I have many scattered thoughts on last night’s tumultuous election. Apologies if this is a bit incoherent. I didn’t get a lot of sleep.
I will not back down from my assessment of Trump as terrible candidate and poor human being. Now that he’s elected, I’m willing to give him a chance but I strongly suspect this will end poorly. But before we pull the plug on the American experiment, let’s consider a few points:
Elections are not really about “movements” and rarely about history. They are about candidates and parties. Trump will be the winner, but he will likely end up with fewer votes than McCain or Romney did when they lost. So the idea that he is bringing in new “Trump Republicans” or riding some wave of racial resentment is a bit much. The key difference here was that the Democrat turnout was terrible. Clinton drew ten million fewer votes than Obama did in 2008, six million fewer than in 2012. She lost this in the rust belt, not in the South. Clinton’s electoral history now includes winning a gifted Senate seat by 10 points in a state Gore won by 25, losing a gifted Presidential nomination to a half-term Senator with a funny name and almost losing a second to a 73-year-old socialist. Trump was a bad candidate, but Clinton was just as bad. The Democratic turnout tells you that. And the refusal of Democrats to understand this is a big reason they are full of despair today.
This was a cry against the establishment and, for all her pretenses, Clinton was absolutely the establishment: in Washington for 25 years, in politics for 40, feted by Wall Street interests, supported by the media and the political experts, extremely wealthy, a supporter of every war since Vietnam and advocating traditional Washington policies (such as a no-fly zone in Syria of all places). You can claim it’s sexism but remember: Jeb Bush lost for the same reasons. With all the establishment at his back and all the money in the world, he was even more soundly thrashed. Because as it turns out, Americans aren’t that fond of political dynasties. I believe that America is perfectly willing to elect a woman. They just weren’t interested in electing this woman.
I have no idea how Trump will govern and, frankly, neither does he. The best case scenario is that he’s a figurehead and Pence/Ryan really run the country. The worst case is that he’s serious about ending free trade, abandoning our alliances and making global warming worse. The early tell will be his cabinet appointments. If it’s a bunch of Trump sycophants (and early indications are that it will be), this could be a long four years. While I’m willing to give him a chance, I am very pessimistic and the danger of a real calamity — a World War or a Depression (or both) — is very real. For the first time in my life, I wonder if my kids will have it better than I did.
I know a lot of Democrats are depressed right now. And a lot of minorities are outright scared. I guess it’s easy to just write off half the nation as evil racist sexist monsters. But that would be a mistake. The same country that just elected Trump elected Obama. Twice. Instead of retreating even further into epistemic closure, find out why people really voted for Trump. It wasn’t because they hate black people. And it wasn’t because they hate women. Don’t close off. Don’t isolate. Don’t cut off your family members or friends who voted against you. Argue. Persuade.
You think Trump voters can’t be reasoned with? Garbage. Much of the Republican base has moved left on gay marriage and marijuana in just the last decade. Trump openly supported gays during the primary. Some of the loudest voices against mass incarceration are on the Right (although Trump may silence them for the time being). A lot of eyes have been opened to racism and sexism in our society, particularly in the last year or two. Trust me. I spend a lot of time on conservative blogs. Your voices are being heard and making a difference. It’s just an awfully awfully big hill to climb.
And don’t despair. There’s nothing Trump wants to do that hasn’t been done before. This country has long and ugly histories of protectionism, religious persecution, racial bias, anti-immigrant hysteria and environmental carelessness. We muddled through. The difference is that these policies were pursued by people who actually believed in them and were way more competent than Donald J. Trump. And if you think the country is going backward, look how far forward it has come. Gay marriage is legal and the GOP basically doesn’t care. Legal marijuana is spreading and the GOP is whistling in the dark. Our society … our society outside of politics … is more open and dynamic than it has ever been. 60 million votes can not turn back that tide.
Trust me, your conservative friends are not happy about this either. Trump is not a conservative, he’s a dim-bulb populist. At its best, conservatism is about restraint of government power and respect for existing institutions. My conservatism, such as it is, is the conservatism of Milton Friedman. Trump is against free trade, against small government, against civil liberties and for a massive powerful state. With him in charge, there is no conservative party anymore. Oh, the conservatives will try to cling to him. But in the end, they will be sacrificed on the populist altar.
We have, for the last decade or more, lived in an Culture of Outrage. We are constantly hearing about how some celebrity, some politician or even some random internet person has said something so ridiculously OUTRAGEOUS that they must be shunned from public life (and yes, conservative are just as eager to indulge in outrage culture as liberals). This anger is sometimes legit. But it has become so ubiquitous, so random and often so out of proportion that the public has become inured to it. As a result, Trump’s long string of outrageous statements stopped mattering. People stopped caring.
One question may be why the public ignored a very legitimate complaint about Trump — his terrible behavior with women. A big part of the problem was that the Democrats were, quite possibly, in the worst position to make a big deal out of it. The party that spent decades overlooking Ted Kennedy’s behavior and Chris Dodd’s behavior and Bill Clinton’s behavior, the party that saw Joe Biden’s tendency to get handsy with women as endearing had absolutely no leg to stand on with Republicans and independents. Trump bringing Bill Clinton’s accusers to the fore — derided as a stunt — actually worked. Because it reminded many voters that the Democrats rarely give a damn when their own politicians do everything Trump was accused of. Until you start calling out your own political allies, sexual harassment and abuse by politicians will be tolerated. That was as true this year as it was in 1998.
Just a random prediction here: Hillary Clinton will not be “locked up”. Ever. Almost all of the investigations into her behavior will be dropped. There’s no point in it now for Trump.
Finally, we should never let politics rule our lives. It has an important place. But regardless of which particular power-hungry idiot is sitting in the Oval Office, we must do what we always do: go to work, raise our kids, teach our students, try to get a little exercise, be kind to each other. We are better than our leaders and more powerful. They rule based on our good will. And if Trump (or anyone else) starts acting the tyrant, we must all fight against him. We must especially fight against him if that tyranny is indeed directed against Muslims or Latinos or whatever other group Trump has decided is the Enemy. If there is one silver lining to this awful election, it is this: maybe, going forward, we can remember our scared power to tell the government to get stuffed, to tell leaders to get bent, to stand up against the power of the state. And maybe we’ll give it a little less power to be abused in the first place.
Now is not the time to despair, whether you are a liberal or a conservative. And if you’re a Trump supporter, now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time for all of us to bend our shoulders to the wheel and push harder then ever. A lot of power was just given to Donald Trump. And only the combined and unrelenting pressure from all of us will keep him from abusing it.