Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

The morning after the election one of my sister activist Dems wrote, “This is because the Democrats have lost the ability to talk to the white working class.” There were countless similar posts, arguing that Trump won because Berners didn’t turn out or Hillary was fatally flawed or black people were unenthusiastic or…

Allow me a modest proposal. Let’s spend a little time figuring out what actually happened, not so we can blame each other but so the next steps we take fix the real problem(s). Questions to be asked include:

–Were African-Americans actually unenthusiastic about Hillary, or was their turnout suppressed by new voting restrictions? Remember, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and Republican-controlled states took full advantage of the fact.

–Have the Democrats lost the ability to connect with the white working class, or did we lose that ability with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1965? As long as the economy was strong, whites in the north stuck with unions and with Democrats; but once the economy collapsed, they went the way of whites in the south. It’s easier to scapegoat immigrants and people of color than it is to talk realistically about the very modest steps which can be taken to ameliorate the decline of human-powered manufacturing.

–Did Berners actually stay home, or vote Libertarian, or otherwise succumb to the narcissism of small differences, or did they just do a little less work for Hillary than they’d done for Obama? (Admittedly I ran into someone yesterday who said Hillary “deserved it” [to lose} because “she stole the election from Bernie.” Well, no, not unless your definition of “stole” encompasses “getting more votes than the other guy.”) Remember, the never-Hillary people were vocal but no more than a tiny minority of Sanders supporters.

–If Latinx turned out in force for Hillary in Nevada, which she won, but failed to do so in other states, does that reflect a problem between Latinx and the Democratic Party or does it simply demonstrate that a well-organized effort gets voters to the polls whereas a sloppy one fails?

–Why was the Hillary campaign operating with such poor intelligence that it instructed Illinois to waste hundreds of volunteers in unwinnable Iowa who could have been going to winnable Wisconsin and Michigan?

–Do the results, so contrary to every poll, reflect a groundswell of “shy” Trump supporters, or do they reflect tampering in key states and precincts? Remember, Russian-supported hackers broke into Democratic files and sowed dissension between Bernie’s people and Hillary’s, while pro-Russia Julian Assange kept the email story alive; why stop interfering on Election Day? The BBC reported that day that the four states whose voting systems were most susceptible to tampering were Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and Colorado.

–Was Hillary a fatally flawed candidate or was she just a woman who’d been vilified for 30 years and had the nerve to keep going? Remember, whenever people actually saw and heard Hillary herself–at the convention, during the debates–her poll numbers went up.

–As Hillary actually won the popular vote, what should we infer from her loss other than that, for the second time in 16 years, the Electoral College has interfered with the will of the people? And is there anything realistic to be done about it?

So before the Berners blame Hillary, or elites blame the working class (which is overwhelmingly brown and female), or we all blame the media and misogyny (real as those influences are), let’s do some serious analysis. Only the right diagnosis will yield a cure.

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

26 thoughts on “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There”

  1. Here's a different possibility: Perhaps Paul Ryan is the only person so far who has figured out what happened. Read the text of his speech in Wisconsin.

    Focus on these words: "Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected with — he connected in ways with people no one else did."

    What voice does Ryan think Trump heard? Was it racism? I think not. Certainly that's not what Ryan thinks, and it's not what I think turned the election, either. The racists who voted for Ryan are the same who would have voted for any other Republican candidate. Rather, the voices that Paul Ryan (and I) think that Trump heard, and who his rhetoric appealed to, are the voices of jingoist populist nationalists. The voices of a VERY large number of Americans who feel the politicians have abandoned them to "one worldism." The Americans whose frustration and anger are directed at Thomas Friedman ("The World is Flat" and "That Used To Be Us"), and the power elite who have made the world flat, and given away our uniqueness.

