So what the hell happened? Let's look at some background and variables.
Fighting the last war
One of the things that war historians have noted is that the blunders of 'this' war are a function of adherence to the principles, tactics, and techniques of the last war. This is a sound metaphor for the 2016 US General Election, because politics in the US is constructed in such a way that it closely resembles war. The Democratic National Committee was fighting with the principles, tactics, and techniques of past wars on a new battlefield.
In the opening phases of the American Civil War, the field commanders who had graduated from West Point were still schooled in the principles, tactics, and techniques of Napoleon; but they were using rifled barrels and breach loaders with an industrial logistical tail, and the battlefields turned into a charnel house. At one point during the Battle of Cold Harbor, casualties mounted at a rate of 116 men per minute. In World War I, the frontal assault was converted by long range artillery and machine guns into pestilential trench warfare. In World War II, the French's fixed defensive boundaries that were learned during World War I were met with the first war of mechanized mobility during the Blitz.
Trump's alt-right campaign just blitzed through the Democratic Maginot Line.
In 1992, Bill Clinton perfected the Bill Morris strategy, which - against all expectations, in in spite of his sexual peccadilloes, his draft-evasion, his equivocation about pot-smoking ("I didn't inhale") - handed him a stunning victory at the polls. George H. W. Bush, who by all accounts should have handily carried it, was faced with an economic downturn (as Hillary Clinton has been, though worse ion her case). Ross Perot entered the race as a wild card. And the Bill Morris strategy of triangulation completed the task. Talk left during the Primaries, tack right during the General, stake out a lesser-evil position in the so-called middle that is built on intense polling and focus groups, and stick to the message - a set of sound bytes that are carefully crafted based on that research. The last pillar in this strategy was to cultivate the power behind the throne, which increasingly since Reagan was the speculative fraction of capital - Wall Street, bond traders, whatever. As Hillary Clinton's emails revealed to those in the dark, while you are fluffing the populist impulse publicly, you are reassuring the back room boys privately.
This worked for Barack Obama, too, twice, and handily. The anomaly with Al Gore was threefold. People had a period of relative economic security as Clinton I's bubble continued to inflate. Gore was a 'wooden' candidate, tightly stage-managed (as Hillary Clinton was). And the Supreme Court finalized the election by judicial fiat. George W. Bush was then handed a second term with the gift of the September 11 attacks which wounded the national masculinity and sent the country looking for a cowboy, a kind of manufactured Strong White Father figure based on our mythic past.
But the ground shifted. as we should have discerned, because the Sanders campaign, had it received equal attention from the media and equal treatment from the DNC, would have upset Clinton; and likewise, the neoliberal core of the Republican establishment were convinced they could contain Trump's challenge to its own primary process. Whereas ideologically, Trump and Sanders could hardly be further apart, they both represented a seething discontent within the electorate, that Thomas Frank of The Guardian described thus:
[Hillary Clinton was a] technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.
The Democrats arrogantly constructed their Maginot Line of triangulation combined with Stockholm Syndrome voting (there is good evidence that Clinton and her operatives actually promoted Trump behind the scenes as a scarecrow they could easily tear apart). Trump tore through their line and Republicans down-ticket mopped up behind him.
Middle class angst and white victimhood
The Republicans were juggling their own coalition, big business (which played both sides of the street), white evangelical culture warriors, and middle-class tax libertarians. The demagogic sub-text for the Republicans ever since Nixon's 'southern strategy' had been the profound negrophobia of many, many whiter voters (the more generalized xenophobia was being fanned in the outer reaches of the party by tinpot commentators like Lou Dobbs, and Islamophobia didn't take hold hard until after 9-11).
But the dog-whistle racism that was employed instrumentally by Republican operatives for so many years to hold the coalition together slipped its leash. So-called blue-collar voters did not elect Trump. The middle class did. Reference nowadays to 'blue-collar' America are largely fictional, if by blue-collar we mean the working class prior to the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and 'free-trade' offshoring. The lower-wage service sector has replaced that, while the inflows of imperial tribute from neoliberalism's periphery along with a series of fictional-value bubbles has supported the continued, if stuttering, growth of a so-called 'middle class.' Fifty-three percent of Americans, mostly white, now live in the suburbs - the high end barracks for freeway commuters and result of white flight from the cities. As Matthew Lassiter pointed out in his groundbreaking but little studied book, The Silent Majority, these suburban denizens were not ideological in the old sense of a left-right continuum. They carried multiple political identities based on self-interest: consumer, taxpayer, school parent, mortgaged homeowner. This new majority class has become the strange attractor of all American politics, because in sheer numbers it can be a political juggernaut. This is the reason both parties divested of the term 'working class,' in favor of the term (and demographic) 'middle class.' They are all going to 'restore the American middle class.'
