Donald Trump is the president elect of the United States. Why?
Trump did not win because he is widely liked. He is NOT widely liked.
A very small number of Americans voted for Trump, and this number was magnified by the conservative-state-favoring electoral college, and most of those who did not vote for him not only don’t prefer him, but find him truly abhorrent. During the campaign, and over his 70 year long life, Donald trump has done or said myriad things each of which is fully disqualifying to be a candidate for president. These deplorable things are, of course, the reason he won this election. Those who voted for him felt that a deplorable man represented them better than established politicians, because they related to that deplorableness.
A word about the Deplorables
Men like me claim (and I believe us) that we do not encounter conversations like the famous Trump Bus conversation released to the public in the latter weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. But, those conversations are out there. I attended a social event recently, and I had my kindergartener with me. It was a socially required event, or I probably would not have gone. It was attended by men and women ranging in age from their late 20s through their late 60s, along with a couple of younger kids. This was a small number of individuals in one family, their spouses, and on out for a few levels of marriage and consanguineal relation. A clan, if you will.
I did not know people talked like that. I felt like I was in a porn movie except everybody had their clothes on. I’ve seen conversations roughly like this, in terms of risqué-osoty, among younger folks on the convention circuit, but this was different from that in being fully misogynistic and disrespectful, and not jut risqué.
It was bad enough that I endeavored to distract the kindergartener, remove the kindergartener from the environment, sending him out, and getting myself out of there as soon as it was socially acceptable. Well, sooner, actually.
These are the folks, men and women, who find no fault with Donald Trump’s salacio-sexist banter. It is not that they want a profligate leader in the White House, a man who treats women and subcontractors with deep disdain. It is, rather that they don’t mind it, because they are it, and at the same time, they know that electing a Trump is a slap in the face for the elitist, over educated, judgmental, liberal scum over there by the door holding his hands over his son’s ears and trying to get away from the real people. And, they are right. Indeed, it was more than a slap in the face, it was a punch in the gut.
Did deplorable sexists keep Clinton out of the White House?
You might think so, but no.
There is a long list of reasons one might consider to explain why Hillary Clinton lost or that Donald Trump won. It is possible to point to some of these reasons, on their own, and legitimately claim that if this one reason was not in play, Trump would have lost or Clinton would have won. I want to briefly point them out, and then move on to the actual reason.
In reading through this list, note that “Sexism/Hillary is a woman” is actually part of each and every item. Sexism is so pervasive in this election that sometimes you don’t even see it.
1) If only nobody voted for this or that third party.
This may be worth about 1% of the vote overall, possibly 2%, so if there were no third party candidates in the race at all, perhaps Trump would have lost. Or not. Third party voters may have simply written in The Lizard People. Libertarian third party voters could have split among Trump and Clinton, or been mainly for Trump. I don’t think enough people voted for Jill Stein to matter.
( I quickly add that those who voted for Jill Stein demonstrated with their decision something else that is not especially admirable. I wouldn’t be bragging about it. But I digress.)
Note, by the way, that the third party candidate that got most often picked by those casting protest votes was Gary, not Jill. The boy, not the girl. Significant? You decide.
2) If only the Bernie Bots, the former Sanders supporters, had not …
[voted third party/stayed home/constantly whined about Clinton/made the political process so painful that many simply walked away and never came back/whatever whatever]
This was probably worth a couple percent of the vote, and I think it really mattered. One part of this that mattered the most was the sexist attacks on Hillary, because this gave a lot of people permission to more openly hate the idea of a female president.
Bernie bots ruined politics for a lot of people this year. But, at the same time, Bernie excitement brought new people in to politics,and that is good. Also, I strongly suspect that had Hillary been behind the whole time like Bernie was, and had lost the nomination, there would be a reverse effect. There would be Hillar Bots. There were Hillary Bots in 2008.
I can make a strong argument that the Hillary Bot effect is NOT parallel to the Bernie Bot effect, and would not have been as bad. But if we see the Bernie Bot effect as moving 3% of the vote, enough to have easily elected Clinton, we also need to recognize that the Hillary Bot effect, had it happened, would have been worth about 1.5% of the vote, diluting the imagined no-Bernie-Bot effect enough that it may not matter.