    Those angry and frustrated voters had their anger and frustration stoked by Trump's rhetoric. It doesn't matter that the "problem" is not of our making. It doesn't matter that there was no way America could have kept the rest of the world in the mushroom patch. (How do you grow mushrooms? Keep 'em in the dark and feed 'em cow manure.) It doesn't matter that there are no real-world solutions to the "problem" that we are not uniquely superior to everybody else. It doesn't matter, because all those angry frustrated populist nationalists believe that if we had just stayed the course, instead of letting the power elite run the country, then we wouldn't be competing with all those foreigners, we'd still be rulers of the world.

    So Trump won his victory by recognizing the anger and frustration, and appealing to it with the simplest message imaginable–Elect me, and I'll make us great again. Those angry frustrated voters didn't need details. They didn't need an explanation of how time would be turned back. What they needed was somebody to say the mantra.

    1. "…appealing to it with the simplest message imaginable–Elect me, and I'll make us great again. Those angry frustrated voters didn't need details. They didn't need an explanation of how time would be turned back. What they needed was somebody to say the mantra."

      Exactly. And implicit in what Ken said is that this wasn't just that Hillary lost, the Democrats as a whole did worse than expected. Most voters do not vote rationally, they vote on impressions and feelings. Details matter only on the edges. Obama won because he was charismatic and had a catchy optimistic slogan. Dems need to learn from the Repug playbook and keep things simple. Don't lie, but hammer one or two themes that promise (and would actually deliver) better things. (Or possibly put a simple wrapper around boring details a la Contract with America.) "Stronger Together" didn't promise better things–it was defensive, against the dark tide of the Repugs. Personally, I'd like to see something based on fixing the payroll tax limit (6.2% up to $118,500, 0% after that): Someone who makes a million, or 10 million, or 100 million, or a BILLION dollars a year pays only twice as much as someone making 60k a year. Very few people know that and I can't understand why Dems don't harp on it. Exempt the first 30k and give struggling Americans an instant 6% pay raise. Make up the lost taxes by lifting the cap. (The CBO calculates that 90% of the Social Security deficit would be covered by removing the cap.) Slogan: "Raise the cap!" or "Give workers a break!" OK, maybe that particular idea doesn't light your fire. But we need something simple–REALLY simple, so simple even the poor gullible joes who voted for the s***gibbon would understand and be able to chant.

      1. The problem I have with this isn't that it's not accurate. It's that there's little to no correlation between those who can successfully campaign on feeling and emotion and those who can actually govern well. We've spent eight years blessed with someone who is fantastic at both, but I didn't think there was anyone, on either side, this year that could appeal to voters' emotions well and that I thought wouldn't be a disaster as chief executive. Indeed, I thought Hillary Clinton came the closest to meeting both criteria.

    2. I agree with this, Ken. I think untangling the origins of the populist/nationalist surge is also interesting. My money is on the rural cultural identity of white/Christian/heterosexual/gender-conformist reacting against the notion that they are no longer considered superior. This narrative has been playing out on the right for decades, growing in strength alongside the rise of multiculturalism, feminism, LGBT awareness and strength. To hear the mythology, one would think these different groups are somehow taking over and oppressing the WCHGCs. Yet examine the actual events and one finds no removal of rights, but rather modest requests for polite inclusion – bake a gay cake too, say happy holidays instead of Merry christmas, add a girls soccer team, build a wheelchair ramp, don't mention Jesus in your opening statement, don't bully a feminine boy, try to hire some more women and minorities. This is hardly oppression.

      As a behaviorist, I think of the term "exctinction burst". This describes the tendency for people to engage in maladaptive behaviors (anger, yelling, violence) when behaviors they have previously been reinforced for engaging in are no longer reinforced – or placed on "exctinction". It's a natural process, and ought to fade in time, as long as the reinforcement is withheld. Unfortunately, if people remain in social groups that cling to these chauvinist behaviors (we include thoughts as behaviors), they will remain reinforced, and in a perpetual state of anger. This is especially true as the cosmopolitan dominated media and academia remain dominated by progressive values that oppose chauvinism.

