*laughter is how we cope with this. If you ignore how horrifying this is on every political, cultural, and well, human level…this is unimpeachably hilarious. Americans have surpassed self-parody with this decision.
In short, that was my Tuesday night. I was either in a borderline psychotic fit of laughter, or zombiefied. Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America. This is happening. 23.8% of Americans voted for Clinton, 23.7% for Trump, and 42.2% decided that showing up wasn’t worth their time. Apathy, not extremism, is the true opponent of democracy.
It’s early and exit poll data is historically unreliable. Given that the scientific polls just invalidated themselves, I don’t feel comfortable using any data other than the overall totals right now. Especially since I relied on traditional polling and recent results in a mild rebuke to Nate Silver’s uncertainty the day before the election. My certainty that Clinton was closer to the betting markets’ 4-1 favorite than Silver’s 1.85-1 odds was based on an acceptance that established norms would hold. Despite journalism being depressingly underfunded and resulting in fewer reliable polls this cycle, all of them were pointing towards the same thing: at least a 1-2% win for Hillary in the popular vote. Given the map of the last four elections, Trump’s path looked near-impossible at that margin.
Since 2000, states have only changed their vote from the previous presidential year 8% of the time. Twelve percent flipped on Tuesday. Based on a traditional map, the Trump path was extremely narrow. Once early voting data came back effectively calling Nevada for Clinton, it looked like Trump had to throw a perfect game and pick up blue-ish states like Colorado, New Hampshire, or Virginia…on a traditional map.
But “tradition” is under attack. It has been since a bunch of thieves infiltrated the housing market and teamed up with Wall Street to nearly vaporize the global economy. “Tradition” capitulated to these humanlike creatures who subsist only on stock options and children’s tears. “Tradition” conspired with these monsters across every industry to create an impenetrable oligopoly. The fact that the United States government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the uber-rich and powerful is the worst kept secret in the world. People have a right to be pissed off. This country inundates the public with propaganda (or as we call them, commercials) reminding us that men are stupid and women are smart but are only objects to be desired.
It is from these same traditions that our punditocracy grows. We are presented with a blue pill and a red pill in every segment and their opinions are equally valid even if one of those opinions is based on facts that don’t exist. TV journalism died the day cable news decided that pundits simply had a duty to an opinion, not a provable argument. This is how Trump became normalized far before he ran for President.
Institutions matter. By definition, they are an accumulation of knowledge. The New York Times is a (fairly) reliable news source because they have the resources and more importantly, the know-how. The internet is the greatest journalistic tool in history, but it will never replace actual reporting. My certainty in my column was based off the certainty of institutions like the Times, and that there were just enough reasonable people out there to make a Trump presidency highly improbable. It was also betrayed by misreading a coalition who undermined the electoral map behind my “highly improbable” grade, as well as “tradition.” If we were told that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were up for grabs, we would have been having an entirely different discussion the past few months.
It’s easy to take the Midwest for granted—just ask Hillary Clinton (whose name has officially become tantamount to Voldemort’s in my presence…I held my nose and accepted her on a symbolic level while ignoring the fact that I didn’t believe her words much more than I believed Trump’s). I wrongly assumed that Bush’s leveling of the economy and Obama’s subsequent bailout of the auto industry won one of America’s last unionized areas for the Democrats for at least a couple decades.
W. did free these people known as the Reagan Democrats from the GOP coalition. As this faction felt more and more left behind by an economy whose prime benefits funnel to a very select few (the .01%, not the 1%, are the real problem), their votes became allied to anything separated from the very system that betrayed them. It’s Trumpian-level moronic that I did not take that into consideration when analyzing this year, considering that I am the son of a Midwestern Reagan Democrat who unregistered as a Democrat in 2008 while also enthusiastically voting for my nearly ideal center-left populist, party identification be damned (I’d like to return the foreign policy version of the model, if possible). I saw a party that subscribed to an outdated neoliberal agenda (or Voxsplainer, in modern parlance) that ultimately serves similar masters to the cynical GOP that I so despise, and so even I opted out of “tradition.”
Not a single debate included a discussion on campaign finance reform, despite roughly 40% of the Democratic electorate staging a revolt and a sizeable portion of the GOP shifting to Trump over that very issue. That commonality tells you all you need to know about how this country really works. America’s heartland proved the theory that the Bernie and Trump coalition shared many voters, which makes sense since they both spoke to the same corruption. Trump may be clueless about basically everything, but he’s not wrong when he says we’re all getting screwed. Washington detached itself from the lives of most Americans decades ago, and 2008 provided a shock that jarred the electorate loose. Because I was blinded by the assumption that the groupthink from established journalistic institutions was a bullish indicator in favor of Hillary and not a red flag, I didn’t see the obvious fact that America was ready for quite literally anything different than Washington. Barack Obama was proof.
