A true democracy means getting the government you deserve. The people, inevitably, get what they ask for.
Let’s set aside Donald Trump the candidate for the sake of this conversation, and focus on President-elect Donald Trump. Or, more specifically, how we got him. The time for litigating the benefits of Clinton vs. Trump has passed.
We have to get that part of this right. Learning the wrong lessons from this campaign and this election will only serve to further ingrain the fissures that have created a country divided.
Less than 48 hours after one of the most shocking political moments in our nation’s history, the excuses come fast and furious. Gary Johnson diluted the votes in Florida and North Carolina. The Voting Rights Act had been dismantled. The media—and your Twitter timeline—told us with such vehement assurance Hillary Clinton was going to win that people stayed home.
Brett LoGiurato at Business Insider wrote something that struck me in the aftermath:
This is a trend now, one in which the media, the political class, and the types of people who set the betting odds are all in their own version of reality. And they look at what’s actually often happening as a sort of alternate reality they think they can gaze wistfully into from afar. The truth is that they are the ones living in an alternate reality.
If you listened to the Keeping it 1600 podcast in the lead-up to Nov. 8, as I did, you would have thought Clinton was going to win in a landslide. The Republican Party as we knew it was over, and the Democrats were going to have a built-in demographic advantage in perpetuity.
We must accept that echo chambers are not unique to one side of the aisle or the other. Our Twitter timelines and Facebook feeds are created to tell us what we want to hear, and it makes it that much easier for us to dismiss the outcome. The divide between urban centers and rural communities has never been more stark, and that perpetuates the insulated nature of our politic circles. (I should know, I live in the most politically insulated place on earth: New York City)
This is precisely what happened in the United Kingdom for the Brexit vote: a number of polls showed an outcome few in the media and city centers believed could happen. Then the UK’s version of “flyover country” decided an election the opposition didn’t realize it needed to contest.
Dismissing this tidal wave of Republican victories—which leaves them holding the House, Senate and Presidency for the first time in a century—based solely on racism and xenophobia embodies the very reasons this election broke the way it did. The people who voted for Donald Trump don’t believe their voices are being heard.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you agree or not. They won by showing they were more pissed off.
Rapper and outspoken Sanders supporter Killer Mike offered a compelling explanation for Clinton’s lack of support with people of color on The Real.
“People who look like all the people on this panel-black, brown, and all types of hues in between-I think that we have been used by a party to the liberal side that once enacted, and once in office, has not enacted policy that was reflective of stuff that would bring our communities up. So I think poor people got angry, and I think that there just happen to be, by this country, more poor angry white people.”
In short, poor and working class people feel left behind by both parties, but it’s worth pointing out that Killer Mike suggested before the election that black people should stay home if they don’t feel supported by Clinton.
Here’s the truth: the Obama coalition did not support Clinton. As of Thursday morning, Clinton trailed President Obama’s 2012 voting numbers by nearly 7 million votes. President-elect Trump won a decisive electoral victory with fewer total votes than Mitt Romney received in an election where he got trounced.
There are people, potentially hundreds of thousands, who voted for Obama in 2012 and voted for Trump in 2016. Four years ago, Obama carried 42% of white women and 35% of white men. Clinton managed just 28% and 17% of those same cohorts.
But Trump didn’t turn out millions of new Republican voters. He got what you might expect a Republican to get. The maps that make the Rust Belt look like a Verizon commercial with all the red shows us not that there was some great influx of Republican voters, but a geographic shift in where they live.
I grew up in Milwaukee, one of the most racially and economically divided cities in the country. Manufacturing jobs fled a generation ago and the effects are still being felt today. I went to college in upstate New York, where the loss of industrial companies devastated whole cities. Opioid addiction ravages these working class communities the same way crack did in the inner city in the 1980s.
None of that is to say those problems are worse than those facing black or Hispanic people in the United States, or the discrimination faced by people of color, women, or the LGBTQ community. This isn’t a justification of a Trump vote, but rather an attempt to explain it. It’s a way of saying a significant cohort of the American people feel aggrieved at a system and a society that they believe no longer cares about their needs.
On a human level, we ought to have compassion for those people, just as we would want empathy for any group of people suffering. Ignoring them would be to repeat the pernicious process that led us here.
The identity politics that have plagued our system on both sides of the aisle didn’t bring black and Hispanic voters to the polls for Clinton, nor did the fear of a Trump presidency. Doubling down on these tactics in an effort to combat Trump only serves to broaden the divide in our society that pits black vs. white, rich vs. poor, old vs. young.
That being said, we can’t ignore what’s been said and done in this election when it comes to racism, misogyny and xenophobia. That the KKK was out on bridges for the morning commute of one North Carolina town should disturb us to our cores. There’s a long way to go in the fight for gender equality, race relations, and civil rights. The deep pain being felt by African-American communities—the pain that spawned Black Lives Matter—along with the struggle for women’s rights, are part of the same canvass that includes disgruntled white working class men and women. The shapes and color ratios may not be the same, but it’s all the same portrait.
Perhaps more people than ever believe the government—and by extension our culture—doesn’t hear their voices. This is a lesson we absolutely cannot miss.
Clinton didn’t visit Wisconsin once after winning the Democratic primary in April. It’s a single act embodying the nature of this election: no need to campaign and hear the concerns people were practically shouting. The Clinton campaign thought Wisconsin was in the bag. This is a state with a Republican governor and Republican controlled state legislature; it shouldn’t have been a shock.
Clinton’s struggles to appeal to young and working class voters likewise shouldn’t have been surprising. Bernie Sanders tapped that vein months ago, pointing out the fecklessness of federal policy in helping the average American worker in favor of corporate profits. It was an anti-establishment, anti-system candidacy that proved to be far more appealing than even the Democratic National Committee envisioned.
America was founded on anti-establishment principles. We had our own Brexit 240 years ago. And yet we have endless pearl-clutching when those chickens came home to roost against a candidate who, perhaps more than any in recent memory, embodied a system millions of Americans view as broken, crooked, or rigged.
After such staunch repudiation of political dynasties in a post-Bush and Clinton world, that Michelle Obama’s name has already been floated for 2020 serves as further evidence the political leaders are out of touch with Joe Mainstreet. So are a lot of us, many willfully so. This requires significant soul searching.
In North Carolina and Michigan, tens of thousands of votes were reportedly cast in the governor’s race without a coinciding presidential ballot. People went to vote locally and simply left the top line blank. I can’t think of anything more powerful as a message to Washington that the people are upset with the political climate at the top levels of government.
Before the election, many pundits pointed to Barack Obama’s popularity as evidence this wouldn’t be a “change” election. Yet by a factor of nearly 2:1, people believed this country was not on the right path. After this election, no matter your political affiliation, I have a feeling you agree. But if you believed in democracy in 2008 and 2012, but not today, then you never truly believed in it at all. Democracy means getting the government you deserve.
All the signs were there yet so many of us ignored them. We got what we deserved.
The future of our country depends on which lessons we learn from all of this. What will we deserve in 2018? In 2020?
The beauty of democracy is that it’s up to us.