Middle classes are in a peculiar position in the social pecking order. They are specialists who cannot see the forest for their particular trees. They gain a benefit from a system that is mystified for them by a media in the pay of a quiet and cunning ruling class, but they recognize at some gut level that they live under the threat of being converted into car washers and burger flippers, a fate almost worse than death. They have something to lose, and when that seems threatened - as it has been since 2007 - given that they don't recognize the role of that cunning and carefully concealed ruling class, they become vulnerable to any demagogue who can provide them with a target for their insecurities.
So here was this demographic, this white suburban bloc alongside rural whites who have been steadily forced into indentured servitude for agribusiness. They had vacillated in the past between Democrats and Republicans - my recently departed brother who cared little for politics sold fish bait in Galveston, and all he knew was that he flourished during the Clinton administration. His customers were plugged into the speculative frenzy in various ways and liked to spend money. So he liked Clinton and disliked Republicans, but there was nothing remotely ideological about it. That the system crashed under Bush was neither a Republican nor a Democratic phenomenon, but the effect of bipartisan fealty to speculative capital, for whom Clinton himself obediently carried water during his entire administration.
Reality and voting do not correspond. After eight years of Obama - also a loyal neoliberal who is still trying to push through the horrific Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (in spite of a bipartisan rebellion against these agreements, with whom Clinton is associated, and which Trump demagogically repudiated) - the chronic insecurity created by neoliberal policy has come to be associated with Obama, who also carries the stigma of his blackness among many white voters. These are not rational, critical associations; and apprehension of these realities is variable, though greater on the left in my opinion, because the left has long been critical of capitalism generally.
The irony of Trump's demagoguery on trade, situated within a white nationalist and nativist narrative, and his demonization of Latin@ immigrants, which was accelerated by NAFTA, is that NAFTA not only devastated American workers, it created the social catastrophe in Latin America that compelled many to leave home and hearth and head north in search of employment in the US. If, in fact, Trump tries to follow through with his claims that he will deport tens of millions of people, that migration back into Mexico and other nations will exacerbate the social crises there and destabilize the Latin American regimes who now function as American surrogates.
Electorally, this is the issue that defeated Clinton. When Michigan made an ass of Nate Silver during the Democratic Primary, we who were here and observing noted how many older, white, former factory laborers were voting for Sanders; and this is what defied Silver and other pollsters who had called it for Clinton. We said then, some of these voters have one issue and one issue only, and that is their visceral hatred of these 'free trade' agreements; and some of them will tilt to Trump on that issue alone, because Clinton could not wash the stink of her past support for the trade agreements off her, and she was unconvincing that she would not support them in the future. Obama's ill-timed push for the TPP during the campaign did nothing to disabuse this layer of voters of their suspicions about Clinton. And her margin of loss in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Wisconsin can be assigned directly to this issue. Sixty-four electoral votes.
The putative Stein factor and youth
Last night I said that Jill Stein's performance was pitiable at one percent, but at least the numbers won't support the DNC Nader-narrative. The two races that were close enough that - hypothetically - had Stein voters cast their ballots for Clinton, she could have won. Those states were Michigan and Wisconsin. In Michigan, the final tallies, excluding Libertarian Gary Johnson who did three times as well as Stein nationwide, Clinton was defeated by Trump with a margin of 14,116 votes, and Stein received 51,401. That was 16 electoral votes. In Wisconsin, Clinton lost by 27,289, and Stein received 30,957. Ten votes. These were the only two races where Stein's margin, assuming (falsely) that every Stein voter would have voted for Clinton had Stein not been running, she could have picked up electoral college votes that she did not win last night. This is a total of 26 votes, and Clinton lost with only 228 electoral college votes, so had Stein voters obeyed the Democratic diktat and lock-stepped to the polls for Clinton, she still would have received only 256 electoral college votes.
I voted Stein, but as a protest vote. I have said again and again that I believe the struggle is now inside the Democratic Party and on the ground (against Dakota Access, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, internationally with the anti-austerity movement, etc.). It has always been a self-marginalizing formation of sectarian leftists; and they initially attacked the Sanders campaign from the left before they tried, unsuccessfully, to hijack the movement they had themselves neither foreseen nor built.
