Still trying to wrap your brains around the question, “How the bloody hell did we elect a corrupt, incompetent, authoritarian, bigoted, mentally unstable a**hole as President and Commander in Chief?” Well, I sure as heck am still trying to do that. I’ve read plenty of solid election post-mortems, and a lot of really bad ones, but now I’ve read the best one – Everything mattered: lessons from 2016’s bizarre presidential election by David Roberts of Vox – and I wanted to strongly recommend that everyone check it out right away. For now, here are a few things that jumped out at me.
- First, the utter “surreality,” disgust, and mind-reeling horror of the very concept that this “unprepared, wildly corrupt authoritarian is headed for the White House.”
- The appalling fact that Republicans’ strategy of working to make government fail, then running on the concept that only THEY can fix the very government they’ve made fail, was actually REWARDED by voters – or at least a large minority of voters – is just…did I mention the word “appalling?” Oh yes, I did – twice now, but even 1,000 times wouldn’t be sufficient to express my disgust at this.
- Per the previous point, Roberts correctly (and horrifyingly) notes: “….every ugly impulse, every broken norm, every fetid alliance has now been ratified, affirmed as good politics. Other politicians will learn these lessons. The press will set about normalizing them. The damage Trump has already done to the American democratic process is not inconsiderable, but it is only the beginning.”
- Unlike almost every other post-mortem, Roberts deserves enormous credit for doing what almost no journalist or pundit will EVER do – admit they were wrong, even “so damn wrong,” as Roberts puts it, about this election. So, in that spirit, let me also fess up: I was “so damn wrong” too, in large part because – stupid me! – I actually listened to “experts” like David Plouffe, Sam Wang, the NY Times Upshot blog, Nate Silver, the prediction markets, the Clinton campaign itself, President Obama, etc, etc., all of whom were somewhere between very and absolutely/100% confident that Clinton would beat Trump, probably by a wide margin. But in the end, I take full responsibility for not challenging the conventional wisdom harder. I did try, privately at least, but almost every time I was told some variant of “put on your big-boy pants” or “don’t be a bed wetter,” so I guess I figured hell, maybe they’re right. But clearly my gut instinct (very anxious that Clinton wasn’t further ahead in the polls, concerned that Trump could narrowly pull it out) was right, while the confident-Clinton-would-win folks weren’t, except insofar as the not-so-minor fact that Clinton will end up beating Trump by 2.5 million or so in the popular vote. Still, Clinton’s not going to be President, which is really what matters in the end, and almost all of us – myself included – go that wrong.
- A key point by Roberts, one that I can’t emphasize enough, is that the whole concept that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” is basically complete horseshit. OK, Roberts didn’t call it “complete horseshit,” he just pointed out – crucially – that said “arc” can just as quickly bend BACKWARDS, away from justice, as it bends FORWARDS, towards justice. In this context, if you’ve never read post-apocalyptic science fiction novel “A Canticle for Liebowitz,” I strongly recommend it, as it shows mankind repeatedly building, then destroying itself. That’s much more my view of the universe – a constant, ongoing struggle between building up and tearing down, constructive endeavors and destructive spasms, “good” and “evil,” whatever you want to call it – than of some sort of inexorable “arc bending towards justice.”
- What does any of that have to do with the 2016 election? Very simple: as Roberts writes, it is now possible – after the election of Trump, in spite of (or even more horrifyingly, because of???) his “bullying misogyny, his mendacity, his contempt for the free press, his disregard for policy or preparation” – that there are “no longer mediating institutions capable of slowing our headlong descent into epistemological relativism and partisan nihilism,” that things really might turn out okay, that it’s “possible something as bad as or worse than internment camps will come along, or widespread racial violence,” or “a police state,” or an “illiberal strongman.”
- Roberts ruthlessly mocks village idiot Chris Cillizza of the Washington (Com)Post, who actually tweeted, “There is nothing more maddening — and counterproductive — to me than saying that Trump’s 59 million votes were all racist.” As Roberts mockingly writes, “after the nation’s white people elected a man who campaigned on race-based appeals and promised race-based policies, the top priority of many white pundits was to defend their honor.” Roberts rips Cillizza’s brain-dead nonsense about “nothing more maddening” than “saying that Trump’s 59 million [voters] were all racist”:
Not the election of a xenophobic klepto-fascist. Not the surge of race-based hate crimes after the election. Not the appointment of Steve Bannon, who has spent years mainstreaming white nationalism, to a key position in the next administration. Nothing is more maddening than having the innocence of white Americans besmirched.
My god, is that Cillizza (and his ilk) to a “t” or what?
- On a related note, Roberts viciously (but rightfully so) mocks the braindead concept of “racism without racists” –– that is, Trump “might be a racist…but his voters aren’t.” This, despite overwhelming evidence that: “racist and sexist biases are rampant in America. Racist and sexist outcomes are rampant in America. But apparently there are very few racists or sexists in America. We just perpetuate systemic racism and sexism by accident. Oops.”
- A subject that Andy Schmookler and I fundamentally disagree on, and frequently argue about, is whether you can be a “good person” and still vote for what is, essentially, evil. He says “yes,” I say “no.” Here’s what David Roberts says: “What American mainstream pundits often cannot see is that the latitude they extend white voters — ‘they know not what they do, they’re good people at heart, they’re just hurting’ — is the essence of white privilege.” For my part, I assume they DO know what they’re doing, and that – in an existentialist sense – they are both defined by and ultimately responsible for their actions.
- Finally, Roberts takes on the whole concept that people who voted for Trump did so because they are uniquely “hurting,” and also the media’s obsession with profiling these (overwhelmingly white) people. As Roberts points out:
What I haven’t seen [from the ” disproportionately white, male, educated at Ivy League schools, cosmopolitan in outlook” media] are nearly as many tender profiles of working-class black families in cities. I didn’t read as much about second-generation Latinos struggling to pay for college. There weren’t a ton of thumbsuckers on single mothers in the Atlanta suburbs, Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, or seasonal farm workers in California. (This stellar New York Times piece on Latina hotel workers was a welcome exception.)
America is full of different kinds of people, many of whom are suffering, all of whom face difficult challenges. They all deserve empathy. They all deserve a living wage and decent public services and fair treatment under the law. They all deserve every consideration as Real Americans.
Again, I couldn’t agree more with this brilliant election post-mortem by David Roberts. A must read.