09 November 2016


The U.S. presidential election of 2016 is over now. Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States of America. How did this happen? What does it mean? Where do we go from here? On this morning after, I want to attempt to answer these questions.

Analysis is not prophecy, but a good, accurate analysis can clarify issues and reveal and anticipate underlying truths. Back in August, after the national political conventions, I posted a six-part essay analyzing the ethical underpinnings, the strategies, the tactics, and the messages of the two major political parties' candidates called Frameworks. You can find it here. Now the election's over, and it's time to take stock.

If you follow me on Twitter (@140xLangame) (and I encourage you to do so!), you will be aware of my political sentiments. Neither Frameworks nor this Post Script discuss or debate the merits of specific policy proposals of the candidates—or my political feelings.

Briefly, Frameworks posited that the ethical philosophy the GOP tends to favor is a deontological approach. That's a big word that means they prefer political decisions and actions that follow certain predetermined rules or principles or values without regard to the consequences and who might be affected by them. As a corollary, this favors a strong-man type leader who will pursue the agreed-upon ideology "damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead" and lead the faithful against all criticism and opposition. The Democratic ethical philosophy favors a more consequentialist approach, asking how a given decision or action will affect its various constituencies. It favors an inclusive leader, sensitive to the demands of the people.

Strategically, Frameworks argued, the GOP and Trump was seeking to excite its base of supporters, exploiting their grievances and resentment and even rage against "the Establishment". The Democrats and Clinton, by contrast, sought to craft a broad, inclusive coalition of diverse constituencies. Tactically, Trump was relying on outrage, seeking to gin up conflicts and feuds and controversies that would generate free media for his message, hoping to translate this into actual votes. In this, he was wildly successful. In Frameworks, I made the observation that Clinton was seeking to implement a tried-and-true, data-driven, micro-targeting approach to get a message out that would please a set diverse constituencies. She was marginally effective in this, but seemed to miss out on and failed to address the concerns of perhaps the largest constituency in the overall electorate: economically disaffected and rural white voters.

In retrospect, Clinton's coalition proved to be insufficiently broad and ultimately shallow, while Trump's base turned out to be unexpectedly deep and extremely motivated. Resentment and iconoclasm prevailed over progressive values and competent continuity. (In my personal opinion, while Clinton failed to address this constituency, Trump's resort to anti-immigrant and anti-trade scapegoating misses the real root cause of the economic disaffection felt by his base, to wit: the upheavals brought about by rapid technological change on a scale not witnessed since, perhaps, the Guttenberg Revolution. For example, what's going to happen to all the truck drivers, cabbies, Über and Lyft drivers, etc., when self-driving vehicles displace them? Those jobs will not be lost to immigrants or foreign trade agreements. Watch this space for more analysis of the effects of this ongoing technological revolution.)

This is to say nothing of specific policy issues. Trump's main issues seemed to be: immigration reform, infrastructure upgrade, economic populism, and an America first trade and foreign policy. These policies were never developed in any kind of granular detail, and he has been inconsistent in his statements of his feelings about them. I suspect he will leave that for lower level managers to hammer out. And what's more, unlike President Obama, he will not have the enormous disadvantage of an organized, minority party opposition with significant control of any of the levers of power. He will have no excuses—or Democratic scapegoats to blame—if he does not come through for his rabid base.

Though explicitly detailed, Clinton's 'all things to all people' approach to policy—issuing policy prescriptions aiming to please all the people all the time—failed to generate the sort of excitement it takes to win a convincing national electoral majority. (Though, as of this writing, she appears to have won the popular vote). It is not clear whether the Democrats will feel the need to alter their detailed policy prescriptions approach going forward.

