We did it to ourselves, and that’s what really hurts.
If the title of this piece sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s lifted from a Radiohead song. Somehow, their music seems like the perfect soundtrack to this election result: It’s largely lachrymose, riddled with dystopian visions, and makes you wish you lived in England.
The stages of grief have arrived. Depression, surely, has been on full view. I know few people in New York, where I live, that didn’t go to work late or leave early last Wednesday—if they showed up at all. I cannot remember a time where I have seen so many adults crying in public.
And of course there’s anger; plenty to go around. It isn’t healthy or productive, and I wish I were above it—but I’m not. Even now, as the hours tick by, the blame swirls and morphs and forms semi-crystalline structures, momentary covalent bonds of focused attribution, certain to break and reform when the next wave of shock, anxiety, and rage inexorably crests.
There’s temptation, as there was in 2000, to blame those who voted third-party. However, that seems counter to the purpose elections are meant to serve. If someone believed that Dr. Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or Evan McMullin was the candidate best-fit to lead the nation, that is precisely for whom they should have voted.
We’ve heard talk, too, about “protest votes.” It’s an interesting conversation, but it assumes a level of entitlement — that a vote for Stein came at Clinton’s cost. That’s not how this works. As much as the choice was between Johnson and Clinton, it was between Johnson and no one. These votes were not property stolen from her; she merely failed to earn them.
It’s easy, of course, to blame the media—for failing to the seriousness and implications of Mr. Trump’s candidacy early on, or for failing to eschew sensationalism and scandal in favor of a focus on issues. But if anything has been shown, it is that much of America lives in its own spin-filled echo chambers. Even when journalism was strident, it often served only to stoke the fires of already-settled partisan campsites.
And what of F.B.I. Director James Comey? While it was his duty to tirelessly investigate suspected wrongdoing. Releasing a statement without having yet reached a conclusion served only to fuel speculation and cement the negative impression that many had of Secretary Clinton. And yet, this can’t be all there is. Even if this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, that’s an awfully big, complex animal. There are many bones, other fractures.
I can’t even blame Mr. Trump for seeking office. And while I find his candidacy an abhorrent stain on the fabric of this country, it is the role of a demagogue to try to ascend; it was our responsibility to show him that he’d flown too close to the sun. We failed.
And this is where I keep ending up: I blame us.
For all of the externalities, I find my frustration and my profound disappointment landing inward. Perhaps it’s my natural proclivity for self-loathing, but I can’t shake the feeling that we helped make this happen.
Since election night, I keep going back to something that Jody Avirgan wrote early that evening, before the votes started coming in.
On the FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast Monday, my colleague Clare Malone said that this election has felt like one that has centered on Trump. I tend to agree. He’s certainly camped out in my brain space for the past 18 months. But I wonder if a case could be made that the animating force on the GOP side has been a white-hot hatred of Clinton and the establishment she’s seen to represent. We know, for instance, that more Trump voters are motivated to vote against Clinton than for their own candidate. It has certainly felt like this election is a referendum on Trump, but maybe Trump is simply the most extreme standard bearer for what was going to be a referendum on Clinton all along.
While I’m not sure that’s entirely correct, he might be onto something. In retrospect: I don’t think it was a referendum on Trump, nor particularly on Clinton; I think it may have been a referendum on the establishment, on the so-called “liberal elite”, a overused blanket term used to describe people a lot like me and — if my own particular echo chamber holds true — probably you.
Yes, we may have been “with her,” but for us not to accept that we also contributed to the persistent and growing divide that served as a root cause for this is nothing short of negligent.
To think that there aren’t good people who voted for Trump is partisan, arrogant, foolhardy, and only reinforces the schism that’s landed us here.
Trump’s campaign tapped into a feeling that weighed heavy on many Americans: A feeling of being left behind, of being at best ignored and at worst forgotten by those “in charge.” Left unchecked, it’s that current of neglect that enables people to blindly vote against their own interests, to want to “shake things up,” regardless of what that actually means. It’s behavior that cannot be applauded, but needs to be understood. When the system has, to your mind, abandoned you, someone railing against that system starts to sound pretty good. For many, making America great again harkens longingly back to a time when someone gave a damn.
Much of the historical strength of this nation was born of our differences, of dissent and debate. But for many of us, in our news coverage and our dinner conversation, those debates had all but vanished. To disagree is one thing; to cease to care is entirely another.
This isn’t some new revelation. We hadn’t been under the illusion that everything was okay; we’d just tuned it out because it’s “flyover country,” a term perfectly encapsulating our own brand of prejudice, rank condescension all dressed up as wit.
We’d reduced the concerns and struggles of much of our population to faint blurs on the periphery. And when things blur, we lose the ability to discern nuance. It became, gradually over the course of years, surprisingly easy to wrongly dismiss a massive swath of our citizenry as backwards and stupid en masse. This was their moment, and our comeuppance.
Of course, it needs to be said: There are many who are backwards and stupid.
It can go unignored that this is unquestionably a victory for the worst of us; an unmitigated triumph for racism and bigotry, for sexism, for the xenophobic, for those viewing our LGBTQ communities as some sort of threat, for the anti-semitic, for fear-mongers, for those without both an education and the desire for one — for anyone, quite simply, devoid of care for the health and rights of others beyond their front door. We are, many of us, a hateful, loathsome people, undeserving of any stature or respect we had been previously accorded as Americans.
But that is not all of us.
There are many who don’t trade in that sort of animus who felt they needed to do something drastic simply to be heard. Perhaps we should have listened sooner.
If we’re looking for the sorts of people who cost Clinton the election, we might be wise to look in the mirror. We didn’t show up.
While it’s easy to spend time dissecting why one might vote for Trump or begrudging the friends and family who did so, the simple truth is that it shouldn’t have mattered.
Compared to the last two election cycles, voter turnout tanked — and nearly all of that loss came from Democrats.
Look at the chart on the right: Since 2008, Republican turnout for Presidential elections has remained roughly flat. This suggests that if, as it’s been suggested, Trump was able to awaken a rush of first-time and lapsed voters, an almost equal number appear to have stayed home, unwilling to endorse him.
As much as anywhere, responsibility falls on those believe in a progressive agenda and failed to vote either because they had reservations about Secretary Clinton or because they felt that it was in the bag. It certainly isn’t the only factor, but it’s one over which we had control.
It was Joseph de Maistre who said that every nation gets the government it deserves. The circumstances that led to Trump’s election are myriad but we need to accept at least some responsibility. We coughed up the ball and now we have to live with the consequences. So, now, you can claim that he’s #notmypresident, but that’s yet another stage of grief: Denial. He is all of our President. And it is all of our fault.
Also, Anthony Weiner. Fuck Anthony Weiner.