Fortune, good night. Smile once more. Turn thy wheel.
Lear, Act 2, Scene 2
So what to make of the victory of Donald Trump. Or was it the defeat of Hillary Clinton? Well, despite the collapse of the so-called ‘blue wall’ and the now customary villification of pollsters, another 1% on Democratic voter turnout and things could be have been reversed.
But the truth is the weakness of the Democratic position was barely publicly recognised beforehand. Aside from any consideration of the candidate herself, there are few instances of any candidate of the same party as a retiring two-term president getting re-elected.
Moreover Clinton was a candidate who had failed once already. Despite this, the Democrats convinced themselves that the great prize of filling a vacant seat on the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) was worth throwing everything at getting the first female President (POTUS) across the line.
But as Glenn Reynolds (not her or the Democrats’ biggest fan) noted recently, “Someone somewhere should have told her no.” In insisting on having her turn at the Presidency, Clinton sucked all the political air, patronage and money from any other mainstream rival.
She lost 22 Primaries (and 47% of the vote) to a 74-year-old socialist Jewish Independent Senator called Bernie Sanders. She grabbed the nomination using super delegates. Perhaps someone should have told her, but even the mild insinuation that she was, er, not a good politician risked social Siberia.
So the Democrats ambitious strategy of stealing the White House, the Senate and that spare SCOTUS seat backfired badly. They lost their shirts in all three respects. With Obamacare and the President’s private order on the block, there may be very little to show for his eight years in office.
And now, according to Matthew Yglesias, the whole Democratic Party is a smoking pile of rubble. All for the want of scraping another just 1% in the national vote. But that might as well be 10%, given the substantial scale of their collateral damage.
Fears Trump would alienate conservative voters forced the GOP to play the more defensive strategy in the House and Senate. House leader and conservative – in both the fiscal and social sense – Paul Ryan kept his distance from president-elect Trump right up to the very end.
Towards the end of the campaign, the tensions began to show when Trump made it known that he was not pleased with Ryan’s transparent lack of loyalty. Ryan’s victory party in Wisconsin was reportedly very subdued. He may yet pay for his disloyalty.
In the event, whatever about their leaders, the conservative voters stuck with Trump despite some of his not very conservative promises. In fact in rural areas and small towns (see David Wong), he pressed buttons that the GOP had not pressed since Reagan (albeit in a very different manner).
Yes, the Democrats still took a big chunk of those on less than $30,000, but there was also a 16% swing to Trump amongst a group where the Dems traditionally kill the Republicans:
This puts the lie to the idea that Trump appealed most to those who are struggling economically pic.twitter.com/p6Rp9liNCa
— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) November 9, 2016
If Trump’s a loose cannon, then many voters at the bottom have come to believe they stand a better chance with a billionaire, who incidentally spent far less money and had far less mainstream media support than with the Democrat.
Yes Obama may have saved what’s left of the car industry in Detroit by bunging it a huge amount of subsidy, but many of the subsidiary industries (just like in Europe) are made by specialist firms elsewhere.
For the record, even though car manufacturing is top of his 100 day hit list, it’s not yet clear how Trump thinks going to comprehensively reverse that trend towards global networking, but a significant chunk working class voters think he’s a stronger bet than their traditional champions.
As Robert Riech notes in the Guardian this morning:
Recent economic indicators may be up, but those indicators don’t reflect the insecurity most Americans continue to feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience.
Nor do the major indicators show the linkages many Americans see between wealth and power, stagnant or declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, and the undermining of democracy by big money.
Median family income is lower now than it was 16 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Workers without college degrees – the old working class – have fallen furthest. Most economic gains, meanwhile, have gone to top.
These gains have translated into political power to elicit bank bailouts, corporate subsidies, special tax loopholes, favorable trade deals and increasing market power without interference by anti-monopoly enforcement – all of which have further reduced wages and pulled up profits.
Wealth, power and crony capitalism fit together. Americans know a takeover has occurred, and they blame the establishment for it.
Senator Elizabeth Warren in a post she made last night on Medium (note, not big media) made some of the right noises:
Working families across this country are deeply frustrated about an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them. Exit polling on Tuesday found that 72 percent of voters believe that “the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.”
72 percent of ALL voters — Democrats and Republicans. The polls were also made clear that the economy was the top issue on voters’ minds. Americans are angry about a federal government that works for the rich and powerful and that leaves everyone else in the dirt.
But as this paper on why Trump won from a UK Labour point of view makes clear none of the policy that will tackle any of this in a private sector context is, yet, place. But his plan for his first 100 days already has alarm bells ringing in Dublin.
Trump may be popular with longer established and legal Irish immigrants, but his promise to do away with Sanctuary Cities creates a problem for those arrived more lately and without a green card. Trade too and cuts in US corporate tax rates, means matters could get sticky further down the line.
Together with Brexit, Trump’s ascendency to the White House represents what John Authers in the FT called yesterday, a bonfire of certainties. America’s working class is feeling the pinch, and re-balancing is on its way, come what may.
It’s going to a rough ride for everyone else. Brace yourselves.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty