Figuring out why what happened last week happened is a task upon which pundits, historians, journalists and our Facebook friends will labor, maybe forever. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do have some observations, which follow.
Life is full of irony and this election presented some truly rich ones:
- The institution designed to keep populist demagogues away from the presidency (the Electoral College) turned out to be the way a populist demagogue got the presidency.
- The populist candidate ended up, by a healthy margin, losing the popular vote.
- The woman whose husband became president behind the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” lost, it can plausibly be said, because she focused on things other than the economy.
- Conventional wisdom holds that after taking the primary, a presidential candidate has to pivot back to the center to win the general. This time, the pivot didn’t start until after the election was over.
- A reality TV star, by going totally off-script and presenting un-reality as fact, was able to defeat one of the most meticulously planned and carefully stage-managed campaigns in history.
- With an expected U.S. pivot to Russia and Britain self-isolating via its Brexit, it turns out Germany, which 75 or so years ago tried to bring about the end of the free world, will now be leading the free world.
- In Texas, Clinton got about half-million more votes than Obama did last time. In New York, Trump picked up a half-million more votes than Romney did last time.
- A man born into fabulous riches and sporting the über-elite stylistic sense of Louis XVI is now the working people’s hero.
- In what’s being called one of the greatest “shakeup” elections in history, it was incumbents all the way locally in the state legislature.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The coming weeks will firm up some information and then maybe a concrete theory on the how and why of Trump’s win will emerge. It seems so far what happened is a lot of white working class people who voted Obama in 2012 went for Trump this time, as did a lot of rural white voters. That cost Hillary some vital Rust Belt states and therefore the White House.
I mean, if you believe, really believe, that NAFTA took your job and destroyed your town, why on earth would you vote for the wife of the man who signed it into law? The de-industrialization of this country left a lot of people high and dry, scorned and ignored. Last week, those people changed the world. Scorned they may continue to be but ignored they will be no longer.
I think she’s on the side of the angels and, as I wrote about Sean Eldridge two years ago, I hope she sticks around, puts down some roots and perhaps begins local community service at a slightly less lofty peak — Clinton Town Board, maybe? Or if she’s not in Joel Tyner’s district, the Dutchess County legislature? Maybe she’s too important to the struggle for such humble tasks, or maybe her role in civic affairs is not as an elected official. That she just sent out an email blast Wednesday endorsing Keith Ellison’s candidacy for chair of the Democratic National Committee indicates she’s not immediately going away, which I think is good.
My sense of it was that she was about a third too liberal for the 19th Congressional District taken as a whole, especially in a year where Trump, according to the last pre-vote Siena poll, was leading by five points. Being from the rock-ribbed Republican Dutchess side of this district, I don’t think many of those who had Maurice Hinchey as their congressman for all those years fully grasp how not-liberal everywhere else in the 19th save Kingston, Woodstock, New Paltz, (mostly) Red Hook and (mostly) Rhinebeck and maybe Oneonta and Cooperstown is. Mike Hein, with a great administrative record and sparkling social and environmental credentials, I reckon quite possibly might have won. Will Yandik was closer to this district’s sweet spot (where Chris Gibson is) but the Dem primary voters went another way.
An example of disconnectedness to local concerns was her opposition to the property tax cap, which proved to be an effective weapon against her. Among many liberals, the cap is seen as an evil as it throttles the intake of money for what liberals feel (and are probably right in many cases) are vital initiatives. To the average homeowner, however, the cap blessedly put an end to an era where one’s school taxes could go up five or 10 percent a year for several years running. I have no idea what the tax cap’s approval rating is around here, but I’d be surprised if it was substantially lower than 80 percent.
I am not trying to minimize the importance of stemming the influence of money in politics. Really, I’m not. But that’s not at its heart a local issue, and when you’re someone who comes to here from not here and wants to represent here at the highest level possible, a focus on local issues is essential. As much as I agree with Teachout and respect her intelligence and ethics — she was infinitely more qualified for the job than Eldridge, who seems to have since his 2014 defeat vanished from local affairs — there’s no real substitute for being from here. (Yes, I know, RFK and Hillary for Senate. Different ball of wax. Whole state, very famous people.)