3) The Silent Majority elected Trump.
The number of deplorable, unprincipled, vile, racist, and sexist people in the United States who are of voting age is huge.
Among these, many don’t vote. Most are white, male, older, and less educated. This has led to a proliferation of comments on social media like, “So, I’m an uneducated white guy, sue me” which makes me think, “can I do that?”
A subset of these dudes don’t vote, and proudly don’t vote. I’ve known guys in this category who will stuff the “I don’t vote, their all crooks” line (and yes, that is how they spell it) down anyone’s throat who will listen, and even won’t listen, as part of almost every conversation they have. It is pretty disgusting. But, sometimes those dudes do vote, and when they do, they are called the Silent Majority.
They are worth 1%–3% of the population, depending on how many get riled up. Oh, and by the way, these dudes don’t talk to pollsters, so in years when they don’t vote, they don’t matter. In years when they do vote, their effect is a surprise. I think they mattered this year, but there isn’t much one can do about them but to wait until they get old and die, and to try to work against the replacement demographic being like them as they grow up by increasing education and awareness.
4) The Bradley Effect.
In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor of California. Bradley showed a significant lead in the polls, and the exit polls backed this up. Then, he lost. One theory is that many white voters claimed to support Bradley in order to not appear racist, but once in the voting booth, voted for the white guy. This then became known as the Bradley Effect.
Further consideration of that race, and subsequent analyses, seem to show that the Bradley Effect as described did not happen then, and does not really happen in general. But it is certainly possible for such a thing, either with respect to race or sex, to occur, so it should always be considered.
Personally, I think the Bradley Effect (a gendered version of it) does not explain anything here, but see #3 above for a related (but different) effect. There was lots of sexism here, but it was not altering the polling results. So, I include Bradley here to be more comprehensive, but I think it counts for 0% of the effect.
5) The Democrats put up the wrong candidate.
I think this mattered, but not for the reasons you may think, and it is not the main thing we need to fix. For that, you’ll have to keep reading.
I love Hillary, and I am certain that the long list of reasons some other people hate her are made up by the vast right wing conspiracy led for many years by Newt Gingrich (look for Gingrich to take his power-place in the Trump administration), Karl Rove, and others. Ironically, the anti-Hillary rhetoric, which killed this election, was created by a corrupt political establishment (the Republican Party) and in so doing convinced may anti-corruption anti political establishment voters to vote for Trump.
I am not suggesting that Sanders would have been a better candidate. He would have lacked the negative baggage, but he would have brought to the table some other problems that may have hurt him. Yes, I know head to head polls put Sanders higher than Clinton against Trump, but those early polls, while interesting, should not be the main basis for a decision as to what to do.
Bernie is a boy, and Hillary is a girl. Putting up a female candidate is roughly like putting up a black candidate. You are asking for trouble, asking for racists/sexist votes to come out in huge numbers against you, etc. You could never win with that strategy, could you?
Well, of course you can, and that is what Obama did. But, realistically, a candidate that has inherent negatives with much of the population is potentially at a disadvantage, so one must carefully consider these things. In thinking about this, about the basic question of whether or not the Democrats screwed themselves (and by themselves I mean ourselves because I’m a Democrat) by putting up a woman before the country was ready, several important and often conflicting truths come to the fore.
The people who would vote against a black man because he is black are not going to vote for very many Democrats. So, Obama did not lose very many votes because of the color of his skin. Meanwhile, the prospect of the first African-American president was so exciting to so many people, that Barack Obama brought people out to the polls in such large numbers that fire marshals around the country freaked out about the crowds.
Is it true that the people who wold vote against a woman because she is a woman are also not going to vote for very many Democrats? In other words, is racism very compartmentalized across party lines, while sexism is not as compartmentalized? I think that might be true, but I’m not sure by how much or if it matters. I would have thought that the excitement of having a woman president would have brought more people to the polls to vote for Hillary, but that is not what happened.
I think that the Democrats needed to run a woman this year, and we need to elect a woman to the presidency, and that there is really nothing stopping us from doing that. Sexism played a role this year, but sexism can be dealt with if we fix the actual problem we have in getting people elected. You’ll have to read down tot he bottom to find out what that is.
