It is now time to begin to discuss what happened in the recent United States Presidential election. While absolutely wrong in my prediction of the outcome, things that eluded me during the campaign are now becoming clearer.
It is important to remember that there are many Americans who are still suffering from the financial crisis. While it is true that our national employment and growth numbers are much better, for many people, particularly those in smaller communities, things have never improved and, despite supporting Obama with his Hope and Change message, for them things continued to worsen or, as a best case, stayed the same.
At the same time, there was a continuing shift in cultural norms. While many people were heartened by the passage of the Affordable Care Act, others were not. In a number of cases, some people lost many of the advantages of their employer-based healthcare plan. Additionally, while marriage equality had many supporters, in some ways, to many Americans, this too represented a further departure from their principles typically as a result of their religious values.
Finally, there was a feeling that, since the 90’s, things had stagnated for many of these communities with no particular help in sight. Certainly, the election of Hillary Clinton would have offered no change for them. Rather, a vote for Clinton represented a vote for continuing a life that had been undercut in many ways – whether real or perceived.
It is important to recognize that Trump was not elected only by bigots and xenophobes. Of course, they were there, but they are always there irrespective of the election or the candidate and make up only a small part of our nation. Rather, while some of us found it impossible to imagine Trump as President, many Americans as described above felt that same way about Clinton. They could not fathom such an outcome. For them, she represented the political elites in this country who looked down their noses at these “average Americans” who were still struggling financially and who believed in “traditional” families, churches and communities. And, on top of all of this, she, her husband and their assorted friends were making millions of dollars based on their political connections. For those who could not support her, it was abundantly clear that Clinton and those around her were not subject to the same rules as the rest of us. In fact, to them, the very people who were responsible for the devastation in their lives were not punished, but continued to enjoy their special status with the political elites.
While Trump’s lack of knowledge and odious behavior disqualified him in the minds of many, we missed that the lack of understanding by Clinton of Americans whose way of life had been deteriorating, was just as disqualifying for her. When given the choice between rewarding someone who had taken her own rewards with her friends and looked like she would continue to advance the same policies of the last 20 years versus someone who was uninformed and given to expressing shocking social commentary, but who promised to bring the system down that had failed these people for two decades, it was an easy choice.
Hillary Clinton did not lose this election because of Jim Comey, the FBI director who sent a letter to Congress 12 days before the election raising again the email issue that plagued her campaign for over a year. She lost because the places where she needed to win found her wanting as a candidate and as a person. She could not convince enough Americans in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Michigan that she understood their lives. She lost all of these states in spite of her demographic advantage and to an opponent who made an almost daily cringe-worthy comment. Ironically, these Americans believed that Donald Trump understood them better and they were willing to try someone untested and vulgar to as opposed to Clinton who was viewed as coming from an establishment that was failing them.
So now we must remember that elections have consequences. We will see what our country looks like over the next few years. It is my hope that things will proceed within our normal institutional structures and while I know I will have serious disagreements with the people and policies of the new administration, it is important to remember that democracy is a messy business.
We need to figure out how we can get the people who are so distanced from even comprehending how America looks to their fellow citizens who may live in other places. This will require everyone taking a deep breath and deciding perhaps their view of America is not the only valid one. Only then can we begin the process of rebuilding trust in each other and in the things that make America truly great.