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What Not to Learn from this Election

Well, folks, here we are. I’m going to dispense with the preliminaries, i.e., with maudlin reflections on the state of the Republic, not least because my social media feeds have been gushing forth lamentations with all the appeal of a backed up latrine in a Stalingrad trench since I booted up my computer this morning. Instead, I’m going to pillory people. Let’s begin with the gnashing of teeth directed at all those poor souls who consulted their consciences and voted third-party. And, even though I told them not to, I’m going to start by defending the Lefties who voted for Jill Stein. The mainstream liberal criticism of these people is something like: “Waaaaah you didn’t accept the free-market capitalist interventionist we shoved down your throat with the collusion of the DNC, the media, and Democratic elites everywhere! Why oh why didn’t you fall in line, proles? I know that she’s basically a socially liberal Republican, but you were supposed to put aside the fact that you completely disagree with her on almost everything economic and vote for her because Culture Wars! Or something!”

By Rhododendrites - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By Rhododendrites - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Here’s the thing: choices have consequences. Hillary Clinton didn’t magically deserve to be elected just because Donald Trump is a colossal [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] with a [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] sideways. In an age of manifest rising populism and disgust with the establishment triangulators on both sides of the aisle, the Democratic Party decided to railroad the Wall Street-K Street Express (no local stops—esp. not in Wisconsin amirite) and now they have to reap the whirlwind. The candidate was put forward with all the self-satisfied smugness of a King presenting his bratty child in robes of state. Despite the obvious energy of the Sanders movement (a movement I think would have triumphed over Donald Trump in the general), Hillary did little more than throw some token lies (“Uh, I never said that the TPP was the gold-standard of trade agreements lol”) to an utterly understandably incredulous public. But, of course, what is a Lefty to do but fall in line, right? 

And why didn’t she tack left? To secure some of those Never Trumpers who might be willing to come over to prevent the apocalypse. But what did she offer those conservatives? Did she, say, promise them one conservative SCOTUS pick on the understanding that the next three, or whatever, would be hers? Did she pick a more conservative running mate, like, I dunno, Jim Webb? Did she do anything other than smile and say, effectively: “You have no other choice”? No. She treated the conservatives she was sorta kinda trying to court just like she treated the Lefties she didn’t really court: she presented herself as the only option. She bet the farm, but now, just like when her friends on Wall Street bit the big one, the American public will be footing the bill. Private profit on the basis of socialized risk or whatever.

So here’s the kicker: Hillary was undone with her own weapons. She triangulated herself into the dustbin of history. She fell between two chairs. Pick your terrible metaphor. Her lukewarmness was spat out: she failed to generate enough turnout to beat a man who fell short of Romney’s popular total by six hundred thousand votes.

So why did Hillary lose? Because all those racists (who voted for Obama twice) went over to Trump? Because Hillary received seven million fewer votes than Obama in 2012 not least because, well, let’s let them speak for themselves? Because even now, here at the raggedy edge, all some liberal pundits can think to do is to sneer and conflate Trump support with membership in the alt-right (which, of course, plays right into the hands of the latter)? Probably for all those reasons and more. But let me tell you who isn’t to blame: third party voters. You want a Bernie Sanders supporter to vote Democratic? Give them someone who will represent their interests and who will take their concerns seriously. Don’t bet your campaign on the assumption that people owe you their votes.

This brings me, finally, to the main point of this screed: what not to learn from this election. In the primaries, the GOP learned that you cannot simply pay lip service to a huge swathe of your base while taking their support for granted. The Democrats should now be learning the same lesson, but many of them seem bent on blaming those they took for granted for not continuing to be taken for granted (again: you want socialists to vote for you? Be a little more socialist!). On a related note, the elite are going to have to rethink their bipartisan consensus on the blessings of free-trade, globalization, and mass immigration. The protected are going to have to start taking the concerns of the unprotected seriously, or this backlash is going to get worse, not better.

Yet so much of what I’ve seen is nothing more than a business-as-usual, knee-jerk sneering. In the face of catastrophe, the only response many seem to be able to muster is one last spasm of liberal smugness. Because it’s easier to think that somehow vast swathes of America have become crypto-Nazis, instead of populists who voted for populism in 2008, in 2012, and, bafflingly, in 2016, too.[1] Because it’s easier to think that Trump has amassed some grand coalition of white supremacists, instead of coming in just about on par with Mitt Romney’s white support and making gains over Romney with Hispanics and Blacks. Because the Dark Tide of Fascism is perversely more pleasant to believe in than in Hillary Clinton’s woefully low appeal, even within the vaunted Obama Coalition. Because GOP nastiness is a better narrative than the fact that the Party of the Working Stiff nominated a condescending technocratic apparatchik of the capital class and are even now shocked that the plebs with whom they have utterly lost touch have had enough.

But, please, more hilarious tweets about “economic anxiety” and complaints about the godforsaken stock market (are you people serious?). More with the “har har now we google ‘what is Brexit.’” Flip on John Oliver and click here to see how Samantha Bee DESTROYS this one Trump supporter! And be sure to post that thing about giving flyover country back to the French:[2] that thing’s hilarious and that kind of smugness definitely had nothing to do with sending people to Trump in droves.

 Editorial Note: In case you Republicans were somehow feeling smug, you’re up next week. Buckle up. 

UPDATE: When this article was originally written, the popular vote tallies had Trump with roughly two million fewer votes than Mitt Romney. Those tallies now have Trump falling short of Romney by only 600,000 votes. The article has been edited accordingly.


[1] Blah blah blah many difference between Trump and Obama blah blah blah let’s just all assume the necessary qualifications have been stated, yes?

[2] i.e., the Louisiana Purchase

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