The 2016 Election

A Note From the Wilderness
Bruce Hartford
November 11, 2016

The only thing that we did wrong
Stayed in the wilderness a day too long
Hold on! Hold on!

The election was Clinton's to lose, and lose it she did. She won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College because she lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Those three rust-belt states have been reliably Democratic for more than a generation. Her campaign and the pollsters assumed they would remain blue. If they had she would be President-elect today.

I don't believe that Clinton lost those three states because Sanders supporters betrayed her. She lost them all on her own. She failed to make a believable case that she would really fight for women and men of all races whose lives are being looted to enrich the already obscenely wealthy. The lip-service she gave towards dismantling government of the elite, by the CEOs, for the billionaires was half-hearted and unconvincing. Her policy proposals were timid, incremental, and cosmetic rather than substantive.

Yes, as a former Sanders supporter myself I'm angry at any Sanders supporters who might have put their fury at Clinton ahead of stopping Trump. But the root of my rage is Clinton. She was the candidate and it was her estlablishment-oriented, politics-as-usual campaign that opened the White House door for Trump.

President Roosevelt referred to the robber barons and their Republican allies who fought tooth and nail against his New Deal reforms as "economic royalists." Today, no one knows what a "royalist" is so I prefer the term "economic aristocracy." It's not just that aristocrats believe their wealth and power should put them above the laws that govern their inferiors, it's the fact that the laws actually don't apply to them. When the savings & loan crises rocked the economy in the 1980s hundreds of bankers and CEOs went to jail. When the far worse mortgage fraud of 2008 cratered the economy with devastating effects, not a single baron of Wall Street was even put on trial, much less jailed. They even got to keep their obscene bonuses.

Aristocrats don't see us common folk as real human people. To them, we're the dirt beneath their feet, no more than livestock to be worked, shorn, plucked, and slaughtered for their benefit. And let's tell it like it is, that's how the economic elite and a large portion of white Americans in general have always treated nonwhites and poor-whites. What's different now is that the aristocrats have extended that contempt, disempowerment, and exploitation to white working and middle-class people who are suddenly discovering that the interlocking economic and poltical system has been "rigged" against them, not just against people of color and white "trailer trash."

Clinton's tepid platitudes failed to address voter anger at the growing power and arrogance of the economic aristocracy. She failed to convince voters that she would break with Goldman Sachs and the lords of Wall Street and that her appointments to high office would reflect America as a whole and not just the aristocracy. And above all, instead of vigorously calling out the economic aristocrats as the real enemy of the common people and uniting them against that common foe, she allowed Trump to mendaciously position himself as the champion of the commons against the depradations of the aristocratic establishment.

In a later post-election commentary, former Clinton cabinet secretary Robert Reich expressed some similar thoughts, though in less incendiary terms:

The Democratic party has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests. It has been taken over by Washington-based bundlers, analysts and pollsters who have focused on raising campaign money from corporate and Wall Street executives, and getting votes from upper-middle-class households in "swing" suburbs. The election Of 2016 has repudiated the old Democratic Party. What happened on election day should not be seen as a victory of hatefullness over decency. It is more accuratly understood as a rejection of the American power structure.

Yes, we all know that a huge portion of those who voted for Trump are racist, misogynist, bigoted, arrogant, greedy & selfish. But that reactionary portion of the population has always been with us and they haven't swung an election in those Rust Belt states for more than a generation (and not in a national presidential election as a whole since Bush II). Clinton lost PA, MI, and WI because former democratic voters — former Obama voters — were furious at being lied to, sold out, and betrayed. According to the Times, Bill Clinton urged her to address Rust Belt voters on those economic issues but her campaign staff vetoed it.

Now Republicans want to permanently weld those angry anti-establishment voters to their racist Tea Party base. If they succeed our future is grim indeed. It we want to provide a future for our children and grandkids, those who voted for Trump out of justified outrage have to be split away from his reactionary haters. We can do that by exposing the lies and contradictions at the heart of Trumpism and Republicanism compared to their rhetoric. But we can't do that by name-calling.

Nothing will be more essential for us in the coming years than steadfastly opposing and resisting racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, and scapegoating. But while labeling and guilting people for being "racist" or "sexist" or "whateverist" because they did, said, thought, or seemed to feel X Y or Z may be effective in shaming and humiliating insecure liberals, it's completely ineffective at influencing those not already part of our choir — and in fact it drives them into the arms of our enemies.

The most effective way to combat racism is supporting and raising concrete issues that build common ground against common enemies. For example, cops who murder nonwhites do so in the context of a political-judicial system that uses police violence and mass incarceration as a method of social control and political suppression. Tactics and strategies that can, will, and historically have been used to do the same thing to poor & working class whites who stand up for their rights.

For me the bottom line is this: Some whites voted for Trump because of his racist, misogynist, bigoted, views; and some whites voted for Trump despite those views. We have to reach, and win over, that latter group. If we don't our future is bleak.

Copyright © Bruce Hartford


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