We’re stronger together, but strongest when we can admit our mistakes.
I’m not shy about voicing either support or criticism.
I voted for Bernie in the primaries and Hillary in the general election, and I was happy to explain why to anyone who would listen. I was also happy to point out the things I disagreed with them on, and the reasons why I don’t think they’re perfect.
When Hillary didn’t win, my reaction was one of fear and horror, not the smug “I-told-you-so” attitude I’ve seen in the past week from some Bernie supporters. I am genuinely scared for my own safety as well as the safety of people I care about.
I really wanted Hillary to win the general election. I assumed she would. I was wrong.
How did this happen?
There’s no question that Hillary was extremely well qualified to be president, and in many ways more qualified than Bernie. But clearly, people didn’t decide to vote based on who was the most qualified candidate.
I still agree with what Robert Reich said back in January: “Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have. But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have.”
I can absolutely respect folks on the left who disagree with me about what kind of political system we should have, or ones who agree with me about the kind of political system we should have but think it’s not feasible. But what’s more important than that is the central thesis of the blog post the above quote is from. Reich’s thesis was that the average Joe in middle America doesn’t take the time to read the policy proposals of different candidates, they vote for who appeals to them on an emotional level, and what appealed to them on an emotional level during this cycle were the candidates who spoke to their outrage with the current situation and their desperate desire for change. He wasn’t the only one to point this out — Nathan J. Robinson said essentially the same thing in February.
It’s the Democratic party’s fault.
The DNC didn’t nominate a candidate who satisfied Americans’ desire for someone who seemed like an outsider. To a certain extent, capital-D Democrats did undermine democracy in this election, and while I obviously disagree with the claim that Democrats are just as bad in this regard as Republicans, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment that the current political system is corrupt at best and ineffective at worst. I also agree with Naomi Klein, who recently pointed out that “neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade” are what created the conditions that are causing so many working-class Americans to suffer, and the Democratic party has been complicit in neoliberalism for far too long.
It’s the Hillary campaign’s fault.
The Hillary campaign didn’t get the message out there that Hillary would indeed be an agent for change and not just perpetuate the status quo — it was evident to me from reading the policy proposals on her website that she planned to make necessary improvements, but again, most of America doesn’t read policy proposals on candidates’ websites. Instead they watch TV ads, which demonstrated Donald’s flaws but not Hillary’s strengths. Instead they watch the debates, in which Hillary’s admirable grace under pressure and solid grasp on facts which supported her positions may have hurt her instead of helped her, because so many Americans weren’t looking for someone to calmly and eloquently explain the incremental steps best suited for solving the current problems, they were looking for someone to give voice to their anger.
It’s your fault.
If you tried to gloss over Hillary’s flaws in order to get people to support her, it backfired. It’s possible to vote for someone while still acknowledging their shortcomings. That’s what I did when I voted for Hillary (and Barack, for that matter). I do respect the friends of mine who made the decision to vote for Hillary in the primaries based on the fact that so much of the previous administration’s promised change was blocked by gridlock in Congress, and the fact that Hillary has a solid track record of bipartisanship and across-the-aisle compromise. But asking leftists not to be at all judgmental about such a moderate centrist did play some part in the election results we ended up with.
It’s my fault.
I voted for Hillary in the general election but didn’t try hard enough to persuade other leftists to do the same, because I assumed all of us would just put on our grown-up pants and vote for a less than perfect candidate. I didn’t think the hurdle would be convincing other folks to vote for her, I thought it would be convincing them to stay engaged with the political process after her win to keep creating change instead of getting complacent. I didn’t realize so many people would abstain from voting, or vote third party, rather than vote for a woman they considered part of the establishment. I also didn’t think any of the non-leftist folks who refused to vote for Hillary because they wanted an outsider who would shake things up were folks who would have listened to my point of view on why she was worth voting for. I figured they’d probably write me off as just another elite liberal from a coastal blue state.
It’s their fault.
There are 60 million voters (many of them white women) who chose Trump. They did this. Or maybe the people who tricked them into believing Trump was the right choice did this. Or the millions of people who voted for third parties did this. Or the millions more who didn’t vote. Of course, some folks who wanted to vote couldn’t, due to suppression of voter rights — this was the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the voting rights act, hundreds of thousands of voters (especially in swing states) were denied the right to vote this year because they didn’t have photo ID, early voting was restricted and polling places were limited in counties with higher black populations, and more than 6 million people can’t vote due to mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement. But despite all that, Hillary still won the popular vote. So then it’s the electoral college’s fault.
Why am I still talking about whose fault it is?
Trying to find reasons for Hillary’s defeat is, for many of us, the only way to make sense of an extremely painful and confusing situation. I’m a working-class disabled gay woman with immigrant grandparents. Knowing that 60 million of my fellow Americans voted for a capitalist ableist misogynist xenophobic racist and his homophobic running mate makes me terrified and angry and sad. Even if not all of those 60 million Americans are themselves misogynists or xenophobes or racists or homophobes. Even if they all voted based purely on their economic disenfranchisement and their (justified) anger at the current political system. They were willing to look past the dehumanization of me and people I love. They were willing to perpetuate oppression. So I have to try and understand why this happened, and how to prevent it from happening again, if I want to spend the next week, the next month, the next four years as anything other than the genuine nervous wreck I’ve spent the past week being.
That’s why it may seem like I’ve spent this week trying to figure out whose fault it is. That’s why it may seem like I’m pointing fingers and assigning blame instead of creating unity. Because it’s incredibly important to me to understand how this happened in order to stop it from happening again. Because I believe the left is stronger together but I also believe we can’t do better next time unless we figure out where we went wrong.
Hell, I believe the entire country is stronger together. Call me naive, but I still think it’s possible to heal the rift between the right wing and left, the red states and the blue. This election cycle, though, reminded me just how huge that rift is and how much work needs to be done to create a united country which is fair and equitable. Part of that work includes understanding how we got here.
We need to be critical of the movements we belong to and the candidates we support, or we will never fix the divided state of America.