  2. We definitely need to cross-compare the exit polls with further polling and the county-level information, and also survey people to figure out their wait times for voting. I was reading anecdotal accounts of multi-hour wait times in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and that would probably at least slow down turnout for Democrats.

    As Hillary actually won the popular vote, what should we infer from her loss other than that, for the second time in 16 years, the Electoral College has interfered with the will of the people?

    The problem that I have with that argument is that neither of the candidates were running a "popular vote for president" campaign – they were running "electoral college win" campaigns. If we did have a popular vote for President, both campaigns' campaigning would have been very different and the results might have differed as well. It doesn't do much to point out that Hillary ran up the score in California otherwise.

    1. I keep hearing this argument, but I find it sort of implausible that Trump could have racked up more net votes in "safe" states than Clinton could have, given that the safe red states are very rural (low pop density) and the safe blue states are very urban (high pop density), for the most part, and given that urban voters are far more likely to be Democrats regardless of state. Sure, it's possible, I guess, but… I certainly wouldn't take that bet.

  3. "Do the results, so contrary to every poll, reflect a groundswell of “shy” Trump supporters..?"
    No. There was no Trump surge. He got rather fewer votes than Romney in 2012, while Clinton got many fewer than Obama. There cannot therefore have been a wave of hillbilies who had sat out previous elections. (If there were any, they were outweighed by the loss of some educated women.) Very surprisingly, regular Republican voters were mostly ready to ignore Trump's glaring faults, while Democratic voters shied at Clinton's lesser ones.

    I agree that the lessons of Nevada must be studied. Was it Reid's machine, or the Culinary Workers' Union? The Democrats got a live senator out of it, against a very strong Republican, not just electoral college votes destined for the dustbin.

    Let's not forget age. Ageism is reprehensible, but the Presidency of the United States is a very demanding job. Besides, Democratic voters tend to be younger than Republican ones. Perhaps the pneumonia incident did more damage than we thought at the time. Anyway, the next nominee – probably running against a 74-year-old Trump, tainted by the inevitable scandals and failures – should be much younger and more physically attractive. Germans will go for a reassuring granny figure, not Americans.

    The Prime Minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas, is 37. It's a tiny country, but don't tell me it's an easy life, with revanchist Russia at the door and Trump throwing the NATO guarantee into question.

    1. I spoke too soon – confirming Kelly's point about not rushing to judgement. Several million votes on the West Coast have still to be counted. It's possible that Clinton got nearly as many votes as Obama. Andrew McGill at The Atlantic claims that in the Rustbelt swing states, "county-by-county results indicate Democratic voters flipped for Trump, not that they stayed home". Let's wait until all the votes are in.

      BTW, has anybody got a good explanation for the systematic error in Clinton's favour of all the polls? Different poll sauces, like likely voter screens, vary between polls and would not give the uniform pattern, SFIK there are three possible explanations: a last-minute swing, possibly down to the second Comey letter, too late for polls to catch; differential response rates, i. e. Republicans hanging up on pollsters; misleading responses by intending Trump voters, possibly from shame. Just possibly, also Democrats misleading pollsters about abstention – that would show up as a gap between likely and actual voters.

      1. I suspect there was a significant effect of the late-breaking propaganda bonanza from Comey. I think his asinine announcements caused some Democrats to turn away at the last minute, wishing that Bernie the Idealist, (who was, of course, pure as the driven snow), were their candidate instead of Hillary the realist (who was smeared with the slime of all politicians.)

  4. I am of the opinion that it wasn't so much people voting "for" Trump or "against" Clinton as they were voting *against the party that hadn't even bothered to acknowledge their existence* for the past several years.