But first, look at these numbers and consider what conclusions we might draw from them.
There are 219 million eligible voters in the US, of which about 146 million are registered to vote. About 27% of the adult eligible population, or about 18% of the total population, voted for Trump.
Democrats are more popular than Republicans.
Obama is wildly popular.
Trump is the least popular.
Clinton is very unpopular for a Democrat.
Voting turnout was biggest in the Election of the Century (2008) and smallest in the “Most Important Election Of Our Time.”
The “This is the most important election of our time” memo did not get out, apparently.
Those who show up make the decisions. But if only a few people show up, they’ll make the wrong decision.
This brings us to the real reason that we elected Trump as well as a clear indication of what to do about this.
Trump was elected president because of the failure of the Democratic Party to get Clinton elected. “He’s begging the question,” you are saying to yourself right now. Or, “that’s a tautology.” Well, yes, I’m begging the question by stating a tautology. But tautologies are not logical fallacies. They are logical realities that sometimes lead to explanations. Trump could have won this race by being the winner, but instead, he lost it because the other candidate was the loser. There should have been ten million more people voting than their were, a large proportion of which would have voted for Hillary (or against Trump) but they did not show up. If they did show up, we would not be looking at a Trump presidency.
So we can blame the voters for voting like they did, and especially, a subset of the voters for not voting at all.
The actual number of people in this country who can vote if they wanted to is roughly double the number that showed up. So, about 100,000,000 million people failed Democracy this time around, slightly more than usual. Most importantly, 5% o 10% of those non-voters should have been energized to appear at the voting booth based on prior years’ data. I’d reckon that nearly ALL of voters who would actually prefer Trump showed up, and about 5% of usual voters who would prefer Clinton did NOT show up, giving us Trump.
Minnesota Congressional races as object lessons
Now, I’d like to expand on this from the point of view of what happened in some of the congressional races in Minnesota.
I want to compare three races in Minnesota, CD2, CD5, and CD8.
I am using CD5 to calibrate. Here we re in the upper midwest, the beginning of the plains. East of us is increasingly red Can’t-Even-Get-Rid-Of-Scott-Walker Wisconsin. West of us are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, western Washington, etc, all very red. South of us (next to Nebraska) is reddish Iowa. Minnesota is farms and factories, white, pretty conservative overall.
And right there in the middle of it all is MN CD5, wherefrom the most densely populated part of Minnesota is represented by the only Muslim in Congress. Who is black. And who is politically radically left.
All, or at least most, of the DFLers (thats what we Democrats call ourselves round these parts) in Minnesota look at Congressman Keith Ellison with awe, and see him, as a parson, his policies, and his representation of a Congressional District, as about the best thing we’ve got going in the state. Few Minnesota DFLers may be to the left of Ellison, and few are very far right of him either. We’d be happy to have someone with Kieth Ellison’s politics and policy positions representing all of the districts of the state, and it would be especially helpful to our overall social and cultural mission if most of those representatives were in one or more ways not christian-white-male-normative. Not that Christian white male democrats are bad, but we want a good amount of diversity so we can truly represent a diverse, and increasingly diverse, nation.
So that’s the calibration.
Now lets look at the 8th district. This is the Iron Range. Have you seen the movie, “North country”? Maybe we don’t want to use popular culture depictions to represent congressional districts, but if you don’t mind, you could watch this:
White, conservative, industrial, miners, sexist, hockey. This should be a Republican district. But it is also worker, working class, union. And, DFL means “Democrat, Farmer, Labor,” This, the 8th district, is one of those places that actually gave birth to the modern American labor movement. (And played a big role in the environmental movement, by the way.) Democrats are pro union. Republicans are anti union. The workers of the Iron Range know which side of their toast has the butter on it.
So, now, calibrate and contrast. The modal DFL activist is pro environment, and does not want to see copper mining, now being proposed in the Iron Range/8th district. Ask Congressman Ellison, who represents Minneapolis and environs, if he thinks there should be widespread copper mining in the Iron Range, and I’ll bet he’d say no. Ask Congressman Ellison’s constituents in Minneapolis. They’d say no.
