Tuesday’s political earthquake, with the stunning election of Donald J. Trump, may well mark an historic turning point in America’s political journey.
Many Americans fear that Trump’s authoritarian impulses could alter our democracy in fundamental ways. Many also question his fitness for the nation’s highest office. Those are concerns we share.
At the same time, we look to the next four years with a bit of fascination and the realization that America really has no idea what Donald Trump will do as president. He promised to “Make America Great Again,” but that’s about as specific as he ever managed to get in more than a year of campaigning.
Tuesday’s results do offer some lessons, particularly for Democrats, and we hope that the party will do some serious self-examination in the wake of Trump’s victory. We’ll be blunt: the Democratic Party establishment—and by that we mean the Clinton machine that came to dominate the party apparatus over the last three years— has lost all credibility. Nominating Hillary Clinton was a colossal error, and party insiders and the political pundits and consultants who had expected to ride the Clinton train to power must accept full responsibility for handing the White House to Donald Trump.
Those who will blame third party bids or lack of enthusiasm from young or minority voters should be ignored. The fault lies with the Democratic insiders who decided Clinton would be the nominee, come hell or high water, even as evidence of the public’s lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy mounted.
As was obvious from early on in the primaries, and from issues polling throughout, this was a change election. And Clinton stood for the status quo, and a political and economic establishment that most Americans would just as soon send packing. She was uniquely ill-suited to take on the Republicans, particularly Donald Trump.
Trump was a deeply-flawed candidate, but his brand of nationalistic populism clearly struck a chord with millions of Americans who feel left behind by the economic changes that have roiled our society for the past generation.
Contrary to Clinton’s off-the-cuff remark in late September, most Trump supporters are not deplorable. They are mostly just frustrated and afraid at the changes they see taking place in our economy and society. They aren’t anti-government or anti-immigrant. They just don’t believe that government is working in their interests anymore. And in many cases, they’re right.
They see the establishments in both major parties as working in league with Wall Street and other big corporate interests, and that view is not without foundation. Trump’s nomination was a repudiation of the Republican establishment. Clinton’s machinations allowed her to survive her own anti-establishment challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but the strength and enthusiasm of the Sanders movement demonstrated the depth of frustration from many Democratic-leaning voters as well. Election results suggest many of them opted for Trump on Tuesday, or just stayed home. That was certainly the case here in northeastern Minnesota.
Trump won, in part, by running to the left of Clinton on issues like fairer trade, reducing U.S. interventionism, and on the corrupting influence of money in politics. Those were key issues in the Sanders’ campaign and they allowed Trump to make astonishing inroads in deep blue parts of the country.
It’s not enough for Democrats to run on competence or qualifications. Indeed, there’s a long list of Democrats who tried to do so, including Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry, and now Hillary Clinton, and they all lost.
Voters need inspiration and the promise that candidates will make their lives and the country better. If they cared about experience or qualifications, they wouldn’t have elected Barack Obama, or Donald Trump.
Back in the 1990s, then-President Bill Clinton worked to remake the Democratic Party, from a party of the working class to a party of the financial, media, and entertainment elite. In doing so, he set the stage for what we experienced Tuesday night, as average Americans turned out to reject them. Trump claimed the mantle of the candidate of average Americans and Democrats let him do it. If Democrats don’t seek to retake that ground, by pushing aggressively for policies that truly better the lives of working Americans, they won’t save themselves, and they won’t deserve saving.