I’m sitting here at 2:00 AM and I should probably go to bed. But that’s not what’s happening. I can’t go to bed right now, because my country apparently just elected Donald Trump to be its next president. A lot of things are running through my head and if I don’t let them out, they’re going to keep me up all night.
The smug, self-satisfied part of me wants to say that I called this. As soon as Trump began his inexplicable ascendancy, I feared that the Democrats would go through with their coronation of Hillary Clinton. She was the wrong candidate to run against Trump. In fact, she may have been the only wrong candidate to run against Trump, and the DNC paving the way for her candidacy just made it easier for a wannabe fascist who stumbled past a field of terrible Republican candidates to somehow rise to the highest office in the country.
It’s not that I hate Hillary Clinton. She’s a centrist Democrat and by-and-large, that is fine with me. I want better, but I’m also the worst kind of pragmatic voter who still feels pretty good about supporting Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, despite his many disappointments. The problem with Hillary Clinton is that she is an avatar of literally everything the American Electorate is mad about in The Year of Our Lord 2016. She is the ultimate political insider, to the point where she has actually lived in the White House. She was a candidate who personally took thousands in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, a company that has become literally synonymous with economic corruption. And she is tied, fairly or not, to the trade deals that wrecked certain parts of midwestern industrial America, disappointing healthcare reform, backroom deals, and spectacularly disastrous foreign policy in the middle-east. Her vote for Iraq War II and subsequent support for Libyan intervention during her time as Secretary of State is almost comical in hindsight. The world (rightfully) mocked Trump when he called Clinton “the founder of ISIS” but the metaphorical sentiment isn’t out of place. Even though I agree with her general aims, and understand how she was fooled into supporting some real bad shit in the middle-east, the chaos there still has her fingerprints all over it.
And there was no legitimate attempt to distance Clinton from her foreign policy sins. Over the last few months, her campaign crowed about the endorsement of Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell, who are best known for orchestrating the illegitimate bombing and/or invasion of foreign countries. I have no idea why anyone would want to tie themself to those two men but, hey, whatever, you can’t turn down the endorsement of a respected war criminal.
Despite all this, the Democrats nevertheless rolled out the red carpet for her nomination, and didn’t invite any serious contenders to the primary election. Joe Biden didn’t run, though that may have been for personal reasons. Elizabeth Warren, my personal choice if I’d been given free reign of D-leaning politicians, didn’t step up. Cory Booker didn’t run, and neither did any number of potential nominees, because after 2008 this was Clinton’s year. Everyone got out of her way. Except, of course, for a Senator who didn’t even identify as a Democrat. A 75 year old Jewish Socialist who couldn’t always be bothered to comb his hair. Bernie Sanders didn’t back down, even though his campaign initially felt like a vanity/publicity stunt. He managed to get votes. He won states. Against all odds, he actually made the primary a little difficult for Hillary Clinton–a former senator, secretary of state, and first lady who was (is) eminently qualified and comfortably centrist.
For some reason, this didn’t give the establishment pause. Even though maybe–just maybe–they should have seen a pattern. Eight years ago, an African American named Barack Hussein Obama managed to defeat the (also at the time) eminently qualified Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And history almost repeated itself, with yet another remarkably sincere, progressive candidate who (on his face) should have had no chance to win. But, whatever, it was Clinton’s turn. She worked hard and she deserved the nomination and she got it.
This became increasingly concerning as we all realized Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. Unlike the other R candidates, he managed to gin up an outsider persona and was able to position himself as the anti-establishment messiah to a bunch of people who were really quite frustrated with the establishment. This should have given Democrats pause, especially when their out-of-nowhere insurgent challenger was even more of an anti-establishment reformer. But, whatever, once again it was Clinton’s turn. She worked hard and she deserved the nomination and she got it.
I want to re-iterate: I agree that Clinton worked hard. I agree that she was qualified. I don’t hate her or despise her or anything. Her warhawking scares the hell out of me, but I find it better than anything the Republicans have offered and, without any reservations, I voted for her about 14 hours ago. I wanted her to win. I was #WithHer. But I was still afraid, because she was still a hard sell. I’m a pragmatist who will choose the lesser evil when offered, but I know that’s not true of every voter.
Trump’s entire appeal was disruption. He is not a politician. He is not polished. He is not controlled. He is chaos laid bare across the political world and if he will not remake what we hate, he will destroy it. A majority (god damn it) of Americans didn’t vote for him because of his experience or his policy credentials, but for the lack thereof. They believe the country and the government have failed them and breaking everything is at least halfway to fixing everything. Clinton, of all people, had no answer to this. If she was not the architect of everything they hated, she was the steward. She had no response to him but to call him vulgar. That was true, but (once again) her unique position made that argument fall flat. I hate hate hate to taint Hillary with her husband’s sins, but when her surrogates said “we can’t put a man accused of sexual assault in the White House”, it was impossible to forget we did exactly that 24 years ago with Bill Clinton. Was that Hillary’s fault? No. But she was uniquely unable to weaponize the most viscerally disgusting part of Donald Trump against him.
I don’t want to spend this entire post hating on Hillary, because that’s not fair. In any other year, she was a fine candidate. Too conservative in general and probably a little Nixonian with the paranoia, but impeccably qualified. She would have been a tick to the right from Obama, which is bad but not the disaster we’re currently staring down. I wanted Warren, then I wanted Sanders, but I would have settled with Hillary (but with the caveat I’d be criticizing any kind of warhawk foreign policy). Clinton’s not entirely to blame here.
And I don’t want to downplay the effect misogyny had here. A very qualified woman lost to a man who was (probably) running his campaign as either a publicity stunt or a joke. That’s fucking terrible. We’ll never know exactly the effects of misogyny on the race (almost all demographics shockingly tilted more towards Trump than Romney in 2012) but I won’t pretend they aren’t there. Does Clinton win if she’s a man? Hell if I know. Given how she entered national politics, that’s literally an unanswerable question in our timeline. But I wager she does a little better, at the least. That sucks, because “a little better” probably prevents President Donald Trump.
What do I do with any of this? I don’t even know. By plowing ahead with a nomination-by-default, he Democrats stumbled into a trap the Republicans accidentally set by running their own terrible primary and letting a reality TV show host participate. Now the US is looking at its own Silvio Berlusconi and wondering what went wrong. I don’t have an answer to that, but I suspect it originates back when the democrats decided to hold an inauguration rather than a primary.