Getting up off the floor: The Democrats – posted 12/4/2016 and published in the Concord Monitor on 12/15/2016
Probably like a lot of people, I did not see the presidential election result coming. I too was in denial. I just did not see the American people electing Donald Trump. Trump ran one of the worst presidential campaigns ever.
The shock has only somewhat worn off.
Make no mistake about it: this was an epic defeat and the consequences are likely to be grave. I expect Trump will set us back 50 years – not just 10. At this point, it is impossible to know how bad it will be.
I think those of us who opposed Trump need to do some serious soul-searching about what went wrong. How was it possible that this deeply flawed man won the presidency?
Instead of superficial excuses, we need to look hard into the reasons for this debacle. The candidate picked by the Democratic Party was widely disliked. Even before the general election, her negatives were extraordinarily high.
It has to be asked: why did the Democratic Party establishment push forward such a widely disliked candidate, someone whose baggage had baggage? Whether the reasons for the dislike were fair or not, the reasons were there. Why did the Democratic Party ignore that?
I ascribe it to arrogance. The Democratic Party knew best. Except it did not. The Democratic Party proved to be utterly out of touch with the American people. And they were clueless about how out of touch they were. If you look at a map of the voting, it is shocking how little of rural America the Democrats won. Not to mention the battleground states.
In New Hampshire, we had the odd spectacle of virtually every Democratic Party leader in the state endorsing Clinton followed by Sanders winning the primary by 22 points. Not exactly an example of a leadership in sync with the rank and file.
While Clinton won primaries, the lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy was widely noted. Millennials overwhelmingly supported her rival, Bernie Sanders. Bernie captured the enthusiasm factor. As Clinton was the realpolitik candidate, party leaders rationalized how tepid and lukewarm her support was.
The Democrats promoted a status quo candidate in a change election. Where Trump said “make America great again” , Clinton’s response was “America is already great”. That was the wrong message this year. Saying America is great already translates into there is not much that needs to be done. For a party that is allegedly progressive, that is a disastrous message.
Trump had a better handle on the harm that has been done to American working people. Even though he is a demagogue and a chronic liar, he spoke to needs. People liked that he appeared to buck elites and speak his mind. He emotionally connected better than her.
We live in an era defined by income inequality. Clinton was not a credible foe of income inequality. It was hard to know what she stood for. As Wikileaks showed, she believed in having a public and private position on difficult issues. She and her husband had amassed a fortune of over $130 million. Add in the speeches to Goldman Sachs and it was hard to see her as a defender of working people.
Her campaign ran against Trump on the grounds of his unfitness, his lies, racism and misogyny, without articulating a compelling vision for what she would do as president. That failure to offer a resonant message for how the lives of everyday Americans could benefit from her presidency, as evidenced in pivotal rust belt swing states, was a fatal flaw.
I think her worst moment was the basket of deplorables comment. That smacked of elitism and class bias. She came off as looking down her nose at people. Unbelieveable as it seems now, she never even campaigned in Wisconsin, a critical swing state. It was an egregious mistake to assume working people had no choice but to vote for her.
American working people have been getting royally shafted for at least 35 years now. Is it any wonder that so many people end up dead early or addicted to opiates? Yet the Democratic response to this tragedy has been so weak.
I hold the Democratic party establishment responsible for the enormous loss sustained. They themselves said it was the most important election of our lifetime. They committed political malpractice. The patient died. It is not just at the presidential level either. Democrats have been losing in governorships and state races all over.
The Clinton wing needs to go. They managed to lose to the worst candidate in my lifetime. The damage is incalculable.
Give the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the Party a chance. They at least have a bold message and vision.
The same old does not cut it any more. Finding some Clinton centrist clone who relies on big money from corporate interests is a repetition compulsion. Liberalism of the rich devoted to the interests of the professional class is a recipe for failure in the future. Democrats must not abandon working people as they have.
People who think Trump will shake things up are in for a big disappointment. He has surrounded himself with right wing extremists and crony billionaires. This is “draining the swamp”? We will see how hard Trump fights for working people. His track record is the opposite. He must be held accountable.
Republicans, Trump included, have a long history of supporting the 1% at the expense of the 99%. It is a matter of class interest. Trump can work the media and make symbolic gestures but he will not deliver. The Republicans remain a backward-looking party mired in climate change denial, opposition to voting rights, and softness toward white supremacists.
At least the Democrats remain on the right side of most critical issues. They now have to protect Medicare from vouchering and privatizing schemes designed to weaken the program. God only knows how awful Trump will be on the environment. The same could be said about a laundry list of areas. The Democrats must resist.
Maybe losing the election can shake the Democrats out of their timidity. For so long they have been the play it safe party. I no longer think that is possible.