Lamenting the 2016 Elections

All along I had that sinking feeling about the 2016 elections, although my rational side was drawn to sophisticated analytics that put Hillary Clinton’s probability of winning the United States presidency as high as greater than 99%; the Democrats’ chances of gaining control of the Senate looked nearly as good. Well, garbage in, garbage out, as they say. Even if the national polling was acceptable by showing Hillary consistently ahead — she did lead in the popular vote, after all — the state-by-state data was clearly flawed. Donald Trump took most of the battleground states and then some, embarassing pundits who tended to believe that Latinos rather than blue-collar whites were underrepresented in the polls.

So the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential contests but only won the Electoral College, and hence the election itself, in four of them. The Republicans sure seem lucky. But this at least allows me and like-minded Americans to inform the rest of the world that most of us voted for Clinton. For I can think of few people more dangerously ill-suited to this most-powerful and prestigious office than the Donald. Often ignorant yet never in doubt, boorish, petulant, misogynistic, racist, and, to me, on the wrong side of history on issue after issue, he appears capable of untold mayhem in partnership with the current Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. To hope, against all the evidence, that he with his cohort of mean has-beens and crackpots will betray his wrathful base of supporters and govern as a pragmatic moderate is whistling past the graveyard. I am filled with dread.

When this era is chronicled by historians of the future, I doubt that much of the recent liberal and conservative intellectualizing will survive. If the country was so gripped by anti-establishment sentiment, then why did every conservative establishment Republican senator win reelection? If working-class white males were enraged because they had been the victims of globalization, how come their black and Latino brethren were not? Were Trump’s followers truly convinced that he would “drain the swamp” of corporate corruption in Washington when he never released his tax returns to the public (since he has evidently gamed the system to his own enrichment for years)?  Was Hillary, with all of her achievements and qualifications, such a flawed candidate when so many of the accusations against her were the product of obvious political witch-hunts and easily debunked conspiracy theories?

Anti-Trump Demonstration in Washington Square, New York

No, I believe that Trump — with his inept campaign and all of his gaffes — would have soundly beaten Bernie Sanders and probably Joe Biden too, because he alone was ruthless in tapping the white resentment that has simmered during Barack Obama’s two terms as president. It is hardly a coincidence that each of this demagogue’s favorite targets has an alien face on it: illegal immigration (Latin-American); terrorism and refugees (Arab and South Asian); free trade (East Asian). On Tuesday, to the motto of “we’re taking our country back,” white, small-town, nativist America got its revenge on multiracial, urban, cosmopolitan America, as the demographic and cultural change personified by our first African-American president found its perfect nemesis. The hopeful enthusiasm that propelled Obama to the White House is vanquished by the spiteful energy of Trumpism. And Hillary seemed to inherit all of the hatred toward Obama but little of the love. Our nation has become increasingly tribal like the South, where the vast majority of whites are Republicans and most minorities are Democrats.

Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that so many mainstream Republican voters, including educated white women, voted for Trump as if he were no different than John McCain and Mitt Romney. Just eight years after the disastrous end to the last Bush administration, how can one not conclude that white people are always willing to give the Republican Party another chance to destroy the country?

I ended my previous piece (“The Twilight of G.O.P. Cynicism?” from May 14) with this: “Only if they get the drubbing at the polls they badly deserve will the Republicans begin to reinvent themselves as a legitimate national party.” A week before the election they appeared to face that reckoning. Now, with their unexpected control of the executive and both legislative branches of the federal government, they have learned that pandering to the basest sentiments of the white electorate is a reliable path to victory. White-male dominance of the U.S. is assured for the foreseeable future, probably with terrible consequences.

10 thoughts on “Lamenting the 2016 Elections

  1. It is the season of mean.

    He has already dialed America back to the worst of the 19th century in terms of stop at nothing to grab power. His apostles, most of whom were circumcised by himself for all the world to see, once fire-breathing heathen are now crusading defenders of the faith. Men of passion are now men of reason, come to their senses in their own humiliation. The Trump path to power is through breaking of standing and spirit of the opposition, then using them as paving stones to march forward upon. The transmogrified are given a halo and spear to campaign for the cause, which they had previously denounced. There might be a place in the cabinet for Saints Carson, Perry and Christie.

