The day after Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States, I took to Facebook to offer the following observation (which I went on to publish alongside similar reflections, for posterity):
I have other friends and loved ones who, like me, are from conservative religious backgrounds. Many were Never Trumpers who, in the end, supported Hillary Clinton (with admittedly varying degrees of enthusiasm). But I have to say, since June I’ve seen an awful lot of qualifying and relativizing and genuflecting social media comments about Mrs Clinton in a feigned attempt to look above the fray. Now is the time to stop making excuses for your convictions. You have at least a four-year opportunity to take a more publicly robust stand in opposition to President Trump/in support of more tolerant and progressive candidates. The Democratic Party needs you now more than ever. You don’t have to agree with the party platform at every point (I don’t!); but be a voice from within our coalition, not from outside it.
Impolite translation: Dammit, you guys. This is your fault. You behaved like cowards! Why did you find it such a challenge to be plain about your support for Hillary Clinton amongst your conservative friends and family? When the chips were down you said nothing of import. And your decision to play up an affectation of contrarian disdain about the binary choice in this election, rather than take a public stand on the right side of history, was nothing short of pathetic. And to add insult to injury, your ironic quips about Hillary’s email server weren’t even that funny. You’re accomplices to this disaster—learn something from it, please.
Most 2016 post-mortems have contended that Democratic Party elites were deaf to the concerns of white working class voters, whose economic interests had become decidedly more protectionist than what the Clinton campaign was selling. So populist Democrats defected to Trump, who was promising to bring blue collar jobs back to the Rust Belt.
I’ve fed into this received narrative myself. But the more I consider it, the less I’m convinced the numbers bear it out.
I suck at math, but give me some statewide election results and a calculator and watch me go to town. Let’s look at some numbers.
Wisconsin (Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission)
- Hillary Clinton lost by 22,748 votes.
- Gary Johnson and Jill Stein garnered a cumulative 137,746 votes; Stein (the other left-of-centre candidate in the race) alone received 31,072 votes.
- Wisconsin does not register voters by party preference or affiliation, so we can’t ascertain how many more Democrats than Republicans there are in Wisconsin.
- The Libertarian and Green parties amassed 4.62 per cent of the popular vote in Wisconsin; if only 16.5 per cent of those third party votes—less than three quarters of Stein’s vote tally and just 0.76 per cent of the total votes cast—had gone for Clinton, she would have narrowly carried the Badger State.
Michigan (Source: The ‘Failing’ New York Times)
- Hillary Clinton lost by 10,704 votes.
- Gary Johnson and Jill Stein garnered a cumulative 223,599 votes; Stein alone received 51,463 votes.
- Michigan does not register voters by party preference or affiliation, though a recent Pew study (2014) indicates that 47% of adults in Michigan identify as Democrat/Democrat leaning, compared to 34% who identify as Republican/Republican leaning.
- The Libertarian and Green parties amassed 4.66 per cent of the popular vote in Michigan; if only 4.78 per cent of those third party votes—less than 21 per cent of Stein’s vote tally and just 0.22 per cent of the total votes cast—had gone for Clinton, she would have narrowly carried the Great Lakes State.
Pennsylvania (Source: Pennsylvania Department of State)
- Hillary Clinton lost by 44,292 votes.
- Gary Johnson and Jill Stein garnered a cumulative 196,656 votes; Stein alone received 49,941 votes.
- On November 8, 2016, there were 916,274 more registered Democrats than registered Republicans in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
- The Libertarian and Green parties amassed 3.21 per cent of the popular vote in Pennsylvania; if only 22.5 per cent of those third party votes—that’s fewer than one in four, and just 0.72 per cent of the total votes cast—had gone for Clinton, she would have narrowly carried the Keystone State.
In the end, Hillary Clinton received 2,868,520 more votes than Donald Trump nationwide; but a mere 77,744 votes spread across three states cost her the White House.
Politics, like baseball, is a game of inches.
So what happened?
Maybe we nominated the wrong candidate.
Maybe we nominated a perfectly acceptable candidate whose team couldn’t fine-tune a compelling economic message.
Maybe too many American liberals don’t behave like fully functioning adults in the voting booth.
Maybe too many of us chose not to vote, or played the tired False Equivalency Game alluded to at the top of this piece, and supported a third party candidate instead.
One thing, however, is clear: there are more centre-left Americans than centre-right Americans. More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. More centre-left voters voted for centre-left candidates, even in the swing states that gave Trump his Electoral College victory.
I’m as distraught as any liberal over what has transpired these last weeks. But let’s not kid ourselves and act as though this was unavoidable, or that we somehow weren’t paying enough attention to the concerns of Rust Belt voters. That may be partly true, but the numbers don’t add up, man. Trump may have siphoned off some of Clinton’s support, but not enough to be a game-changer. If a small percentage of Stein supporters (and/or some of Johnson’s) had voted for Clinton, she would’ve been elected president. And I find it hard to believe that the decision to back Stein or Johnson (rather than Trump) over Clinton was primarily about the latter’s support for NAFTA.
I personally know Bernie Bros, and have friends who voted for Johnson and Stein. None of them are today saying: “The Trump Administration is pretty terrible, but boy am I glad Hillary Clinton isn’t president.”
If you’re a progressive who grumbled about Secretary Clinton and couldn’t bring yourself to vote for her; a disaffected Republican who despised the thought of a President Trump but felt Clinton’s emails disqualified her from your serious consideration; or a third party/independent voter who didn’t think the stakes were high enough to warrant supporting the Democrat this time, I say to you: WE HAVE ONLY OURSELVES TO BLAME.
We could have overcome this if we’d been united. And maybe our party and our nominee didn’t do a good enough job at making clear the threat posed by our new Despot in Chief. But they shouldn’t have had to. Whatever the Clinton camp may have lacked in economic messaging, they certainly didn’t “force” historically Democratic voters to miss the forest for the trees. We should be smarter than that. We should have intuitively understood what the stakes were.
Some of us did.
The 2016 Election was a failure of the American Centre-Left coalition to mobilize in pragmatic opposition to an imminent and existential threat. We allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the common good and, in so doing, allowed our self-righteousness to threaten the general welfare of our republic.
For all of us who oppose this presidency, my wish is for us to grow the fuck up and think long and hard about what the last 18 days have felt like the next time we walk into a voting both. Having a centre-left candidate that agrees with you 75-85 per cent of the time is far, far superior to even three weeks of this god-awful administration.
Or, by all means, let’s hand over the direction of EPA policy to climate denier Myron Ebell, and the nation’s gravest secrets to white nationalist Steve Bannon, because HILLARY WASN’T STRONG ENOUGH ON FRACKING AND GAVE SPEECHES TO GOLDMAN SACHS.
“If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing.” — President Barack Obama