November 8th came and went, and along with it went the hope that Donald Trump’s brazen appeal to racism, sexism, xenophobia, misogyny and bigotry would follow suit. Tuesday night Donald Trump won 7 crucial swing states including Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the last of which was a late-night death knell in the Clinton campaign. Less than a month ago, I wrote on a “self-reckoning” facing the modern conservative party, though the results of yesterday’s election appear to beseech this same introspection upon the Democrats.
In order for this introspection to bear fruit, some things need to be said about what this election was, and what it means. But first, what this election was not.
This election was not a referendum on the third-party protest vote. Yes, it was grating to hear Gary Johnson’s candidacy justified with talk of liberal disillusionment. But Johnson won only 3% of the popular vote, and typically Libertarian voters swing Republican anyway. It is just not a useful thought exercise to bridge the Trump-Clinton gap with votes that went to either Johnson or Stein.
This election was, however, partly the result of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act in 2013. These changes led to substantive voting rights changes across a variety of southern states such as new voter ID laws, as well as closing or changing locations of hundreds of polling places. Just this past summer, the Supreme Court ruled that new North Carolina voting rules targeted black Americans with “almost surgical precision.” While southern states in which these voting rights changes were enacted have typically swung red, the changes do explain the decrease in black voter turnout in the state of North Carolina.
This election was also a black mark on the Democratic Party; a seminal moment from which the powers-that-be could either run or stay to clean up their mess. The DNC seemed far more concerned with proving their candidate was anathema to her opponent rather than inspiring in her own right. In the effort of humanizing Clinton, we saw her cozy up to wealthy celebrities instead of honestly confronting a personal history which clearly made voters feel uncomfortable. Say what you will about the reasons, but far more people walked into their respective voting booths on Tuesday knowing why they were voting for Donald Trump than did those who voted for Hillary Clinton.
That Clinton won the popular vote while losing the electoral college only exacerbates the DNC’s misgivings. Not only did they fail to substantively exalt their candidate above a definitively unqualified opponent, they also failed in mobilizing their message. We thought Clinton, backed by an analytical operation far more equipped to handle campaigning minutiae than Trump’s, was an inevitability. Instead, her team outright misunderstood her nationwide appeal. The fact that she felt comfortable enough to make her now infamous “deplorables” comment is still mind-boggling in retrospect. Either Trump’s team outsmarted Clinton’s on the fringes or they appealed to their base more effectively. No answer is a good one for the DNC moving forward.
Lastly, this election was history repeating itself. Throughout United States history, any progressive social or political movement has been met with a recalibrating shift back to the right. The Civil Rights and counter-cultural movements in the 1960’s and 1970’s, for instance, were met with the rise of the religious right. Now, eight years of quasi-progressive policies shepherded by the blood-curdling nightmare of disaffected white voters across the nation–a black President–has inspired the latest shift.
Trump leveraged his campaign on manipulating a nationally ignored problem regarding racism. What’s worse, his hedge paid off. Trump beat Clinton among white women and white men by 10 and 34 percentage points, respectively. Among white college educated men, Trump’s margin of victory was 15 percentage points. There is more to the story, for sure. The Democrats, and Clinton in particular, did little to inspire confidence in middle America. Where Trump peddled lies, perhaps a lack of vision and sense of propriety was Clinton’s undoing in this regard.
This was the greatest individual power play the United States has ever played host to; a political laughingstock, laughed out of the room at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, riding an appeal to the antithesis of that night’s roast master in chief en route to snatching the White House. No matter the why or the how, the result of this election, President-Elect Donald Trump, did not come from nowhere.