I’m angrier at the Democrats than the Republicans. You should be, too.
A lot of Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking has taken place over the last 48 hours, but nearly all of it—at least within the leftward-leaning circles I associate with—is simply a repetition of concerns expressed months ago, now phrased in the past tense. It’s possible this political cycle only seemed worse than any in the past because the glowing rectangles in our pockets give us constant access to every scrap of information as it happens, but the magnitude of failures and missteps required to obtain the outcome we arrived at is staggering.
Somehow, Donald Trump—an accused rapist and professional money-loser who plays a businessman on reality TV, who seemingly tried at every opportunity to throw his own campaign—managed to pull off a win against one of the most qualified and connected politicians in America, in a contest so clearly one-sided in terms of professionalism, knowledge, and experience that it seemed almost everyone assumed her victory an inevitability. Those SNL parodies from the last couple months have instantly become forever unwatchable for their embarrassing cockiness.
In a campaign clearly characterized by critical failures—as evidenced by the staggeringly low voter turnout despite the fact that her opponent has admitted on tape to routinely committing sexual assault while at the same time broadly and offensively characterizing Mexican immigrants as potential rapists—arguably the greatest misstep was the focus on Hillary and Trump as entities, as personalities. Rather than identifying with the American people, Hillary’s campaign pushed as hard as it could to get people to identify with her—often embarrassingly—and to recognize Trump as the cruel and inept businessman he has repeatedly proven himself to be.
They can hardly bear the full blame, given the way politicians have become celebrities of a sort over the last couple decades, with identity politics turning candidates into meme-parroting, focus-grouped dorks latching onto dumb fads and forming symbiotic partnerships with popular entertainers in a transparent effort to simulate universal likability. The end result of this is an overly-processed, scientifically-calculated, edgeless simulacra of a personality that sits firmly in the Uncanny Valley from the perspective of everyone who observes it. Efforts to become likable paradoxically almost always make one less so, and that’s especially true when you’re trying to appeal to 350 million people. Your corners become so rounded, so child-proofed and idiot-proofed that artificial attempts at seeming “edgy” or “ironic” or “out of the box” are jarring in their pretense, like grafting a real human nose onto a Mr. Potato Head, or those renderings people make of what cartoon characters would look like if they were real. Like the song goes, “everybody hates a tourist.”
Regardless of the history and motivations of Icon Politics, the primary focus of Hillary’s campaign was on the candidates themselves, the central thrusts being largely:
• Trump is a monster. Do you really want to give him nuclear access?
• We’re long overdue for a woman President, and Hillary is a qualified politician.
While both of these sentiments are absolutely true, and both are misogynistic travesties, they’re not universally inspiring. Especially when the former was usually wielded to scold anyone who dared even mention voting for a third-party candidate, and the latter was usually leveraged to shut down criticism of any variety as “sexist”, especially during the Democratic primaries. Many Bernie Sanders supporters were routinely accused of misogyny by mid-influence liberal hacks for expressing unisex, one-size-fits-all concerns over Hillary’s Wall Street ties and support of Israel.
[Aside: Jill Stein did not cost Hillary the election, and Gary Johnson’s impact on Trump won Hillary a few states, not that that necessarily made a difference. Keep an eye on all the people shaming third-party voters over upcoming years, to see if they’ll push for voting reforms that fix our first-past-the-post system where a third-party vote is considered a dangerous betrayal. SPOILER ALERT: They won’t.]
Hillary’s campaign seemed to fixate on the narrative of Hillary As The First Woman President, which is a truly very inspiring concept—especially in a country long dominated by patriarchal garbage—but one dampened somewhat by the hubristic undertone that it was her destiny, and made almost unbearable at times by endless moronic thinkpieces comparing her to fictional heroines. [Cue supercut of screenshots of the 1,879,435,229 essays and tweets referring to her as “Khaleesi”.] Political fandom of any variety is gross—these people are not your friends—but there’s something especially unsettling about people excitedly writing “YASS, SLAY QUEEN!!!” regarding a candidate who seemingly supports the violent annexation of Palestine, who if elected would likely be responsible for our ongoing drone strikes, which occasionally kill civilians.
Beyond that, despite Bernie’s grassroots popularity and the passion that his campaign inspired in many (especially young) voters, somehow the Clinton campaign thought the best strategy was to move toward the center in an effort to appeal to conservatives—a demographic that has unreasonably and adamantly hated her for decades, many for no other reason than that she’s a woman. Meanwhile, no one from the Hillary camp ever attempted any sort of reconciliation with—let alone apology to—those further to the left, after an especially dismissive primary campaign wherein Sanders supporters—many of them women and people of color—were dismissed as sexist “Bernie Bros” over genuine concerns with her policies and positions, especially in terms of the Middle East. Instead, the attitude seemed to be, “well of COURSE you’re going to vote for her—haha what other option do you really have? AND DON’T YOU DARE SAY JILL STEIN.”
