of this comes back to the fact that Trump got more voters where it mattered, in swing states like Florida and North Carolina, and across the Rust Belt, despite Clinton winning the popular vote by around 750,000. I thought the backlash to Trump’s insane bigotry would be substantial enough to stop him, that he would be too unacceptable to win. But the Clinton campaign did not or could not turn out the Obama coalition in any way that reflected this.
Beyond the previously-discussed failure of the blue wall, this was the first election after the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013. In places like Wisconsin and North Carolina, the GOP precisely disenfranchised people of color and young people, both demographics that typically vote Democratic.
There were also the third party candidates, which siphoned more from Clinton than from Trump. People who presumably hated Trump but disliked Clinton too much to vote for her. I won’t pretend to understand this mindset, as I look at my vote as a strategic rather than a perfect representation of my political beliefs. This wasn’t an election for splitting hairs since the divide between Clinton and Trump was so vast. Add to it my personal opinion that Johnson and Stein also suck.
There was also the matter of FBI Director James Comey’s intervention int the campaign with a poorly-worded, poorly-timed letter to Congress essentially bringing the emails back after they’d been put to bed. It measurably hurt her.
But make no mistake, FBI letter or no, the election loss is on Clinton and her campaign team.
Now, here’s reality: things are going to get really bad.
Last Tuesday night was like a death in the family, the following days a wake for America. Beyond the affirmation of America’s racism, there was a spate of hate crimes across the countries in the days along with news of celebrations and praise by Nazis and the KKK. The nuclear arsenal is now in the hands of a vindictive, grievance-filled, fight-loving, dictatorial man-child.
Here’s what I wasn’t wrong about in my Trump diatribes: the core of his candidacy – and now administration – is white supremacy. White nationalists, Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan are rejoicing. Trump even put the aforementioned Bannon, head of the right-wing anti-information service Breitbart and a virulent racist, misogynist, and anti-Semite, in the White House! I refrained many times to many people this sentence during the campaign “If you support Trump, you support white supremacy.” More than ever, it is true.
The GOP is not only bringing the alt-right, long relegated to uncensored Internet message boards and anonymous accounts, out into the open but empowering them, giving them the permission and means to commit hate crimes with or without the backing the U.S. federal government.
It’s not just the federal government. The GOP has everything: the statehouses, the governorships, Congress and now the White House. The Supreme Court, with its ability to shape entire generations with its lifetime appointments, is within their grasps. Trump has not only run as a traditional Republican, which means tax cuts for the wealthy and elimination of the social safety net for the middle-class and poor, he ran as the most exaggerated, uninhibited Republican in decades.
He proudly boasted that he would force U.S. soldiers to torture and commit war crimes, that he would deport MILLIONS of people (which would tank the economy even if he didn’t have a Republican Congress to pass regressive tax cuts), that he would support the elimination of abortion rights and gay marriage, that he would threaten and attack First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, that he would unravel the likes of NATO and the Paris climate agreement.
He may brag that he hires “the best people” but a Trump administration will be a corrupt kleptocracy. The saying goes “Personnel are policy?” Well, Trump hired lickspittle “normalizer” Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, Breitbart propagandist and avowed white supremacist Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and noted lover of both Vladimir Putin and gross falsehoods Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Racism and authoritarianism are the policies, people.
He may have campaigned on the promise to “drain the swamp” but the next four years will be a bonanza for lobbyists and their ilk, from the very worst industries: military contractors, oil & gas, private prisons etc. He is already using the presidency to enrich himself and works closely with his children and family, flouting nepotism laws. He openly praises amoral, anti-American dictators who kill their own citizens, like Vladimir Putin, Kim-Jong Un, and Bashar al-Assad. And, as the moral cowardice of the vast majority elected Republicans has shown, there is nothing but complicity for Trump’s insanity.
The power of the presidency has never been greater and, through executive orders, Trump can and will erase the Obama presidency, from immigrant protections like DACA and DAPA to LGBT anti–discrimination practices to gun control measures.
His economic and foreign policy combined, if implemented, will tank the economy, whether it is the sudden absence of labor because of deportations, the grossly-disproportionate tax cuts for the rich, or the insane level of spending President-elect Trump intends for defense and/or infrastructure. Remember when Republicans hawked on the deficit? Yeah, don’t expect much of that for the next four years.
That’s the lay of the land and, it goes without saying, it ain’t good. So, what now?
In order to win in the future, it is clear that the Democrats need a fresh start. Demographics alone won’t save them. Liberals and progressives in general need to find new ways of communicating with white voters. Some of it may involve swallowing pride, moving past identity politics, and attempting real persuasion. Whereas Trump preyed upon human fears and flaws, Democrats can and should look past the president-elect’s bluster and communicate ideas instead of reprimands. How Italy dealt with its own corrupt businessman-turned-leader Silvio Berlusconi can provide a useful roadmap.
Fighting the fascist alt-right white supremacists while connecting with the white voters they seek to court is difficult but it must be done, because while these voters’ political party have sold them on a corrupt billionaire and his cavalcade of racist supporters, demeaning wholesale demonstrably plays into the hands of said racists (the honesty of the “basket of deplorables” assessment didn’t stop it from becoming a rallying call for Trump and against Clinton). As Ana Marie Cox writes, the question now is “how to do you appeal to non-college-educated white people without being an explicit bigot?”
Liberals and progressives have to be careful with this issue, because we are the scapegoats. Even if all the terrible potential about a Trump presidency come to fruition, his voters will find a way to blame the opposition, egged on by Trump’s new GOP. It’s far easier than recognizing they were conned or that they were wrong or that maybe, just maybe, they didn’t think this Trump thing through.
Despite how disgusted the nation became with the 2016 election, the 2020 one will be even worse. Why? Because a bunch of white nationalists will have been entrenched in power for four years and they will not give it up lightly. Expect several stories to emerge before, during, and after the Trump administration about how the president-elect and his cronies abused power for personal or monetary gains. Oh, and the ethics investigations and indictments the supposedly straight-laced Republicans threatened Clinton with? They aren’t going to do that with Trump, even as he profits from his presidential position. The hypocrisy is galling.
Two contradictory things have become clear to me in the days after.
First is that, despite my social media radio silence in much of the time since Nov. 9, such a catastrophe, slow-moving as it is, requires more engagement, not less. Journalism and the news media are in the weakest state they’ve been in my lifetime, with diffusion among outlets, declining profits and abounding layoffs and newspaper closures. Factual newsgathering requires our support. Please donate or subscribe to a news service.
Second is that it is more important than ever do what we love with the ones we love as long as we can, because that time suddenly feels much less certain than it did two weeks ago. The fact that the future is uncertain and anything can happen is perhaps a trite thing to realize upon an annual election, but nothing draws life into perspective like erratic sociopath at the the helm of our nation’s proverbial ship, directing it through the an iceberg-strewn ocean.
Therapy sessions such as this post will no doubt continue unabated as long as this new awful reality does. I have no ending for this post, other than the terrible news that things will get worse before they get better. The best we can hope for is Trump is a pragmatic president who backs off his numerous immoral and illegal campaign promises, such as deporting 11 million people including children born here, cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of the poor’s safety net, taking aware healthcare from millions of people, and violating countless international agreements.
Prepare for the worst.