The F-Word Election
Warning: What follows involves a lot of profanity. If you’re under the age of 17, please be in the presence of a legal adult before you continue reading. Also, this post was inspired by this classic The Wire scene.
As I pounded Lagavulin watching the 2016 election results come in (if my boss is reading this, “pounding Lagavulin” is another way of saying “rigorously testing and updating our code base”), I had this text exchange with a friend as the shock of the L set in:
No one word can fully describe an election, and there’s probably another word that would do a better job (does MAGA count?), but for me, those four letters encapsulate a lot of what happened in the last week. Here’s how.
Who the f***?
While I thought Clinton would have made an effective president and that some of the concerns about her integrity and “corruption” were overblown, I admit I was more voting “against Trump” than “for Hillary.” And I was definitely not alone. Many people have pointed out that this was more a “vote against” than a “vote for” election, and when you consider both candidates were viewed more unfavorably than favorably, it’s hard to argue otherwise. As 538 shows in this article, Trump and Clinton entered the final stretch of the election as the two least favorable candidates since favorability polling started in 1980.
Before this election, the lowest net favorability rating was held by Carter (-10.5) before the 1980 election, where he lost the popular vote by 50%-40% and the electoral college 489–49. In addition, Walter Mondale posted a -9.5 before getting trounced by Reagan in 1984 (59–41% in the popular vote, 525–13 in the EC) and Bob Dole posted a -9.5 before losing handily to Clinton in 1996 (49%-40%, 379–159).
As you can see, when you’re flirting with double digit net negative favorability, you normally get destroyed in the election. But this time was different. Not only because both candidates had net negatives below -10.0 heading into the election’s final stretch, but because at -13.8 and -23.6 for Clinton and Trump respectively, they were easily the two least favorable presidential candidates ever measured. There were jokes about how we should redo the primaries to get new candidates since America didn’t seem happy with either, but delaying the election another year or two isn’t cool under the Constitution. However, instead of holding their nose and picking a candidate, most voters said …
As I’d previously pointed out along with many others, Donald Trump didn’t win this election so much as Democrats lost it. As of publishing this article, it looks like Hillary barely surpassed Romney in terms of total votes, while Trump while come in slightly under his total:
But it’s even more striking when you look at vote totals as a percent of registered voters:
Turnout was the lowest it’s been since 1996, and Clinton and Trump each got a lower percentage of eligible voters than any candidate since 2000. Early analysis seems to suggest that the Democrats lost because the white working class abandoned them for Trump, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But millions of voters who participated in 2008 and 2012 sat this one out. Because of this low turnout, the result was that as election returns from the upper Midwest came in, many of us were gaping at our TVs and screaming …
What the f***?!
This election’s been endlessly compared to previous elections. Trump’s nativist appeals echoed George Wallace in 1968 and the Know-Nothings from the mid-1840s. The level of hyper-partisanship and division in this country is disturbingly close to 1860. Trump’s industrial populism and takeover of the Republican party somewhat resembled Williams Jennings Bryan’s agrarian populism and takeover of the Democratic party in 1896. But in the end, maybe the best comparison for the 2016 election was Truman’s 1948 upset of Thomas Dewey.
Despite all our sophisticated analytics and polling, we still got a wildly unexpected result on par with Brexit. Were we due for a major polling miss? Yes. And while some people claimed to have seen it coming, many of these people predicted a landslide win for Romney in 2012, and well, you can judge their predictions for yourself. It’s only been one week, and people are already comparing the significance of what just happened to the 2008 Financial Crisis and 9/11 … and I don’t think they’re being melodramatic! While there’s an argument to be made that this election wasn’t that big of a deal and came down to the decisions of roughly 107,000 voters, the result feels more important than that. I get the sense that a lot of Americans felt ignored and patronized, so when they went into the voting both, they said …
Between the unpopular candidates, the low turnout, and the huge poling misses, it really feels like a decisive swath of America waited for their moment before looking our political, financial, and media elites in the eye and saying, “You know what? Go f*** yourself!” While race was unarguably the main dividing line of this election, 2016 also exposed the level of dissatisfaction throughout the country. Seven out of ten voters were either dissatisfied or angry with government, and the angry ones went overwhelmingly for Trump.
It’s clear that a large swath of our country — focused mainly on the coasts — underestimated how much resentment was out there. The below graphic from 538 shows that where this resentment swung the election was mainly in the Midwest, also know as the Rustbelt, Heartland, Breadbasket, or as I like to call it, America’s Soul (side note: I’m Midwestern and unbiased on this topic).
Whatever the true size of this bloc of voters, they decided the 2016 election and their concerns have become national priorities for the moment and possibly the next four years. While both sides will have to address their issues of these voters at some point, it’s clear the burden of proof is on the Republican party right now, and specifically, on Donald Trump. Trump looked them in the eye and promised them he could fix their problems, and now they’re looking to him to deliver on his promises. Considering that the issues of drug addiction and deindustrialization (among others) are incredibly intractable with no clear or easy solutions, this is a Herculean task, and arguably one of the defining challenges of our generation. No experience can make anybody ready for this moment, even when that experience includes licensing your name to golf courses, bankrupting casinos, and creeping on beauty pageant contestants. So I imagine at some point, the enormity of what’s ahead will become inescapable even to him, and when that hits, he’ll be thinking …
When Donald Trump walked to the podium to give his (shockingly humble) victory speech, I turned to my friend and said “that looks like a combination of shock and fear.”
There’s been speculation that Trump used the campaign to start his own media network, and that he never wanted to be President to begin with, especially now that Christie aides revealed Trump never thought he’d make it into 2016. Whatever the case, he’s in it now, and he’s being transitioned into power as we speak. While I was definitely encouraged by Trump and Obama’s initial meeting, there was a moment where Trump’s face conveyed “what the f*** have I done?”
I voted for Hillary, donated to her campaign, and even volunteered to make calls to help get out the vote. But it turns out no amount of scotch will change what happened (trust me, I tried), and I accept the outcome. I’m deeply skeptical of our President-Elect and worry that the wounds he caused with his rhetoric and behavior are beyond repair. But to the annoyance of some of my friends, I think he deserves a chance (if you don’t agree, Dave Chappelle stated the case for hope better than I ever could).
I don’t mean to dismiss the fears that many minorities and women have. The instances of overt racism as well as the open questioning of female reproductive rights are absolutely causes for concern, and for me to say “relax, nothing will happen” when I will bear none of the pain if I’m wrong is, to paraphrase Paul Ryan, the textbook definition of privilege. I’m hopeful for a successful Trump administration. I think it’s possible (although not particularly likely) for America to improve under Trump in the next four years. But if any gains come at the expense of groups that have been marginalized and oppressed for centuries, that is not success. That is the deepest of failures.
There have been encouraging signs from our political leadership (like the fact that Obama and Trump are … friends?), but it also sounds like Trump never read the Wikipedia page on all the stuff the president does (which unfortunately isn’t surprising). He’s probably in over his head, but I sincerely hope the above photos are misleading and he starts figuring it out, because if Trump never learns how the f*** our federal government works and f***s this up, well, we might all be f***ed.