[NOTE: I’ve added an updated blog post looking back on this same subject with the benefit of six months’ hindsight here.]
Friends, as I watch a lot of you process what happened in this past election, I see a lot of people talking about the rise of racism and misogyny and xenophobia, lamenting these awful specters as the primary cause of defeat. I also see many saying that Bernie could never have won because he’s a socialist jew, and the same forces would have aligned against him. Let’s be clear (and I say this not as an I-told-you-so, but in hopes we can all learn an important lesson for 2020): that’s all hogwash.
Did the bigots all turn out for Trump? Absolutely. And his victory has, in their minds, justified their outlook, which is terrifying and points to troubling times ahead.
But to believe that somehow, despite the demographic shifts, there are now MORE bigots in the country than there were just in the previous decade, is ridiculous. This is the same country that elected a black man, not for the first time, but for the second, IN A ROW, just four years ago.
Take a look at the numbers:
2008: Obama: 69.5MM votes | McCain: 59.5MM votes
2012: Obama: 65.9MM votes | Romney: 60.9MM votes
2016: Clinton: 59.8MM votes | Trump: 59.6MM votes
A few more votes may trickle in over the coming days, but the results are already clear, and stark. Trump garnered about as many votes as McCain did when he lost in a landslide(!), and more than a million LESS than Romney when he too was roundly beaten. There was no huge upsurge on the right here; what happened was a massive falling off for Clinton (14% less than what Obama received in 2008).
Clinton lost not because there were a bunch of non-racist misogynists who flipped and went with Trump. The misogynists and racists both have always been here, and no doubt both voted McCain/Romney/Trump in succession. (Perhaps more turned out this time around, but if so, they were offset by more tolerant Republicans who stayed home.) What happened was that 14% of those who voted for Obama in ’08 did not participate – and while voter suppression measures likely played some role, it was not nearly significant enough to account for that difference, not by a large margin. The Democratic establishment was counting on folks to go to the polls, hold their noses and vote for Clinton, but instead, an entire class of people who have felt left behind went to the polls, held their noses and voted for Trump.
The lesson here is not that a woman can’t win or a jew can’t win (again, a BLACK MAN won TWICE in a ROW); it’s a) that a large portion of the country has been left behind, feeling abandoned by Democrats post the Civil Rights Movement and taken advantage of by the Republican elite who pandered to them in the years thereafter, and b) importantly, that a bad candidate can’t win.
There are not more bigots in this country than you thought there were – there are more disheartened people. On the left, and at the center, they stayed home; on the right, they swallowed their misgivings and went to the polls.
The path to redemption is clear: the DNC has to get out of its own way. Party loyalty, longevity, familiarity, stability, etc. must no longer be the prerequisites for party support. Boomers, this is not your movement any longer: the machine candidate is dead, and the machine needs to recognize that.
Find us dynamic leaders. New leaders. Passionate, charismatic, and yes, above all, progressive leaders, who speak to all the underprivileged – including those who enjoy white privilege, but not much else.
First, we must weather a tough four years, keeping vigilant on behalf of those who will be endangered. But then, in four years, we need to learn this lesson. If we do, we can take back the reins of government and steer the nation in the right direction for all of its citizens. The vast majority of the country shares tolerant, progressive beliefs – but unfortunately, this time around, the Democratic party did not do enough to prove to those people that IT believes in THEM.