Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States. Leader of the free world. H.N.I.C. He’s in charge of what countries get aide from the U.S, determines their interventionist policies around the globe, decides if the U.S. leaves NATO or not, and has veto power at the U.N.
For months, maybe years, after the election there will be a lot of hand wringing from liberals as they pass through the stages of grief. I know because I am one of them: It’s going to be a fun time. “How in the world could this happen?” That was the common refrain I heard over and over again in a series of phone calls, messages, tweets, snaps, carrier pigeons and ravens from family and friends. Everyone was looking for answers, because the media had none, our friends and family had none, everyone was left with just a dumb look of confusion on their face.
Welcome to Trump’s America.
I have to say though; the dumb look on my face came more from surprise at the inaccuracy of the polls than shock at the result. I was well aware that this Trump sentiment existed in large swaths of American society. Clinton held about a three percentage point lead in the polls versus Trump. However, the 2016 election had the largest amount of undecided voters heading into a presidential election America had ever seen at 12%. There was tons of uncertainty heading into Tuesday and when you couple that with the fact that the 2012 election had a polling error of about 3%, we had some expectations that there would be a polling adjustment.
In trying to understand this election I tried to make it my duty to know something about the thought process of people who think differently than I do. That meant not just listening, reading, or watching the people who agree with me and exist in the same echo chamber I do, but to venture outside of it and figure out what the other side had to say. Doing this means balancing a left wing media diet of Vox, Ezra Klein, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow and Keeping it 1600; with the right wing media diet of the Drudge Report, Breitbart, Steven Crowder, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulous and Rush Limbaugh.
I heard the rationale of Trump voters. Their concern over Obamacare, immigration, race relations, the economy and political incorrectness. A lot of their thinking (in my narrow view) was flawed and ranged from (but were not limited to) genuinely earnest and reasoned to “holy shit you racist cunt! You’re batshit fucking crazy”. Trump was their avatar for things they’d only say amongst likeminded company. Trump used code words to impart his message but the best part about Donald Trump is he can’t help but be himself. So when they said things like:
What Trump Said
What Trump Voters Heard
Make America Great Again
Let’s go back to the 50’s when America was ‘right
‘We’re gonna build a wall
These people are ruining our country
All Lives Matter
Shut up black people stop being criminals
I am the Law & Order candidate
I’ll shut these black people up.
Chicago (My favorite)
They’re killing each other so there is no racism.
She’s a 5
I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick
We need to see his birth certificate
How is a black man president?
Grab ‘em by the pussy
No Really. Grab ‘em by the pussy
The thing is there are tons of examples where Trump didn’t use code words or dog whistles. He just said what he said and went directly at his voters through racial priming. His supporters at rallies weren’t trying to hide that he was speaking to their concerns; they were just happy they finally got to say it in public. They said that shit with their chest.
There was however, a sector of the electorate that seemingly supported Trump in secret. They wouldn’t divulge to their family, friends or pollsters that they were cosigning everything he said ,but he spoke for them too. This is something minorities have always believed and when they tried to articulate it would be shot down for playing the race card. November 8, 2016 proved this in such a concrete way that it was jarring and ended up with us having a dumb ass look on our face. It was a confirmation that there were people who would placate you and your issues, but deep down what they really thought, their real beliefs, were all represented by….
From Hillary Clinton’s side of the equation, she was a flawed candidate that Republicans had been demonizing since 1992,(I think because she said she didn’t want to stay home and bake cookies or something like that). The Democrats had already rejected her in 2008 for an inexperienced candidate, which in my mind was largely a repudiation of her vote for the Iraq war and her reluctance to run in 2004 when the party truly needed her. So 2016, seemed like her turn until the Bernie Saunders insurgency once again showed that Democrats were still not sold on her or her coronation by establishment. The democrats ended up with two candidates who were vulnerable and they eventually made the safe choice. They calculated that the base could be energized by a history making candidacy, a popular president, the threat of a Trump victory and a reversal of the last 8 years. As the first woman running for president, of course Secretary Clinton was going to face an obscene amount of sexism. Code language like ‘stamina’ and ‘weak’ were used to paint a picture of a frail woman who wasn’t fit for presidency.
It seemed so blatantly sexist coming from a trust fund baby who himself was not qualified, but people bought into it, playing up her bout with pneumonia, conspiracy theories about her coughing all with the underlying theme of sexism that they didn’t want to confront. There are of course people who just couldn’t see her as president and used her “scandals” (no matter how many times she was cleared of wrong doing. EMAILS!!!) as the rationale for why they couldn’t vote for her. The nostalgia of “Make America Great Again” even played into this with the built in connotations that we needed to be transported back to a time where men were men and broads couldn’t be president. If this woman, Hillary Clinton, couldn’t get it done it’s even more deflating to even think of the prospects of another woman running for this office. Just imagine what she would encounter. And yes I know of course you can dislike Hillary Clinton without it being sexiest. Some may say she faced what many women face, having to be a paragon of virtue during a time where her male counterparts does not have that same burden. That’s a simplistic view of it. The truth is like many women she tried to elevate herself above the fray while Donald Trump did no such thing, he showed who he was from the start and never wavered. They both set expectations, Donald lived up to his, she did not, so when she looked like a normal politician who got their hands dirty or lied about anything that might negatively ipmact her it carried more weight because of the expectations that she set. I’m just saying that a comparable, qualified white male candidate facing Donald Trump aka the generic democrat would’ve won the election…
The Democrats simply didn’t know how to combat an electorate that was tired of the status quo. Never mind that the economy had improved under Obama, there were different societal and cultural metrics that just weren’t on the side of the democrats. At the very least they still haven’t figured out how to frame the argument.
What’s worse is that the American people really…REALLY wanted Trump. They thought he was a novice who would be easy pickings for Clinton, their most hated rival. This is why so much of the schadenfreude we see on the right is so absolutely gleeful. Democrats asked for him and they got him. Complicit in this is of course the media who viewed Trump as a rating bonanza. They let him say outlandish things and only lightly challenged him on issues during the Republican primary because he was such a great story and not a real danger to the country. When they finally did turn on him it was too late. He had endeared himself to the electorate and the media was just viewed as another part of the institutions that had failed the American people. They played themselves. Their attacks on him eventually began to ring hollow, and he characterized all of their attacks as part of the rigged system that was not looking out for the best interest of the American populous.
The Part of this narrative that we should reject is that this is all the media’s fault. Yes, they were awful in some instances and their handling of Trump, especially at the beginning of his campaign did more for his prospects than “lying” Ted Cruz. But blame can also be laid at the feet of Republicans who failed to denounce him during his ascension as he insulted them and their party ideals and as he reshaped the country.
No, the real fault for all of this lies with the people.
This is the candidate they wanted over all others: Donald Trump. One of the most honest and absolutely terrifying candidates we’ve ever seen. The wave he’s a part of, the one we’re currently in, is built on a nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s one that began well before Brexit. Its latest victory may be Trump, but with elections in France and Germany coming up in 2017 we’re all out of excuses to be surprised anymore. I have no idea how we disrupt it other than talking to each other and trying to win this fight in the arena of ideas or how we get it to pivot back toward sanity. This is where the art of politics and message crafting comes in. There is real value in it that gets highlighted on nights like Tuesdays’ where you have to take an L that will reverberate through history. The time for apathy is at an end. Voting matters! Not being engaged with issues doesn’t make you some cool hipster contrarian with better things to do. In moments like this it just makes you seem foolish.