Editor's Note: MR inaugurates here a new blog series, "Our America." The editorial that follows is one voice among countless others, and the first of many in this series. We look forward to hearing from our friends and contributors.
It’s as much about the Electoral College as it is about never having graduated from college. The slimmest of margins. . . the increasingly concentrated Democratic vote (in fewer states) and. . . the revenge of the anti-nerds. That’s the short story of the 2016 Presidential election.
Yes, white working class people—overwhelmingly from non-union households—followed an orange-haired demagogue on his marauding path to the White House. Donald Trump shocked the learned class of America—in both parties—to prove once again that anger and hate sell in politics.
Don’t believe me. Just read the cognitive science research that measures the cause and effect of anger, greed, and humor versus high-minded idealism in political communications and advertising. No footnotes provided. Just go back to the classic, The Political Brain (Drew Westin).
If that’s not primer enough, do what the Clinton campaign apparently, and unbelievably, did not do. . . read Stan Greenberg’s Middle Class Dreams. This pathway was researched and designed for the Clinton 1992 victory, and it explained how to win back the proverbial “Reagan Democrats,” who first raised their clenched fists in 1980. You would think that what was good for one Clinton just might be good for another???
Yet at crunch time, in the last weekend before traditional Election Day, many of the Clinton female true believers were way too busy trotting out their “Nasty Women in Pantsuits” photos all over Facebook. That fit of attention made me anxious, wondering if the uneducated and unwashed white workers of America and the exurban, college-educated GOP women regularly read their Facebook feeds. With 3% (more or less) of voters during the last four days still in the process of making up their minds on the Presidency, I got to thinking. . . nothing like waving the red flag of feminism in the cause of bringing home the last few undecided voters in a toss-up election. Or not.
When Trump announced he would seek the Presidency, the strata of highly educated voters in both parties never took him seriously. One of the best places to labor in politics is in the dim lights of the unrespected.
The guy was a natural. Spontaneous. Irrepressible. Irreverent. Angry. TV-talented. Twitter competent. And ready to take on anyone or anything at any time. . . selling the twin bromides of revenge and uber-nationalism.
Presidential elections, almost by definition, are a plebiscite on the future. For a candidate like Trump, someone who could easily mine the grievances of the past as his fossil fuel for the great American future, this was a high octane moment. As he teased his way through a thicket of primaries, belittling his heralded opponents on a daily basis with catchy brand characterizations (“Lyin’ Ted”, “Boring Jeb”), the Democratic Party elites, though entertained, were subliminally reassuring themselves that the man had no chance. . . that he was merely a political carnival freak show.
But like a sci-fi Terminator, whatever part was not eviscerated just kept moving, searching for the Clinton kill. Never out of polling range, he survived standing eight-counts in one debate after another and even the exposure of his serial misogynistic past. And then his New York paesano, Rudy G, gets his peeps in the bowels of the FBI to threaten a ‘Wiki’ leak from within. And our Mr. Clean Republican FBI Director blinks.
I myself labored in Ohio (where I have worked politics since 2009): the single state with the longest running electoral prediction record for the Presidency. There, in March, Governor John Kasich dealt Trump his only primary election loss. Yet even in defeat, Trump demonstrated his sway in the industrial heartland of northeastern Ohio. I had been telling my political friends for weeks that Clinton would not win Ohio. (The “60 Minutes” segment about two weeks before the election documented it). She lost it by 8+ points.
These white working class families (my relatives) give us local cops, veterans, the building trades, and what’s left of industrial American workers. They hunt and owns lots of guns. Too many of them have lost $20 or more/hour jobs and now work for $12-15/hour with no benefits. In the rural areas of Ohio, Trump carried far too many counties with over 70% of the vote: places with numerous vacant downtown storefronts, with a palpable fear of gun loss, and with an excess of addictive pain pills to go around. These people say they have been sold out by the neo-liberal, corporate-funded Democrats (does NAFTA and Bill Clinton come to mind?). And so, in simple words, why not give the no bullshit Donald a shot? Make America great again.
The story was repeated in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, where the polling badly missed the geographically-dispersed blue collar enthusiasm and failed to capture the return of the Johnson voters to the GOP candidate (he went from double digits to low single digits).
Remember: Donald is a minority President, loser of the popular vote in a year when the Democrats picked up seats in both the US Senate and House of Representatives.
Yet we can expect him to assert a massive mandate. Guaranteed. Watch the GOP majorities in both chambers jump immediately into lock step. Get ready. You may miss that train as it whistles by the station. So long Obamacare. Hello ninth SCOTUS judge. Greetings to scores of new conservative federal judges.
The spinal strength of the Democratic caucus in the US Senate will be tested early. If they stand up straight, watch how fast Mitch McConnell changes the rules. Watch Trump call them out one by one. After eight years of delay and obfuscation by Republican Senators, let’s see if Democrats learned any of their tried and true tricks. A real lesson in the wielding of power is about to be given. Pay attention. You are not going to like it. But don’t forget it.
The immediate post-election response from the Democratic “base” has been a steady stream of whining, grief, and mourning. Enough already. The Bernie left will scream for control of the Party and could get it. Moderates—both Rs and Ds—will be isolated for the moment, but will have their chance with everything up for grabs in a reconstituted political spectrum. . . ultimately the fight will be for the center. A center-left Hispanic with energy, diplomatic, labor and immigration credentials would be perfect to lead the rebuild.
For a lesson on tactics, read up on the civil disobedience performed so brilliantly by the Sioux up in North Dakota. Their example is prescient for the days, weeks, and months ahead. And don’t forget: the white guys with loaded guns took over a federal wilderness area in Oregon and just got acquitted by a jury of their peers, while Native Americans have been carted away to be thrown into kennel cages and stripped searched. That’s the new America and the new standard for law and order.
If you still need some solid, succinct advice, then check out Michael Moore’s take on the situation.
We need to pick our spots to contest this ogre. Trump will deftly use all of the vast power in the executive branch to bully, control, and change this country to his own liking. Health care is first up. Time to get ready to rumble.
Jack Polidori is a ‘retired’ union political organizer and consultant; he worked with the National Education Association and its state affiliates, including the MTA, from 1974-2012. He also imports Italian wine and should perhaps concentrate his energies there.
Read more voices on #Our America here.