The recriminations on the Democratic side, however, will now begin. In no particular order:

  • Did entrenched misogyny play a role in the defeat of Hillary Clinton?
  • Could Sen. Bernie Sanders have won the general election if the DNC hadn't conspired against him (as many of his supporters believe), or, more likely, did the pique of Sanders' passionate supporters and his own lukewarm support for Clinton dampen Democratic turnout in the general election?
  • Was Russia/Wikileaks running an undercover operation against her?
  • Did FBI Director James Comey's meddling affect the process, especially early voting?
  • Did states' voter suppression tactics after the repeal of sections of the Voting Rights Act lead to disenfranchisement of her natural constituencies?
  • Were third party candidates' vote totals sufficient to make up Clinton's margin of defeat in key battleground states?
  • Was Clinton simply an awful candidate, especially given her health issues?
  • Was Clinton too apparently aligned with neo-Con hawks to sufficiently bring out her base?
  • Was her campaign team too smug and over-confident, too reliant on polls that proved misleading and wrong?
  • Did the media's normalization of Trump's outrages and its constant uncritical airing of GOP anti-Clinton talking points dampen her turnout?
  • Did years of GOP and Congressional Committee coordinated attacks on her trustworthiness and character assassination (Benghazi, emails, etc.) finally take its toll on her ability to get her message of competence across?
  • All of the above?

I suspect there are good arguments, pro and con, on each of these points. Likewise, I don't believe any one of them was sufficient of itself to sway the election—especially given Clinton's popular vote win. Most likely it was some combination of all these factors.

Given these points, I do not know what shape a Democratic minority opposition will take going forward. The GOP has certainly set a template with its obstructionism—from the so-called 'cloakroom conspiracy' back in January, 2008, to its shutting down the government in 2013 and continued threats to do so again, to its blockade of the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court this year. The Democrats will have to continue to reach out to the broadest, most diverse constituencies; it's in their DNA. But the party will also need to address the sense of displacement and disenfranchisement pervasive in the land. And it will have to do so with conviction and emotion—not simply technocratic, wonky policy white papers. (And as I opined above, by getting at the true root causes of this despair: the upheavals due to the massive ongoing technology revolution.)

President-elect Trump will now begin to consolidate his power, figure out what he truly wants to do, assess what he can and cannot get away with, and put assets in place to carry out his plans. There are still rifts in the GOP, and I do not know whether its moderate wing can survive other than as a whimpering, submissive abused puppy. Others, likely a reformed RNC, will take to heart the message that a combination of brash leadership and extremism on the right can excite a very real disaffected base of support sufficient to sustain a national electoral tsunami.

This was not a traditional Conservative/Liberal election, though. That much is clear. Nor was it precisely a Class Warfare referendum, the GOP being traditionally the party of the "haves". The divides, rather, seem to lie more on the fault lines of educated/uneducated, urban/rural, majority (white-straight)/minority, Southern + Rust Belt/coastal schisms. Though, given the propensities of the GOP, there does seem to be a good chance they will interpret this victory as somehow a vindication of Randian policies—again, missing the point entirely. Whether Trump allows them to revert to this typical knee-jerk reaction or whether the powers that be bring him to heel, however, remains to be seen.


Landru said...

Thanks for a good and clearheaded analysis. I'm still wallowing in a dark room.

Maddow claims that third-party candidates did cost HRC in Wisconsin and other places (none of which are Pennsylvania). I'm not convinced, although both third-party candidates were awful and had no business being in the race.

And let's not even pretend that Sanders would've mopped the floor with Trump. That's just preposterous. He was a terrible candidate, and while he might have energized younger and more leftish Dems, he'd have chilled others, and had huge negatives with centrists/independents/crossovers. This leaves aside that Sanders became a Democrat only when it was convenient. He's a Socialist. That's an easy target for non-intellectuals--much like the nonsense about HRC's emails was an easy con for the less informed.

I point most to the concerted character assassination, Comey, Wikileaks, and media false equivalence. The one area in which our friend BDR is not wrong, though, is that HRC and the Dems did a brutally awful job of communicating positive messages, trusting that calling racism and misogyny what they are would do the job. And that's the saddest part of the whole thing.

Again, thank you. I'm back to eating soup and wallowing in the dark, thanks.

Jim H. said...

