Maybe the astounding result in the 2016 American presidential election, which saw the most improbable of candidates, Donald Trump, beat the seasoned pro, Hillary Clinton, should not have been the shock it was.
A system that had completely failed tens of millions of people for decades, and especially after 2008, needed a rude awakening. The Democrats even lost the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio. Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, long their bastions.
The political elites, had Hillary Clinton won, would over the next few years have allowed the rage to continue building in Rust Belt cities like Cleveland, and 2020 would be a lot worse than today.
A really smart ruling class would have allowed Bernie Sanders to beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries, instead of fixing it and crowning her. Now they’re looking for excuses. Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal even claimed that a group of “right-wing agents” in the FBI intentionally prevented Clinton from behind elected president.
This is indeed sour grapes. Clinton lost because not enough of members of her core constituency came out for her.
Clinton held an 80-point advantage among African-Americans, but was unable to match Obama’s 87-point edge in 2012. She won 65 percent of Latino voters, compared with the 71 percent who voted for Obama in 2012.
Among millennials, she won 54 percent, compared with 60 percent for Obama in 2012. With women, she barely improved on Obama, gaining 54 percent among them, just one percent more than Obama’s vote in 2012.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, “overturned the table.” We are in uncharted waters, for sure, but with Clinton, the Establishment seemed oblivious to the charted ones, and they were heading straight for the rocks.
“The Democratic Party’s failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance,” wrote Matt Taibbi on the Rolling Stone magazine website on November 10. It bullied anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“Trump’s election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of ‘the Establishment.’ The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors, and, of course, the media.”
The rage was directed at institutions that people believe have failed them and at an economy that doesn’t work for ordinary workers. Voters saw the aftermath of a financial crisis and Great Recession in which the gap between winners and losers just grew larger, and perpetrators escaped punishment.
“What has happened in America should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency,” contended Robert Reich, a former Democratic Secretary of Labor, in the Guardian of London. “It is more accurately understood as a repudiation of the American power structure.
“Recent economic indicators may be up, but those indicators don’t reflect the insecurity most Americans continue to feel,” he added. They do not show the linkages between wealth and power, stagnant or declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, “and the undermining of democracy by big money.”
When liberal elites are unable to deal with, or even acknowledge, major cultural and economic problems … people turn to the extremes. After 2008, President Barack Obama needed to be a reformer like Franklin Roosevelt, but he wasn’t
But voters upset that Donald Trump has been elected president have begun scrambling for ways to change the results. A post-election Washington Post–ABC News poll found that one-third of Clinton supporters do not view Trump’s election as legitimate. I’ve never seen something like this before.
Almost instantly, protests, some of them violent, erupted in dozens of cities, with participants insisting that Trump was “not my president,” and blaming the Electoral College.
Actually, there have been five elections since 1820 in which the recipient of a plurality of the popular vote did not become president. Presidents are not elected by a national vote, but in 51 separate jurisdictions.
The Electoral College is part of the U.S. Constitution and is composed of 538 members, with each state and the District of Columbia having one elector for every member of its Congressional delegation — its Senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Except in Maine and Nebraska, the winner of the popular vote in each state gets all of its electoral votes.
The Electoral College exists to ensure that the states, through their own electorates, would choose the president. America is a federation, and has checks and balances built into its political system.
If the states all had an equal say in who was elected the president, the Democrats would fare even worse, as Republicans win most of the states.
Still, thousands of people took to the streets. There were demonstrations in Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Miami, Milwaukee, Oakland, San Diego and numerous other cities.
Several thousand protesters marched up New York City’s Fifth Avenue to Trump Tower, the president-elect’s skyscraper home. “We’re horrified the country has elected an incredibly unqualified, misogynist, racist on a platform that was just totally hateful,” declared one person who held a sign reading, “No Fascism in America.”
A flag was set ablaze in front of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, as protesters chanted “America was never great.”
In Los Angeles, several thousand protesters gathered in MacArthur Park holding placards reading “Dump Trump” and “Minorities Matter.” A protester in Portland, Oregon, was shot in a night of rioting and vandalism.
As well, petitions have appeared demanding that the actual members of the Electoral College, which is to meet on December 19, switch their votes to the Democratic candidate.
A petition on Change.org, signed by millions of people, noted that electors can vote for Hillary Clinton if they choose. Even in states where that is not allowed, their vote would still be counted, if they would simply pay a small fine — “which we can be sure Clinton supporters will be glad to pay!”
Organizers in a drive led by Faithlessnow.com are targeting roughly 160 Republican electors in the 15 states that Trump won but which don’t have laws bounding the electorates to the winner.
All of this is unprecedented. I vote in Pennsylvania, and found myself unable to support either of these flawed candidates. But we have to accept the result.
As a comparativist, I study countries where very deep divisions, usually based on ethnicity, religion or class, result in polarizing elections that lead to violence when the outcome is not accepted by the losers. Is American democracy now under the same threat?
Readers will note that I have not addressed that age-old question, “Is Trump good for the Jews?” The answer is, I don’t know. Reams of ink have already been spilled in the press worrying about his support among the nationalistic “alt-right” movement, the Ku Klux Klan, and so forth. His chief strategist will be Steve Bannon of the Breitbart News website.
But Trump himself is a New York real estate mogul who has lived in a “Jewish world” and dealt with Jews all of his life. He’s not a coal miner from West Virginia or a Mississippi plantation owner.
As for his electorate, while I have no doubt many were motivated by racism towards African-Americans and Latinos, I doubt that Jews were foremost on their minds as they entered the polling booth.
Why jump the gun? I lived in Alberta in the early 1990s when Jews in Canada feared the supposed antisemitism of the populist Reform Party. I didn’t believe it. Two decades later, Canadian Jews were among the most fervent supporters of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had led the party.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.