Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The way I see it, the fatal flaw of the Democrats is their attempt to appeal to reason. Hillary tried to show what a horrible choice Trump would be, including three debates in which she clearly demonstrated how ill prepared Donald was to be Commander-in-Chief. If that wasn't enough, she had the better jokes at the Al Smith Dinner. Yet, here we are with Donald Trump as President-elect. Obviously, reason, or for that matter good humor, did not prevail.
Obama had managed to beat Romney because Romney was also trying to appeal to reason, as jumbled as it might be. Donald made no such effort. He appealed to the lowest instincts of Americans, playing on their xenophobia, sexist and racist biases, and ignorance of how government functions. Easy enough to do since he doesn't know how government functions either. He won because he turned Campaign 2016 into a television reality show.
Now, I could parse out how dumb the electorate has become, but it would only feed into the very effective campaign Trump ran against cultural elitism, which has been a favorite whipping post for conservatives for decades. Nixon ran very much the same sort of campaigns in 1960 and 68. What Trump did is nothing new, he just managed to succeed at a level few of us imagined could be stooped to and win, especially given the demographic changes since the 60s.
After all, we had such populist candidates as Harry Byrd, George Wallace and Ross Perot do very well in past national elections. We also had crazy characters like Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee do very well in Republican primaries. Few, however, imagined that such a candidate could ever win a national election by preying on the lowest instincts of Americans. We naturally assumed Americans were better than this. Yet, here we are with a populist President-elect who garnered nearly 63 million votes, the most ever for a Republican candidate, even if he fell short of Hillary by nearly 3 million votes.
Reason no longer wins elections, if it ever really did. Obama won because he was able to project a confident image of change that many Americans desperately wanted. Yes, he appealed to a higher set of instincts, but it was his personal sense of character that captured our imagination and the fact that he was relatively new to the game. He had only been a prominent national figure since 2004 when he was elected to the Senate, giving a rousing keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that year. By contrast, Hillary carried all this baggage, and try as she might to project herself as the voice of reason she failed because everyone kept looking at her bags.
Obama made the trenchant observation on The Daily Show that the news media focused almost exclusively on the content of the leaked e-mails from the DNC, implying collusion with the Hillary campaign, rather than how these e-mails became public knowledge. The news media virtually ignored the statement released by the White House on October 6 that the CIA and other surveillance organizations had reached the conclusion that Russia was meddling in the election. Two days later, the Access Hollywood tape came out creating a media shit storm that effectively buried the far more consequential story. Americans pretended to be blind-sided by these tawdry revelations, but after a week or so the groping scandal was essentially forgotten and the focus once again was on the steady stream of DNC e-mails being released by Wikileaks. Then along came FBI Director Comey's fateful letter to Congress.
By this point, it didn't really matter anyway, as we had been going through arguably the worst presidential campaign in American history. Most Americans wanted it to end. Comey's letter may very well have served as the final dagger in Hillary's campaign, but the real damage had already been done.
The Republican primaries had been an absolute farce. Hardly a single intelligent comment came out of any of the candidates and the news media was eating it up. There was hardly any interest shown toward the Democratic candidates, who slogged it out for five grueling months, refusing to give in to craven interests. Bernie could have gone after Hillary on the e-mail server scandal but chose not to. In fact, whenever the question came up he dismissed it out of hand. He and Hillary wanted their campaigns to be about issues, but as it turns out no one gave a fuck!
Instead, we became glued to the ever growing force of Donald Trump, slaying each Republican candidate in turn until only "Lyin' Ted" was left. Trump had a nickname for just about everyone, and they all stuck, as bad as many of them were. Ted may have lied a great deal on the campaign trail, but Donald lied even more. In fact, he won the dubious distinction of being the most dishonest presidential candidate of all time. A whopping 78 per cent of his statements were false. However, in this day and age brash confidence scores more points among the electorate than does a grasp of the issues that impact their lives. Something anyone would have learned at Trump U.
