Wednesday, 16 November 2016
My Own Analysis of Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Reich asks: "Why the White Working Class Abandoned the Party?" Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian, "Donald Trump is Moving Into the White House, and Liberals Put Him There." George Monbiot, also writing in The Guardian, "Neoliberalism: the Deep Story that Lies Beneath Donald Trump's Triumph." Writing in the left wing Jacobin, Jedidiah Purdy: "The Democratic Party's Abandonment of the Working Class Cleared the Space for Trump." "Hillary Clinton's Celebrity Feminism was a Failure" observes Sarah Jones. Lamenting the Democrat's future, Freddie DeBoer fears that "They're Going to Keep Losing." Another Guardian article by Naomi Klein: "It was the Democrat's Embrace of Neoliberalism that won it for Trump." Vox describes "What a Liberal Sociologist Learned from Spending Five Years in Trump's America." Lindy West, again in The Guardian, laments that "Blaming Political Correctness for Trump is Like Blaming the Civil Rights Movement for Jim Crow." Ben Chu, writing in The Independent, asks "Why did Trump Win? Whitelash or Economic Frustration?" In Slate, L.V Anderson laments that "White Women Sold Out the Sisterhood by Voting for Trump." In The Nation, Monica Potts claims that "Donald Trump Won on White Male Resentment."
CNN actually lists 24 popular explanations in one article. Undoubtedly, your favorite YouTubers weighed in somewhere along the line.
The reasons given inevitably boil down to one of a few things: the Democrats lost touch with the working class and abandoned fiscal progressivism, somewhere along the line liberal smugness and political correctness went too far and pushed frustrated white dudes into Trump's camp, white dudes voted for Trump because they hate women and people of color, Hillary Clinton's decidedly regressive record as Secretary of State, as Senator during the Bush years and as First Lady during her husband's presidency. The system is corrupt, the Russians had a hand in it somewhere, Wikileaks, low voter turnout among traditional democratic voters, take your pick.
Ironically emboldened by Trump's victory, leftist voices ranging from classical liberals to outright tankies are calling for the Democratic Party especially and the progressive left in the western world more generally to give up on identity politics and take a more class and economic oriented approach. No argument here. The Amazing Atheist gave what I thought to be the most rousing video making this claim. I'd love to see that happen. Mark my words. But is a lack of class consciousness on the left - an issue I feel strongly about to do a blog series on it - really why the Democrats tanked?
Let's not rush to too many judgments here. A nation that elected a black neoliberal president for two successive terms did not suddenly turn into Klanland or the dictatorship of the proletariat by handing Trump the keys to the Oval Office. Dream on, guys.
I certainly don't think this was the wisest decision the American people have ever collectively made. But Trump's popular vote numbers are not that great: 61,300,000. Hardly more than either Romney (60,900,000) or McCain (59,900,000). Not an overwhelming difference. Now compare Hillary's popular vote performance (62,200,00) to Obama's 2012 (65,900,000) and 2008 (69,500,000). This is more significant. There's reasons why Hillary lost to Obama in 2008, and her victory over Sanders is marred in controversy and resentment within the party.
Trump did not win. Hillary lost. She consistently failed to energize the party base as Obama did. Hence the fact it's been Obama and not Hillary the last eight years. Why this is so is quite beside the point. Leadership and charisma are esoteric qualities. It's not always easy to explain why some people have it and others don't. But the prevailing narratives being trotted out to explain this don't hold up based on the numbers.
Racism and sexism? Then explain why Obama got many more votes in 2008 and 2012 than Trump did in 2016? Trump appealed to nativist and nationalist sentiments throughout the campaign; to a considerably greater degree than mainstream Republicans in recent history, but this hardly explains his victory.
As for sexism and misogyny, more white women voted for "grab 'em by the pussy" than voted for "I'm with her!" That says quite a bit. That aside, he didn't perform substantially better than McCain or Romney did. His boorishness was a liability to far more people than it was an asset to. White males are a long way from a voting majority. Following his notorious "pussy grabbing" comments, he was all but written off among serious pollsters, and the smart money suggests that he was saved in the last weeks by Wikileaks and Comey.
Were people voting against political correctness and liberal smugness? See above - these things didn't spring out of thin air two years ago. Explain Obama's victories.
Were people voting against neo-liberalism and the abandonment of the white male working class? Again, see above. Explain Obama.
Were people voting against having a woman in the White House? Possibly, but unlikely.
Truth is, people weren't voting against Herbert Marcuse, Milton Friedman or Gloria Steinem in this election. They were voting against Hillary Clinton. It's really no more complicated than that.