One thing that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had in common was a real talent for soothing speech. They feigned authenticity well and seemed comfortable and autonomous delivering their lines. They were motivational speakers. Hillary Clinton not so much. She suffered from Al Gore-syndrome, her scripting and management always bled through their performances. And this accounts for some of Obama's appeal to young voters, though the symbolism of being African American had also mobilized black voters - including youth - in ways theretofore unimaginable. Clinton lagged behind Obama's 2008-2012 electoral performance with millennials by eleven percent in the key state of Florida and six percent nationwide, and this was across racial and gender lines. Sanders support for Clinton among African Americans was concentrated among youth, while Clinton's black support was fundamentally based on black leadership that had hitched its fortunes to the Democratic Party establishment.
Had Clinton been able to mobilize youth support like Obama or Sanders, she would have won this election handily. But throughout the primary process, she condescended to them, insulted them, and scolded them; and they did not forget. When the Clinton/DNC/media manipulation of the primaries finally crashed Sanders campaign, many of the young people concluded - not without justification - that the system just wanted them to shut up and get in line, so they walked away.
Causes and blame
What caused this election of an intellectually mediocre, psychologically immature, ethically-absent billionaire?
That's what I'm trying to work through as I write this.
Wounded white masculinity was definitely a factor, but don't fool yourselves, it was not the only factor. Demographics often conceal more than they reveal; but there is no doubt that active racism and male supremacy was at work. Clinton and Trump appear to have tied on the popular vote (the final tally is not yet in), and Clinton may have actually edged him out a bit on it. Apparently around 120 million people voted. We have no indices to measure it, but if Trump's support at 48% to her 48% is as high as 40% based strictly on race hatred, xenophobia, and misogyny, where did the margin of win and loss come from for the rest?
First of all, I have to say, no one could vote for Trump who was not exercising racism and sexism of some kind, and I differentiate between active and passive racism/misogyny. This is a cultural and political reality that should sober us all, and one that demands our intervention to begin to change.
But speaking clinically, there was a layer - as we described above - who, while still clueless and careless of racial/national/sexual oppression, would not have voted for Trump is Clinton had done a few things differently, if she had not maintained her absolute fealty to Wall Street and her ruling class allies. And moreover, if the Clinton/DNC had not behaved so ruthlessly during the primary - to say nothing of her egregious record in the Senate and as Secretary of State - more people who stayed home would have shown up.
Clinton's operatives are raging right now, calling Russia the culprit and calling Russia "an enemy power" (who knew we were at war with them). Organs of the establishment are already blaming the left (Stein). This blame game is more than post-election hissy-fits; it is designed to - again - take the focus off the issues of trade, and again trying to isolate and marginalize the left. if something doesn't work once, the logic seems to be, the solution is to do more of it. That's the problem with a one-trick pony.
The DNC tried to stage-manage an election, and it blew up in their faces.
So many variables. But if you want the essence of Clinton's soft support, listen to what she said about the heoric struggle of various indigenous people in the US against the collusion between the Federal Government and the fossil fuel industry.
We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved—including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes—need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it's important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators' rights to protest peacefully, and workers' rights to do their jobs safely.Triangulation-speak.
We are now faced with a Republican-controlled government, overseen by a narcissistic fool. Never overlook ridicule as a weapon. What is ridiculous should be shown to be ridiculous, and we will have many opportunities between now and the next chance to rid ourselves of these people.
Demographics and likely courses of action favor those who seek a more compassionate community. The old die off and the young continue to enter the ranks of voters; and we will see a lot of outrageous social vandalism over the next four years. Outrage translates into action.
If there is a 'ground game' (I despise that term!), it is local, situated, concrete. They have the reins of policy, and there will be - as Gimli says - less joy there than in a graveyard. Resistance will be in front of pipelines, with our bodies, in front of militarized cops, in disobedience, in providing illegal sanctuary, in disruptions. And I will say this once, but with great emphasis. If you chose violence, you will strengthen your enemy. There is no exception to this rule. None. The machismo and adventurism of the left is not a counter to the machismo and adventurism of the right. It is the reproduction of machismo and adventurism.
Be prepared to take up your cross. We will have many opportunities to place our bodies between perpetrators and victims, many opportunities to speak a dangerous truth to power, many opportunities to bind each others wounds, and hopefully many opportunities to welcome the repentant prodigal children back into the family. I was one of them. There will be more.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.