Look. Shit just got real. Wisdoc is a Fed employee, worried about her job & retirement under new boss. Wisdomie is reliant on Fed science funding for environment and climate research. Wisdaughter is afraid for her personal safety from grabby Trumpites. Wesdom has a Muslim gf. Me, I'm like you, deeply sad. It's my family and their well-being and future I fear for. Gutpunched. Verging on depression at bed time last night—though that was the beer talking mostly.

If we learned nothing from this election cycle, it's that polls suck. Don't tell me Bernie's polls show he would've mopped Trump. Bullshit. They had oppo research on him that has only been rumored but supposedly devastates. They were creaming in their jeans that he might win.

The causes of this debacle are many and deep. No one factor can explain it.

The Consolation of Philosophy. Be well, my friend.

Jim H. said...

Landru, Reread my reply above. I read you right and I am agreeing on Bernie—emphatically.

Landru said...

I'm a Federal contractor, when I have a job. Usually in public health. I couldn't agree more.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

You could add "did the TPP cost the Dems critical votes in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania?"


davidly said...

I agree with Landru about Sanders in one aspect of one regard. I don't think we can know how he'd've fared. There are too many factors. One'd sooner be able to beat Bobby Fischer in a chess match. You'd have to dig him up and reanimate him first. And while I don't see him as a socialist in any real sense of the word, that's what would have been used to rally against him, which doesn't exactly weaken Trump's position. One question is whether he'd've garnered more votes and if not, I do wonder which demographic of Clinton voters wouldn't have voted for him and thrown the election to Trump.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'll let Carl Beijer state my opinion on Sanders.

You can elect Bernie Sanders, or you can elect Donald Trump.

Jim H. said...

With respect to Sanders, we are arguing counterfactual conditionals. We can argue all day but never prove a thing. For, if we learned nothing from this election cycle. polling is shit.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

i too opine that bernie coulda beat him - for an argument see


Landru said...

Davidly: Yes. I should plead that in context, "Socialist" is a label, and like all labels, in the eye of the beholder. In fact, Bernie wasn't a member of the party until it was convenient for him to be. Do I advocate Soviet-style Bolshevik/Menshevik/Xshevik infighting? Of course not. The label and the beholding are the relevant bits. Also: you're absolutely right that it's all speculative.

Charley: See above. YFWP (or, more accurately, Frank De Foer) is also arguing conditionals.

Jim tweeted a graph earlier that shows a decline in Dem votes over three elections; what isn't acknowledged is that total vote count is 10-12 million votes fewer than 2008. And Clinton still won the popular vote. Does that dismiss her issues in the Rust Belt? Of course not. But she got more votes than Trump.

Mongo, At The Moment said...

Trying to put your hands around all the connections of power just on the Democratic side is like reading 'Gravity's Rainbow' for the first time. All I know is, Sanders wasn't the candidate because the PTB in control of the DNC wanted Hillary. They, and she, misread which groups would make a coalition that could elect her -- and everyone else outside those groups were effectively ignored: Fuck 'em, they're [poor, white] trash".

The DNC PTB's biggest mistake was in choosing Clinton as the Party's candidate. Then, who? Would Sanders', or Elizabeth Warren's populism be more polarizing (for Democrats; for Independents and Others) than Hillary's desire to wield executive power?

But this is all academic. People, like you or me, are actually frightened at what could happen in our own country. Even during the 70's and the War (then), rioting in most major American cities every summer; assassinations, Nixon; Reagan -- given everything, even after 9-11 and two terms of Lil' Boots, I have never been as uneasy about the future as I am now.

It probably won't develop into something as bad as our imaginations, but I've felt for some time that the world is a Box Full Of Bad Crazy Looking For A Way Out. Recent events would seem to bear that out; I'm gobsmacked, too. In counterpoint, I'm also pissed. And although it's an inchoate feeling at the moment, the sense of having to do something is overwhelming. I refuse to sit on my hands.

'scuse me; gotta go prove I'm not a robot.