The simple arithmetic of vote tallies in any close election makes it inevitable that commentators have a field day mining the results for overarching causes. The thing is that any one factor that can be shown to drive even a small shift in favor of the victor can be described, with complete accuracy, as having "made the difference". Since there are invariably many such factors, each of which “made the difference”, cherry-picking them becomes a fraught exercise usually influenced by the commentator's political bias. Keith has taken a crack at this from the pro-Hillary position (American Counterpoint 11/11/16). Let me do the same here from the other side.
I point out again, that "other side" for me does not mean pro-Trump. I dislike Donald Trump and never considered voting for him. My perspective is not even exactly “anti-Hillary”, since I regard her to have been an articulate and reasonable representative of our modern-day Democratic Party, not at all the “flawed” representative disappointed partisans would now have us believe.
It is the Party itself that has become the focus of my antagonism. And it is the Party, not just Hillary, which this month received such a stinging rebuke from the American electorate. This occurred, of course, without much in the way of affirmation for the Republicans either, who lost the popular vote and who disavowed much of their own political identity in nominating Trump.Hubris
So what happened to the Democrats? Why did they lose? And why did they lose in such dramatic fashion after months of euphoric expectation? Not only did they believe that they were sweeping the Presidency in a landslide, but that the Senate, possibly the House of Representatives, and ultimately the Supreme Court were falling into their hands, finally delivering to them their long-sought opportunity to “remake America”. Then in a flash, just the opposite occurred. They lost the Presidency and failed to regain either branch of the legislature lost to them following their period of overreach during Barak Obama’s first term as President. Soon they will once again lose control of the Supreme Court.It’s my opinion that what’s gone wrong with the Democratic Party is the same thing that blinded them to the threat confronting them in this election. The Democrats are suffering from an all-consuming hubris that is not only impeding their ability to govern effectively but their ability to ask serious questions and to see clearly what's going on around them. They consistently behave as though they own monopoly rights to the moral high ground on any issue where they choose to engage, and they refuse to acknowledge views to the contrary. And while they are willing to pander to their own left wing and to patronize minorities, they treat other sectors of the American electorate as if they were immoral, stupid, bigoted, and hardly worth talking to, much less partnering with in political problem-solving. Hillary's ill-considered "basket of deplorables" comment delivered off-the-cuff during her campaign did such political damage to the Democrats because people understood it clearly as the Freudian slip it was, revealing the Party's deep-seated elitism and contempt for anyone not sharing their idiosyncratic set of values.
Big MoneyIronically, what should have been major assets for the Democrats during this election morphed into liabilities. The first of these was all the money they had. For a long time one of the Democrats' most cherished notions has been that the Republican Party would hardly exist today were it not for the pernicious impact of Big Money that funded Republican candidates and their propagandists. This trope had been wearing thin ever since 2008 when Obama and his allies themselves rode to power on a tidal wave of money. The case disintegrated entirely in the recent election, as George Soros and his coterie of progressive billionaires, buttressed by liberal Wall Streeters, the wealthy Hollywood elite, and private equity plutocrats, turned Hillary into the most lavishly-financed presidential candidate in American history.
Donald Trump, while a billionaire himself, had to make do with far less, emulating Bernie Sanders in his disproportional reliance on smallish contributions. This proved to be all it took. Many of the usual big Republican donors, including the much-hyped Koch brothers, while continuing to fund down-ballot Republicans in many states, refused to back Mr. Trump.
The purist wing of the Democratic Party, this year led by Mr. Sanders, was obviously repelled by Hillary's moneyed connections, which became a major campaign issue during the primaries. Leftwing actress Susan Sarandon went so far as to advance the 1960's-style argument that leftists should vote for Trump with the idea that his election would speed "The Revolution". While this kind of thinking might have motivated a handful of 60's radical nostalgia buffs, the much bigger problem for Hillary was the simple fact that lingering hostility from the Sanders crowd undoubtedly led many of them to stay home on November 8. In a close election, this made a difference.Frankenstein's Monster
The other asset-turned-liability for the Democrats this year was the liberal media. The media actively promoted Trump's candidacy during the Republican primaries, eager to help him gut both the establishment and 'Tea Party' wings of the party and at the same time to profit from the entertainment value Trump brought to the news cycle. The media obviously believed they could easily bring him low again in the general election by promoting old stories of his lewd misogyny and by focusing relentlessly on his crude persona and his poor grasp of policy issues.