    It's a reflection of the Urban – Rural divide. Look at the very detailed county-by-county maps of how the voting went. Democrats get the cities; Republicans get everything else. Under Obama and the Democrats, national attention was focused on the cities. Out in the rural areas, where you have one-industry towns where the one industry closed down in the Recession, people waited and waited to see some clear hope of recovery. But the vast majority of the new growth went to the cities…

    And it's not just that. Middle America doesn't see itself on TV or in movies. Take a look at what's on TV. Everything's set in New York City or Los Angeles. You might have an occasional series based in a place like New Orleans or Baltimore or San Francisco, sure. But it's still a big city. When was the last time you saw a movie or TV show set in Des Moines or Akron or Lansing or Lexington? They're being left out of American culture, too.

    They're tired and angry of being ignored……

    1. The problem with this is that whatever Trump surge there was didn't take place in the rural areas; they voted in about the same numbers as they have, and they voted for Trump in about the same percentage that they did for Romney. The difference in this election was in suburban and exurban areas, and not especially poor or economically downtrodden ones.

  5. Well, I actually sought out Trump supporters more than once, approaching them with the opening line, "Tell me what I'm missing." I heard various things such as needing a businessman in the White House, the need to bring in blue collar workers, and the need for some straight talk. I told them straight out that I was not a Trump supporter. They had no big problem with that. At one rally (Trump being absent) during primary season, I talked to a number of people with some of my main problems with the man: his erratic behavior, his need to react to every little criticism no matter who says it, and his being the Commissioner of Baseball who is not that familiar with the infield fly rule. They nodded and said, yeah, they do not like that, they hope it is only an act, he can get good advisors, etc. But no one was nasty or belligerent (I am a white man with grey hair). I picked up considerable frustration but nothing I could call hatred.

    Here is the problem: when I told people I hang out with and work with about going to the rallies and telling them I did not support Trump, they said things which fall into two basic categories: (1) why would you waste your time doing that? and (2) They didn't punch your lights out?

    These reactions to my narrative on the part of progressives, which were not rare or unrepresentative, are one factor in why "President Trump" will have the whole apparatus of the federal government under his influence (note I did not say "under his control"; no president ever has that). It was bad enough (perhaps fatal in the swing states) to have the candidate, speaking at a fund-raiser, refer to half of them as deplorables; it was worse to give them some grounds for supposing that almost all progressives considered them so.

    Political pathologists should never list only one cause of death in an autopsy report; the answer is always "multiple causes." When the catastrophic failures begin to roll in, it would be fatal to gloat at his voters and say "we told you so." Perhaps we could put Michael Moore in charge of organizing the response of a reorganized Democratic Party to the sense of betrayal they will feel. Doing that job right creates possibilities to save the republic; dropping the ball on it could empower this authoritarian and incompetent administration to blame their opponents for their failures and get away with it among those they have conned.

      1. I chose clean government because it is virtuous to desire that the swamp be drained of lobbyists. Trump deceived multitudes into thinking he will drain it. He will bring in his own alligators instead. He duped his voters. Elbridge Gerry will not be surprised.

        Resentment is a less admirable tendency and tends to erode virtue. It was probably a factor in this election. The article you link to is a good one but it seems to emphasize resentment.

        I have been seeing too many progressives quoting H.L. Mencken about how the office of President reflects the soul of the people who will elect a downright moron, and too few people quoting James Madison on how the passions of the people need to be sent through "successive filtrations" rather than processed raw. The main purpose of the Constitution is to protect the people from the rulers, absolutely and always. But the people also need to be protected from the "transient impressions" into which they themselves may be led.

        This is totally different from anything Mencken said, and is much more applicable to out situation today. Madison knew nothing of Facebook, Twitter, and cable news, but he knew about transient impressions.

        1. And I say I've lived among these people you know nothing of all my life and I can tell you they don't believe any of the things you say Trump deceived them into thinking. Not having fallen off the turnip truck yesterday is a rural saying, after all. They know exactly who Trump is and supported him anyway for plenty of rational reasons, not the least of which is the takeover of all three branches of government, obviously, and to send a message about taking and keeping power away from the party that universally treats us with open contempt. The slogan out here wasn't "drain the swamp" it was, if you'll excuse me for relaying the vile and disrespectful expression, "Trump that bitch". They're saying to you: "Can you hear me now?", but sadly, you don't even seem to know you're being addressed. Look at the electoral map and tell me if you think your insistence upon maintaining that culture of contempt in the farm belt makes any political sense whatsoever.