But Democratic Congressman Nolan, who represents the district and just won a tough race with a Frat Boy Libertarian (but Republican) Beer Guzzling Party Boy Yahoo who also happens to be very wealthy, i.e., Donald Trump with a different haircut, and he will tell you different. He’ll tell you that we need to have mining in the 8th district because we need jobs there. When push comes to shove, I’d bet Congressman Nolan will also want to protect the environment, and he’ll be the perfect person in there to insist on working out future mining in a way that makes sense. But he supports it, and his support of it allows him to be a Congressman.
Putting a finer point on this, in case you’ve not already grokked it, the ideal modal democrat can’t be the candidate you run in every district. Republicans CAN do that. They run on ideological issues that play perfectly well everywhere. Every Republican is interchangeable with every other Republican. Not true with Democrats. Think about that for a minute.
This is the reason this country is more likely to elect a Republican president over a Democratic president all else being equal. It is the reason that when Democrats hold a slim majority, they actually don’t hold a majority with respect to most issues, because they fight, they are diverse, they represent a varied landscape of constituency and preference. The Democratic Party is the very definition of a big tent. We have the bigliest tent. Fabulous, yuge tent.
This is also the reason that, in order for Democrats to win at the Congressional level and above, and often at State Senate or lower levels, they have to start out with 60% or more of the population more or less on their side, so that when 5% break off and become radically inflamed or disenfranchised-depressed, the candidates still hold at least a slim majority.
Hillary Clinton had certain characteristics that made her the ideal Democratic candidate, but among those characteristics, she also had serious negatives. I do not think that Clinton lost because she is a woman, though sexism supercharged most of the smaller effects working against her campaign, as enumerated above. Sexism that happened because she was a woman candidate for president, combined with the false but effective “crooked Hillary” trope, may have brought out the “silent majority,” and sharpened the misogynist Bernie-bot effect.
Now lets’ look briefly at CD2 in Minnesota. This was an open seat this year, and I think it should be looked at very closely. The district may be thought of as roughly equivalent to the 8th district in levels of conservatism, but with two important differences. First, the union-labor part is not very strong there, so that natural avenue of support for Democrats is gone. This is mostly farmers, rural conservatives. By rights, CD2 should always be Republican, were it not for the general like of the DFL even by conservative individuals across the state.
The second difference is the presence of academic, medical science-linked, relatively liberal Rochester in the district. That allows for a clump of progressive that liberal ice can freeze to and build up over time.
Now, lets look at the candidates. Think Rush Limbaugh vs. Ellen. Sort of. Republican Jason Lewis is a right wing radio shock jock who makes Trump look like an alter boy, and I’m only exaggerating a little. He, like Trump, is temperamentally disqualified to hold major public office. Angie Craig is a first time candidate who hails from the medical insurance industry, so she has experience in an important issue area, is an “outsider,” and all that. She is also a lesbian and is married to a woman, making her one of the handful of same-sex-married candidates that stepped into the political limelight this year.
So, unlike Nolan, one might argue that Angie Craig is more of an ideal modal DFLer, more akin to Congressman Ellison than to an old timey out state labor-loving democrat like Congressman Nolan. And, I can tell you right now, if I want, that it might have been a bad idea to run her in that district, because she is female, gay, and flaunts her female gayosity by going out and marrying a girl. And, yes, she lost the race. The Democrats should have run a straight white farmer in the 2nd district, right?
In retrospect, running Angie Craig in that district was not a bad idea. The fact is, she almost won. This was a nail biter. She was a far superior candidate, and everyone could see that. She should have won and almost did.
So, why didn’t she win? The Democrats would have taken this district had they run, as I noted, an old white farmer or something. A Lutheran Batchelor Farmer preferably. But Democrats strive to do something different. The Minnesota DFL runs plenty of Lutheran Batchelor Farmers all across the state. The calculation that Angie Craig could win this district was made before Trump was recognized as a factor. The right wing radio shock jock won on Trump’s feces covered coattails. And, only barely.
