2016 Election: The Aftermath

Wow.

It somehow seems fitting that in an election that has been unconventional in every way, it ends with a tremendous upset. If a lifelong Democrat who is on the record as being anti-gun, pro-choice and openly disdainful of members of the military can win the Republican nomination, why can’t that same person win the presidency by doing everything “wrong” and seemingly insulting every non-white, non-male group of people?

It doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a complete shock.trump_clinton_wedding

The good news is that Americans rejected an authoritarian, anti-free-trade, big-spending, widely disliked, scandal-plagued candidate who has trouble with the truth and seemingly no concern over the national debt. The bad news is that they also elected one.

That was a cheap and easy line, but I do believe it sums up this election in a nutshell. The major parties nominated two historically bad candidates who spent more time trying to convince voters how their opponent was bad rather than why they were good. There were compelling third-party candidates, including two successful Republican governors from Democratic states. There were even moments where it looked like third-party and independent candidates like Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin might make a splash. Yet, like a spouse in an abusive relationship, Americans ultimately went back to the major parties, convinced by the age old argument that no matter what you believe, you can’t let the “other side” win.

Disappointed Clinton supporters need to keep some perspective

When it became clear that Trump was going to win, there were a lot of hurt reactions and anger. I get it. I’ve felt the same way in every presidential election in which I’ve voted.  Each time I couldn’t believe Americans were electing such horrible candidates.  Each time I was crushingly disappointed by the small numbers my preferred candidates got. I also understand how it hurts exponentially more the closer you get to victory and can’t imagine how it must feel to be on the wrong end of such a historical upset. It’s understandable to have moments of rage and disbelief and fear (possibly alcohol induced).

But that’s no excuse for replacing sober reflection with knee-jerk reactions in the days going forward. There have been lots of cries of sexism and racism, but I’m always wary of overly simplistic narratives and the exit polls seem to indicate a more complicated story. For all the talk of Trump’s problem with women and the historical possibility of a first female president, Trump still managed to get 42% of the female vote. And despite Trump’s plan to “build a wall and make Mexico pay,” Trump managed to get 29% of the Latino vote, a higher percentage than Mitt Romney managed to get. Elizabeth Nolan Brown has a good article up at Reason explaining that Donald Trump didn’t necessarily do anything special to win, but it was more that Hillary Clinton wasn’t able to convince Democratic friendly demographics to support her. Van Jones called the results of the election a “whitelash” and it got a lot of airtime, but Trump actually got a smaller percentage of the white vote this election than Mitt Romney did last election. The real reason Clinton lost wasn’t some secret racist underbelly of America, but because a lower percentage of liberals, Democrats and women voted for her than voted for Obama in 2012. Think about that. A female presidential candidate couldn’t get a larger percentage of the female vote against Donald Trump. Neither candidate this election got more popular votes than the loser of the previous election did.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that she lost. It’s only a surprise who she lost to.

For Clinton supporters, it’s easy to point the finger at others: bigots, hidden sexism, third-party candidates, even FBI Director Comey. While it’s easy to find a scapegoat, Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate. Twice she has lost races in which she was heavily favored, and she turned what should’ve been a cakewalk against an unknown socialist from Vermont (Bernie Sanders) into a a surprisingly close contest. Her only major election wins have been as a Senator from one of the most liberal states in the country. She was a hawk and crony capitalist in a supposedly anti-war and anti-crony capitalist party. It shouldn’t be any surprise that she lost. It’s only a surprise who she lost to.

Also, it’s important not to overreact. Nate Silver had an excellent piece showing how a tiny difference of just 1 out of every 100 voters shifting their preference from Trump to Clinton could’ve completely changed the narrative. I’m guessing all the people going on about how they are ashamed to live in such a bigoted and sexist country wouldn’t be saying any of that had Clinton won, but elections in our winner-take-all system often come down to such razor thin margins that it seems silly to draw sweeping conclusions about the entire population based on the difference of a few percentage points, especially in a country where so many eligible voters don’t even vote.

I’ve never known a situation where name calling has worked to change hearts and minds, and changing hearts and minds is what we need in this country right now.

