What a week! I’m sitting in doctor’s office with my youngest daughter. She’s 15 and has the respiratory crud that goes around every year about this time. I was a good doobie and didn’t rush her right in, but it’s been 5 days and now her cough is productive and yielding a pretty yellow/green material. Almost Christmas-like. Time for antibiotics.
I have three daughters. I am 53. With age sometimes comes perspective. (Not maturity, mind you, as I plan on being immature as long as possible). I remember the Vietnam protests, the Watergate hearings, Nixon’s resignation… and on and on. There is nothing new under the sun. The rain falls on the just and unjust and sometimes people with whom we disagree, even vehemently, are elected president.
I have to laugh at myself. Almost everyone for whom I voted… lost. The Arizona marijuana initiative lost. My support for you or your cause is the kiss of death. It’s like at the grocery store: you don’t want to be behind me in line. I guarantee you the person in front of me will have two price checks and try to pay with a declined credit card.
I also admit to a certain level of bemusement at some of the over the top reactions to the election. Amazing how people who claim to be open minded and enlightened can say such offensive and hateful things about those with whom they disagree. Maybe it comes from too many participation trophies. In real-life there are winners and losers. One Sunday you’re riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. By Thursday you’re under arrest. By Friday you’re crucified.
For the record, I am not enamored with the election results either. I didn’t vote for Trump. But, I do think I understand why people did. America did not suddenly become racist, xenophobic, homophobic, or misogynistic. At least no more than before. Those elements have always been with us and always will. If you disagree, remember this: millions of Americans who voted twice for Barack Obama voted for Trump this time around. They were perfectly happy to vote for the Black guy for the same reason they voted for Trump. They believed both actions were in their own self-interest. Only arrogance and willful ignorance would lead one to paternalistically believe they were somehow duped. People aren’t as stupid as we self-righteously like to characterize them.
Well then, what the hell happened?
This election will be dissected for a generation, but I suspect the following factors were at work.
- Blue collar jobs. One thing that is indisputable is that manufacturing jobs have continued to flee much of the nation. Whether and how they will come back is a subject of debate, but only two candidates really hit that issue this cycle; Trump and Sanders. In response to Bernie, Clinton tried to move left on the issue but she’s tacked more than an America’s Cup sailor. No one believed her.
Blue collar Democrats in so called rust belt states ultimately put Trump over the top. CNN had outstanding coverage on Tuesday. In county after county in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin Trump out performed Romney (or if you will, Hillary underperformed Obama). That’s the election right there.
While the rest of us (you know the ones with good jobs) were concerned about a host of other issues (some large, some small) these voters were worried about their paychecks. These voters don’t care much about which bathroom you use. They don’t care much about gay rights. They don’t hate gay people, they just don’t know any (they probably do, but don’t realize it). They served in the military and worked the now closed coal mines with Black men. They get on fine with them, just as much as anyone else. They’re just people. Why all the hubbub? Their family needs a job just like his does.
And therein lies the rub. Working class Dems felt excluded by the collection of coalitions that form today’s Democratic Party. They were Trump’s low hanging fruit and no one but Trump really saw them as winnable.
- An historically unpopular democratic nominee. For all the novelty of a female nominee, Hillary is yesterday’s news. In the 24 years since her husband ran as an outsider representing a new kind of Democrat, Hillary has been pretty much continually in the public eye. Fairly or unfairly, much of that public scrutiny has been unfavorable. In my view, most of it is of her own making. She’s the mistress of self-inflicted wounds. This time around, the Democrats fell in line, led by a dubious party leadership, but behind the wrong candidate, long past her sell by date.
- Class and race: As a middle aged white guy, I believe president Obama squandered an opportunity as president to further bridge the racial divide. Hillary lost in part because of this. Too many working-class Whites, those whom the President derisively said in 2008 clung to “their guns and religion”, abandoned the Democratic Party because they felt he no longer represented them. They may well be back, but for now I would submit they look at the last eight years and see themselves left out. Chicago seems to be awash in murder and all the president talks about (so they believe) is gun control for people who are already law abiding.
- Trump did better with Hispanics and women than anyone expected. This one will take a while for me to get my hands around. No female Trump voters I know approve of his behavior. They just don’t consider it decisive in the larger context. I’ve had the discussion with several women on the matter. I don’t know any Latino Trump supporters so I can’t speak to that.
Time will tell what happens next. Ronald Reagan made a career of allowing people to underestimate him. Memoirs and other contemporary writing confirm he was fully in charge of his own policy up until very late in his presidency when the early states of Alzheimer’s began to show. There is no questioning everyone underestimated Donald Trump. He may end up using that to his advantage. Or he may screw it up. No way to know, but to date he has not shown any inclination to discipline himself sufficiently to do what he will need to do. Maybe he can. My guess is he doesn’t think he needs to, but we have all been wrong before.
Trump must forge coalitions across party lines. There will be times when he won’t have a majority of Republicans on board. That’s not without precedent. Clinton often needed republican votes. Clinton had the experience to pull it off, but only after initially going it alone and getting his ass kicked in the first mid-term election. No way of knowing whether Trump possesses the skill or inclination to follow the same course.
It’s almost certain that Trump will be frustrated from day one by constraints he didn’t face in business. Congress. The constitution. Media scrutiny. Cabinet members and government bureaucrats. The Law! These will be a huge check to him and his greatest risk is that he will return to what he knows from business, bulling his way through, consequences be damned. Those consequences will doom his presidency if he doesn’t watch his step.
I agree with Hillary. We need an open mind. This is completely virgin territory, but Trump likes virgins so, who knows?
The nation has been divided before and the protests and the odd riot pale in comparison to Vietnam or any number of other troubled periods in America’s history. Whether time heals the wounds or they merely fester, remains to be determined. Most depends upon the new president. Either way, I ultimately believe in the goodness of the American people. We aren’t perfect but we are decent. We were faced with two indecent candidates and forced to choose. A Faustian bargain if there ever was one.