What they found instead was that they had created a Frankenstein monster capable of marching undamaged through everything raining down upon him. In the end, media hostility pitched right into Trump's wheelhouse as he complained loudly about a system rigged against him and his supporters. The Democrats' entire political identity is bound up in their posture as defenders of the downtrodden, but Trump managed to turn that around and portray them as the party of money and overweening power. His people instead were the downtrodden, and Hillary Clinton became the shrill voice of hypocrisy.
The specific issues over which the Democrats stumbled are many, but let me mention just three that I consider to be the most damaging. The first is Obamacare. In fairness to the Democrats, the healthcare system in the United States was starting to buckle long before Barak Obama appeared on the scene, choking as it was on bureaucracy, lawsuits, and private greed that feeds off insurance guarantees. However, Obamacare doubled down on these problems without addressing them. As a result, costs are now soaring for almost everyone, just as its detractors predicted in the beginning, and Obama's smooth promises about protecting consumer freedom are going by the boards.The healthcare exchanges standing at the heart of the system are failing, as providers find it difficult or impossible to avoid losing money. Many previously uninsured people can indeed now get coverage, but that's a distinct minority of the voting population, and even many of those people are growing disenchanted as they discover how restricted access to the actual services they need is becoming. Healthcare is a ubiquitous concern for people, and Obama turned it into a centerpiece of his presidency. Obamacare's failures could do nothing but help doom the political prospects of any candidate positioning herself as his heir.
The Climate Change Juggernaut
The next major problem for the Democrats has been environmental policy. Over-the-top rhetorical excess has become a hallmark of the Party in recent decades, and there is no issue on which this proclivity has been more pronounced than that of Global Warming, or "Climate Change" in its newly re-branded vernacular. Whether Climate Change really is an omnivorous threat to human survival or not is a subject beyond the scope of this discussion. What matters here is how the Democrats' messianic obsession with it affected voter behavior.Having positioned Climate Change as the existential issue of modern times, the Democrats set the stage for their "war on fossil fuels", which became deeply unpopular in areas of the country where people earned their livelihoods extracting and processing oil, coal or natural gas. Even beyond these geographic regions, pragmatic people everywhere scratched their heads wondering how it could be that windmills or solar panels were, without unsustainable subsidies, at any point in their or their children's lifetimes going to provide the energy needed for them to live their lives.
Prominent Democrats routinely mocked such concerns. They coined the term "Climate Change Denier" with which to brand anyone doubting any aspect of the sudden new orthodoxy on this issue, implicitly lumping them together with cranks who deny the historical reality of the Nazi Holocaust! Obama's Attorney General took it a step further and collaborated with an ad-hoc group of her state-level counterparts, all Democrats of course, in attempting to find a way to bring criminal charges against researchers who publish data going against the grain of officially sanctioned opinion.All of these excesses probably seem normal enough within the leftish enclaves from which they emanate, but they never played well on Main Street or in the angry halls where Donald Trump gave his speeches.
Smashing The Melting Pot
The third major deadfall for the Democrats was in the area they would refer to as "Social Justice". Republicans and Democrats have both for generations proudly embraced America's culture of ethnic assimilation. The "Melting Pot" metaphor has been central to the American experience since the nation's founding, and it came to mean a society in which people can maintain their ethnic identities while at the same time subsuming them proudly into a larger and different American identity defined by a new common heritage. This became American patriotism. Even African-Americans have been able to share in this despite the visible demarcation of skin color and the legacy of slavery. It is a healthy dynamic because it encourages people to look past their differences and feel a sense of their commonality.The Democrats, however, have managed to position themselves somehow against multicultural assimilation thanks to their growing focus on angry grievance politics. Minorities in any society invariably have legitimate grievances because majorities pursuing their self-interest tend to run roughshod over groups lacking political power. In a well-functioning democracy, these groups have the ability to form alliances among themselves and compete more effectively. In modern America's political configuration, it has become the legitimate role of the Democratic party to champion this process.