          And tell me, does your resentment argument apply equally to BLM? Resentment is a perfectly natural thing, like tectonic plates reacting to forces acting upon them. Keep the pressure on and you're going to keep feeling the effects. Maybe your efforts would be better spent on doing something about your own basket of deplorables who are rioting in the streets and refusing to accept the results of the election for the better part of a week now.

          1. Dropping contempt for racism is not negotiable. Signing up with a racist, for whatever other good reason, is contemptible. Own it. Come back after four years of Trump and ask your fellow-Americans for forgiveness.

            The Democrats are the party that has given Middle America a right to health care, through Medicare, Medicaid and ACA; and to a dignified retirement through Social Security; and have tried to protect the land, air, woods and rivers from despoliation. If that's "open contempt", Middle America needs more of it. Republican politicians have fought all these measures, and will roll them back if they can. Now you have given them the power.

            I write as a British observer, not an America elector. The vote for Brexit was a tragedy too.

          2. Mr. Wimberley, I am simply trying to say that you you are not likely to win the consent of the governed by treating them with hostility and contempt.

            Here's an older white gentleman being viciously beaten by Clinton supporters in Chicago because they thought he might have voted for Trump. They stole his car too. He's in the hospital and they haven't recovered his car or caught the perps, though it was captured on video. And here's another guy beaten by minorities for holding up a Trump sign. One of those dandies was carrying 54 bags of heroin packed for sale. Meanwhile democrats continue smashing and burning in several large US cities a week after election day and the denouncement of all this violence in Clinton's name from the left? Well I can't hear it over the crickets. Not one mention in this forum aside from my comment above. Now I wouldn't ask you to own any of that or apologize for it, that would be unfair, like conflating farmers with racists.

            As to the definition of "open contempt", well you just can't beat the hubris of a British observer scolding and demanding apology for the individual vote of an American citizen, particularly when he makes a mistaken assumption about for whom the vote was cast. Democrats have done good things for Middle America and might even be inclined to do a little more if they bothered to understand its rural regions better. They already do well electorally in Middle American cities, win over enough of the rural vote and they could own the executive into the foreseeable future, saving us all from the horrors of a second Trump administration. Or we can escalate the culture war to the next level and see how that turns out.

          3. I read blogs by neo-Nazi Trump supporters who said they would "BURN IT DOWN" if they lost. "IT" being the country, or the system, or both. Their leader made encouraging gestures in that direction. I am sure they are violent nasties about, but it is self-defeating to gaze fixedly on one side only.

            It is not even clear if rural whites were the decisive force in this election. They have no history of voting for Democrats. There was no single reason Trump one, but the Comey letters, voter suppression, the suburbs and "exurbs" may be equally important. Rural voters are less than 20% of the US electorate, perhaps they need to keep their decisive votes for after Trump deprives them of the last vestige of a social security net.

          4. It is most self-defeating to gaze fixedly on the other side, losing focus on what one can do to support one's own. I am an independent voter who gazes fixedly on all sides, but I only see one side represented in this community.

            Rural voters may "only" be 1/5 of the electorate, but they're a lot more than 20% of the Heartland. That matters plenty in the electoral college. Rural voters do have a history of voting for Democrats, 45% as recently as 2008, now only 34%. Democrats have lost the House and Senate since Obama was elected and haven't won them back, and now the Presidency and three more state governorships leaving only fifteen. Considering the trajectory of events I don't see a lot of grazing land between that place and irrelevance, and that scares the crap out of me because either party controlling everything indefinitely is a very dangerous thing. Yet most folks here seem perfectly content to actively repel a vital demographic, ceding it to the opposition on a silver platter. You sure we're all dealing with the same facts?