The sad core truth of this election—the focal point Democrats seem to have missed—was that it wasn’t about policy, it was about acknowledging the anger and dissatisfaction of the American people, regardless of its validity. Trump’s appeal wasn’t necessarily Trump himself or even many of the things he offered—in fact, a number of the people who voted for him are now backpedaling trying to distance themselves from his most heinous promises. Rather, it was the fact that someone was finally going “Yeah, I know! I’m pissed off too! Enough is enough!” By identifying with Americans, Trump was able to get them in turn to identify with him. Hillary’s campaign, on the other hand, and Democrats in general, seemed to dismiss Trump supporters out of hand as racists and sexists and bigots.
That’s not to say they aren’t, of course—a number of them are truly the absolute worst humanity has to offer, while most others are possessed by Resource Anxieties that magnify unpleasant instinctive tribal mentalities. Unfortunately, the worst of any species’ behaviors tend to be the best for survival, and when there is a situation of scarcity—or even perceived scarcity—those behaviors manifest. The economy has been unkind to the working class, largely because the wealthy have siphoned nearly all the growth out of the economy for decades while exporting jobs overseas to people willing to work for wages even less livable than American minimum wage, and this artificial scarcity has led people to become increasingly hostile toward anyone unlike their perceived “tribe”. That doesn’t, of course, excuse their racism, but it puts it in an important context.
The tragedy is that due to the sexism that sadly permeates American society and humanity at large, Hillary’s hands were largely tied: she wasn’t “allowed” to be angry, because angry women are perceived as shrill or unpleasant. It’s wrong and disgusting that society behaves this way, and it needs to change, but in an election where mirroring the public’s anger was arguably the most crucial and winning strategy, being unable to do that was a massive limitation. Considering that truth, she needed to try harder in battleground states—like, for instance, maybe visiting Wisconsin even one time at all over the course of this seemingly endless hell parade of an election, apparently just assuming she’d get it just like she’d get votes from Sanders supporters—and make a case that was about voters’ perceived struggles and disenfranchisement and not just The Story of Hillary And Her Many Qualifications.
Hillary’s campaign tried to court the right while also refusing to attempt to identify with them or understand their concerns. Despite rabid anti-intellectualism and an epidemic of ignorance on the right, acknowledging their worry and their anger and treating them like human beings whose fears are still real in their presence if not necessarily their validity would have likely made a huge difference. Instead, dismissing them simply fostered resentment, especially when the liberal echo chamber focused so heavily on the racism and misogyny and bigotry.
It’s easy in retrospect to look at the results and claim Bernie would have won. It’s especially easy to do so because it’s undeniably true: Bernie would have served as the perfect antithesis to Trump in that he similarly mirrored Americans’ anger and dissatisfaction with the establishment, speaking his mind against very powerful entities without calculated polish, the crucial difference being that he actually offered functional solutions rooted in a firm understanding of economics and humanity. And yet, despite being a more universally appealing candidate without the baggage and vitriol chained to the Clinton name—largely by people who are still mad that her husband lied about a blowjob once during an unrelated real estate hearing—the DNC worked hard to sink him, apparently even colluding with liberal journalists to do so, apparently hoping that afterwards, guilting and shaming leftists and “going high when they go low” with childlike Hufflepuff naivety would make up the difference.
The depressing conclusion to this already heartbreaking election is that establishment Democrats will likely learn nothing from this. Chances are, the Republican-dominated government will make a humiliating mess of itself over the next couple years—if it can even manage to move on anything, with all the obstruction and protests and lawsuits that are bound to result—and the 2018 midterms will be a bloodbath. Already on the introspection-eschewing path, some Democrats are already suggesting Chelsea is the next Democratic Hope, because why bother with deductive reasoning when cognitive dissonance will allow you to continue to make the same mistakes? It’s almost like a strange collective extension of Munchausen Syndrome, only instead of making oneself sick for sympathy, we make the worst possible decisions so that we can write shocked thinkpieces.
The only silver lining right now is the possibility that Trump may not be as bad as he seemed, and has merely been playing the crowds, but that doesn’t seem likely. Perhaps the more important takeaway this time around, though, is to remember that Democrats are actually much worse than we thought.