Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Worst Of 2016: Donald Trump.

On November 9, 2016, I woke up to find that everything was wrong.

Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I stayed up the night before and essentially didn’t sleep.

But still, not since 9/11 had I felt so displaced about America, as though everything I held to be true was simply not. It was only a matter of days before someone pointed out that perhaps it was no coincidence the 2016 election was called in the early hours of 11/9.

* * *

Usually around this time of year, I post a Year-End Best-Of, featuring my picks for the best in film, television, music, and various culture, pop and otherwise. But this year, the election has encompassed my attention, mainly because it has spiraled into The Worst Of 2016.

I do hope to do "The Best Of 2016" in the coming weeks or months, but doing so will actually require watching a movie that isn't Trumpland or TV that isn't presidential debates. Trump's victory looms over the year like a stench you can't get out, and instead of ending the year by looking into its finest, I've been going through the stages of grief--Denial, Anger, Depression, Acceptance--for my country, for the world at large.

I almost did "The Best Of 2016" of media solely relating to the election, but seemed like a cheap cop-out. I will call out one media figure though, before moving on: Samantha Bee, who helped me through some dark, dark times, with a penchant for truth and an eye on funny that sounded like bravery and felt like community.

Anyway, back to the Trump trenches.

* * *

“She ran a lousy campaign,” a friend told me as we picked apart Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump in disbelief.

I begged to differ.

Hillary had four times the ground game, won all three debates, raised twice as much money, and won the popular vote. Given all of the information she had going into the race, she did everything right, played every card expertly, was ahead in virtually all polls. Furthermore, she received unprecedented endorsements. Major conservative newspapers that had never endorsed a Democrat before or had done so only rarely in the last century now called her the one to vote for; even more astoundingly, non-partisan news outlets like The Atlantic provided her with the third presidential endorsement in their 150-year-plus history (the other two went to Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson).

It was the historical nature of the latter that gave me what turned out to be false confidence—over the course of the week following the election, I had several friends flocking to me demanding to know how this happened.

I wanted to know the same thing. Two days after the election was called, I was invited to go to a party in Washington where there were numerous reporters and pollsters. I spoke to many of them, and got the same general idea: The people who came out of the woodworks for Trump were not properly accounted on the electoral in the first place. The pollsters in particular chalked this up to two things: One, Trump supporters were tougher to track down. They didn’t return calls, they didn’t want to talk to the press of any kind. Secondly, there was enough a stigma about Trump that it appears less people admitted to vote for him than actually did.

A third factor has since revealed itself: Time. There was an unprecedented amount of last-minute deciders, who were likely swayed by FBI Director Comey’s last-minute announcement about Hillary Clinton’s emails, along with the continuing dirt being released through (as it turns out) Russian hackers—who were encouraged by none other than the Republican candidate for president. Is it any wonder the Democrat leaks kept leaking while the Republican ones sat untapped?

As a campaign tactic, this is literally worse than Watergate, and the fact that Trump has not been seriously challenged on this shows how far we’ve come from the apparently innocent days of Nixon. Which only leads me to the real culprit of it all.

* * *

When the history books are written, there is one thing that won the 2016 Presidential Election: False Equivalence. The only reason why Donald J. Trump could beat Hillary R. Clinton was because the media, in a sheepish attempt to appear nonpartisan, reasoned that by covering Trump’s bad stuff just as much as Hillary’s, they were doing their job.

They were dead wrong.

It comes down to a matter of volume. Donald Trump is the single most unqualified, dangerous, and reckless candidate to run for president. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is, if not the most qualified person to run for president, certainly the most qualified in a generation. In terms of her resume, only the Founding Fathers could give her a real run for her money, since they invented the institutions in which she served.

Trump’s missteps were so frequent and astounding that it was almost impossible to keep up with them: Calling Mexican rapists, saying John McCain wasn’t a hero because he got captured, calling for a ban on Muslims, mocking a disabled reporter, making lewd remarks about Megyn Kelly’s bodily cycles, calling Carly Fiorina ugly, saying Ted Cruz’s father conspired to kill JFK, suggesting women should be punished for having an abortion, saying he could shoot someone in New York City and not lose supporters, asking why nukes weren’t on the table several times during his first security briefing, mocking a Muslim Gold Star Family and saying he had sacrificed where they hadn’t, saying that because he was famous, he could grab women by the pussy… And that’s just off the top of my head. The list goes on and on.

Hillary, on the other hand, while not perfect, was supposedly guilty of two major offenses: Benghazi, for which she has been cleared several times such that the GOP wasn’t even bothering to bring it up by the end of the election, and using a private server for emails, which she had done in line with previous Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as many key figures in the Bush Administration, not to mention Donald Trump since the election.

My point is not that she should be automatically let off the hook for any of this. Quite the opposite, such offenses should have been investigated and dealt with summarily. Instead what we got was a bunch of garbage about emails dragged out for months and months in equal proportion with all of Trump’s offenses. It was as though by doing so much so wrongly and so recklessly, Trump had beat the media system simply by overfeeding it. Hillary, on the other hand, largely kept her head down and played fair, and had to deal with the same five minutes of fake scandal being played out relentlessly.

All of which is to say that it allowed the casual and jaded voter to look at the situation and remark, "Well, Hillary is just as bad as Trump." This is basically like saying that a common head cold is just as bad as terminal cancer. It is not just incorrect, it is recklessly wrong and lazy. The fact that the media largely allowed for this narrative to prosper means they implicitly went along with it.

And that, more than anything else, cost Hillary the election.

* * *

The debates were the icing on the cake. For anyone with half a brain who saw them, Hillary kicked Trump’s ass. He screamed and shouted like a five-year-old wanting a candy bar in a checkout line. She played the high ground and remained quite simply presidential. The best/worst moment of them all was when she accused him of not having the temperament to be president, which caused him to repeatedly interrupt her yelling, “I have the best temperament!” You can’t make this shit up.

But maybe no one watches debates anymore. At least, not the right people.

When it comes down to it, Hillary won by nearly 3 million votes, garnering more votes than any white male in history, and narrowly besting Obama’s total in 2012. (Only Obama’s 2008 victory received more votes.) Trump won by some 77,000 votes in crucial swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which admittedly were neglected by the Clinton Campaign.

And yet, hindsight is 20/20. All polling indicated that she was quite safe in those states in the weeks leading up to the campaign, and was holding her own in others such as Florida and perhaps North Carolina, both of which she ended up losing. Yes, we now know that she could have done more to reach out to working-class whites, but already I’m disturbed to see articles asking whether Democrats should stick to their current multicultural course or appeal to working-class whites. Guys, these shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive entities.

So, if hindsight is 20/20, then foresight is 2020. The lessons of 2016 are worthless if we don’t work to learn from them. I remember being so depressed by John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, only to have Barack Obama come along four years later and be ten times the president that Kerry could have been (and I love John Kerry). Perhaps Hillary’s defeat is just making way for something all the more extraordinary four years down the road.

I hope so. But in the meantime, we must keep our eye on the ball and make 2018 the new 2020. “All politics is local,” said the great Tip O’Neill, and we must lay the groundwork for the next presidential race by focusing on the House and the Senate in the midpoint of the Trump Administration.

Typing those last three words make me shudder still, but if we play our cards right, 2018 and 2020 can prove the system still works, and we can prove the old Jeffersonian ideal that our best years are still ahead.

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