Hillary was unable to project this bold sense of confidence. Here was a woman who rose from a humble background to gain an Ivy League education and serve the country in one form or another for 30+ years only to find herself labeled as part of the "cultural elite." Her experience was viewed as negative, not positive, in a new electoral mindset that railed against the "establishment." Donald branded her "Crooked Hillary."
By contrast, Trump was literally born with a silver spoon in his mouth, got into Wharton School of Business thanks to his father, never did an honest day's worth of work in his life before inheriting his father's vast real estate wealth. He eventually parlayed what remained of this wealth into a reality show after just about everyone of his business ventures went belly up. Yet, he was seen as a man of the people thanks mostly to a red trucker's cap.
It defies all credulity, but Trump was able to tap into a bottomless well of resentment toward the "cultural elite" in this country, and use a level of demagoguery not seen since the 1950s to draw on this bilious indignation. It was stunning to watch, and most of us simply could not believe it, but here he was drawing bigger and bigger crowds at his rallies, which he continuously bragged about.
Bernie had drawn even bigger crowds but it didn't matter. It was only when the Democratic race neared the end that the media showed any interest. They smelled a nasty convention battle, playing up a donnybrook in Philadelphia. However, Bernie sorely disappointed the media by not challenging Hillary, instead choosing to get his issues on the Democratic platform, like any reasonable candidate would do when he sensed defeat. He didn't even raise much of a stink over the leaked DNC e-mails, other than demanding the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was going to step down anyway to serve in Hillary's campaign.
At no point in this presidential campaign was reason rewarded. The mainstream media shunned it like they would someone who had leprosy. Instead, they once again turned their attention back to Trump and the possibility the Republicans might try to steal his nomination away from him at the convention by freeing the delegates to "vote their conscious" on the convention floor. Intrigue, mischief and mayhem repeatedly won out over reason.
So, what are Democrats to do in future elections? Do they continue to take the high road, as they believe they are doing, or do they consider the low road? I suppose a lot depends on how the Congressional investigations into election tampering play out. If heads start to roll and Americans find themselves with serious buyer's remorse, it may be that the Democrats win out in the end, as they will be seen as the only alternative to the greed and unscrupulous behavior that led to this "historic" GOP victory. But, if the Russian election tampering story gets buried again then Democrats have to consider new tactics, as obviously the playing field has been changed dramatically as the result of this election.
They can no longer swear by some election rule book that no longer has any validity, as the Republicans threw it out long ago. We are now playing a form of Russian Roulette when it comes to politics, and a surprising number of people seem to be fine with it.
Trump has had a steady stream of unlikely figures go through the gilded doors of Trump Tower to talk to him about the future of his presidency. Everyone from Mitt Romney to Leonardo di Caprio to Al Gore has paid a visit with hopes of bending the President-elect's ear on one issue or another or getting a cabinet appointment. Donald has also been on the phone with Tim Cook, Bill Gates and many other corporate kingpins, who now speak warmly of Trump and hope to likewise influence his decision making. It is hard to believe we are seeing a kinder, gentler Donald Trump, given some of the persons he has chosen to fill cabinet positions. This is the sort of fawning usually reserved for autocrats like Putin, hoping to curry favor in his administration.
Obama appears to be trying one last time to turn American attention to the "rigging" that actually occurred during the campaign with the hope that the Electoral College might re-evaluate the general election. He is not saying so directly as that would look like election tampering, but if enough doubts are raised maybe some Electors will have second thoughts. Clever move but one not likely to affect the outcome of this election because in the end these Electors know that they would be seen as trying to steal the election away from Trump. Can't have that!
The time for Machiavellian politics was during the campaign. What Democrats have to do is brush up on The Prince, as this is the only useful guide to winning elections and effectively running government, especially when you are in the opposition. Playing by the rules is a losing game. What everyone wants to see is intrigue, which is why such shows as Game of Thrones and House of Cards are so popular and why The Apprentice will be returning this winter with Donald Trump staying on as one of the executive producers.