    Perhaps with his thin skin, Donald Trump will overreact to probable demonstrations in his ascendency, thus further polarizing the country, and laying open the possibility that he overplays his hand leading to his downfall. But what could he expect other than civil disobedience in light of his success in the elections, owing to an already polarized electorate and him taking advantage of it?

    He will have an unimpeded path to change as he sees it with the White House and both houses of Congress in his party. He’ll have the advantage of a recovering economy, of which he will surely claim credit, plus the benefit of a massive infrastructure spending, pretty much shovel-ready. The damage his policies will do won’t be realized ’til further down the line.

    However, as I mentioned, his honeymoon will be marred by dissent, totally of his own making. As Paul Krugman wrote in today’s (New York) Times, elections determine who gets the power, not who offers the truth. But those who just watch Fox News will continue to see the world through a lense that loses much in the translation and sees a different world with different devils.

  2. Just a passing paranoid thought:

    Suppose you have a few billion lying around. Then spending $200 million on a goal is not such a big relative expense, especially if the goal yields future returns.

    If you spend $40 million in each of five swing states to bribe election officials, could you swing the election? Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida. The first three could easily have gone the other way, and polled that way. Maybe all the smart people and all the analytics were wrong, or maybe it was a magic trick: the hat looked empty, but the rabbit was in there all along. Maybe corrupt officials in those states were bought, or people paid to change software in the machines. What would a person with a family, making $50,000 a year, do for $2 million?

    Our “lantzman” Leonard Cohen sure had a good sense of timing. He knew when it was time to get out of the game. Or maybe the shock did him in. Here’s what he wrote some years ago, in a different context:

    Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
    Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
    Everybody knows that the war is over
    Everybody knows the good guys lost
    Everybody knows the fight was fixed
    The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
    That’s how it goes
    Everybody knows
    Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
    Everybody knows that the captain lied
    Everybody got this broken feeling
    Like their father or their dog just died

    R.I.P. Leonard.

    • I love the Leonard Cohen connection but don’t put much stock in conspiracy theories. On the other hand, the Trump camp apparently does, so who knows?

  3. Hi, Gary. Let me offer you a view from the U.K., and a view from someone who knows we here in Britain also need huge immigration, but nevertheless voted for Brexit. Trump is a dreadful guy with lots of crazy views, so why on earth has he just been elected?

    History shows us that free trade/globalisation moves in cycles. It has been moving at a rapidly accelerating pace and the casualties are many. This is a revolt against both the direction and the speed. The picture is the same across the West. So is the problem of debt and demographics. The political classes are living in the past. The system isn’t working and has also become unreformable. For the U.S. to produce presidents from among two or three families just stinks to anyone with any common sense. Hillary was a lousy candidate. Democracy this isn’t. It’s more like the death of Cicero and the end of Rome.

    We are living in a vacuum of real representation and nature abhors a vacuum. Demagogues always arrive to fill it. The precedents aren’t happy, and we have swastikas painted on the walls of Athens already as Greek youth unemployment hits 50%, but the longer you leave the boil unlanced the worse the consequences.

    This is a vote to destroy the system and start again. Trump got ahead of this insight and it took him all the way. Why so extreme and so risky? If you are a lower- or middle-income worker things have got steadily worse for two generations and are getting worse faster for the next one. If you don’t live in a city you haven’t had the benefits of technological advance and have no way to climb up the ladder. You feel like there is no ladder any more. If you are a parent or a child outside the top 1% we live in you see the young generation unable to get a decent job, unable to hope for a sustained career, unable to buy a house.

    The solutions aren’t easy (and they certainly aren’t the ones Trump espoused in his campaign). Scots aren’t notable optimists typically but I’m not any more pessimistic now than before the election. This guy talks like a lunatic but my guess is he at least won’t be able to act like one and may even not be one. Lots of change that will feel revolutionary needs to happen for us all to get back to anything resembling a stable path. The hurting majority in our societies are going to need more than just lip service. This is more than just resentment or jealousy, it’s a cry from the heart for a fair shake. The alternative would be an actual revolution. As nearly everyone in the U.S. seems to own a gun that’s a pretty scary proposition.