          5. Well, some of "these people" are in my extended family and I have repeatedly been trying to convince others that they do not fit the stereotypes we have all seen. One of his supporters is also an ardent conservationist who is signing an online petition urging the president-elect to take immediate action on climate change. Another has been extremely vocal in support of the protesters at the Standing Rock pipeline site, and he gives Obama some credit for trying to get the Army Corps of Engineers to find another route that spares the sacred sites. He believes that Trump will make that happen through executive order. Both had a visceral hatred of all things Hillary, and then some. If Trump thinks he will have their undying loyalty no matter what he does, it is he and his inner circle who may have to deal with "Can you hear me now?" sooner or later.

  6. It is very unlikely that Russian hackers stole the election. Nevertheless the issue is important enough to warrant an investigation to look for signs of irregularity. Things to do include:

    Saturday, November 12, 2016
    10:01 AM

    1. For each precinct, compute The fraction of registered voters who voted, the fraction who voted for Clinton, and the fraction who did not vote for either Clinton or Trump.
    2. Make sure that there no classes of votes that were not counted, e.g. absentee ballots from precinct 2, ward 3 of Battle Creek MI.
    3. Make sure that the precinct vote totals were properly aggregated to County vote totals, and the county vote totals were properly aggregated to state wide results.
    4. Try to construct the least implausible scenario in which Russian hackers stole the election and that is consistent with the evidence gathered above.
    I hope that step 4 produces something implausible indeed. IMAO, a stolen election is much worse than one that was accurately counted.

    Tom Spencer

  7. Do something to make the superdelegates to the convention more responsive to the primaries. The only way to insure a "relatable" candidate.

    1. In what way were the superdelegates unresponsive to the primaries? Hillary Clinton got three million more votes in them than Bernie Sanders did.

      I also think we need to be careful about insisting that the party organization have no role in picking the nominee. For one, European countries have candidate selection processes that are far less open than anything in American politics, and it seems to work as well as ours does. Beyond that, we'd all be a lot better off if the Republican establishment had been able and willing to do something to prevent Trump from winning their nomination. Right now, a lot of people are arguing procedural issues from after the fact, and assuming that the dynamic that would have favored their candidate this time (or that they assume would have) would always work in their favor.

      Right now, Democratic dissenters are arguing that open primaries are needed in order to make sure that outsiders who are not centrists get heard, but in the past, the argument from the left has been that we need closed primaries to make sure that centrist candidates aren't carried to victory by people who aren't committed to liberalism. Which of these arguments is true will vary from one election to the next, and none of us have any idea as to what the dynamic will be in four or eight years. This sort of process argument is a lousy substitute for figuring out the sorts of change we need.

      1. Good points. My concern is that a stronger candidate than Bernie could have been locked out even if he had surpassed Clinton's vote total. Trump notwithstanding, or possibly Trump included, I think the broad party will generally pick better than the party hacks.

        1. You call them "party hacks." That sounds a lot like the contempt many Americans hold for "professional politicians." Think of how many campaigns are run, and elections are won, on the basis of "get rid of the politicians and return control to the people."

          It's absurd. It's the politicians who get real things done. It's the politicians who created every important government advance in my lifetime. It's the politicians who know how to horse-trade so that we don't fall into perpetual gridlock. So when the Tea Party ousted the politicians, and replaced them with ideologues, we got the mess we had in Washington. It wasn't because of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. It was because of Grover Nyquist and his acolytes.

          And if the politicians had held control of the Republican party, Donald Trump would still be a game show host, and we'd have had an election with politician-leaders from the two parties campaigning on the party platforms, and debating the party differences, and trying to convince the voters that their ideas and ideals were better for the country. Back when the politicians controlled the two parties, we had a pretty darned good string of candidates on both sides.

          ::Rant off::

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