What a macabre exercise in irony it will be when Disney commissions its "Imagineers" to build an animatronic Donald Trump for its Hall of Presidents. Will it grope Abe Lincoln? Randomly kick out a patron? We are going to have to ask ourselves a lot of questions in the coming weeks, months and years, but let's start with a basic one; What the hell happened on election night?
America got in the car, handed the keys to the driver, then the doors locked. The sky turned orange outside the windows; thunderstorms began converging in the air and suddenly, like a nightmare, the car elongated backward, trapping us inside a vehicular funhouse. And just like in the movie, Freddy Kreuger was the driver, but instead of scaring us into fearing him, he's trying to convince us to fear Mexicans, Blacks, Muslims, powerful women and anyone else he doesn't like. By the time Hillary conceded to President-elect Donald J. Trump, Democrats had to finally accept our country's collective throwback to the old days. Conservatives realized that no, Hillary Clinton had not "rigged" the election, and liberals were reminded that the only way you could prove you weren't a witch was to be drowned.
The doom and gloom of what a Trump presidency prescribes for the country are unknown at this time. The best liberals and Democrats can hope for is that Trump lied to his supporters and won't enact the dictatorial, draconian nightmare he promised the nation. Now we're left with defeated reflection. Everything we thought we knew about polling, GOTV and messaging was wrong. It wasn't just off the mark; it was existentially flawed. It was so bad that now, we're stuck with a tawdry jingo in President-elect Trump.
Why did this happen? There has been a knee-jerk, flash autopsy among some liberals and Democrats on why Secretary Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. The most common theme I'm hearing is that Clinton failed to appeal to working class America. It has a nice ring to it. It's perfectly melodramatic and novelistically tragic. It sounds cowboyish, which is a comforting feeling for Democrats after we're always made to feel spayed and neutered by Republicans because we're not as good at pretending to spit chew and kick our spurs as they are. Many Democrats, from disaffected Bernie supporters to the pundit class are jumping down that rabbit hole. Should we go with them? No, because not only is it nonsense, it's offensive.
Let's look at the data. Clinton won incomes under $50,000 by about 10%. Trump won every other income demographic. He won the majority of Americans making $50K-$99K, $100K-$199K, $200K-$249K and $250K or more. He won these groups by a respective average of about 2%. In an election where unemployment is at 4.9% with 80 consecutive months of job growth, totaling 15.5 million private sector jobs, $2.20 per gallon gas prices, a stock market up 120.6% since President Obama took office and a record median household income growth of 5.2% to $56,616, the concept of economic anxiety existing as what pushed Trump over the finish line falls flat to me. Those in economic brackets that would feel the most pain of an economy not working for them supported Clinton by a larger margin than any economic bracket that supported Trump.
Therein lies the paradox of popular liberal punditry and reality. President-elect Trump won white college graduates by 4%, and whites without a degree by 39%. Secretary Clinton won nonwhite college graduates by 48% and nonwhites without degrees by 55%. The idea of economic anxiety being the key to winning over the working class seems to present two factions with conflicting ideas of reality within the working class: a white working class and a nonwhite working class. How is it that nonwhites who might feel economic pain, supported Clinton, yet whites in the same position supported Trump? I think the answer lies in the next part of the exit polls.
In cities with populations over 50,000, Clinton beat Trump by 24%. But in the suburbs, he beat her by 5%. And here's the whopper; Trump beat Clinton in rural America by 28%. Now, those margins aren't necessarily incomprehensible by any means, but when you factor in turnout, they proved deadly for Clinton's chances at becoming the 45th president of the United States. Turnout for Trump in rural counties throughout the country threw a pipe in Clinton's bike wheel. Take Florida for example. Jane Musgrave and Mike Stucka at the Palm Beach Post report that in Pinellas, Lee, Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee counties on the western coast of the state, about 112,000 more votes were added to Trump's tally than were added to Governor Mitt Romney's in 2012. Rick Reitzel of NBC4 in Ohio, reported that Delaware County, where 75% of the population turned out to vote, went for Trump by a 16% margin. These were only a few of many rural parts of the country who delivered a similar blow to the Democratic ticket.
I don't think these numbers reveal economic anxiety. I don't think President-elect Donald J. Trump "tapped into" the money woes of working people. Trump lost working people. He lost them by 10%. He might have won white incomes under $50,000, but think about that. Trump didn't win in the cities. The data suggests that whites living in rural areas were more likely to support Trump than whites residing in the city. He won the presidency in rural America and the suburbs, particularly the former. By its geographic nature, rural America is isolated. In fact, that's what many folks like about it. This separation can create an opportunity for someone who has a compelling message for the community, and if executed precisely and correctly, it becomes a tough block to crack if you're on the other end of the argument.