    We have collectively lived beyond our means as a society and reached the point where more debt is no longer an optional anesthetic — default or inflation is required. Few people understand default better than Donald J. Trump. If you think he’s bad, try to imagine what would have come next without him.

    • Mike, I greatly appreciate your comment but must respectfully disagree with a few points.

      One is that we — as in the States — must default or inflate our way out of our national debt. It’s ironic that the last U.S. president to run budget surpluses and start paying off our obligations was Bill Clinton, who did so by raising taxes and controlling spending. Yet the economy on his watch still created tens of millions of jobs. I was hoping that Hillary would attempt a replay of that success, because our taxes aren’t really high compared to Europe’s. Bill has also pointed out repeatedly that we cannot enforce our trade policies if our trading partners are also our bankers, whom we need to fund our budget deficits. This serves to remind us that Donald Trump’s threats of trade retaliation with China are hollow indeed.

      But the Republicans, supposedly the party of fiscal responsibility, would declare war before raising taxes, no matter how much they intend to spend on the military or whatever advantages them politically. I understand that their latest plan is to cut taxes while funding a massive infrastructure-rebuilding project that would energize the economy but generate massive deficits, inflation and higher interest rates. It sounds even worse than what the George W. Bush administration concocted, leading up to the financial crisis. Yet even in the wake of that, they were loath to adopt any Keynesian measures, lest they benefit President Obama and the Democrats. The American people be damned. If anyone was willing to help blue-collar whites in the so-called Rust Belt, it was the Democrats. But the Republicans wouldn’t have it.

      I’ve heard a narrative from the right that says Hillary was defeated as a repudiation of Obama’s policies, notably Obamacare. This is self-serving claptrap. If that was the case, he would have been defeated by Mitt Romney in 2012.

      From the left I’m hearing that Bernie Sanders would have fared better against Trump than Hillary. A 74-year-old Jewish socialist, really? Hillary beat Bernie soundly in Pennsylvania and Ohio during the primaries, and barely lost to him in Michigan; Wisconsin was another story. Trump barely beat her in Pennsylvania and Michigan but won more handily in Wisconsin and especially Ohio. So there’s no pattern suggesting that Bernie would have performed any better with the white working class in the Midwest than Hillary — but plenty of evidence suggesting that he would have done worse with minority voters everywhere. In fact, his fan base mainly consisted of college-educated whites.

      I can understand why voters opted for change in denying George H.W. Bush a second term, when the economy was just okay, and took a chance on a smooth-talking, moderate Democrat from Arkansas. But I simply do not buy into the argument that economic misery all of a sudden delivered those blue-collar voters to the wretched Trump because of his empty promises to bring their jobs back.

      Maybe it didn’t matter much to them, but our economy has produced strong employment gains for months, and wages have been rising, despite the Republicans’ economic sabotage. (Remember budget sequestration and government shutdowns?) Public-opinion surveys of Trump supporters consistently ranked immigration and terrorism above the economy as their greatest concerns, which I suspect paralleled those of Brexit voters.

      I’m a big fan of trade (as long as it’s equitable), and my guess is that workers at Boeing, Caterpillar and some other American industrial leaders are not on the Bernie/Donald protectionist bandwagon. I also believe that our ability to integrate immigrants, which we have done for centuries, is a great strategic advantage that the U.S. must never forfeit.

      At the same time, my greatest fear for this country has been that the period of transition to a minority-majority country would trigger a right-wing political backlash among white voters afraid of losing their dominance. I believe this is what just happened.

      Was it because Hillary was a “lousy” candidate? I think not. Despite being tormented by the Republican congress, the F.B.I., Bernie Sanders and WikiLeaks, she managed to get well over 60 million votes (and still counting). Her final tally will be considerably more than that of Trump, who lucked out in the Electoral College by getting a few more votes in the states where he needed them.

      And he got there by thrashing more than a dozen challengers in the Republican primaries, so he was no slouch. What made him stand out? He was the first national candidate in memory to harp relentlessly and in a bigoted fashion on the threats of illegal immigration, terrorism and trade, promising to “make America great again.” Everybody here knows what that really meant.

      • I’m not against Democratic policies, Gary, and I’d have voted for Hillary over the Donald every day and twice on a Tuesday. “Vote early and often” has a certain resonance.

