In the wee hours of Election Night 2016, stunned and horrified by the wave of electoral red that had swept Donald Trump to victory, I sought numb solace in the written word.
“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism,” wrote David Remnick for The New Yorker. “Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.”
Why Trump won is no less a tragedy than the victory itself. The dread of being subjected for the next four years to the mean-spirited, mendacious team of Trump — a Republican nominee who trafficks in hate meme and speech, rabid operatives who lie shamelessly, GOP statesmen who use any means necessary to throw an election — is, indeed, a bitter pill to swallow.
We are not at a loss for post-mortem commentary spewed by a media quick to blame Hillary Clinton’s defeat on the strategic faults of her campaign, President’s Obama’s insistence on nudging her rather than Vice President Joe Biden to the fore, or the Democratic Party’s neglect of its once true-blue Rust Belt base. But such criticisms ignore far more egregious and ominous disruptors: Russia’s hacking into Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails (and, directly after the election, disclosed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign); Julian Assange’s willful service as a pawn to Russia in the leaking of thousands of ill-gotten emails; unprecedented FBI interference in the final days of the campaign.
A Blaming Media
Gobsmacked, scrambling to find post-election meaning and relevance, morning show hosts and opinion writers lashed out at Clinton and the Democrats with a vengeance, attacking the very people who waged war against the most depraved campaign in modern American history, while they, the cloistered media, pontificated from the panelist desks of network TV. Perhaps more self-aware members of the press, recovered somewhat from their Black Tuesday shock, might realize now that their anger is misplaced. That their mob-like barrages represented their terror of times to come, and Clinton, vanquished, was the perfect, kick-her-while-she’s-down scapegoat. Having gotten the most consequential political race of their lifetimes dreadfully and irreversibly wrong, they play the blame game to distance themselves from their out-of-touch complicity, their opportunistic peddling of Trump’s high-ratings wares, their smug in-studio analyses that failed to grasp the extent to which a bigoted buffoon was expanding his base.
In the days immediately following the election, media tried to point Clinton’s loss to low African-American voter turn-out — a convenient talking point plucked from a GOP press release claiming people of color weren’t turning out for Clinton. Media are as blind and biased as any institution, and for many African-Americans the endless loops of low black turnout translated into whites attempting to lob colossal failure of the democratic process at the feet of black folk.
In fact, while 2016 turnout rates (the number of people who voted relative to the numbers of people eligible to vote) was down on a percentage basis across all demographic groups days after the election, by Nov. 19 vote counts showed 3.3 million more people voted in 2016 than in 2012* — 132.4 million and counting compared to 129 million in 2012. Despite hours-long waits at significantly fewer voting booths stemming from Republican voter suppression efforts, 88 percent of African-Americans cast their ballot for the Democratic candidate — the largest share of votes cast for Clinton by any racial group. African-Americans turned out second only to whites in this election.
Focusing on African-American voter turn-out in isolation of a complete set of facts is poor reporting. To be sure, the percent of blacks who voted for Clinton is less than 93 percent of Black vote captured by Barack Obama in 2012. But discerning analysts have regarded Obama’s historic voter turnout as a unique circumstance, given the historic appeal among U.S. blacks of casting their ballots for the nation’s first African-American president. The Clinton team, undoubtedly recognizing Obama’s atypical effect on black voter turnout in the previous two presidential elections, did not expect to recapture the same level of support this time around. Instead, Clinton worked on broadening her coalition, efforts that garnered 82 percent of the Latino vote, 55 percent of the Millennial vote, and 54 percent of the female vote.
The assumption going into the election is that Clinton had a lock on women, white women in particular. But this key demographic, long-considered a foundation to the Clinton coalition, quietly turned their backs on her in the voting booth: 53 percent of white women end up voting for Trump. (By comparison, 94 percent of African-American women voted for Clinton.) Who would have thought educated white women would vote for a serial sexual assaulter?
Given that nearly half of college-educated whites not suffering the economic hardships of the white working-class chose to vote for a candidate who hawked bigotry as a centerpiece of his campaign makes it is difficult for Blacks and other minorities to interpret the college-educated vote as anything less than racially motivated, even allowing for other legitimate concerns (terrorism, foreign policy).
Andrew McGill of The Atlantic writes that turnout wasn’t the issue in this election, as Forbes and other outlets have erroneously reported, but rather vote-flipping: enough Democrats who voted for Obama in past elections voted this time for Trump.
Clinton’s 63.6 million vote count as of Nov. 19 is approaching Obama’s 66 million vote count in 2012. It’s possible her final count will exceed President Obama’s. Had voter suppression efforts not eliminated 868 polling places across country, or had the Clinton campaign not taken Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan for granted, the country might very well have elected its first woman president.
As it is, more than half the country has no choice but to brace itself for the coming political assaults ahead, from widespread voter suppression efforts to continued erosion of hard-fought civil rights.
Where do we go from here?
I am scared. I’m scared that the country I’ve known and loved is slipping between my fingers. I’m scared of the Republican Party’s willful embrace of the extreme right in its lust for power, of its majorities and the impunity of rule these majorities give them. I’m scared of the surgical precision with which the GOP quashes the power of the American people.
But I won’t just be scared. I’ll be mad, too. And defiant. And proud to be an active citizen of this country for which I will stand.
* By comparison, according to FiveThirtyEight, 2012 turnout was down 1.7 million from 2008.
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