Lastly, a special plea to everybody (liberal or otherwise) bitterly disappointed by the results of the election: please keep it civil. There has been a lot of talk on the internet, social media and cable TV about being embarrassed to live in America or calling Trump supporters bigots and racists. There have been plenty of claims of Americans being sexist or fascist or just plain idiotic. I understand how this type of venting can be therapeutic. I understand the huge nature of the upset can lead to incredible disbelief. I only ask that people consider writing these thoughts down in their private journals instead of blasting it out to the public over social media. I’ve never known a situation where name calling has worked to change hearts and minds, and changing hearts and minds is what we need in this country right now.

(Photo: Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
(Photo: Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

We have a President-elect Trump because nearly just as many people voted for him as voted for Hillary Clinton. This isn’t the case of some tiny group that should be ostracized. We’re talking about roughly half of all American voters. I’m sure every Clinton supporter, no matter how sheltered, has probably interacted with a number of Trump supporters in the past few days. Even in super liberal California, one-third of voters voted for Trump. These are our friends and family and coworkers, not some nameless, faceless, sexist, racist “bigots”. Think about somebody who was undecided on which candidate to vote for but was considering Trump, despite some reservations. How do you think that person would feel when Hillary referred to some Trump supporters as deplorables? Do you think it makes that person see the error of his or her ways? Or is it more likely to drive them even further away? I’ll give you a hint: some Trump supporters started wearing “deplorables” t-shirts as a badge of pride.

If you are serious about trying to make a difference and to try to change hearts and minds and not just make yourself feel better by signaling how angry you are that Trump got elected, consider toning down the rhetoric. Robby Soave at Reason has a good article about how marginalizing people and attempting to punish them for what they believe can backfire, and that cavalierly throwing around the term “racist” can cause a “boy who cried wolf” situation. I recommend everybody read it with an open mind and have some serious self-reflection on whether they are helping to fix the problem or contributing to it.

Where do the major parties go from here?

It’s funny how quickly things change. All the talk leading up to this election was about how the Republican Party was self-destructing. Party identification had been falling for years. There was barely contained conflict between members of the party establishment and its presidential nominee, and open revolt by many influential members of the conservative movement. A third consecutive presidential term for the Democrats looked to be a near certainty and a Democratic Senate majority also seemed to be in reach. President Clinton was also expected to fill at least one, possibly two or three, Supreme Court vacancies and turn the court to the left for decades.

Now, the script has almost entirely flipped.

The majority of state governors are Republican and Republicans hold the majority of state legislatures. Republicans have a majority in both the House and Senate in addition to reclaiming the White House, opening the door for the potential to fill not only Scalia’s vacant Supreme Court seat, but possibly also stalwart liberal Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat. The hatchet will still have to be buried between Trump and some #NeverTrump Republicans, but now it looks like the Democratic Party is the one with a great deal of soul-searching to do.

But the Republican Party is hardly off the hook. Donald Trump won by running against so much of what the Republican Party has traditionally claimed to stand for. Do they completely abandon their principles now in word and deed to adopt Donald Trump’s populist message? If so, a fairly titanic shift in both parties would seem to be coming.

Was the performance of the Libertarian ticket a disappointment?

It’s easily lost in the dramatic conclusion, but for most of the election, it was thought to be a golden opportunity for third-parties to make a mark. As a somebody who has voted libertarian in the past 5 presidential elections, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the result. Obviously, I never entertained the idea that the Libertarian ticket could win, but there were definitely moments where it seemed like they were poised to end up with a significant percentage of the popular vote and establish themselves as a legitimate third major party. With the Republican Party seemingly disintegrating and the Libertarian ticket having two former Republican governors, it seemed like a very real possibility. At the very least, getting the publicity of being included in the debates seemed achievable.

So it’s hard not to be disappointed with another non-competitive third place finish. It’s hard to envision another election in my lifetime where the stars will be more aligned for a Libertarian Party breakthrough. In the end, there’s a lot to celebrate, including record fund-raising, publicity, and vote totals, but it’s still hard to see this election as anything but a missed opportunity.

Some random results that probably only interest me

It’s common knowledge that black voters tend to lean Democratic, so in a way this is a total dog-bites-man story, but I always find the margins at which they vote Democratic to be amazing. According to CNN exit polls, 89% of people who consider themselves Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton and 88% of black voters voted for Hillary Clinton. To me, that’s a staggeringly close number and I find it mind boggling that the color of a person’s skin can be as reliable an indicator of who somebody will vote for as the party they self-identify with.

I don’t understand why Florida re-elected Marco Rubio, and perhaps nothing better exemplifies the overwhelming advantage that incumbents have in elections. Rubio basically gave up on performing any of his Senatorial duties when he kicked off his presidential campaign  because he felt like he was ineffectual as a Senator. He mentioned a number of times that he wasn’t running for re-election because of how ineffectual he felt as a Senator. Floridians rewarded him by overwhelmingly voting for Trump over him in the presidential primary (46% versus 27%). So apparently Florida doesn’t think Rubio would make a good president, but they’re thrilled to send him back to a Senate job that he apparently hated and felt ineffectual at.

Reasons for pessimism

Besides the obvious? Two constants in Trump’s forever morphing campaign were his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his staunch opposition to free trade. There’s a very real chance that President Trump will kick off trade wars that will hurt consumers all across the world and crack down on immigration (both legal and otherwise) in a very unpalatable way. Trump has also shown himself to be incredibly thin-skinned and litigious, which raises the nasty specter of the president using the power of government to attack (perceived) personal enemies. This does not even get into the incredible costs associated with the myriad government programs he has proposed but not explained how he would fund.

There’s also the fact that somebody who doesn’t know why we can’t use nuclear weapons will now have access to them.

Honestly, though, a prospective Trump Presidency is a giant unknown at this point. He has never held elected office before but has supported almost every side of every issue in the past, so it’s virtually impossible to really tell how he will govern. A lot will be known after we see the decisions of his transition team. Considering the people he has chosen to surround himself with during his campaign, though, things do not look promising.

Maybe we can spend a few precious months focusing on the many things that unite us instead of obsessing over the few things that divide us.

Historically speaking, a divided government often provides the best results for those who believe in limited government. Unfortunately, despite the intra-party fighting during the election, Republicans will have control over both Congress and the presidency. Can they avoid ditching their principles and letting power go their head like during the George W. Bush years? We shall see.

For those who are concerned over whether the government should be able to deprive somebody of their life, the death penalty was on the ballot in three states in various ways and “won” in all three states.

Reasons for optimism

One under the radar reason to be excited this election (especially for fans of third-parties or just those who hate the two major parties) was a ballot initiative in Maine dealing with implementing a ranked voting system. One of the biggest impediments for third-parties, and a strong reason why the two party system thrives, is because of the problems inherent in the “first past the post” voting system that is used in the United States. If a ranked voting system were to catch on and spread across the country, it could provide much more flexibility for voters to express their opinions in the future, and hopefully lead to fewer concerns about “wasted votes” and feelings of needing to vote for the “lesser of two evils”. I am really excited to see this spread.

photo credit: Gage Skidmore Justin Amash via photopin (license)
photo credit: Gage Skidmore Justin Amash via photopin (license)

For those who think people should have the right to put whatever they want in their bodies, or just for those who think victimless crimes shouldn’t be crimes at all, it was a good night for the decriminalization of marijuana. Eight of the nine measures on ballots dealing with legalization of recreational marijuana or increased access to medicinal marijuana passed.

Libertarian super-star (despite being a Republican) Justin Amash won re-election to his House seat, while libertarian-ish Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee also won re-election. If there is to be any principled constitutional opposition to President Trump, I believe it will have to be led by these men.

Speaking of opposition, I have a small degree of hope that President Trump will resurrect the liberal anti-war movement that has been conspicuously silent during the Obama administration. I’m also (forever) hopeful that the prospect of a President Trump will renew interest in reigning in the power of the executive branch and increase interest in our system of checks and balances that has been withering away.

But perhaps the best reason for optimism, and the one easiest to miss in this time of extreme partisanship and tribalism, is that this is all just politics, and there is so much more to life than politics. Yes, politics and presidential elections are important, and bad laws and regulations can ruin lives, but the world goes on. Technology continues to advance. Businesses continue to work on improving our lives. You and your crazy uncle can bond over football during Thanksgiving and forget about how you were of differing opinions on who was the lesser of two evils. Maybe we can spend a few precious months focusing on the many things that unite us instead of obsessing over the few things that divide us.

Until mid-term elections, of course.

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Paul Essen
Founder and Chief Discourse Officer at Rampant Discourse

Proud geek. Trekkie. Browncoat. Entil’Zha. First human spectre. Hokie. Black belt. Invests Foolishly. Loves games of all types and never has enough time to play as many as he wants. Libertarian who looks forward to the day he votes for a winning presidential candidate. Father to two beautiful daughters.


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