I am proud to say that I voted for Hillary Clinton — a principled woman who had to put up with a lot for over 25 years of her public life. I know people are going to nitpick about what a flawed candidate she was — that’s only natural. But she is what she is. And she had lots of positive qualities that would have made her a thoughtful and effective world leader — it is no wonder that Obama implied that she was better qualified to be president than he was. Today’s executive branch needs someone who knows the details of each policy — who is willing to compromise and be cautious in her judgments. Hilary Clinton didn’t regard the US presidency as just a game on a reality show which needed to be won at any cost; she understood that behind policy decisions there were human lives at stake. To pick one example which sticks in my gullet. Trump has been promising the people in Appalachian coal mine country that under a Trump administration, coal mining will come back. But that’s just a campaign line. Coal mining isn’t a competitive industry any more — and will probably never be even if Trump eliminates all the EPA regulations. In contrast, Hilary Clinton committed to $30 billion in economic assistance to that region to make the transition away from coal. Clinton was attacked for doing this, but this was an attempt to solve a social problem; over the next few years, this money would have come in handy for them…
For those who say Trump’s victory is just an example of the pendulum swinging to the other side, please remember, almost every single newspaper in the country (even conservative ones) refused to endorse Trump, every single past president (and every single past GOP presidential nominees) refused to endorse Trump. Even the Catholic pope hinted that he objected to Trump’s policies. Here was a case where most national polls were off by a wide margin, most prediction markets were off too. Clinton’s campaign was much better funded, much better disciplined and had a better “ground game,” (even though ultimately it did not deliver the goods). Despite these things, Trump prevailed. Except at the presidential level, this was NOT an example of anti-incumbency; this was NOT an example of people wanting a stronger defense (Clinton’s foreign policy credentials were strong). There was some vague sense of economic malaise (although America’s economic health has not been particularly bad recently). Trump’s policy proposals were vague, sometimes ill-informed and sometimes just sloganeering. Most of the time it just involved imposing tariffs and forcing allies to pay for things. He contradicted himself multiple times on the campaign trail and lashed out regularly at political opponents. Do I even have to mention the bankruptcies? the sexual accusations? His demonization of the press and his tendency to sue everybody? Trump University? I know, I am telling you nothing new. But we need to understand that this is NOT an example of normal democracy; it is a sign that political norms are changing; it is an age where “mean tweets” is the new normal.
All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.
In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”