Politics, Polling, and Putin’s Man in Washington
Last Tuesday, the next president of the United States was elected. In a similar manner to the election in 2000, President-elect Trump won by electoral votes but not by the popular vote. Also in a similar manner, those that care about politics every four years began to opine about the electoral college and its relevance in 21st century American politics — perhaps rightfully so. As has become normal on an election night, emotions ran high. At the conclusion of the evening, about half of the country felt vindicated and half the country felt marginalized. How is it that we have come to approach American politics as a team sport, where you feel obliged to cheer your team on until the bitter end, at which point you make peace with whatever the outcome may be and “move on?” Perhaps more importantly, how is it that Donald Trump, a candidate largely considered both a long shot and a joke at the start of the campaign, will be the 45th president of the United States in two months?
On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump made his official announcement that he would run for president. For him, being known as the star of The Apprentice was not enough, nor was making headlines in the 2012 campaign season by saying that Barack Obama was not born in the United States (implying that he was therefore unable to serve as president). In addition to such notoriety, on the day of his campaign announcement, Trump decided to address the “illegal immigration” issue by calling Mexicans rapists. This was in the news for days, at which point most pundits and well-read citizens wrote him off — this habit of writing him off became a recurring theme in the campaign, and lasted until last Tuesday’s election. For the duration of the campaign, Donald Trump made it a habit of calling people names (“Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low energy” Jeb, “Crooked Hillary,” etc.) and making both rude and lewd comments (“grab them by the p*ssy,” “blood coming out of her — wherever,” “would anyone vote for that face?” ) about anyone that either attacked him or asked him questions that he deemed “unfair.” The press learned very quickly that any persistence on its part to determine policy specifics or to ask about his many, many questionable statements would lead to verbal and written attacks from Trump.
Something that amazed most people perplexed by the rise of Trump was the defense used on his behalf: “he tells it like it is.” The argument was that people are sick of lying politicians that, as Trump himself likes to say, “are all talk, no action.” The problem with “he tells it like it is” is that such a statement is incredibly subjective; calling Mexicans rapists and clamoring about the need for a wall along the southern border of the United States, desiring a ban on Muslims from entering the United States in order to secure us from terrorism, and skirting over the issues in a way that no candidate in my memory has ever done, it was hard for anyone that was anti-Trump to understand that “he tells it like it is.” In the end, though, what matters in a democracy is not what the pundits say, nor is it what the polls say, nor is it even what the people in your “bubble” networks say; at the end of the day, in a democracy, it is the votes that matter. Throughout the primaries, Trump managed to beat back every single opponent, much to the surprise of the media, the politicians, Wall Street, and your next-door neighbor. I bet on several of the initial primaries, and I quickly learned that betting against Trump was a losing bet. He wasn’t telling it like it was in any fathomable way to me, but clearly I was not hearing the same message as apparently millions of other people.
Regarding the debates, they proved an ongoing form of entertainment, as sad as that may seem. Alongside the incredibly boring Democratic debates, where the candidates tried to either “out-socialism” the other or tear a page from the Republican playbook by calling Hillary Clinton a criminal, the Republican debates were as lively — but totally unrelated to policy — as one could hope for. One such debate full of fireworks took place in South Carolina in February 2016. To the amazement to almost all watching — and to some extent to the appreciation of libertarians — Donald Trump called out George W. Bush for his failures regarding American foreign policy in the Middle East. During the debate, over the course of three minutes, Trump said, “Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake… we spent two trillion dollars, thousands of lives… they lied, they said there were Weapons of Mass Destruction; there were none, and they knew there were none.” Needless to say, this drew many boos from the crowd, but he wasn’t done; responding to Jeb Bush’s claim that Bush ’43 “[kept] us safe,” Trump said, “the World Trade Center came down under your brother’s reign — remember that.” This was another moment in which, once more, Trump was written off. No way could he win the upcoming primary in South Carolina by speaking so negatively about George W. Bush, who won the state against both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Surprising all except those that had finally caught onto the Trump trend, Donald Trump handily won this primary, beating out 2nd place Marco Rubio by 10%.
In more ways than the reasons already mentioned, Trump found a way to bring attention to himself throughout the campaign, even when it seemed an incredibly poorly thought out method. Whether this was a campaign strategy or whether it simply came natural to Trump continues to perplex the bystander, the politician, and even the activist. Along with the derogatory language, the lack of specifics on any given policy proposal, and the lack of composure, Donald Trump also largely isolated himself among both Republicans and Democrats when speaking about foreign affairs. Sometimes, he was extremely hawkish, telling Fox News that we needed to kill the families of terrorists and saying that as president, he would “bomb the sh*t out of [ISIS].” On other fronts, though, he took a strangely diplomatic approach: along with tolerating appeasement toward countries desiring to acquire nuclear weapons, he also indicated that he’d like to strengthen relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Taking such a stance as the frontrunner is perplexing because it was not at all a part of either party’s platform; again, however, this seemed to be another opportunity to reach out — or perhaps pander — to libertarians and others favoring enhanced diplomatic relations with all countries. It goes without saying that Trump’s “coziness” with Putin was another opportune moment for both the media and the populace to write off any chance Trump may have at winning last week’s election.
Finally, this gets us to last week. Election day, it seemed clear that Clinton had the election in the bag. She was a much more polished candidate, and many of her supporters — and even anti-Trump voters — favored her experience in politics. Sure, she had the GOP attacks hanging over her head — 2012’s Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, the email scandal — but most people seemed to agree that these were insignificant next to Trump’s racism, sexism, and overall bigotry. It is worth noting that there were some out there that made the outrageous prediction that Trump would win — one such individual is the anarcho-capitalist Doug Casey. Just two weeks before the election, Doug told Kitco News, “I know what the polls say, they say that Hillary’s going to win. And of course, you talk to taxi drivers and everybody, and they listen to television and the polls tell them… but actually, Trump is going to win the popular vote, and I think it’s going to be by a landslide.” While Doug was technically incorrect since he said that Trump would win the popular vote, Trump did win the electoral vote and is now President-elect. As we now know, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 290 electoral votes to 232, with 270 being the minimum threshold for a win. The main thing that can be said for such a surprise, as can be said about Brexit, is that polling in its current state does not accurately represent sentiment nor does it really predict anything of value.
So, what does this mean going forward? Obviously there are many that remain upset that either their candidate Hillary Clinton lost or that their greatest fear came true and Donald Trump won. So far, however, we have already heard a change in tone from Trump. Additionally, the stock market has seen some incredible rallies over the course of the last week. Earlier today, Trump and Putin spoke about the U.S.-Russia relationship moving forward. Inauguration Day is still two months away, and it is therefore still impossible to know what is coming. It is clear, however, that libertarians such as myself have much to be desired when it comes to either economic or social freedoms. Still, if the worry remains that the world is coming to an end, one — as an individual — should go grab a cup of coffee with a friend, or maybe a beer, and acknowledge that in the short term, Trump’s win last week has been largely inconsequential to our day-to-day lives (unless of course you were invested in copper, coal, or pharmaceuticals, in which case you are quite pleased). In conclusion, the opinion and perspective of the crowd is not always correct; it is becoming quite clear that the madness of crowds remains.
Originally published at Madness of Crowds.