Human beings are always looking for something to blame. My roommates are looking to point the finger at whoever ate all of their avocados (wasn’t me), and the population of Beijing has been searching for years for the real culprit as to why the air we breathe is laced with harmful pollutants (also not me). Now, much of the world is searching for a reductionist, digestible answer as to why Donald Trump, the man who personifies the word ‘bloviating’, has been elected president of the United States of America. (Ok, I took an avocado. So what?) So far, I have been informed that the real reason he won is racism, sexism, stupidity, the director of the FBI, social media, the electoral college, identity politics, Hillary Clinton, the DNC, the Russians, the liberal bubble, the white bubble, and Barack Obama.
It’s got to be one of those. Or maybe all of them. Or maybe some of them?
The Democratic Party, claiming the mantle of cosmopolitan anti-racism that gestures to the working class in an oblique way (“trumped up trickle-down”), suffered a crushing defeat — not only against its own expectations of vainglorious triumph, but in a favorable electoral map and running against a candidate disliked by 60 percent of people. The Republican Party hung onto majorities in the Senate, the House and statehouses around the country, despite facing numerous vulnerable seats; the Democrats could only pick up two seats, both in states won by Clinton. The Democrats now hold a minority of seats while staring headlong into an unfavorable 2018 map. The election of Donald Trump, regardless of what his own views happen to be or become, has emboldened the fringe elements of society who traffic in hate and fear.
In the days since the election, the internet has churned out a pile of ex-post analyses, mixing together a hodgepodge of righteous indignation, justifiable fear, and alarmist doomsaying about the state of liberal democracy (the justifiability of which remains to be seen). And a few people have written things that challenge us to think a bit more deeply about why politics matters, why tens of millions of people would vote for a man who has so openly broken social and political norms, and why the Left cannot uniquely claim the moral high ground. Here are a few of these; I welcome more. There is no comments section, so you have to email me or blockchain me, whatever that is.
“They’re Going to Keep Losing” by Freddie DeBoer
You don’t have to get in touch with the rest of the country because that’s the right thing to do. You have to get in touch with the rest of the country because they’re kicking your ass. The Republicans will control the House, the Senate, and the presidency, have the chance to appoint at least one and probably several Supreme Court justices, run 68 out of 99 state legislative houses, and hold 31 gubernatorial seats. That is domination on an unimaginable level. Every minute you spend signal-boosting people who say that it’s Republicans who have to get on board with liberal values is a minute you’re not doing anything to change that condition…It doesn’t matter if you should have to change. You do have to change. Or else you have to accept the irrelevance of what you do.
“The End of Identity Liberalism” by Mark Lilla
“How should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.
“The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.”
Related: “Rural Hispanic voters, like white rural voters, shifted toward Trump” by Geraldo Cadava
“Hillary Clinton got strong Hispanic turnout in Sun Belt metropolises like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Antonio. But if you look closely at many largely Hispanic rural areas in these states, you find that Trump did better — and Hillary did worse — than did Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Voting in these counties was much like that in similar counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
“The End of the Post-Racial Myth” by Nikole Hannah-Jones
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the first black man to run for president (and second black American, behind Shirley Chisholm), made similar inroads with rural white farmers during his 1984 and 1988 campaigns. This was simply because he reached out to them promising to push policies that would specifically help them, like ending foreclosures on family farms and forgiving their debt. He did not get a majority of this vote, but he got a surprisingly significant portion.
Decades later, large numbers of rural and suburban white voters were willing to cast their lot with Obama and his multiracial coalition — not necessarily out of some sense of racial enlightenment or egalitarianism but because at the time, they saw it as being in their own best interest. Class and economic anxieties did not erase racial ones; they just in that moment transcended them.
Related: “Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City” by Nikole Hannah-Jones
‘While suburban parents, who are mostly white, say they are selecting schools based on test scores, the racial makeup of a school actually plays a larger role in their school decisions, according to a 2009 study published in The American Journal of Education. Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, found the same thing when she studied how white parents choose schools in New York City. “In a post-racial era, we don’t have to say it’s about race or the color of the kids in the building,” Wells told me. “We can concentrate poverty and kids of color and then fail to provide the resources to support and sustain those schools, and then we can see a school full of black kids and then say, ‘Oh, look at their test scores.’ It’s all very tidy now, this whole system.”’ [Josh’s note: the author is writing about school segregation in gentrifying Brooklyn; ie. among the most pro-Clinton areas of the country. I am implying something.]