At this point, I can make an argument that we need to do a better job at picking candidates based on their match with the voters, sometimes taking the chance and running individuals who are non-white, non-straight, etc. but otherwise sticking with the candidate that “most resembles” the district at hand, in terms of gender, age, color of skin, and policy. And, yes, that is actually correct, one must consider these things all the time. However, we are the Big Tent people, the Democrats, so naturally we are not going to do that all the time. We will, should, and do, accept the occasional loss because in this or that race we could not fit our giant tent into the local voting booth. In fact, it is only by overreaching and losing that we know where that line is, so we can cross it frequently and therefor move it in the right direction. Losing a race in a place like Minnesota’s Second Congressional District is what we need to do now and then. In two years, we’ll take it back.
But we also need to win races, and that means making good choices. But, although I can make an argument that we need to do a better job at that, that is not the argument I want to make.
The real reason Angie and Hillary lost
The reason that Angie Craig lost in MN CD2 is not because she was female, lesbian, or married to a woman. The reason that Angie Craig lost in MN CD2 is because the National Democratic Party screwed up and a number of people, just a few thousand, that would have voted for Angie, stayed home or didn’t volunteer or otherwise get involved.
We did have high voter turnout in MN, apparently, as we usually do. But in CD2, about 20,000 people didn’t show up. During the last presidential election, 357 thousand voters voted in that district, in contrast to about 337 thousand this year. This perfectly mirrors the national numbers. In the national election, about 6% fewer people voted this year than in 2012. In Minnesota CD2, about 6% fewer people voted this year than last year.
Lack of voter turnout caused both Hillary Clinton and Angie Craig and countless other Democrats to lose to Republicans in 2016.
There is plenty of room in that six percent to work with, to have elected Hillary Clinton as President and Angie Craig to Congress.
(“Hey, but what about the 8th district, was there a similar drop there? Cuz your DFL guy won there. If you’re right, there wasn’t a drop there. Cough up the numbers, Greg.” Answer: There was virtually no difference in that district between 2012 and 2016. Hypothesis survives.)
It is all about voter turnout. The second and third reasons why Democrats lose are: Not enough voter turnout, and voter turnout is too low. Also … voter turnout.
But, why was voter turnout low? Here, we could go back to the other reasons a candidate might win or lose. Hillary was a woman. The Great Right Wing Conspiracy against Hillary. Trump was a TV star. Whatever. And we would still be missing the point.
Since half of the population are women, about 60% of them, apparently, care that a woman is elected president enough go get really excited (the remainder are repressed Republicans or hopelessly sexist), and that should readily offset anti-woman voting from sexist men. Hillary did not lose because she is a woman, but it mattered that a relatively high percentage of sexist people (mostly men, some women) voted in lower population states. In fact, that probably would have killed Hillary’s chances in even more states were she not rescued by the Black and Hispanic communities. Hillary’s negatives mattered a lot, I suspect. If anything, Trump’s very existence, and the entire GOP circus, turned voters off to the entire process, and not just Republican voters. The Bernie Bot’s themselves, with their special snowflake votes, probably didn’t matter much in their voting habits, but their unceasing yammering probably turned some people away. Doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters, because all these things feed into that one thing: Depressed turnout.
How To Win The Elections
In Minnesota, we expected to turn one of our houses Democratic and keep the other Democratic, and to maintain or increase our Democratic delegation to Congress. This did not happen, and our state got redder because the national election sent people away from the polls. There were a lot of things we were going to do over the next two years in this state, and that is over now.
The way to fix this is not to fix the candidates, or to deal with this or that particular problem that emerges in this or that national level election. It is not to forego women candidates, or to avoid men and women in same sex marriages, or to compromise in any other way. It is to make national elections matter less, and local elections matter more, so that every year, on election day, a large part of the population bothers to show up at the voting booth. Twice (primary and main election day).
Instead of the outcome of, and interest in, local elections being determined by the ebb and flow of national elections, so some years we all take it in the neck because the national party is outdone by the other party, or some other effect, killing us all with deadly coattails, by down ticket effects, by all that, the opposite should be true. Local political activity should be broad, wide, and intense, and that activity should determine up ticket effects.
Instead of coattails jerking around state house races, state house races should be the solid foundation for national races. As it stands now, the public face of people we will never really meet, even if we may once shake their hand on a rope line, determines the nature and character of the electoral process every four years, and leaves hanging and ignored, that process in all other years. What should happen is this. The public servants that live next door and who’s houses we can, I don’t know, cover with toilet paper if we want to, and who’s kids go to school with our kids, and all that, should collectively and en masse shape the nature and character of all elections, all the time, every single year, and then of course determine the outcome of that singular and occasional election for President.
