The definitive article explaining Donald Trump’s success was published two weeks ago in the Oct. 31, 2016, issue of The New Yorker. “The Unconnected: The Democrats lost the white working class. The Republicans exploited them. Can Hillary Clinton win them back?”
The obvious and short answer is obvious: No. The longer answer is: She never tried.
Election night I received a continuous stream of text messages from relatives and friends from coast to coast asking me “What’s happening?” “Why?” and the most poignant from our oldest daughter, 32-year-old Rachael, “Do Americans really hate women that much?” (No sweetie, just Hillary.)
For 35 years, the Republican Party spun a narrative that the loss of jobs, good jobs, was the fault of Democratic regulation and taxes crippling the captains of industry. This tale of fantasy economics long discredited by a myriad of Democrats and some conservatives was never conveyed to working Americans, with the exception for a short duration by Bernie Sanders, and to a lesser degree by Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi and others who never had the national forum of Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s effort to embrace working Americans was short fused and undermined by her own attacks on Donald Trump’s insensitivities and the baggage she accumulated over 20 years.
That said, the first successful, though not intentional, effort to sabotage the Hillary Clinton presidency was orchestrated by Bill Clinton when he embraced the George H.W. Bush NAFTA treaty and steamrolled his own party.
For 35 years, the Republican Party spun its narrative, fooling the American workers and never being held accountable for its destruction of the American middle class as Democrats cavorted with Wall Street, bankers, and international financiers. For 25 years, the Democratic Party led by the Clintons sucked up to Walmart and Wall Street while claiming to defend the American workers. The Waltons might or might not have voted for Hillary, but rest assured Walmart workers and Walmart shoppers voted for Donald Trump. So did Kmart shoppers.
Recall those standard questionnaires with a range of 10 spots from “extremely agree” at one end to “extremely disagree” at the other end and “neutral” in the middle. Now fashion it with “I care about my friends and neighbors” at one end and “I’ve been screwed over one too many times” at the other end.
Screwed-over working America did not care that the Republican Party was mostly responsible for their plight, they did not care that the states with failed job growth strategies — like Wisconsin and Kansas — were run by Republican governors who screwed the poor and gave tax breaks to their buddies.
Screwed-over Kansans and Wisconsinites, like the rest of America, saw each political party offer up a populist. The carefully orchestrated Democratic Party nominating system was rigged, polite, and stacked — and they rejected their populist, Bernie Sanders. The Republican Party’s process was chaotic, impolite, and offensive — and they chose the clear, strong, angry voice: their populist, Donald Trump. The voters chose strident voice, not party. The consequences for the Democratic Party are a disaster.
A majority of America did not care who created the mess — they wanted an alternative, they wanted revenge.
As the campaign for president came to a close, there were tell-tale signs of the wheels coming off the Clinton campaign bus. There were too many undecideds, who in the end broke against the incumbent, against the establishment.
And all those angry white males.
Some of them were white men, others were brown and black men, and some were women. But there were too many angry genetic white males and the Clinton campaign ignored them.
“Do Americans really hate women that much?” (No sweetie, just Hillary.)
Then there was the failed media campaign.
Two of the cardinal rules of politics were violated by Hillary Clinton, both lessons I learned 40 years ago in my first term in office. First, never attack the voters. No matter what you think of your opponents, do not call their base of supporters indecent, shameless, or deplorable. Secondly, never utter any opinion or position in private that you are not willing to say in public. If that was true in the 1970s it is more true today when everyone in the room has their own recording device.
Having failed two rules, the Clinton campaign barreled forward to follow the third rule as the campaign concluded: Always play to your strength. The theme of the campaign was to continue to appeal to equity and social justice, the empathy of the American people. Donald Trump was a never-ending wealth of material for those who cared about their friends and neighbors. There was the attack on the disabled, the Mexicans and Latinos, and especially his crude direction to tell whoever was listening to “Go fuck themselves.” Rest assured none of Donald Trump’s friends ever wrote a book entitled anything like “It Takes a Village.”
Those angry white males, those undecideds, that basket of deplorables wanted to read, “How to Get Yours and Screw Everyone in Authority.”
If there is a surprise in all of this, it is that the Trump campaign did not double down and rerun the Hillary Clinton campaign’s anti-Trump ads.
In his New Yorker article, focusing on the divide between white working-class America and the rest of the nation, George Packer recounts:
“When I asked her (Hillary Clinton) if this (educational elitism) had helped drive working-class Americans away from the Democratic Party, she hedged. ‘I really don’t know the answer to that…'”
She spent 20 years preparing to run for president. She took money from Wall Street while spinning them one story and her social justice colleagues another. She and Bill did amass a fortune and, when most politicians knew better, even set herself above the rest — not just the commoners but also the rest of the elites. There were the emails and then there were the foreign gifts to the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of State.
When she failed to answer Packer, once again she either lied or fudged. In either case, she was following in the tradition of every U.S. president over the past 35 years — fucking over working Americans. The difference is that whether it hubris, indifference, or arrogance, she did not have the filter to cover it up. Not when she answered Packer, not when she won the nomination, and not when she squared off against Donald Trump.
It was obvious last spring that most Americans were mad as hell and there were two candidates who understood that. Bernie Sanders reflected and addressed it in a thoughtful, compassionate manner, not crying for blood, but demanding reasonable reforms. Donald Trump understood it and exploited and manipulated the long-suffering victims of both political parties. With Sanders out of the way, Hillary, who was too removed, too distant from the alienated, disenfranchised workers, sallied forth, offering platitudes and homilies but failing to give the people what they really wanted, the architects of the current economy. Trump never hesitated to sacrifice his bankers, his friends, and his investors.
In meantime, none of us have a clue as to Trump’s real intentions on the economy. We know his stated positions on immigration and Supreme Court nominations but not much more. He may well create as much chaos for the Republican Party as he does for the Democrats, creating a very vulnerable GOP in 2018. The problem is Hillary Clinton smashed up the Democratic Party far worse than Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey could ever imagine.
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