Let This Be a Lesson About Complacency
Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States on Tuesday night. This represents a fundamental shift in global politics to the populist, essentially fascist right, which will be felt for generations to come. At least for the short term, and likely for the long term, hatred and division won.
I had been warning people not to dismiss Trump for months, but even I was pretty confident in a Clinton win, if not quite as much as others. Trump’s victory is probably the most stunning upset in the history of the presidency. All of the polling conducted during these past few months suggested a Clinton victory, debating only her margin of victory. Several poll aggregators reported that Clinton had a 99 percent chance of winning, including the Princeton Election Consortium and the Huffington Post. Nate Silver, long considered the gold standard in the business, was criticized as a numbers manipulator because he gave Hillary only a 65% chance of winning. How did we get this so wrong?
The answer is that we, the sane people, got complacent, creating a hole for the insane people to break through. Seemingly everyone had been dismissing Trump’s chances of victory outright, and burning those who urged caution at the stake. And this is not new. This has been the story of Trump’s campaign. “Oh he won’t run,” “Oh he’s not serious,” “Oh he won’t win a primary,” “Oh he won’t win the nomination,” “Oh he won’t win the election.” We tried to apply conventional rules to a completely unconventional candidate, believing that reason would win the day, and thus dismissed the very real chance throughout the campaign that he had, and now we’re stuck with the consequences of our smugness for what will certainly be four long, long years.
The state of Wisconsin provides a clear picture of this phenomenon. Wisconsin was seen as so in-the-bag for Clinton that she didn’t even bother to visit it once after the convention. The polls consistently showed her winning the state by at least five points, and yet she handily lost there. Her campaign, and the giant apparatus that surrounded it, failed in this regard, as she did in Pennsylvania and Michigan, two other states widely seen as part of her “blue wall.”
A tragic mistake of both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic electorate was assuming that the rest of the country was as disgusted by all of Trump’s statements (and October surprises) as we were. The general election was defined by mudslinging from both sides. The phrase “when they go low, we go high” was often uttered by Democrats but we shat on the opposition just as much, if not more, than they did.
But the real lesson of this election, and the great failure of the Clinton campaign, is that, in a time of anti-establishment fervor exemplified by one of the most talented showmen in political history, the Democrats can’t favor someone who embodies the dreaded establishment and assuming that they will win simply because we view the other side as insane extremists. The world is undergoing a global shift to the right channeled through populists who excoriate globalism, free trade, and immigration. If the Democrats are to have any hope of stopping this in its tracks in this country after Trump, they need to get more focused on building movement politics and dismantle their establishment. There was a movement politician in the Democratic primaries, and his name was Bernie Sanders. Clinton won the Democratic primary, but Sanders amassed a popular movement that latched onto his every word in a similar manner to Trump, although Sanders himself was seemingly not willingly cultivating his cult of personality like Trump was.
And don’t forget the media! The media was so content to broadcast 24 hours of Trump to the tune of $3 billion in free advertising, and then turn around and not only declare that the candidate that they just advertised is Hitler, but that he has no chance of winning! When you’re fighting Hitler, you can never work on an assumption that you will win. Any politician who campaigns based on the assumption that they will win (save for an entrenched incumbent) is an idiot.
The media really let us down this year, and they have eroded the public’s trust in our journalistic institutions through their greedy embrace of non-stop Trump coverage. The media needs to take a deep, hard look at its role in society and not simply at the fat check being offered to them through the embrace of dangerous things for profit. And once non-stop Trump coverage was actually warranted after he won the nomination, all that was ever reported was “Trump said pussy! Trump didn’t pay his taxes! Trump called Hillary a nasty woman!” No discussion about how, like what happened in the UK with Brexit and elsewhere around the world, Trump supporters may have lied to pollsters about their support for Trump due to social pressures. No discussion about how Trump’s candidacy fits in with the greater worldwide shift to an anti-immigrant, populist right wing ideology. Nope, just nonstop Pussygate.
So now, because none of us could just admit to ourselves that he could win, he won. We are stuck with this monster for the next four years. All of the progress of the Obama administration could potentially go down the tubes pretty quickly. Twenty million people will lose their health insurance. The Paris climate agreement will be torn up. The Iran nuclear deal will be torn up. Our burgeoning relationship with Cuba will crumble, and our standing on the world stage will collapse. And, most importantly, bigots will have been legitimized, and will continue to haunt us for years to come.