So, back in November, when we (the coalition of liberals and non-liberals horrified by Trump) were all reeling in the wake of the election, I wrote a blog post on how the Democratic party had failed the country. In case you don’t want to return to read it in its entirety (and honestly, who could blame you?) it essentially boiled down to the twin conclusions that: 1) the Dems failed to offer a clearly articulated plan that addressed the needs of a disheartened populace, and 2) the traditional party machinery had produced a candidate/campaign hamstrung by both outdated mechanics and thinking.
Since then, we’ve learned a lot more. To begin with, when the late votes were tallied, we discovered that the actual margins were:
2008: Obama: 69.5MM votes | McCain: 59.5MM votes
2012: Obama: 65.9MM votes | Romney: 60.9MM votes
2016: Clinton: 65.9MM votes | Trump: 63.0MM votes
Looks like my overall point re: turnout was wrong. Trump had many more than I thought, and Clinton matched Obama in ’12. Wow.
We’ve also learned that Russians hacked our election, potentially with help(!) from the Trump campaign itself. Disturbing, distressing, and admittedly, a factor I had never considered at the time. In retrospect, it’s amazing that Clinton did as well as she did, given the outside forces at play.
Other underreported factors include Russian fomenting of divisiveness between Bernie and Hillary camps, voter suppression – and of course good ol’-fashioned gerrymandering. All infuriating, and all issues that Dems need to address as soon as they are back in power.
I was either incorrect about, or unaware of, or placed not enough importance on everything above – no question.
But you know what?
I stand by my original conclusion.
The race should never have been so close in the traditional “Blue Wall” states in the first place; regardless of all the negative factors listed above, Trump should never have come within striking distance.
I mean, we’re talking about arguably the least qualified, most personally distasteful candidate in U.S. history. A man who insults the disabled, veterans, Gold Star families, minorities of every creed and color – and openly admitted to multiple sexual assaults on tape mere days before the election. A man who is a braggart, born with a silver spoon (or at least silver-plated) spoon in his mouth, who is the very definition of the arrogant 1%. A man whose businesses have gone bankrupt multiple times, and won’t release his taxes. A man with no qualifications or governmental experience whatsoever.
A man who can’t craft coherent sentences for crying out loud! (That last one bothers us writers perhaps more than most.)
And yet he still won.
Why? Well, in addition to everything above, the Dems ran a bad campaign. They went for the kill in Florida and North Carolina – even Georgia and Texas – without doing enough to shore up their base. Worse, they ignored the most vulnerable segment of that base; I know Hillary’s headquarters were in Brooklyn and she lives in Chappaqua, but honestly, some of the time she spent in NYC would have been much better spent in Madison, Columbus, Flint, and Scranton. (And note: bafflingly, they made this mistake knowing, unlike the rest of us, that the Russians were actively interfering in the election at the time.)
More importantly, as Donald grew more crude, more personal, more bombastic, and to my mind, more flat out disgusting, Hillary’s campaign went aggressively more negative and more personal in lockstep. Almost to the complete exclusion of policy. This from the woman who originally entered the White House on a team that won following the strategy of “it’s the economy, stupid”? You have to tell people – especially those who feel they’re being left behind, like so much of the white working class, especially in the Rust Belt – how you’re going to help them; Trump may have been (and still is) awful, but (from the perspective of his voters), at least he promised new jobs and better health care.
Lastly, and I get a lot of push-back on this from her more devoted supporters, but I think Hillary was a flawed candidate. Not a “terrible” candidate as so many Bernie bros and Republicans want to paint her, but one with more intrinsic hurdles to overcome than perhaps others might have brought to the race. She herself admitted that campaigning did not come naturally to her. She is not, to my mind, a particularly inspiring speaker – certainly not on par, for example, with a Kamala Harris or a Michelle Obama. To a country that has grown increasingly dissatisfied with Washington DC, and especially DC under the modern-day Yorks and Lancasters (a.k.a. the houses of Clinton and Bush), the sense of “inevitability” that surrounded her was a definite turnoff (as, I’d argue, it was for Jeb as well), as were her connections to Wall Street and Hollywood. But perhaps most damaging – and certainly most unjust – of all was the fact that she’d been the target of a three-decade targeted negative PR campaign by the GOP.
Again, this last point is horribly unfair, but it was reality, and as we perform our autopsies, it needs to be part of the political calculus – after all, no other candidate the Dems could have put forth, woman or man, person of color or white, would have had to address it. And, hey, I get that as a cis-gendered, white male, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism I address to the first female candidate in U.S. history – but I believe Trump’s election to be a disaster for the country, and we therefore need to be candid about everything that can be improved upon in the next candidate/campaign, just as we would if the loser hadn’t been the first woman to run. Too many people are suffering, and it’s too important to win back the White House to do otherwise.
And so, I’m left with the same conclusion as I was back in November:
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.
Okay, that’s all on politics for now. Back to writing-related material next month, I promise.
(Why do I feel like I’ve said that before…?)