I think this lack of passion for the Democratic candidate lies at the core of the loss in 2016. We liked her policy and the idea of finally having a woman president, but we didn't necessary like or trust her. Yes, she was able and willing, but she also had lots of undeclared baggage. She was not like Elizabeth Warren or Michelle Obama, i.e. leaders you can love and trust. She was the candidate who the Democratic machine had pre-selected and helped win the primary over Bernie Sanders.
She was the realistic choice over the rable-rouser from Vermont.
She was our best hope.
On 11/9, that hope vanished and out of the smoke stepped the Celebrity Apprentice President.
We couldn’t believe it. We had trusted the polls and the pundits and the Big Data gurus, but the unthinkable, unimaginable, and unpollable, happened. Donald Trump, a nefarious shapeshifter of a political Joker, won. Close to 60 million Americans voted for a candidate so unqualified that even a large part of the Republican establishment banded together in the “Never Trump” movement. They didn't want to touch him with a ten-foot pole. Some pollsters predicted a victory for Hillary ranging from 300 to 400 electoral votes.
I was not alone in hoping to open a bottle of champagne around nine or ten that night, but it was Trump who took the lead, and even when the Democratic strongholds were counted, Hillary was still down. It was a nightmare, but we were not dreaming. I went to bed knowing that Trump would win. It had been considered impossible, but it did happen.
It is true that Hillary did win the popular vote with a couple of hundred thousands votes, but the antiquated American electoral system still delivered 290 electoral votes to Trump and only 228 to Clinton. The Democrats superior and highly professional strategy collapsed.
Thomas B. Edsall, the brilliant New York Times columnist wrote this morning that:
“It appears that the Democratic campaigns modeled for turnout levels similar to ’08 and ’12, but when those groups didn’t materialize, they were essentially stuck, losing key battleground states due to low Democratic core group turnout,” Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, and other Public Opinion Strategies staffers wrote in a smart postelection analysis. “Simply put, Clinton did not perform like Obama and was unable to pull Democratic coalitional groups to the polls.” (Presidential Small Ball, New York Times, November 10, 2016)Of course it isn’t fair that Hillary, who led the popular vote lost the election, but the real problem was that she didn’t win a landslide against such a weak and erratic opponent. He was so bad as a candidate that conspiracy theorists thought that he was in cahoots with the Clintons, but such theories are usually bunk, and so was this one.
One wonders if Sanders, who preached for a political revolution from his ethical and moral high ground, could have delivered more of the white working class vote that normally would have gone to the Democrats. Maybe, but he might on the other hand have driven away many suburbanites for whom socialism is an unknown and scary factor.
Why did Hillary not crush Trump? She had a long and strong record of doing good and she was qualified like few, and she easily won the three debates. She had the money (much of it from Wall Street) and the organization and all the stars that she could wish for. But something led millions of Americans to close their ears and eyes for Hillary, unless they stared at her in angry hatred whipped up by Republican demagoguery, as well as her own mistakes and general awkwardness.
I think that at the core of her failure to win big was the fact that she and the Democratic party had closed their minds for the suffering working class for decades, leaving them emotionally starved and vulnerable to demagogues. (It is true that President Obama did a lot to create jobs and provide aid for the unemployed and uninsured, but there was just so much he could do with the House and the Senate under Republican control, which they cynically used to block any help for those afflicted by globalization and the Great Recession. He did, and the Democrats backed him as much as they could, but overall they displayed a lack of interest and a lack of willingness to fight. Wall Street got their money and got away with their crimes against the people, but laid off workers and home owners with their mortgages under water got very little.)
What the white working class got instead was something completely different, according to Michael Lerner, a long-time progressive rabbi and editor of Tikkun magazine.
“It turns out that shaming the supporters of Donald J. Trump is not a good political strategy,” he wrote in a post-election comment (Stop Shaming Trump Supporters) for the New York Times.
“Though job loss and economic stagnation played a role in his victory, so did shame. As the principal investigator on a study of the middle class for the National Institute of Mental Health, I found that working people’s stress is often intensified by shame at their failure to ‘make it’ in what they are taught is a meritocratic American economy.From their perspective, the world is unfair and they feel lost in the new and globalized world that has left them behind. They are often ill-educated and ill informed, and they have a hard time making sense of the radical ideas projected by well-educated and often well paid liberal Democrats from the big cities, who “may be progressive on issues of discrimination against the obvious victims of racism and sexism,” but “are blind to their own class privilege and to the hidden injuries of class that are internalized by much of the country as self-blame.”
The right has been very successful at persuading working people that they are vulnerable not because they themselves have failed, but because of the selfishness of some other villain (African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives; the list keeps growing).
Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed. The rage many white working-class people feel in response is rooted in the sense that once again, as has happened to them throughout their lives, they are being misunderstood.”
Conservatives are usually good at playing to those feelings, and so was Trump.
“The right’s ability to portray liberals as elitists is further strengthened by the phobia toward religion that prevails in the left. Many religious people are drawn by the teachings of their tradition to humane values and caring about the oppressed. Yet they often find that liberal culture is hostile to religion of any sort, believing it is irrational and filled with hate. People on the left rarely open themselves to the possibility that there could be a spiritual crisis in society that plays a role in the lives of many who feel misunderstood and denigrated by the fancy intellectuals and radical activists.”Lerner admonishes the left to “stop ignoring people’s inner pain and fear” and “reach out to Trump voters in a spirit of empathy and contrition.” The left should not assume that all of them are driven by “racism, sexism and xenophobia.”
“If the left could abandon all this shaming, it could rebuild its political base by helping Americans see that much of people’s suffering is rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.”