This Is The End . . .
Years ago, almost a decade perhaps, in the midst of an online political discussion, a conservative blogger began carrying on about Bill Maher, about what a smug, elitist nincompoop he was. To this person, Maher epitomized everything wrong with liberals. At the time, I wondered what the hell was going on. To me, Maher was a not-very-funny comedian who, for some reason, decided to use politics as his schtick. I never watched him, but saw enough of him – and his stupid movie about religion – to be of the opinion that he was one of those people who knew he was far smarter than he actually was; that he was a caricature of a coastal elite, sneering at the rest of the country much the same way H. L. Mencken would do (Mencken coined the term “booboisie” to describe people less sophisticated than he was), only without Mencken’s attendant racism and anti-Semitism.
I went to bed last night figuring Trump had won. Watching Netflix, I kept checking my phone for updates. When first Ohio, then North Carolina went to Trump, I knew it was over for Sec. Clinton. The only thing about which I was unsure was how I would react in the morning, fully awake and aware.
Turns out, I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Let me say, first, that I’ve perused over a dozen regular political commentators from left-leaning Paul Krugman to right-winger (but anti-Trump pundit) Ross Douthat. I’ve read several of Josh Marshall’s personal, editorial posts at Talking Points Memo. Like many of you, I’ve seen my Facebook newsfeed explode with sadness, confusion, anger, and fear. From the Trump supporters I’ve only seen one comment I found a bit stupid (regarding “Obamaphones”). By and large, Republicans and Trump supporters are celebrating a victory that at least one of my FB friends was the result of faith as much as anything else. Their faith has been rewarded, and they’re mostly in the mood to celebrate.
One FB friend had a series of posts listing people ranging from Anthony Wiener through John Podesta to James Comey, inviting them to go fuck themselves. And certainly, there is much for which this group, which also includes Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, need to answer. As yet another FB noted, it does nothing to “blame American voters” for Trump’s win (as Wonkette editor Rebecca Schoenkopf did in a late-night post entitled “Go Fuck Yourself America”) when the Democratic establishment got behind a candidate known for being a poor campaigner who had high negatives (regardless of whether they were deserved; I’ve made the point enough, I think, that they are not). Those perceptions dictated reality. The high negatives Mrs. Clinton had presented a constant stumbling block for her and her candidacy. I wrote last summer that Mrs. Clinton was fortunate in her opponent this year, opining at the time that any of the other Republicans in the primaries would have beaten her. That even Donald Trump – setting aside the train-car load of awfulness that is his personality and public campaign – defeated her, without a substantial GOTV effort all the while doing and saying things that would have destroyed a normal candidate long since, says less about how horrible the American people are and far more about just how weak a candidate Mrs. Clinton was.
I do want to say something about one of my favorite political commentators, Charles Pierce, who writes a political blog at Esquire online. Ridiculing the notion of economic anxiety, he highlighted the many demonstrable instances of racism, sexism, and just general awfulness that seemed to flow from Trump and some of his followers like a broken sewer main. Alas, he and many others (including me), forgot a few things. There really is economic anxiety out there among that group that lives with it as a daily reality – the working poor, marginally poor, however you wish to categorize them – who heard nothing about their fears until Trump came along last summer and started talking about building a wall between the US and Mexico. That racism, sexism, and a kind of generalized fear of The Other accompanies such marginal communities is something any second-year sociology undergraduate could explain. The complexities of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and religious identification are such that this group, ignored and feeling pushed aside or left out both by Bush and Obama, felt they had a spokesman. Trump was the guy who got it. This was a guy who understood that all the attention minority groups, women, foreigners, and non-Christians received silenced millions of Americans. He became their voice.
Does any of this have to do with reality? What did I write above? Perception is reality. The most important, and most real, perception was and continues to be that the political class and those who vocally support it, regardless of stated party identification or ideology, ignore, ridicule, and dismiss the concerns of millions of Americans, telling them they’re racist and sexist, telling them that America is changing despite them, telling them they no longer matter. That there’s quite a bit of rage right at the surface of much of the Trump movement should surprise no one. Like that long-ago political commentator who railed against Bill Maher, millions of working-class Americans were and are sick and tired of being ignored, passed over, and existing merely to be the butt of the jokes of people no better than they.
So now we face the reality not only of President-elect Trump, but quite probably an Executive Cabinet filled with some of the strangest and scariest characters imaginable. Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State, anyone? Perhaps Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General? Just imagine if Stave Bannon becomes Press Secretary. All of this was avoidable had we liberals – and again I say “we” because I count myself among their number – not been quite so smug and triumphal as we celebrated the spread of gay rights and the rise of the Trans-community Civil Rights movement. Had we actually sat and listened to folks whose parents felt abandoned by the Democratic Party, perhaps we’d have better candidates who could address matters of racial, gender, and sexual equality while never forgetting the diffuse yet substantial working class population who ask only their contributions to America be recognized; their concerns be heard and given voice; and that they, too, have a place at the table.
Just to be clear, I expect a Trump Presidency not only to be as horrible as many liberals (and not a few conservatives) have predicted, but probably worse. Surrounded by ignoramuses and fools, the least-qualified person elected to the Office in American history can only stumble from one crisis to the next, with political regulars in Congress and the Press trying to figure out how best to stop our general plummet. Should we manage to survive in some manner, fashion, or form over the next four years, we might yet have the opportunity to return to something resembling good governance.
Rather than reach out to an increasingly marginalized and disenfranchised working class, both major parties discarded them, the Republicans for the money changers in the Wall Street temples and the Democrats for their vision of a technocratic elite who understood better than the rest of us how best to order our collective lives. As that working class fell further and further behind, obviously they flocked to a demagogue; at least the demagogue talked to them, and seemed to speak for them.
We will have much rebuilding to do in this country. As a man in my late middle-age, I fear for the world my children, one an adult, the other soon to be one, will inherit. I think we can begin this rebuilding by taking a deep breath and remembering that the millions of people who voted for Donald Trump are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, family, friends, co-workers. As Pres. Obama said this morning, we’re all “on the same team” as it were. Even as the future Trump Administration stumbles from failure to crisis, we have a chance to listen to one another, perhaps at long last. We’re in this for the long haul, now, folks. I think we ALL need to pull together now because there’s a storm coming, and we need to be helping each other.