        I guess I’m saying the roots of this calamity, as elsewhere, go well back before the financial crisis. The top 1% have lined their/our pockets and in place of retribution (e.g. for Goldman Sachs) we have seen their/our wealth grow nicely. Greed, it turns out, isn’t good after all, whatever Gordon Gecko might think. Incentives are wrong and short term across nearly every sphere of human endeavor. In politics, public service has been replaced by self service.

        For all of the many and varied stupidities achieved on this side of the pond, though, notably in the European Union, it’s especially disappointing and troubling that the choice of candidates in the States was so lame. There just has to be something wrong with a system that throws up the same few names time after time alongside assorted extremist fruitcakes with very odd religious views on the right? The stalemate Obama faced, together with an economy initially on the edge of the abyss, meant he had to redefine success pretty early on.

        And now we have Trump. It’s not good. It’s just not that surprising.

  4. Gary, he is what he is and I am too polite to say just what that is on these pages. However, could you say that about Obama? Obama isn’t what he is or was. He basically carried through on so much of what the Bush administration started as far as corporate support and military aggression — by that I mean the immoral drone war, not to mention the biggest invasion of privacy in world history perpetrated on this populace and lying about it; and not so coincidentally being the first president in American history to designate American citizens for assassination. The left or neo-liberals continue to jack up the rhetoric and relegate anyone who doesn’t use the words “scary” or “fascist” or “Nazi” in reference to “Trumpistan” today to some kind of secular purgatory. We are losing a devil we don’t know so to speak and gaining a devil we know — maybe — and the corporate takeover of our country marches on. At least the shit storm is no longer swathed in cotton candy.

    • Although I don’t disagree with some of what you wrote, to call Donald Trump “the devil we know” and Obama “the devil we don’t know” is a bit bizarre.

      Other than his nativism (or white nationalism, if you prefer), Trump doesn’t stand for a coherent ideology. His policy positions are about as constant as quicksilver. His affiliation with the Republican Party, and default statements of boilerplate G.O.P. policy (that he frequently contradicts afterward) are our only guide. What makes him really scary is that he fits the classic demagogue type captured in the phrase “l’etat c’est moi.” He may or not be one, but he shares with Mussolini and other fascists the creed that his greatness alone can repair and run the country, if only the balky institutions of state can be bent to his will.

      Obama, on the other hand, has always struck me as a predictable, pragmatic liberal and relatively competent technocrat. Before he was spending all of his time fighting the surge of right-wing reaction that I believe demographic and cultural change (plus his election, sadly) have unleashed on the country, he tried to make things better — like reforming our expensive and deeply unfair healthcare system.

      To those Bernie Sanders supporters and others on the left who wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because the status quo wasn’t good enough, you’re in for a nasty stretch.

  5. To those who were disappointed in Obama, and those who felt Clinton to be even less ideal, let’s digress into perspective.

    Civilization is such a thin veneer that it might be classified as an illusion. Things were ugly enough with swords and spears when man-killing was hard work. Now we have barrel bombs, dirty bombs and automatic weapons. Consider that the flintlock musket ended the age of the knight. Now anyone with less cash than it takes to fly to Europe can buy enough firepower and rounds of ammo to take out King Arthur’s roundtable.

    There is a reason why the biggest fear in China is chaos. With this election, both in style and outcome we are one step closer to the abyss. In essence, what the founders of this country feared, easy access to changing law, is upon us like the bubonic plague. We have a president-elect whose strong point is salesmanship, but does not read and has no sense of nuance or culture outside his own circles. The American people have bought a lame horse. We will be run by a junior varsity team who surely would have bet against their prospects from the get go. Odds are against impeachment so we will have them for no fewer than 4 years. But their Supreme Court picks will be the gift that keeps on giving. If guns have been the answer to our problems all along, they certainly will continue to be, only on steroids. Church and state will become churchandstate. Environmentalism will now become your lungs and kidneys to clean the air and water. And the flag waving, that last bastion of scoundrels, will drum out any person or idea that displeases the Donald.

    So, yes, Hillary was imperious. Obama was aloof. Bernie was too far to the left. But the fox is in the henhouse, and when the killing of the chickens begin Hillary is going to look like Joan of Arc.

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