The margins within the data suggest President-elect Trump won lower incomes in rural areas, and higher incomes everywhere else. What sizable group of voters lives in rural stretches and makes less money, but also lives in the suburbs and makes more money? White voters. Trump won whites by 21%, similar to Romney's margin in 2012. However, this time they turned out in even higher numbers in some counties, lop-siding the figures so much that while a birds-eye view of the data might seem to reveal traditional turnout, the micro-minutia unveils a phenomena too many liberals and Democrats would like to ignore. Trump appealed to a racist, misogynistic, deplorable sentiment in America that romanticizes antebellum tradition and "heritage". We all read his tweets and watched the speeches. We saw what he was doing, but we passed it off as a joke that would never operate. Well, it worked, which leads me to my next point.
Democrats stayed home this election. We were missing a good 4,000,000 votes. Brendan Smialowski of the Detroit Free Press, which called Michigan for Clinton, before rescinding their projection, reports how in the state of Wisconsin, Clinton only won voters under 30 by 4%, compared to Obama's colossal 23%. In Milwaukee, an unassailable bastion of Democratic votes, Clinton received 27,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. The same fate occurred in Michigan, where Detroit cast 50,000 fewer votes for her than it did for Obama when he faced Romney. Clinton lost Michigan by 12,000 votes, and Wisconsin by 27,000. She lost Pennsylvania by 68,000 votes and Florida by 120,000, states affected by a similar turnout deficit. Smialowski goes on to reveal how in Wisconsin, Romney won whites without a college degree by 8% in 2012. Trump won them by 28%, and after all the votes had been counted, Trump won rural voters by 29%. He won the supermajority of the counties in Wisconsin. About a quarter of its voters who supported Clinton said: "life will be worse for the next generation" compared to 59% of voters who supported Trump. That is a snapshot of two Americas. Two realities, one which President-Elect Trump was able to incite, feed and cosset with xenophobic resentment, racism and misogyny.
Unfortunately, Democrats still didn't vote. We lost key states because our base didn't turn out. Many fault third party candidates, and while that blame is well deserved and infuriating, the daggers ultimately lie in the chamber of enthusiasm. Why weren't people excited about Hillary Clinton? Sure, she wasn't President Obama who is a living force of political nature out of a Gore Vidal novel, but she didn't have to be. She had her own personal appeal. She was everyone's mother or grandmother. She was the kind lady who always brought the best potato salad to the church's Easter party in a gaudy pantsuit. She was the teacher you loved because she deemed herself hip and cool, an endearment that made you always behave. She was funny, witty, and a walking "yaahs" meme. What was the problem? Why did so many people choose to sit this one out? Why did the 22-year-old potential voter from Arizona I phone banked say when asked if she was still supporting Hillary Clinton, "uhhh, ya? ... mhm"? Did Hillary Clinton not try to reach out to her? Yes, the campaign was focusing on Florida, North Carolina and Ohio more so than Wisconsin and Michigan, but there is a difference between taking states for granted and honing in on battlegrounds. Clinton didn't visit California hardly at all, but she cleaned Donald Trump's fraudulent clock in the sunshine state. So what the hell happened?
The Clinton campaign wasn't perfect, but it definitely wasn't this bad. I think some of us are overlooking what has been glaring us in the face since she stood on the stage in Philadelphia and accepted the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton is a woman. Not only that, she's endured over 30 years of character assassination by a feckless, vapid cesspool of fear and chauvinism by the Republican Party. And let's not forget the deadly sin of sending electronic mail. The media's complacency and even encouragement of the witch-hunt and slow motion auto-da-fé of this qualified and talented woman are exactly why the American people were subject to a year-long negative ad that looped on repeat. With the exception of Lincoln, no person running for office in the history of this country has ever been subjected to such contempt and scorn. And despite this onslaught of vitriol, she still won the popular vote, while losing the Electoral College.