Electing an African American President was an important symbolic moment, despite the clear fact that a large portion of the nation wasn’t ready for it. We built our homes on the graves of the natives and created an empire on the backs of slaves. We have yet to reconcile those facts, and that tension is baked in to everything we do. That’s how the Obama-Trump voter can become a real thing who decides elections. The normalization of white supremacy is largely on the media, as they gave a lifetime of free airtime to agendas once confined to KKK meeting halls, but the racism is widely tolerated only because there is a stronger source of anger elsewhere. There are a ton of people out there who feel equally apathetic about the presence of a black president or one who represents white supremacy, and both were validated as mainstream factions this cycle.
Combine the normalization of hate with a candidate who embodies everything the electorate despises about Washington, and you get Trump as President. Democrats thought that electing arguably the most qualified (on paper) ticket in Presidential history was the right play against an active volcano sitting on a fault line. Instead, white people throughout the Midwest dismissed Trump’s fascist rhetoric against everybody but them, and voted against a woman who embodies the prime source of all their political angst: Washington.
This was the biggest failure for elites in the history of mankind. TV news sold its soul for ratings. Old faithfuls whose names end in Post, Dispatch, News, etc…misread the electorate they were supposed to be covering. Trump wasn’t supposed to have a path through the Midwest. Those Reagan Democrats were supposed to be Democrats. Instead, they will forever be known as the Obama-Trump voter. Fascism became secondary to expressing anger towards decades of outright corruption. An endorsement of Obama served the same purpose, as he was an outsider who wanted to break the system too. The American people do not vote for candidates anymore, but against the government that stopped serving their interests long ago.
This is scary. We have entered a new era of American politics. When half the country doesn’t vote, it gives a greater voice to extremists, and the KKK haven’t been this emboldened in most of our lifetimes. Given what happened in the UK after Brexit, it seems likely that hate crimes will rise here. People are quick to make comparisons to 1933 Germany, which isn’t completely off base from an ideological perspective. We are officially in a golden age for white supremacy. Whether that gets expressed through the government (any more) is a very different issue entirely.
The constitution was built with the fear of a King instructing their every move. The Bill of Rights is basically How to Prevent a King Happening for Dummies. We are not 1933 Germany. The Weimar Republic created a devastating economic hurricane that makes the 2008 crash look like one crazy night in Vegas. It wiped out institutions across Germany, and Hitler rose to power through a plurality and used his contacts in the army and police to reconstruct these institutions through force. America has courts, and governors, and local municipalities with far more power than anything comparable in Europe, in addition to constitutionally mandated protections that an executive cannot just roll back. There are a lot of obstacles to clear. W. and Obama dramatically increased the power of the executive, but Trump will not be able to just start rewriting every law he wants.
There’s also the matter of Congress and the fact that Trump’s win does not change the fact that the GOP is still in the middle of a civil war. #NeverTrump means never, and Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse have serious pull in the Senate. Trump spent months ripping Paul Ryan to shreds and now he thinks he can just walk into Congress with a blank check? No way.
If anything, the Republicans in Congress will get a blank check from Trump—which still isn’t great, but it’s better than an unconstrained manbaby. Roughly 5% of Republican legislators across the nation endorsed Trump, and the things his campaign promised to do are very difficult logistically (the sticker shock from Congress on the Trump Wall of Trumpmerica is going to be hilarious). Given his history of not doing anything and just licensing his name out to people, it’s possible Trump could abandon these fights, blame Paul Ryan again (or whomever the Speaker winds up being), and retreat to being the New York “billionaire” that spent decades pining for Bill and Hillary’s adulation.
This is bad. America chose white supremacy over the symbolic capitol of the United States. However, there are car loans that will last longer than Trump’s first term, and his win is confirmation that populism is the correct strategy at the polls. Bernie would have won in a landslide.
I can understand the DNC not backing him, as he was only a Democrat of convenience, so they didn’t owe him anything. But they had their own Bernie in Elizabeth Warren, who is so wildly popular that they basically named her and Hillary the Tag Team Champions out on the campaign trail. She checks nearly every box in both the Hillary and Bernie columns, with the added bonus of actually pushing populist policies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau through Congress. She would be President too. The Democrats clearing a path for Hillary at the expense of Elizabeth Warren is better evidence of the real party agenda than anything in the Wikileaks e-mails.
Trump is a symptom of a larger problem. We have yet to fully address our sordid racial history, and how we still use our government to disenfranchise minorities in a prison industrial complex that is effectively Jim Crow 2.0. America’s most downtrodden aren’t falling behind, they never caught up. However, some of the greediest “humans” in history helped tank the economy and exposed its underlying fragilities, giving everyone a legitimate grievance as over half of America lives from paycheck to paycheck. Mankind has always been at the mercy of a handful of favored powers, but the United States was supposed to be different. It’s not. In some areas, our blind loyalty to unfettered capitalism exacerbated the problem. Until we return to a system of governance that truly is for, by, and of the people, hate will trump love, and Anyone but Washington will be the only vote cast—sending us farther and farther down the death spiral that has extinguished every empire in history.