However, the Democrats are making a muddle of it, losing their grip on the difference between championing rights and divisive pandering. During the Democratic primaries, candidate Martin O'Malley was speaking in front of a largely black audience and was asked his opinion about the Black Lives Matter movement. He made the mistake of replying that "black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter." He was booed for this seemingly fair-minded comment and the angry crowd shouted down much of the rest of what he had to say. During the following days, rather than defend his sound statement, he repeatedly apologized for it and parroted back the expected trope that "black lives matter". This was a small incident in a very long campaign, but it was surely a teaching moment on one reason why so much of the American electorate has lost confidence in the Democratic Party.
The other area of grievance politics now causing difficulty for the Democrats is the so-called "LGBT rights" movement, another sudden re-branding, this time of what had not long ago been known as "gay rights". Homosexuality is something that most Americans in the past have had a hard time accepting easily, and that historically was actually illegal throughout all of the United States and much of the world. Today, you would find few Americans outside of fundamentalist religious communities who would argue even privately that sodomy laws have any place in our statute books. Legal tolerance, however, is a long way from social acceptance. Even racial and religious minorities, key participants in the Democrats' voting coalition, are uneasy with this particular focus, probably more so overall than white Christians.When the Democrats took gay rights a step further and began pursuing the legalization of gay marriage, they were crossing a dangerous line in many minds by attacking a core social institution. But before opposition to it could gain critical mass, the Supreme Court last year intervened to sanction gay marriage in all 50 states. Traditionalists were stunned. Sensing the wind at their backs, activists immediately ratcheted up the cultural war yet another notch by adding "transgenderism" to the list of sexual preferences in need of respect and legal protection. Thus was born LGBT.
It's my opinion that this last stage may have been the tiny straw added to the Democrats' already cumbersome ideological baggage that broke Hillary's back in this election. The perception was that if the Democrats could take up a cause as odd and marginal as transgender rights seemed to be, and then to support it with the same full-throated moralism they pour on everything else they claim to believe in, then maybe the whole package was suspect. Could the Democrats really be taken seriously as a governing party any longer?
So Now What?
Hillary's loss will have a titanic impact on the future of her party. It's left wing will wreak a terrible vengeance on the Clinton faction, whom they never liked anyway and whom can now be blamed for this electoral disaster. The extreme left is already taking to the streets in protest of the election, even before Trump has entered office. Both parties have become more adept at slandering and scandal-mongering than at the complex art of governing. The Democrats and their allies in the media are sharpening their knives now and will be all over Trump before he's even found his new seat in the Oval Office. There will be no honeymoon. Trump is notoriously thin-skinned, and his enemies know it. They will seek to goad him into stupid actions, and he's likely to oblige.It was, of course, only a few weeks ago that the Republicans seemed on the verge of disintegration. Now their surprise victory will give them respite briefly. The various discordant factions - the Bush traditionalists, the Cruz Tea Partiers, and the ascendant Trump know-nothings - will seem to fall in love for a while as they divide up the fruits of victory and look for ways to share power. But it won't last. Economic and political crises are brewing all over the world right now, and it won't be long before Trump is dealing with intractable problems. I've been wrong about him continuously so far and I pray I'm more wrong than ever now, but I do not see him possessing the knowledge, patience, moral fortitude, diplomatic skill or even the intelligence to cope with what he's soon to be up against. He doesn't have that many allies within his own party to help him, and virtually none among the Democrats, who will be eager to see him fail.
America needs a pragmatic, inclusive and non-ideological third party.