Here are some raw, in-the-moment thoughts about the surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election by Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
The saddest reaction to the unfolding election I've heard is from a friend who said to me "It makes me wonder if I really fit in as an American". There may be many hyperbolic opinions expressed in coming days, but hers definitely is very identifiable right now. I'm forcing myself to write down some thoughts on what has been a profoundly surprising, deeply depressing night.
The obvious: regardless of political viewpoint, it is unconscionable that a vulgar individual who has enthusiastically indulged in insults and violent threats, cons and scams, religious and racial bigotry, gross misogyny and debasing conspiracies and outright lies--that such an individual will be the leader of this country. I try to convince myself that Italy survived Silvio Berlusconi, and we too, can withstand the psychological embarrassment of a Donald Trump presidency.
That's where the "optimism" ends. I do fear the effects of a straight-Republican government on many of this country's advancements. Healthcare coverage for the poor (goodbye, Obamacare), free trade (goodbye, TPP), diplomatic breakthroughs (goodbye, Iran treaty and perhaps the rapprochement with Cuba), and strong environmental standards (goodbye, at the very least, climate change agreement) seem like obvious targets. Will a new conservative-majority Supreme Court be emboldened to reverse Roe v. Wade? It must be too late to re-litigate gay marriage, right? I'm not even going to think about potential mass deportations, a wall, and the abandonment of Eastern Europe to Vladimir Putin's control for now. Sadly, eight years of a Barack Obama presidency might come to be seen as more an aberration than a transformation.
Trump's victory is a devastating indictment of the U.S. mainstream media, the political chattering class of pundits and columnists and pollsters, and city-dwelling liberal elites (myself included in the latter group). This was a total, myopic failure to know and understand a majority of American voters, and to anticipate this outcome. This result was heavily facilitated by the media's obsession with frivolity, their complicity in a "dumbing down" of their audience, and the months-long reign of a bullshit false equivalency comparing actual horrors to conspiracy theories and ghost stories. The intelligenstia struggle to explain how this happened will probably be infuriating. Let's already strike down the "insurgency against the status quo" theory that has cropped up on TV in the past couple hours--note that the balance of power in the Senate and House each barely moved.
Demographic trends may point to an America that will someday look like a Benetton ad, but today white and rural and less-educated voters are still a dominant faction. Trump supporters deserve blame for enabling a fascist bigot (or a guy convincingly playing one), but if you believe the many who dismiss his rhetoric as just overblown talk, then you are left with Trump identifying in this group powerful feelings of economic disenfranchisement and isolation in the modern, globalized world. There will be much hand-wringing among Democrats about whether they should have turned hard-left, and whether they should turn that way going forward. After all, Trump basically ran with Bernie Sanders' economic platform, layering on his own jingoism and racial/religious divisiveness which likely repelled as many other voters as they attracted.
But let's give credit where credit is due. In the same year that saw England vote for "Brexit" and Colombia say "no" to a landmark peace deal, Donald Trump's connection on a human level with voters was deeply underappreciated. And, more importantly: there is deep structural inequality in the U.S.; the gains from economic growth and prosperity have not been fairly distributed; and there is a tone-deafness and lack of awareness among the ruling class about these issues. I've always assumed, though, that only the left (Democratic Party) would and could act upon this. America's political alignment for the past few decades has been so rigid and uncompromising, but Trump has smashed a number of sacred cows, including showing that a candidate from the Republican Party can attack unfettered open markets, spurn blind allegiance to political and business elites, and avoid the litmus test of overt Christian religiosity. If this leads to other political orthodoxies being overturned, that could have an upside.
Final thought for the night: the rebuttal begins tomorrow morning. The Democratic Party is in for months and years of retooling. Unfortunately, unlike the Republican Party, they don't have a deep bench of viable national candidates and they don't have much of a presence at the state and local government levels, either. This has to be a process that requires a nuts-and-bolts overhaul for the next decade. "Be the change you want to see" is an oft-repeated and cliche mantra. But I find myself wondering tonight, given that I've long wanted to get into public policy and politics myself--is that still something to put off for years down the road, or is this a wake-up call to embrace that now?