Tonight, Hell froze over. A day much of America never thought possible. Unfathomable. Unthinkable.
But guess what? It happened. How did it happen? I’ll tell you one thing that no one else is saying: Donald Trump didn’t win this election. Hillary Clinton lost it. To win, she needed to stand for something. She needed to have a message that resonated, a platform that motivated. She needed to believe in something and convey that belief to the electorate. But what did she represent?
Perhaps the Hillary who was a Wellesley College firebrand antiwar activist could’ve won this election. That Hillary stood for something. You knew what she believed. But today’s Hillary has endured decades in which all those virtues were worn smooth by compromise; decades of permitting herself to be co-opted by the very power elites she once derided.
What did she hold out as her greatest virtue? Competence. Really? That’s a quality to excite an entire electorate? Hillary represented the past, not the future. She couldn’t project a vision of what that future should be. What would make a young person want to cast a vote for her?
She faced the same problem in 2008 in her race against Obama for the nomination. Then, she couldn’t articulate a reason she should be president apart from her past, her history. She couldn’t set herself apart from Obama in any way that motivated voters to choose her rather than him. Obama owned the oratory, the excitement, the vision. All of which she lacked.
That same dynamic played out in this year’s Democratic primaries. There, Bernie was the firebrand. He had the vision. He may not have had Obama’s smooth rhetoric or delivery. But he had something just as important: authenticity.
In this campaign, Hillary needed, somehow, to retain that sense of mission and enthusiasm Barack Obama generated in 2008 (though in governing, he often disappointed). But she couldn’t. That’s why her election results fell far below Obama’s in virtually every precinct in the country. She didn’t add to Obama’s coalition or bring anything new to it. She detracted from it. She lost what he created.
This was also a rejection of John Podesta, Neera Tanden and their Center for American Progress. Along with its publication, Think Progress, it had attempted to be liberal think tank, offering progressive policy initiatives. But somewhere during Obama’s eight years in office it turned into a Clinton-in-exile campaign operation. So Podesta and Tanden go from measuring the drapes for their offices in the West Wing to political irrelevance. A fate well-deserved.
Election as Backlash Against Obama Legacy
TV analysts tonight were unsure whether to call this an election over race. Of course it was. But it was more than that. This election was a backlash. It was going forward into the past. A past in which white men ruled. In which they made the decisions. In which women were subservient. In which minorities were seen (barely) and not heard. In 2008, Barack Obama blasted through that stereotype and ushered us into a new era. One that embraced racial tolerance and the empowerment of women, LGBT individuals.
The Trump “Revolution” isn’t that at all. It’s a backlash. A rejection of the American future. That’s why it can’t last. The white men (and women) who came out in droves to vote Trump hate the future represented by Obama and his ethnic coalition. They’re desperate to turn back the clock. But demography isn’t something you can reverse, no matter how high you build a wall. America is a place people seeking a better life are drawn to like a beacon. Many of them are black or brown. You can’t keep them all out.
America is becoming younger, more brown, more black, more Muslim. Donald J. Trump can rail against this. But he can’t stop it. So I have no doubt that in four years, after he’s botched just about everything he’s put his hands to–the pendulum will swing back. America may dabble in extremes as it’s done tonight. But America, unlike totalitarian countries, learns from its mistakes. In four years, you won’t be able to find an American anywhere who’ll admit they voted for Donald Trump.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is far too good to waste on Donald Trump. But the ending of The Great Gatsby captures the futility of Jay Gatsby’s dream of a future that somehow continually recedes into the past. The hero himself, a self-made millionaire who sprang up from nothing and nowhere in particular, could be a stand-in for Trump, though Gatsby is far more refined and diffident than Trump will ever be:
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . . And one fine morning—
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I was listening to NBC correspondent, Richard Engel speak on TV about how the world viewed a Trump victory. He placed tonight’s electoral result in the context of political backlash (largely right-wing) happening elections around the world: Brexit, Duterte in the Phillipines, Erdogan in post-coup Turkey. These are eruptions of anger and fear in the face of a future which leaves the Old Guard behind. They hearken for a return to a nostalgic past that may never have been and certainly can never be in the future.
