AP // Pablo Martinez Monsivais
This week, politics was left reeling in no small part thanks to the shortsightedness of pollsters, pundits, and commentators. On the eve of the Presidential election, The Huffington Post predicted that Clinton had a 98% chance of winning, and that Democrats had a 71% chance of taking over the Senate. FiveThirtyEight predicted that she would take Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Independent told us that it was “mathematically impossible” for Trump to win. All were proven wrong.
If nothing else, this proves that a vast number of Trump’s supporters were ashamed to publicly declare their voting intentions. And they have good reason to: Trump’s campaign was a shameful attempt to pin economic problems on minority groups who have no power to defend themselves at the political level. He marketed himself as the “law and order” candidate who would defend the rights of police officers. He routinely boasted about sexually assaulting women. He dismissed the overwhelming evidence for climate change as a Chinese conspiracy. He behaved, for want of a worse word, like an absolute pig during this election, and will probably continue to do so.
And he’s about to assume the most powerful office in the world, in tandem with an army of Republicans who will soon control the federal government at every level except the Supreme Court (and even that’s not safe for long). The possible ramifications of this exceed those of Brexit, the rise of the Front National, or any other far-right populist victory since the Second World War. This would have been bad in any other country, but the implications are far worse when it happens in an empire like the United States.
To be clear, Clinton’s premiership would not have been much better, but that matters little now. More important is the question of what her role is going forward. Will she stand up and be counted? Will she lead a movement to block Trump at every turn? Unlikely. In the aftermath of the election, her Twitter feed was silent for hours, and her supporters were left waiting and waiting for a concession speech. When the long-awaited speech was given, she told us that Trump deserves “an open mind and the chance to lead”. Barack Obama even rooted for Trump’s success. Liberalism, once again, capitulates.
For all its noble and daring rhetoric, Clinton’s campaign ended up being lazy, self-entitled and reliant on very shaky assumptions that we must learn from. Among them was the assumption that Trump’s unhinged comments about women and ethnic minorities would turn these voters away from him and into the arms of Clinton (whether enthusiastically or reluctantly, her campaign didn’t seem to care). Though people of colour still overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates, Trump actually managed to get a higher proportion of black and Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney. Without the vital protections of the Voting Rights Act, and despite his grotesque personality, a man endorsed by the KKK managed to draw some support from people of colour. That’s how bad her campaign was.
But the reasons for this defeat do not lie solely at the door of her campaign. It is her political brand and the ideology she represents that really failed here. Data shows that this election does not signify enormous faith in a Trump Presidency; it instead represents a complete collapse in support for Clinton and her positions. It teaches us that you simply cannot put forward an establishment figure in the time of anti-establishment politics, or, to borrow from the words of Thomas Frank, you can’t offer up “a technocrat who offered fine-tuning” and expect people who “[want] to take a sledgehammer to the machine” to vote for her.
This is not to suggest that Clinton should have run a more nationalist and xenophobic campaign. It suggests that parties who consider themselves “progressive” or “on the left” have yet to learn the difference between capitulating to the racist rage of white voters, ignoring them altogether, or accepting that they have real grievances with the system. Trump bagged 41% of voters who earn under $30,000 a year. Perhaps most of them were raving racists, perhaps not. But you can bet your ass most of them thought the financial recovery left them behind.
When faith in politics breaks down, what is needed is not just absolute rejection of racism, but an acceptance that white grievances are often economic in nature, and sometimes only manifest themselves in racism because racism is the only explanation that makes sense any more. Of course, some people are just plain old racists, but many have been swayed by the nationalism of Trump because he’s the only person who’s bothered to sit down and talk to them.
How much of a campaign infrastructure do the Democrats have in places like Montana, where a sizeable portion of the population work in jobs that will need to be phased out to fight climate change? Where was the Democrats’ plan to reassure these miners and oilmen that they won’t be forgotten, that their income won’t be revoked? Given a choice between a candidate who says he will keep the coal mines open, and a candidate who says she will close them, the economic choice for miners is clear: Go with the guy who won’t put you out on the street. Economic realities motivate voters far more than what they see as abstract notions of climate change. It’s no good campaigning on pro-environment platform when a good number of voters don’t even believe in the science, let alone believe that they will be taken care of, if and when their jobs go kaput.
This is why Bernie Sanders would have been a far more appropriate candidate. In contrast to establishment Democrats, he repeatedly offered an economic explanation to economic problems, and consistently extended a hand to the white working class. The result? At the time that the Democratic primaries were stolen from him, Sanders was one of America’s most popular politicians, and of the 23 states where he won primary contests, twelve went on to vote for Trump in the Presidential election. Were he the candidate, he would have won.
That is the real takeaway from this election: Liberalism has failed. Only socialism has any ideological weight left behind it. Only socialism has the capacity to draw people away from fascism, racism, and demagoguery. Only socialism can defeat people like Trump. Liberals have had their chance, and they have failed, and put the lives of millions of black people and trans people at risk in their failure. The blood is on their hands.
Now, the Democrats have a choice. They can introspect, figure out that the age of establishment candidates is over, and accept that it will need to reduce the influence that special interests have over their party. Or, they can decide that sitting back and waiting for Trump to screw up catastrophically is the best strategy, in which case they will end up in electoral and ideological Siberia, relegated to whining about Trump from the sidelines in their echo chamber.
Sadly, the second outcome is probably the most likely. Howard Dean is now pushing to be the DNC’s chair, after spending his time away from politics doing the bidding of corporate overlords. Politicians like Tulsi Gabbard continue to be sidelined and ignored. Pundits like Grant Maxwell continue to castigate voters as undeserving idiots. Liberals, for all intents and purposes, will probably just stick their fingers in their ears whenever this election is brought up.
What that bodes for the future of America is anybody’s guess, but it certainly won’t do anything to stop nationalism.
(As an aside, one should refrain from attempting to pin this election on third-party voters too: Had every Jill Stein voter in Florida voted for Clinton instead, it would still leave her over 50,000 votes short of defeating Trump in that state. More generally, a majority of third-party voters come from the Libertarian Party, and would likely have opted for Trump, not Clinton, were they to switch allegiances. Third parties should be applauded for trying to break the undemocratic two-party system, not derided as vote splitters by the morally bankrupt likes of Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman).