I lamented some weeks ago the grotesque emphasis on the presidential election and the unfortunate lack of attention on other races and ballot measures whose importance required our consideration.
But as the biggest race has delivered the grandest upset, I might just offer an observation or two regarding it.
In this historical moment for our country, we have witnessed the coming home to roost of a host of easily manipulated political constructs: the outsider, the qualified public servant, the maverick, the operator at the levers, the confident and brash plain speaker, the successful and assertive woman, the populist, the sentimentalist, the no-nonsense problem solver, and the unifier. The sharply divided American mind projects what it wants to see of these concepts on the personalities placed before it.
And so, one party defied its establishment. An underestimated segment of the Republican party and its sympathizers saw in Donald Trump what it wanted to see despite numerous contradictions in the candidate’s personality and history.
The other party responded in paradoxically a similar but opposite fashion. It allowed its establishment to undermine the democratic process as it favored its preferred candidate: a magnificently qualified public servant, but also a polarizing figure burdened with political liabilities stretching back decades.
And in this candidate–whose every action since as far back as at least 1999 has been calculated to bring her to the Oval Office–liberals saw a noble heroine who wants nothing but to make the world a better place.
Both parties faced choices. I regret to say that the Republicans chose right, and the Democrats chose wrong.
As evidently unhappy as the GOP establishment felt about Trump’s mandate and nomination, they allowed their own democratic process to prevail. For this reason, Trump had the political and truly democratic advantage going into the general election. And it only built from there.
Mr. Trump’s mandate certainly does not excuse his egregious appeals to the lowest elements in our nation’s political consciousness. It does not make up for his lack of qualifications and experience. It does not mitigate the outrages–both proven and alleged–that he committed in his past, whether he had intended to run for president or not. It does not make acceptable his obvious xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, and sexism.
But he had a mandate. As a liberal, I could never agree with its spirit, but he had one nonetheless, and his party respected its members.
The Democratic party took a far more questionable course. Sure, Mrs. Clinton won the primaries and amassed the needed delegates, but the party establishment favored her and clearly determined that it would hobble challengers. Similarly to Bob Dole’s GOP nomination in 1996 because it was essentially his turn, the Democratic National Committee held fast to a firm decision made eight years ago that Hillary Clinton would be the next nominee.
The Secretary certainly had some chance to win–and the polls showed as much. But she was always at a disadvantage. The party turned her loose on a public whose antipathy to the status quo and cynicism toward establishment politicians played against her strongest qualifications. She boldly stepped out before an electorate far more inclined to feel than to think and far more ready to react than to act. And it all came down to whom the voters believed.
Sadly for Mrs. Clinton, politicians who change their positions to suit the audience of the moment do not inspire faith. Politicians who wait until it is politically safe to advocate the civil rights of oppressed groups do not inspire faith. Politicians whose donations come from too many sources with too many competing interests that would in turn seem to compete with the interests of too many voters do not inspire faith.
But whether we like it or not, unapologetic, boorish personalities who say outlandish and offensive things when they would appear to be risking their political fortunes do inspire faith–under some circumstances. Candidates who promise fantasies that people are desperate to believe do inspire faith–under some circumstances. Demagogues who say hateful things about people that the public enjoys hating do inspire faith–under some circumstances.
Under which circumstances? Well, let’s consider an important reality: that in the absence of an inspiring and empowering brand of faith, a desperate and angry one will do.
People tend to believe what they want to believe. And Donald Trump got enough people to believe him. And now, an angry political left is disappointed and disgusted. They look down upon Trump supporters for wanting to believe in what Democrats consider a sham–as if criticisms of the Clinton agenda had no validity whatsoever.
I cannot defend the Republican side of the campaign for its meanspirited rhetoric and its tendency to vilify liberals. Neither, however, can I justify the left for its self-righteous condemnation of the right.
Indeed, the Clinton campaign belittled, both explicitly and implicitly, the intelligence, interests, and even the humanity of people who were receptive to Donald Trump’s message.
Yes, the Trump campaign did far worse than that–and they still won. They won because the Democratic Party failed to put forth a candidate and mount a campaign that could offer an important and disaffected segment of the electorate something more compelling to believe in.
Condemning Trump supporters is not the answer. If the Democratic party wishes to remain relevant, it has to hold to its tradition of overcoming biases of all kinds. It must offer solutions and make a strong case for them–yes, even to people whose minds are so tightly shut against them. The Democratic party has done its part to close those minds, and it will take some doing to open them up again.
So the Democrats are now shut out of the White House, and they hold minorities in both houses of Congress. They are slaves serving two masters. They will recover, but only after they look within and decide what they truly represent and whom they truly wish to serve.