I stayed up for the election, but for many who went to bed and awoke the next morning to the results, it was a little like finding out a semi-intelligent species of belligerent turnips from outer space had conquered the United States and put Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin in charge.
Democrats that I know, and some moderate Republicans, are still in a state of shock. They thought, as the polls suggested, that Hillary had this one in a bag, and she might as well order the party favors.
Some thought Democrats would sweep the Senate and make gains in the House, which always seemed to me a creaky bridge too far. And though I thought Hillary might eke it out, I always feared that Trump would win. There were signs and portents, as they say, most of them ignored by liberals and moderate Democrats.
The results of the election goes back to an idea I expressed back in October. The people who voted for the reality TV star are not just a bunch of stupid rednecks; many are prominent, well-educated folks who ought to know better.
Despite Trump’s tape about grabbing women’s private parts against their will, and even with a horde of self-righteous Christians in the Republican ranks, they voted for him, some of them arriving at polling stations with guns strapped to their hips, weapons not commonly associated with the Jesus message.
Putting this in perspective, imagine if President Obama, a black man, had suggested that because he was famous he could grab women’s private parts. How would that have gone over with Trump voters? And what if it had been white women he was talking about? Christians would have thought the door to Armageddon had been thrown open. They would have been calling for his impeachment, jail time and maybe worse.
Can you spell “racist,” hypocrites?
These people are the happily stupid, which is not the same as just plain old stupid. The happily stupid are otherwise intelligent folks who make good choices day to day, keep their families fed, and can be the kindest and most considerate people alive, but tribal interests outweigh their intelligence when it comes to certain views. In those cases, they loan their brain to the family dog to use as a chew toy for awhile, and make their decisions based on what some folks call going with their gut, which of course is nonsense. The gut can’t even make intelligent dinner choices, and considering the preponderance of stomach acid reducers on the market, should be immediately suspect. What they really mean is they are voting with their emotions. Tribalism is constructed upon a certain framework, and within that framework is an emotional, not an intellectual, response. Much of that response is inspired by fear. That is the primary button Trump repeatedly pushed with his tiny fingers. Building the wall wasn’t just about border security, it was about fear. They’re coming to get you.
Among those who voted for Trump, many say they are not racists, and perhaps for those who voted blindly without consideration of what he was saying, this may be true, but on the whole, when it’s pointed out that the Ku Klux Klan and similar white power organizations endorsed Trump, their usual response is a candidate can’t control who votes for them, and we have some black and brown people who voted for us, so there.
This ignores the obvious. The Klan does not endorse Democratic candidates for a reason. They don’t share their views. Trump crassly empowered the racists, hate-mongers and the fearful to win the White House, and no matter how many times you declare how anti-racist you are, if you inspire racists, you are one of them.
If you run on hate and divisiveness, and afterwards there are angry and hateful acts on both sides of the electoral fence, it is still you who have created the climate in which fear and anger has prevailed.
A small dose of reality has already begun to set in with the Trump contingency. The wall has become a possible fence, and may in fact turn out to be an honor line drawn in the dirt. Turns out the wall is expensive, and not enough undocumented immigrants are eager to do the work. It also seems most of those 11 million immigrants that had to go, won’t be going. Too many, buses, planes and sack lunches needed.
But in the same foul breath, Roe v. Wade seems in trouble, and Paul Ryan is licking his lips over eliminating Medicare, one of the most successful government programs ever, and replacing it with vouchers, which are essentially pieces of paper that should have “Sorry you’re sick” written across them.
The new administration has even admitted that a lot of what Trump ran on were merely effective talking points, which is so cynical as to make me ill. I don’t like what Trump ran on, but it’s another case of the Happily Stupid being duped again, and it’s their own damn fault.
All politicians stretch the truth and lie, but never has a candidate who is a pathological liar, who changed his views frequently in mid-sentence, inspired so many people to support him.
Hillary wasn’t a perfect candidate, and someone else with less baggage — some real, a lot imagined — might have done better. A different vice presidential pick might have been more inspiring, but the bottom line is Democrats have forgotten who they originally stood for: The blue-collar folks, whether they’re black, white, brown, male or female. For those people campaigns are not an intellectual exercise, it’s about the economy and fear of change. No one was comforting them in those areas. The economy is better, but not for all. Check out the boarded-up downtowns, crumbling infrastructure, and poor-paying jobs, and you can discover the roots of wishful thinking that allows a large part of the populace to fall for a rich, orange daddy that they believe can save us all.
It’s necessary for Democrats to make a better case that all of the working class — no matter what their color or sex — are paddling the same boat, and if we’re in it, we have to work together not to go over the waterfall. This was poorly addressed by the Democrats, who ran entirely on how much Donald Trump sucks, and they’re right about that, but what’s needed is more than painting the other guy as a demon.
The disenchanted, the desperate and the fearful, are frequently inspired by those who offer panaceas, those who tell you it’s The Others who are causing your problems, a.k.a. the illegal immigrants, black people, and so on. If you can give them something besides blame, give them opportunity, and make it clear you’re standing with them, not over them, you might find them inspired by a different message.
The liberal bubble is as firm and tightly fastened over the brains of its constituency as the far right bubble is over theirs, and the liberal side contains its own contingent of the Happily Stupid.
Though I hold my liberal convictions close and dear, you have to understand change is not at all what Republican voters, primarily whites, voted for. Not really. They actually voted more for the status quo than those who voted for a vetted candidate like Hillary. They voted for a return to the world they knew, or think they knew. Yesterday never was “great,” at least not if you were a person of color, a woman (oh, Republican women, what have you wrought), or gay, but that’s not how they see it. Nostalgia is the enemy of truth.
Make no mistake about it, fear won this election. Because in the House of Fear lives racism, sexism, homophobia, gun-fanaticism (an outgrowth of fear), and poverty. Though I hasten to add not all of the people who voted for The Great Pumpkin were financially destitute, but like those who need jobs, they have bought into the view that this country would be a better place if it was governed exclusively by white privilege.
Common sense can’t dissolve the boogeyman hiding under the bed, because when the issue is fear, which is an appeal to tribalism, that dumb tendency to vote with your gut prevails. It’s important that Democrats not lose their way, or embrace the evil things ushered in by a vote for Trump, but it is important that Democrats climb down off their high horse and move among the people. Change comes with recognition of each other’s worth.
But for now?
Welcome to our presidential reality TV show. Come on down.
[Featured image of Trump supporters at an election night party in Houston by Patrick Michels.]