“Ringside with Steve Bannon” by Michael Wolff
It’s the Bannon theme, the myopia of the media — that it tells only the story that confirms its own view, that in the end it was incapable of seeing an alternative outcome and of making a true risk assessment of the political variables — reaffirming the Hillary Clinton camp’s own political myopia. This defines the parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon — immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug — the ultimate depravity of Trumpism.
“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
“Trump’s Big Infrastructure Plan? It’s a Trap” by Ronald Klain
Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.
“The Myths the Democrats Swallowed” by Kurt Eichenwald
“It is impossible to say what would have happened under a fictional scenario, but Sanders supporters often dangle polls from early summer showing he would have performed better than Clinton against Trump. They ignored the fact that Sanders had not yet faced a real campaign against him.
“So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.”
“Trump Time Capsule” by James Fallows
Five and a half months ago, as Donald Trump effectively clinched the Republican nomination, I thought it would be worth keeping track day-by-day of what the American public knew about Trump while it was deciding whether he would become its next president. Thus the Trump Time Capsule series, which began with installments #1 through #3 on May 23, and comes to an end with #152 today.
As I look back over these unfolding stories, I see at least 40 or 50 that would have had that campaign-ending potential in any previous year. The mocking of first John McCain and then the Captain Khan family? The “Mexican judge”? The “grab ’em by the pussy” Access Hollywood tape and subsequent complaints? The de-facto admission that he’s paid no taxes, and the trail of fraud and buncombe left by his businesses and “charities”? The refusal to provide tax information at all? The disprovable-even-as-he-said-them series of lies? The ever-more evident intrusions on his behalf by a foreign government? “She should be in jail”? “It’s all rigged folks, I tell you”? I alone?
“You are Still Crying Wolf” by Scott Alexander
I stick to my thesis from October 2015. There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist. Yes, calling Romney a racist was crying wolf. But you are still crying wolf.
I realize that all of this is going to make me sound like a crazy person and put me completely at odds with every respectable thinker in the media, but luckily, being a crazy person at odds with every respectable thinker in the media has been a pretty good ticket to predictive accuracy lately, so whatever.
“Taking Democracy for Granted” by Valerie Bunce and Mark Beissenger
The final piece of the puzzle is the role of politicians in terminating democracy. As Nancy Bermeo reminds us, it is political leaders that end democracy, not angry publics or dysfunctional institutions. But how leaders have taken down democracy has changed over time. During the interwar years and the Cold War, democracy tended to end through military coups or declarations of national emergency. By contrast, contemporary would-be autocrats have played a more subtle game, undermining democracy from within. Claiming to have the support of the people (and therefore the right to use all means necessary to defend the nation), they use legislation, appointment powers, and informal interventions to whittle away at checks-and-balances, the rule of law, and civil liberties.
“The Right Way to Resist Trump” by Luigi Zingales
The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character. In different ways, both of them are seen as outsiders, not as members of what in Italy is defined as the political caste.
And an opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste. It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues, where it is important to conduct a battle of principles. [Josh note: Berlusconi seems like the best parallel to Trump, in nearly every way.]
The reality is, blindly believing any story you hear about Trump inspiring hate crimes, without considering the possibility that it might be fake, makes you no better than a Trump supporter refusing to consider that a negative story about Trump might be anything but the product of a mass-media-establishment conspiracy designed to take him down. It makes you no better than the people on Pepe the Frog Twitter who will attack you and your family if you dare to criticize him. And, like the boy who cried wolf, you’re weakening your argument for every time he or even one of his supporters does do or say something legitimately awful. If you’re concerned about Trump’s power, the best way to give him more is to destroy your own credibility to criticize him. [Josh note: the author is a right-wing commentator who hates both Trump and the Left. Worth listening to the people who are pre-disposed to be your allies.]