The 2016 Presidential Election


It’s the understatement of the year to say that the results of the November election were a surprise, and what passed for analysis in the immediate aftermath was not what you’d call insightful. Even now, a week later, people are still looking at the numbers and trying to figure out what happened. But as emotions have settled, some things have become clear. With this post, I’m going to talk about what seemed to have worked in this election and what didn’t.

What worked: Voter Suppression

There was no single cause of Trump’s victory, but any analysis that ignores the hard work the GOP did to reduce voter turnout–especially among black voters–is incomplete. With the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, states felt free to purge the rolls, demand expensive or difficult-to-acquire ID, reduce early voting opportunities, and create long lines that forced people to wait hours to vote.

That was the plan: conservatives have long said, quite openly, that they do better in elections when fewer people show up on election day. The North Carolina state GOP even put out a press release bragging about how many fewer black Americans voted. They didn’t call it suppression, but that’s what it was.

What worked: Gerrymandering

The GOP has 55% of the seats in the House of Representatives but received 49% of the votes. If they still hold state legislatures when districts are redrawn at the end of the decade, it’s likely to get worse. The US needs to give non-partisan experts the authority to draw those districts so the election results reflect the people’s will.

What didn’t work: The Hatch Act

After Trump won, there was some eye-rolling from media figures when Hillary Clinton came out to say that James Comey’s letters to Congress about the email scandal tipped the election, but both Republican and Democratic polling shows that it was true. People keep talking about how wrong the polling was, but many Trump voters didn’t make up their minds until the final week when Comey’s first letter came out. The second letter, which acknowledged that the first wasn’t necessary, had a stronger impact that the Clinton camp didn’t have time to counter. Voters didn’t pay attention to the details, they just heard the scandal discussed once again, and assumed all that smoke indicated some kind of fire.

The Hatch Act makes it illegal for government employees to use their positions to influence elections, but somehow I doubt Comey is going to face repercussions from a grateful, empowered GOP.

What worked: The Electoral College

But wait! you say, how could the Electoral College have worked when the candidate that received the most votes was (once again) shut out of the White House?

Well, the Electoral College is designed to give outsized power to rural, underpopulated states, which are mostly white. Votes in Wyoming have a greater impact than votes in California and New York, and that’s no accident.

People have been saying that Clinton lost because the Democrats misread the mood of the electorate  and that voters wanted change. The problem with that is the majority of voters chose Clinton and her promise to keep/improve upon Obamacare, fix student debt, appoint a center-left justice to the Supreme Court, and generally continue Obama’s policies. A majority of voters did not choose change. Unfortunately, because of the way they were distributed and the way some votes count for more than others, change is what they’re getting.

The Electoral College should have been abolished years ago.

What worked: Republican Downballot Efforts

One of the reasons I didn’t throw my support behind Sanders despite the fact that he was closer to me, politically speaking, than Clinton, was that he ignored downballot races until very late in the primaries.

But it turned out that even Clinton’s efforts weren’t enough. It wasn’t the Electoral College that gave Republicans all those victories in state legislatures and governorships.

A month ago, the media was full of reports that Trump signaled the destruction of the GOP. Instead, it was the Democrats who took the hit. Without a real feeling of unity and a grassroots movement to retake ground at all levels of government, the Democrats will be swimming against the current for decades, and I’m not sure how we get that from people who think that voting Sanders into the highest office would move a leftist agenda forward when the rest of the government is against him.

What didn’t work: Authenticity

I heard an interview with a Republican voter who just couldn’t throw her support to Clinton because she hadn’t apologized for using a private email server. Then Clinton apologized and the supporter (big surprise) decided it wasn’t good enough. It didn’t sound “authentic”.

One of the knocks against Clinton was that people said they didn’t know who she really is. She’s supposed to be inauthentic. Once that charge gets hung on you, there’s no shaking it. Any time Clinton opened up or spoke about what she believed in, people responded as though it was just another calculated gesture.

Authenticity is a bit like shame culture: other people decide if you have it or not. Fuck authenticity.

What worked: White Supremacy

Trump supporters will really hate this one, but it can’t be avoided.

One thing about the primaries: Trump was nowhere until he called Mexican immigrants rapists, and he cemented his popularity by saying the US should ban Muslims from entering the country. Once he started spouting that bigotry and, more importantly, refused to back down from them, he had the enthusiastic support of the most openly racist elements of the right, and some from the left, too.

See also this video:

It’s pretty clear that the main reason his initial supporters aligned behind a scammy Manhattan real estate huckster with multiple bankruptcies and affairs was because Trump was willing to say into a microphone what they themselves only had to courage to type into anonymous comment fields.

This is why his supporters considered him an honest candidate despite the avalanche of lies he told from the podium. He gave voice to their discontent and he reassured them that their discontent was not bigotry, even though it was.

Add to that the willingness of many other white folks to doubt, minimize, and deny bigotry even when it’s right in front of them, and you have a solid block willing to vote in their racial self-interest even while they (mostly) deny that’s what they’re doing. When others pointed out the bigotry, his supporters laughed it off as weak sauce attacks from political opponents trying to make them “feel bad.”

As I said above, there’s no one reason for Trump’s victory. We also have to consider our common hatred of our own government, our irrational admiration for the rich, sexism, and many more things besides. But I will not be one of those who doubts, minimizes, or denies.

What didn’t work: The Media

Holy shit, the fucking media.

What didn’t work: Me

This has been a weird and stressful week.

On the campaign trail, Trump swore he was going to gut Obamacare, which is the only reason I’m able to work full time on my books. Without the ACA, I have to go back to a corporate job somewhere, because the plan at my wife’s work won’t cut it.

Do I temp-to-hire, which has always been better for me than interviewing? Do I start contacting people asking if anyone knows of job openings?

Well, no, not yet. My wife wants me to wait until the end of the year.

I also have family out of the country. My wife would probably love to be with her sister, and I’ll bet it would be good for my kid, but can I sell enough books to make up for the loss of my wife’s wages in another nation? Yikes. Probably not.

More importantly, if he keeps his campaign promises a Trump administration will be a disaster for this country. That’s a big if, considering how often and easily he denies saying things he’s said. Who knows what he believes, if anything?

Still, it feels like my duty as a citizen to dive deep into politics, to read and write letters and make my voice heard. It feels essential. Other things, like revising my book or reading or doing whatever, feel like a distraction. My son turns 15 next month. What sort of country is he going to grow up in? What will the state of our society be when he steps into a polling booth in 2020?

The moral arc of the universe does not bend toward justice. It bends toward chaos and entropy, like all things. Only by putting in energy can we shift–even if only temporarily–our society toward justice. What I need to do is find a way to contribute my share of that energy while holding my life together.