This morning as we all face a President Trump, Democrats across the nation are trying to understand how this happened. And who to blame.
For the past year, I have been pleading daily on social media and elsewhere – anywhere people might listen – for inclusiveness and empathy for the many struggles and experiences that were taking place. But it never happened. In fact, social dialogue moved even more deeply in the opposite direction.
You can’t fight fascism by trying to silence or diminish people. You fight fascism by listening to the people, by hearing them. The Democratic Party has a long history of not being able to read the room, of seeming incapable of feeling the temperature of the country and act accordingly.
This election, the DNC, Hillary, and many of Hillary’s most vocal supporters, chose to spend their time telling people to shut up. By painting pictures of them as deplorable or selfish, irresponsible, or simply getting in the way.
Until Democrats can recognize and comprehend their own vast role in the creation and perpetuation of Trump and Trumpism – and ultimately for this Trump presidency – we stand no chance of breaking our own destructive cycle.
The massive movements that came into being this election cycle didn’t happen in a vacuum. They weren’t subtle, underground movements. They rallied and inspired millions of voters. When movements like this come into being, they do so as a reflection of public discontent. They are a flashing neon signpost. They are not to be shrugged off or ignored. At the vey least, they should raise appropriate questions, much like the one Jake Tapper so responsibly and poignantly asked of Jen Psaki the day before the election:
“It’s quite obvious that white working class voters seem to feel abandoned, in large numbers, by Washington D.C. In any way do you see the fact that so many of them––this constituency that used to be a Democratic constituency so many years ago––the fact that they have turned away and they are looking towards Donald Trump, is that in any way a failure of President Obama and the Democratic party?”
It’s an important question and one Democrats never dared ask themselves when they decided to pick a status quo candidate to represent them. They didn’t even want to consider it. The Right, on the other hand, couldn’t squelch their movement (try as they might) and were forced to hear them. The DNC and the corporate media, and Hillary herself, worked diligently to silence and marginalize that equally popular group on the Left and to frame the question itself as insulting and absurd. Daily.
As a result, “Stronger Together” never actually transcended being just a campaign slogan. It was never taken literally. Its ideal was never embraced. Hell, it wasn’t even welcomed.
The DNC made their choice. And they all-too hastily and selfishly acted on it. And not in a Democratic fashion as Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile so haplessly publicized for us.
Hillary, all-too-often on the wrong side of life and death decisions, actively chose to court moderates and conservatives, even to the point of normalizing war criminals, while simultaneously alienating and mocking Progressives and Independents, all those voices saying loud and clear what they wanted, what they needed, and what they were tired of. And while Sanders and Trump offered them a chance to be heard and the possibility of actual change, Hillary offered more stultifying incrementalism and elitist disregard.
As GB Burford – who is a college graduate with three degrees and describes himself as “a disabled dude in a flyover state” – shared in his eloquent and revealing post-election writeup:
“You won’t find many people more disenfranchised than me. My adjusted gross income was less than $4,000 last year. I think the total cash I survived on in 2015 was around $8,000. I lived on food stamps. I’ve been trying to find work, but there just aren’t that many jobs I can do around here, especially in the blue collar sector.
“I’m sick, but I can’t afford health care. Obamacare actually made my life worse — insurance was actually more affordable before it showed up..
“People [are] as mad and scared and afraid as me, because the establishment keeps ignoring them, because it literally renamed their home to “the rust belt,” because it sits there and mocks them because it thinks poor must be stupid.
“Hillary came along with her “basket of deplorables” remark, and a bunch of people who’ve been hoping that Obama or Bush or Clinton or someone would listen to them, just listen and try to make things better, and what do you think happened?
“WHAT DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN?
“YOU AREN’T LISTENING TO US.
“We’re dying out here and nobody cares about Kansas…
“I don’t want to spend a ton of time talking about how my life sucks, though, but suffice it to say, when I looked at Hillary Clinton, the person I saw was “… a candidate who enthusiastically backed NAFTA, seems most at ease in a room of Goldman Sachs bankers and was almost certain to do nothing for these towns other than maybe setting up a local chapter of Rednecks Who Code.” (Huffington Post)
“I live in Kansas. Nobody cares about Kansas.”
In the Primaries, the Republicans nominated the head of their biggest and most vocal movement, the person who was hearing these voices and responding. The DNC and Democrats, however, voted against the head of their own most vocal movement – the one who was listening and responding – and, instead, chose to nominate the one person most-likely to lose to Trump. They voted for a candidate who was considered the second-most disliked presidential candidate in all of American history, a scandal-plagued candidate who had absolutely no message and didn’t inspire hope or trust in an overwhelming percentage of the population, instead of the person who polled as one of the most-liked presidential candidates in all of American history and who had a very clear and overwhelmingly popular message.
We nominated the one person most-disliked by Republicans, the vast majority already painfully vocal about never being able to vote for her, that they would rather not vote at all than cast their vote for Hillary. Or to see Bill Clinton back in the White House. In any capacity. We nominated the one person who most embodied all the things both massive political and social movements vigorously spoke out against, a candidate who is seen as the poster-child for (and most likely to benefit from) all the worst elements of status quo elite corruption. And she did so while exhibiting absolutely no awareness whatsoever that taking $250,000 checks from Wall Street and major corporations for secret speeches, or in accepting millions from tyrants worldwide, would only add to people’s perception of her and her party as hopelessly corrupt and tools of the elite. You couldn’t have asked for a more damning message or representative in our post-2008 recession era.