In dealing with her staff, I didn’t feel they, either, had a very good grip on local life. There was an incident a few weeks ago with one of her staffers which made me say this in the newsroom: “She [the staffer] might think Politico is more important than the Kingston Times, but I beg to differ.” Had Teachout from the start emphasized more local concerns (jobs, the river, farming, addiction crisis) and put campaign finance reform in the back seat for the time being, she may have gotten more votes.
Us, and the world
Well, certainly our relations with Russia have got to get better, right? Perhaps the end game for Putin is to radically realign the way the U.S., Russia and China relate to one another. Nixon going to China was about getting China to team up with us to pen in the Soviet Union. Putin may want to team up with the U.S. to pen in China. I also don’t expect Trump to put up a big fuss if Putin decides he really does want to reassemble the Soviet Union.
In the Middle East, God help the Palestinians, as President Trump probably won’t stop Netanyahu if another Gaza battle breaks out. I also expect the Syrian civil war to come to a quick and bloody (for the anti-Assad forces) end. Iran had better watch itself and obey the nuclear deal to the letter. Trump might still rip it up, though. And God also help any civilians in ISIS-held areas. Carpet-bombing is awfully indiscriminate.
The greatest what-if of all time?
That is to say, what if it was Bernie versus Trump instead of Hillary versus Trump? Polls had Sanders leading Trump head-to-head by larger margins than Hillary and one can plausibly say Bernie might have kept some Obama voters who switched to Trump and inspired better turnout among likely Democratic voters.
The DNC fought tooth and nail to keep Bernie from the nomination. Part of why is structural — people in the party hierarchy gain power by putting in time, making connections and mutual alliance deals and moving up the food chain, in a years-long process. I can only imagine those people were horrified at the prospect of it all being taken away from them by a bunch of people whose support they routinely took for granted. But the “thumb on the scale” perception probably had a fatally depressing effect on turnout.
Both the GOP and Democratic primaries pointed out flaws in the candidate selection system. I think the small percentage of Republicans who participated in the primaries did their fellow Americans a disservice by nominating Trump. I also think the small percentage of Democrats who participated in the primaries did their fellow Americans a disservice by nominating Clinton. Whomever the Dems put up next has to be better at energizing a base that’s not as easily energized as the Republicans’. The Tea Party needed eight years to get their guy in. Can the Bernie people do it in four?
Recipes for crow?
There’s a lot of talk about a right-wing media bubble but there sure as sugar is a left-wing media bubble too. Now that I’ve somewhat recovered from my utter shock at Trump’s triumph, I confess to being caught in that left-wing bubble over the past few months. I consider that to be a lapse as a journalist. When Brexit happened back in June, I suspected then that the U.K. polls missed a critical bunch of people and that the U.S. polls may well do the same. But I preferred a different reality, and the media universe of today is set up to serve you any reality you’d like to assuage your anxieties and confirm your biases. The fact remains that there is actually only one reality, and that reality is the one upon which journalists should remain ever focused. So, waiter, I’ll take my crow braised, in tears.
Could it all be OK?
Hard to say — I don’t think anyone knows for sure what Trump is going to be like as president. Least of all him, as I honestly don’t believe he actually thought he was going to win. It could be that, completely overwhelmed, Trump delegates like hell and D.C. establishment sharpers who actually know how things work end up being the ones with the power. “Chaos is a ladder,” said the guy on Game of Thrones. It could be as bad as feared, with dissent stomped down and democracy bled to death. It also could be that he actually does make everyone win, win, win! and we’ll all enjoy a wondrous age of good wages, golden elevators and daytime whiskey drinking.
But if I may hazard a guess, I would say the alpha and the omega of the Trump administration will be bringing jobs back to the Rust Belt. He does that, all else, no matter how heinous, sad to say, will be forgiven. He doesn’t do that, nothing else he does will save him.
What are we going to do now?
While I don’t quite buy the argument that everybody who voted for Trump is a sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic bag of hate, it’s impossible to deny that the actual bags of hate have been energized, and how, by Trump’s election. Those who believe in diversity, tolerance and the expansion of personal, racial and sexual freedoms that began in the ’60s had better prepare themselves to defend those freedoms. They will be attacked like they haven’t been in decades. Also, blacks, Latinos and Muslims will face ramped-up hate and violence. It’s up to people of good conscience to stick up for them. If they do not, that’s an even greater loss than what happened last Tuesday.
As for this newspaper, the best thing we can do is to do our work covering our community the best that we can. That’s a task to which we rededicate ourselves.