Who, and What is To Blame for Donald Trump

When Donald Trump won the presidency, I was at a bar in Brooklyn, NY. At the beginning of the night, I had been surrounded by people, mostly fellow Clinton supporters, ready to see the resounding defeat of the person we’d all made fun of, maligned, and generally laughed at for the entirety of his campaign. There was no way he was going to win.

Still, I was anxious. I couldn’t help but feel that the kind of confidence that I’d heard from my friends, family, and the complete strangers at the bar wasn’t warranted. A lot of people hate Hillary Clinton, I thought — I just didn’t realize how right I was.

I was never the biggest fan, either, to be frank. Indeed, like many other Bernie Sanders supporters, I was quick to criticize Clinton. But unlike other Sanders fans, I thought she would win the primary, and some part of me — privately — hoped it would come true. There was no way Sanders would have beaten any of the more “establishment” Republican candidates, like Chris Christie and Ted Cruz, who was the favorite to steal the candidacy away from Mr. Trump.

Perhaps it was after the Republican primaries that I was feeling the most confident that we’d have at least another four years of a Democrat in the White House. A non-entity from the start, Donald Trump — though he had surprised everyone with his ability to win over the electorate — seemed to come out on the bottom in every conceivable situation.

But I, like many others on all sides of the aisle, had underestimated two things that turned out to be vital to Trump’s triumph. The first was the general public’s hatred of Hillary Clinton. Until a couple of my close friends admitted to me that they would be casting their votes for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian (and a complete idiot in my opinion), I didn’t think that this might be enough to cost her the election. But real people — smart people — were choosing to align themselves with Libertarians rather than casting a vote for Clinton. “I’m not with her,” my friend replied when I asked him if he was going to support Clinton.

Part of this was because no one thought Trump would have a chance against her, and if the circumstances had been different — and Trump had been perceived as a force to be reckoned with and a real and actual threat to the integrity of our political system and our country, which he is, instead of a joke — I’d like to think that many more “independent” voters would have come out to the polls in favor (however reluctantly) of Clinton in order to prevent Trump from winning. But they didn’t.

They didn’t because, no matter how you look at it, fame is a fickle friend, and there is such a thing as bad press. Hillary Clinton knows this better than anyone (arguably, she knew this before she even ran for the highest office in the land), and it is debatable that the bad press she received, especially the FBI report that came out several days before the election, cost her at least a portion of her voting base.

But to blame her loss entirely on others would be a mistake. Clinton herself admitted she had made mistakes on the campaign trail and even before the campaign begun, and I believe that one of her biggest blunders was not taking Donald Trump seriously as an opponent. She, like her base (which would have willingly followed her into armageddon), was overconfident. The didn’t really see Trump as a threat, and therefore they didn’t take the measures required to defeat him. It was a lazy campaign, run on the idea that she was essentially a sure thing, and it lost its footing easily when criticized by the media.

The second thing that, ultimately, catapulted Donald Trump into the White House was frustration with the political establishment, which is seen as weak and broken. And, coming off of what was essentially an eight-year congressional impasse, it’s easy to see why. The establishment does need a major facelift — this fact is undeniable. But prior to November 8th, Clinton was the clear choice to wield the needle. She had the experience, she had the poise, she had the dedication. But she didn’t have the kind of populist fervor that was generated by Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump (albeit on opposite sides of the political spectrum). Instead, her campaign was rather flaccid the entire time; it generated excitement over the fact that she is a woman — and would have been the first female president — rather than over her actual platform, much of which seemed like a tired repetition of similar measures to the ones President Obama had been trying (and failing) to squeeze by a testy and inflexible Congress.

That being said, Clinton was never a populist candidate by any stretch of the imagination, having established herself long ago as a mostly stable, center-Left, career politician who was a little too willing to reach across the aisle — and maybe a little too good at it. Once upon a time, this kind of politics had wide appeal; it was seen as ideal for a candidate to be able to compromise less-important issues and make a deal when it came down to the wire. But our current political climate poses a much different problem and warrants a much different solution, and this is where Clinton fell short. In an era where change seems slow-moving, she didn’t promise to pick up the pace; hers was a marathon, not a sprint.

Donald Trump, for his part, is radically different from most everything that has ever set foot in the White House. A career businessman with virtually no political experience (a selling point for some and a shortcoming for others), he promised to upset Washington in a major — potentially unprecedented — way. Trump appealed to the people with a message, dark though it might be, that broke through the layers of disaffection in the electorate: the system is broken, I know it, and I’ll fix it.

As the results came in on that fateful night, the shock and dismay were tangible in the bar. People shouted at the screen and downed drinks, drowning their sorrows and lamenting what had been a sure thing a couple of hours previously. I stayed quiet, contemplative. Yes, I was angry and disappointed, but somewhere deep inside I wasn’t all that surprised. Whatever I thought of him, Donald Trump was different, and it was this difference (for better or for worse) that ultimately won him the White House. Clinton had failed to appeal to anyone but her most loyal supporters, and she had failed to see Donald Trump as a true and real threat.

That night, Clinton’s — inevitable by the time I left the bar at half past one in the morning — loss was felt everywhere. No one spoke on the uptown 2 train I boarded at quarter to two in the morning, nor on the 1 train that eventually picked me up at 96th street around half past. By the time I got home to Harlem, it was three in the morning, and the City was trying to absorb its shock. I went straight to bed, but couldn’t fall asleep. Donald Trump had won, signaling a shift that had gone underreported during the campaign season: the people were involved, but much more than that, they were angry, and they wanted change however they could get it. Not only had Donald Trump seen this and capitalized on it, but Clinton had not.

Would another person like Donald Trump have won in the same situation, or was it Donald Trump himself? Neither option is particularly appealing, but it points to a trend toward populism and of collective anger and subsequent political involvement in the people of this country that cannot be ignored. Another Clinton or Obama won’t cut it anymore, and there is no better indicator than those three little words: President Donald Trump.