[For an earlier post-election essay on the global trend away from democracy and toward empire, click here.
The Democratic Party and its so-called “liberal establishment” have just suffered their worst thrashing since Ronald Reagan’s election. In fact, for two reasons, this
thrashing is much
First, everyone expected Reagan to trounce Mondale, and he did. In contrast, this
thrashing was utterly unexpected. Second, Reagan at least had a first-class temperament to accompany his fourth-rate intellect. Trump is fourth-rate in every respect, and the folks he appears to be assembling for his team (Guiliani, Christie and Sessions) are positively medieval.
So our nation now risks descending into a dark age. We can’t be certain because Trump has said so many contradictory things. No one—least of all he—has the faintest idea what he will actually do. We will all just have to wait and see whether his “developer” and “civilized New Yorker” side will prevail over his innate gut fighter and basher of women, minorities and Muslims.
And that is precisely the point. As exit polls show, Trump did not win because of
his racist, xenophobic and misogynist side. He won in spite of them. Voter after middle-class voter expressed chagrin and disdain at Trump’s vulgarity and naked tribalism. But they voted for him anyway, as the only credible agent of change.
As we wait to see what form that change will take, those of us who ended up on the losing side of this utter debacle will have to face some basic facts, to wit:
The primary cause of this debacle is Hillary Clinton and the so-called “Clinton dynasty.” As the last weeks of this campaign have showed us, Hillary’s close confidants—people like Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Huma Abedin—are at best utter mediocrities, at worst incompetent. Since Bill’s reign (the last part of which the Lewinski scandal destroyed), the two Clintons have failed, miserably and abysmally, to do anything much of note besides enrich themselves. They should both retire from politics as gracefully as possible, leaving the field of progressive leadership to people like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Martin O’Malley and Tim Kaine. The quicker, the better.
Second, the primary reason for this unexpected loss was an utter disconnect between Democratic leadership and the American middle class. What has Hillary stood for all her political life? Advancing the interests of children and women. But are they
in dire need of help? Not hardly. We have more child poverty than we ought as the world’s richest nation, but by and large our children do pretty well. Where children really
need help is outside our nation, in poor countries that the Clinton Foundation can help.
As for women, their condition in our country is not even close to crisis. If it had been, do you think Hillary would have lost? Educated American women didn’t come through for Hillary because, by and large, they’ve got it pretty good.
So the Clinton candidacy focused much of its effort, and nearly all of its enthusiasm, on non-problems, while ignoring the real angst of our middle class and the problems that have caused it. What are those problems?
They are the ones that Bernie identified. Our economy is rigged. Our politics are rigged. Our 0.1% have enriched themselves obscenely by selling 60,000 American factories and their jobs abroad, along with American technology. Our middle and working classes are still seething at the unjustified bailout of the Wall Street banks that caused the Crash of 2008, which (by the way) is still making their lives and retirements difficult with ultra-low interest rates. The less educated part of our workforce is facing lives of indentured servitude in “service” industries, instead of pridefully making things that everyone used to use in American
factories. And our students are facing trillions of debt for their educations, whereas my generation emerged not only from college, but from graduate school, with no debt and money in the bank.
These are the things that Hillary and the Dems should have been worrying about and campaigning on. Bernie tried to tell us, but we didn’t listen. And so we accepted the “leadership” of a woman who spoke softly to Wall Street, who was careless with e-mails and security, and whose main claim to fame was trying to break that final glass ceiling. Now we all know beyond doubt how motivating to average voters those things were.
And then there’s global warming. If the scientists are right, and if positive feedback accelerates it as quickly and unexpectedly as seems possible
, it’s going to kill millions or tens of millions of people (mostly abroad) within the next generation. As the greatest single challenge our species will ever have faced collectively (perhaps besides nuclear war) it’s going to utterly revamp the global economy and global politics.
Obama achieved the first workable global agreement, but our President-Elect has promised to tear it up. Not only that, his campaign-website is all about coal and other fossil fuels; it doesn’t even mention solar, wind or nuclear energy.
Without American leadership and technology, global warming is going to cause our species to suffer unprecedented hardship. It’s going to do so soon. Martin O’Malley understood that point and so emphasized it in his primary campaign. Hillary did not; it was just another point on her long list of things to do, including breaking the glass ceiling.
So Hillary lost because she deserved to. She didn’t focus on what voters cared about; she told them what to care about. She had her own agenda and her own sense of priorities and urgency. (Really, she had little sense of urgency about anything; just a long wish list.) And so she lost to a guy who made noises like an Alpha Male without much sense to accompany them.
But make no mistake about it. This election was not just a debacle for the Dems alone. It has disrupted both parties, big time.
It did so because neither party’s establishment accepted reality. Neither party even seemed to notice
reality: middle-class angst and the reasons for it. The GOP just went along with its ordinary script, like one of those damned morons on the telephone queues—cutting taxes, reducing regulation, and drowning government in a bathtub will make you better off. But that thirty-year-old trickle-down Rx didn’t solve the middle class’ problems. It didn’t even elect a guy the GOP’s rich donors can trust.
Donald Trump’s victory is tentative and conditional. His supporters are not so stupid as to have missed his inconsistencies and self-contradictions. If they don’t get what they want, they’ll dump him, as soon as the 2018 midterms. They might even impeach him
What voters are looking for is pols who understand what is happening and have some credible inkling how to fix it. What they’ve got so far is pols who tell them they’ll all be better off when government drowns (the GOP) or when globalization is completed, the Chinese match our Yankee standard of living, and robots do all manufacturing (the Dems). They don’t believe either nostrum, and so they’ve lost trust in the elite. That’s why they were ready to vote for anyone
—no matter how inexperienced or self-contradictory—who seems to level with them.
That’s the lesson of Bernie and Donald. The party that first learns it and comes up with real answers will own the next two generations. The GOP now has a head start, but Donald is no genius, no diplomat, and no political negotiator. So the field is still open to Dems, as long as they act fast.