Let's not forget about how the Russian government led by a Trump-loving KGB tyrant, hacked the DNC's emails and laundered the stolen property through Wikileaks who released email by email, exposing absolutely no criminal activity whatsoever, but the personal and private dealings and conversations among Democratic operatives. Let's not forget about FBI Director James Comey and how the bureau was strategically leaking information to the press and the Trump campaign about the fake scandal surrounding her email server. Rudy Giuliani, a frontrunner for President-elect Trump's pick for Attorney General, bragged on national television that he was being fed privileged information from the FBI about their "investigation" into Hillary Clinton. When Director Comey released that turd-bomb letter to the Republican leadership in Congress, the pixels on their smartphones hadn't even lit up before the "story" and narrative was fed to the press who covered it like the death of Michael Jackson for an entire week. How did that affect the race? Back to the data. Voters who decided on a candidate in the last week went for Donald Trump by 12%. That is huge.
While turnout problems can be attributed to an enthusiasm gap, I think Democrats would be making an error to throw all the blame in that box. This election marked the first in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Since the Supreme Court of the United States literally declared that racism was virtually over when it gutted the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder, in a 5-4 decision, Republican-controlled state houses and governors had been able to have an unchecked bacchanal with suppressing minority voters. The VRA specifically required federal approval for changes in voting laws in the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. After the decision by the Supreme Court to gut that specific provision, we saw voter ID laws pop up in five of those nine states. In others, enforced voter suppression laws either remained or were added to the books. These states include Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. This type of constitutional intimidation and sabotage of communities of color, who traditionally support Democrats has been a consorted effort by Republican lawmakers all over the country. What's most horrifying is how nonchalantly cavalier they are about their work. Jamelle Bouie from The Daily Beast wrote in a piece that in 2012, Pennsylvania's Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bragged that voter ID laws would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." Florida's GOP chairman Jim Green was quoted by the Palm Beach Post saying that "early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates... we've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us". That's a real statement. Republican lawmakers have been telling us who they are and we needed to have believed them. President-elect Donald J. Trump was able to capitalize on these laws and further drive down Clinton's numbers in pivotal swing states.
Secretary Hillary Clinton did not lose the presidency because she ignored white people. She just refused to hobnob with hatred, perhaps to her detriment. She declined to placate cultural resentment and fear. She chose hope, plurality, inclusion, love and kindness as her message. In light of what the data suggest, arguing that Clinton and the Democratic Party "didn't do enough" to corral the white working class, is hackish at best. It's an argument that ignores a stinking reality we didn't need exit polls to smell. President-elect Donald J. Trump has been spewing hatred from day one. The fact that Democrats and liberals are now rushing to "understand" the "economic anxiety" of folks whose Twitter photos are confederate flags is not only an ignorant and avoidable mistake; it's an insult to the millions of black and brown voters who actually did turn out for Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016.
Let's face reality and borrow a little aggressive, "real-talk" from our future President, Mr. Trump. Racism, misogyny, xenophobia and know-nothingism prevailed in this election. And it happened because Democrats ignored it. We abandoned our current president when he needed us to support him and the Affordable Care Act in 2009-2010. Instead, we ran away from him, sprinting on a path that sent us face first into a big, red brick wall that knocked us on our donkey-asses and sent us back into the minority in Congress. We better learn and we better learn quick, because President-elect Trump doesn't seem like a guy who's just kidding. He might have been a joke to us, but the ink from the pen he uses to sign every piece of legislation the Republicans send him, is real. Obamacare is now on the line. Reproductive rights and marriage equality are on the line. The Supreme Court is on the line and is probably gone. The change and progress we achieved over the last eight years is on the line. It no longer hangs in the balance; the scale tipped to Trump. It's now completely in the hands of the far right.
What do we do now? We have to #MakeAmericaHopeAgain. We carry an obligation to ground ourselves in the valuable truth of hope. We have to mobilize like never before. President Obama told us in 2008, "in the unlikely story that is American; there has never been anything false about hope". Democrats are the ones who need to come home. We need to wake up and actually fight the very hatred that won on election night, not pretend it wasn't real. We can't fall into the trap of rebranding it as "economic anxiety" or "whites being left behind". We need to take responsibility for our failings as a party. We have to acknowledge that we abandoned our base a long time ago. Democrats didn't fail white America; the party failed the Obama coalition. Hillary Clinton made a strong effort to win back the trust of African Americans, Latinos and the rust belt, but we were too late.
Now, Democrats need to start doing what we do best; think of the future. Plan. Invent new strategy, commission a new, invigorated generation of consultants and thinkers who can take our party into tomorrow. If we don't, we aren't worthy of the power we seek. We are on the verge of codifying our organization as having been unworthy of the Obamas, and many already feel that way. We need to return to our values as progressives and think big again. It's imperative that we remember who we are. We are Democrats, but only if we can keep our principles.
*Photo from ExtraNewsFeed