Only twice in my life have I voted for a presidential candidate who wasn’t a Democrat. I voted for Barry Commoner in 1980 and I wrote-in Bernie Sanders on my Washington State ballot. That’s how little enthusiasm I could muster for Hillary.
Bernie and the Future
Bernie was right when he said the Democratic establishment rigged the nomination process for Hillary. And the lesson the Party should learn is that the nomination process should be open, free and fair. When the Party elite unites in favor of an establishment candidate, this is often the result. Instead of a coronation, you get a disaster.
After nearly 50 years of voting in, and watching presidential elections (and seeing my share of disasters like Nixon, Reagan and Bush elected), I’ve learned that politics is a historical process. There are elections in which candidates win and lose. But those who lose don’t become extinct. Nor should the Democratic Party.
On election night 2004, after George Bush won a sweeping victory, I predicted that the president would falsely believe he’d been given a mandate to continue along the path he’d chosen. I said Bush was full of hubris and that such overconfidence is what breeds political comebacks. And I was right. Bush stumbled badly over the next four years on almost all fronts: Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, the near-collapse of the U.S. economy. The pendulum swung away from right-wing extremism and toward progressive values. Barack Obama was elected.
Pres. Trump (how that phrase sticks in my craw) has, if anything, more hubris than Bush. He leads a Party that is completely out of touch with him. The Congressional Republican majority will quickly exert its independence from him and forge a separate path. There will be little coordination or unity between the executive and legislative branches. They will fall to bickering and jockeying for power. Perhaps not in the first months. But soon thereafter.
In terms of my own particular interests, Trump will be a disaster. The Iran nuclear deal is history. It’s entirely possible that Ayatollah Khanenei will restart the nuclear program that could lead to a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu is delighted with this outcome. He can dust off that Iranian bogeyman for the next four years. Hell, he might even be able to convince Pres. Trump to bomb the crap out of ’em! And if you think I’m joking, I’m not. Over the past eight years, Obama wouldn’t let Bibi anywhere near attacking Iran. Now? Your guess is as good as mine.
Since either a Clinton or Trump presidency meant disaster regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, we are probably no worse off than if she won. But given that Trump is a total wild card there’s always the possibility he will do something hare-brained and make it worse–much worse.
Given the fact that Donald has a friend in the Kremlin, it’s unlikely we will go to war in Syria. I’m waiting for his first trip to Moscow to celebrate. Donald has promised Bibi will be his first foreign head of state to visit the White House. I can’t wait.
If you view the arc of history in terms of American politics, there are winners among the losers. The winners are the future. Bernie Sanders, who I’m convinced would have won this election had he been the Democratic nominee, represented a genuine mass movement in the same way Obama once did. Who are the inheritors of that mantle? Elizabeth Warren. She is the future.
You may laugh at this, but I think Michelle Obama proved during this campaign that the American people love her. Even more than they loved Barack. Unlike Hillary, Michelle hasn’t had her virtues sandblasted by compromise into political homogeneity. I don’t now what she wants to do with her life. But she too could represent the future rather than the past, as Hillary did.
There is another still small voice of hope in today’s election. After my Congress member, Jim McDermott retired, two progressive Democrats vied for his seat. The winner, who I supported, was Pramila Jayapal. She is the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. She is also one of the few Congressional candidates endorsed by Bernie Sanders. His endorsement was crucial in the midst of a nasty TV ad attacks mounted by her challenger. It’s a wonderful night for her amidst the wretched refuse of national defeat. Let her represent the future. One that may be built from these ashes.
We have been in the minority in the past. We will return from defeat. You can only hold back the future so long.