But we still could have pulled this off. If only Hillary and the DNC and all those vocal supporters had chosen to heed their campaign slogan. Instead, they chose to shame people for having different experiences. They became the embodiment of everything they claimed to be fighting against. They exhibited mass intolerance, tried to silence people, to delegitimize their concerns and grievances, they were condescending, insulting, they diminished and dismissed other liberals en masse along with the bulk of right wing voters. They became bullies. Women berated other women for being critical of Hillary Clinton, claiming they didn’t even deserve to be called “women.” When faced with people who were struggling with the option of Third Party votes, Dems grouped together to belittle and shame those people instead of showing compassion and understanding and using that opportunity to reach out, to have conversations, to let people know that their experiences were also valid and that their struggle was recognized. Instead of offering compassionate alternatives or suggestions, Hillary’s most-vocal supporters – individuals, the media, the DNC and Hillary herself – placed them all in a basket of deplorables and cast them as Putinites or Trump-supporters, as troglodytes and trouble-makers or pathetic idealists. They painted them as being ignorant and selfish. Yet nothing is more selfish in a Democracy than assuming a presidential candidate doesn’t need to actually win votes. Or that people in a Democracy should “be quiet” and keep their opinions and feelings to themselves. Or, as one person wrote to me last night, “Your feelings are irrelevant.”
THE WRITING ON THE WALL:
The result is, as The Los Angeles Times’ Vincent Bevins pointed out, “Both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for 30 years.” And yet there were so many begging to have those questions heard. So many pleading for people to push Hillary to embrace the Progressive base, not alienate them. And they were told to be quiet. Hillary and the DNC couldn’t have been more removed from the needs of the actual people who would decide this election. Instead of trying to understand, they showed self-elevating contempt and became tangible proof of the disenfranchisement and voicelessness in this country, even within their own party. We were told that Hillary’s strategy of courting the center (and to surround herself with neocons), to completely ignore the rust belt (where Bernie found so very many supporters), was the smarter way to go; that that’s where the votes and support were. They weren’t. They never were. They were in the groundswell of enthusiasm and excitement – of change – that Bernie Sanders tapped into (not unlike Obama before him). And that Donald Trump tapped into, albeit in his own fraudulent and bigoted way.
But Dems were bigoted, too. Oftentimes against their own. When Progressives spelled out in detail the importance of committing to the promise of at least some Progressive voices in her administration, Clinton chose to ignore them and go in the opposite direction. When Hillary could have picked a Progressive VP, she chose not to. When she could have stepped up and defended the rights of the protestors/protectors at Standing Rock who were being beaten and stripped and placed in pens and shot with rubber bullets and pepper-sprayed to the point of brutal incapacity, when she could have shown voters that she was genuinely NOT in the pocket of the big moneyed interests, she did nothing. She remained silent. As did the media who preferred people not see too much of what was going on there lest they start demanding a response.
In the frenzy and panic to see her elected, far too many people made excuses for Hillary’s actions, for her questionable behavior as exhibited via leaked emails and other sources. They showed people, in no uncertain terms, that they would NOT hold Clinton’s feet to the fire, that they would default to the side of trying to justify her actions and choices instead of demanding accountability. Or at least an explanation.
Hillary had a million opportunities to embrace the groundswell movement and enthusiasm that Bernie Sanders had helped build, that he had all but handed over to her. She not only squandered it, she showed open disdain for it in her speeches to the big banks and elsewhere (“There’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means…”).
WHAT WOULD TRUMP DO?
People can blame (and they will) Third Party Voters or those openly critical of Hillary (including those like myself who voted for her), or those who asked for some measure of empathy and understanding from their fellow liberals for the myriad experiences that were taking place, those who actually believed in the words “Stronger Together.” But Trump isn’t the president because of them, though I’m certain many people will keep punching down instead of up. But at some point they’re gonna have to look in the mirror, look at the country around them, and recognize why this actually happened. That is, if they don’t want to repeat the same mistakes. It’s gonna take a while. But I hope that as the dust settles, more people will be able to look inward instead of pointing their finger elsewhere.
As Glenn Greenwald so observantly noted this morning, “When a political party is demolished, the principle responsibility belongs to one entity: the party that got crushed. It’s the job of the party and the candidate, and nobody else, to persuade the citizenry to support them and find ways to do that. Last night, the Democrats failed, resoundingly, to do that, and any autopsy or liberal think piece or pro-Clinton-pundit commentary that does not start and finish with their own behavior is one that is inherently worthless.”
Pointing the finger of blame at people who are not responsible is Trump’s response. It’s kind of his thing. And we will never find a way to pull the Democratic Party or this country together, to move forward, if we behave more like him rather than embrace the qualities that once brought us together as the liberal imaginings and desires of this country fighting for equality and inclusion, for compassion and understanding. If we never allow ourselves to live the true meaning of “Stronger Together.”