I am not the first person to say this. This approach underlies all grassroots activism. Tip O’Neil said it. Marx said it. Everybody said it. But we don’t do it.
We need to do it.
The Democratic Party Party
Consider the amount of money that the Democratic Party or a major Superpac spends on an hour of presidential election season ads in a major market. Take some of that money. Or, maybe just take the total cost of a presidential campaign, about a billion dollars, and put aside a chunk of it.
Those funds, widely distributed, can pay for clambakes and brat bbqs in state house or senate districts. A Democratic Party Party for all the neighbors, two or three times a year prior to the primaries and again prior to the election. Every year.
Imagine if it was normal for the Democratic Party to have a gathering, a feast, a night-out-thing, a few times a year, EVERY year, regardless of the election cycle, with all invited, not by what party you are in or by what politics you hold, but simply because you are in the neighborhood.
Perhaps the Republicans would start doing it to. If they do, then we really win, because there would be twice as many public, welcoming events without us paying for it, but this technique mainly benefits Democrats. Why? Because a party has tents! Actual tents for our big tent thinking, making the political process a local, regular, normal, social process, embedded in our culture, with clam rolls or brats or crab cakes or whatever your local thing is. And the chicken dance, if you must. And a bounce house.
Choices and chance at the national level turn the turnout dial up or down, unpredictably, every four years, and otherwise not much happens. When turnout is high, Democrats win. This is why Democrats lose in the house race every midterm. The dial is turned down because there is no national election. This is a situation we will never, ever get out of if we leave it be. It is a situation caused by the top to bottom flow of energy, money, and decision making. It is, if you will, a situation caused by the very nature of the Democratic Party establishment of which we hear so many complaints these days.
I propose that we turn a good chunk of that national level money flow to the local level. Put up that tent, have the block party, rent the VFW, the Union Hall, now and then the local church.
A voter registration table, some local candidates, a couple of VERY SHORT speeches. In Minnesota, Al Franken gets up on a chair and draws a map of all 50 states from memory because he can do that. Maybe there is some raising of funds, a money jar, to off set the cost, but this is not a fundraiser but rather, a fun raiser. Did I mention that there will be a bounce house?
After election day, we feast. No particular reason it is done in this order, but every year, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November comes just a few days before the fourth Thursday in November. I propose that we reverse that. Leave Thanksgiving where it is, of course, but add a feast before election day, and another one before that, and two before primary day, or caucus day, or in Minnesota, both. Not political events, but social events that emphasize civic engagement and voting, run by our party, because we have to get the ball rolling. If the other party wants to do it to, fine. They can borrow our Weber.
Obviously, spending the money and resources on a big party is not the actual suggestion I’m making here. It is just one way to do it. Civic engagement at the local level to encourage and expand voting, to raise the turnout rate by double digits. That’s the ticket to turnout.
Minnesota is surrounded by red, and it probably should be red, by comparison. But we are not. Why? Look at this map of the 2012 general election (selected to show a presidential race but not a great outlier i.e. 2008):
Look at the higher turnout zones. Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are rural farm states that should be pure red, but they are either blue, or trend blue many years, and they have high voter turnout. New Hampshire and Maine should be very conservative, given the demographics, but they trend blue, and have high voter turnout. Virginia is a blue southern state. There is a long list of reasons Virginia is blue and not red,but on that list must be voter turnout. Texas has piles of urban, lost of immigrants from blue states, and a relatively diverse population. Why is it red and not blue? Oh look, Texas has low voter turnout. Colorado, outside of certain areas, is very conservative but tents to vote blue among a sea of red. Look at the voter turnout.
The causal arrow is probably a bit more complex than a simple Turnout—> Blue relationship. But the relationship is known to be real. Hell, if the supports of Democratic Candidates just spent a pile of time and money on voter turnout in general, they would win more. But if the person handing you the free brat and plastic cup of beer happens to be wearing a blue shirt with the name of a Democratic candidate on it …