I don’t know about you, but I still wake up every morning incredulous that Donald J. Trump has been elected to the Presidency of the United States. Just writing that sentence has the feel of vicious satire, and it’s a feeling that’s unlikely to diminish. He even looks like what central casting would offer up when the director says, “Get me a demagogue”—jowly, scowling, overweight, with an architected pompadour that screams male vanity and the squinty, shifty eyes of the congenitally insecure. How could the American people have chosen so thoroughly unqualified, transparently self-centered and palpably venal a person to lead them, knowing that it was real life and not a TV show?
The quickest answer, of course, is that they didn’t. Three million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, still an astonishingly small margin given the choices, but a substantial one nonetheless. It’s only due to the vagaries of the Electoral College that around 100,000 votes across three northern “Blue Wall” states outweighed those three million. Picture 30 football stadiums full of voters who had a different vision of America and of what sort of person should be President. Count those three million votes that were effectively uncounted, and Trump is back where he came from and where he belongs, on TV, playing himself and bossing around a bunch of sycophants, instead of haunting our waking days by playing himself and bossing around a bunch of sycophants.
So it’s important to remember as we slog forward that we Americans in toto didn’t vote for Trump. And it’s important to remember what else we didn’t vote for.
We didn’t vote for a cabinet of billionaires and ideologues, this casual, complete triumph of the oligarchs that Trump, within a few short weeks of his campaign of pandering to the common man, has engineered.
We didn’t vote for the precipitous dismantling and haphazard, stutter-step “replacement” of Obamacare that the Republican Congress will now undertake, to the detriment of millions of poor and soon-to-be-again-uninsured citizens (though it’s fair to say that we did vote for the Republicans themselves, and that, as the saying goes, we get the government we deserve).
We didn’t vote for the rampant nepotism and conflicts of interest inherent in having a life-long businessman of mostly undisclosed means and his friends and immediate family in the highest positions of political and military power.
We didn’t vote for a President so thoroughly convinced that his own preconceptions represent reality that he can disregard the conclusions of the national intelligence community.
We didn’t vote for Vladimir Putin’s new best friend.
We didn’t vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, or the return to a patchwork of state anti-abortion laws that would inevitably result.
And without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we also didn’t vote for tax cuts for the rich, global warming, a new arms race, the repression of journalism, air and water pollution, foreign policy by tweet, drilling for oil in national parks, the suppression of minority voting, mass deportations, Russia hacking the electrical grid, the defunding of public schools, new West Bank settlements, escalating tensions with China and North Korea, defunding Planned Parenthood, nuclear proliferation, or nuclear winter. Just to name a few.
Not to put too fine a point on it: I, personally, did not vote to have my grandchildren live in a well-defended, economically stratified, morally bankrupt nation. And I hope to hell that’s not what they end up inheriting.
Once we get past the fact that we, as a nation, didn’t vote for him, the question of how on earth Donald Trump got elected turns into one of political tactics, and here there is plenty of blame to be levelled at the Clinton campaign and its apparatchiks. Those 100,000 votes across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania should haunt them for a very long time. The failure to adequately address and consolidate those traditional Democratic strongholds can only be ascribed to the same kind of arrogance that allowed Clinton to assume that she could get away with having a private email server while Secretary of State, the idea that she and her staff were above certain fundamental requirements. She and her campaign were, like Trump, not sufficiently humble; they were, like Trump, not sufficiently uncertain. That these failures worked for him but undid them is the ironic stuff of political nightmare, one we can’t wake up from.
One of the few consolations of these darkening days is the rather sad and perhaps cowardly one of seeing those who relentlessly vilified the outgoing President and his agenda deprived of any possible excuse for failure or complaint. It was hard work fending off conservative vitriol for eight long years. Now, for a time, we who defended Obama and the liberal agenda can lay down our defenses and assume the comfortable and convenient political posture in which Republicans have luxuriated all these years – that of relentless sideline kibitzers, the not-so-loyal and sometimes obstructionist opposition. Good luck, fellas. Really.
Trump and the Republicans (who are not necessarily one and the same) now control two branches of the Federal government, and will soon –upon Trump’s installation of at least one Supreme Court justice –control all three, along with a majority of State governments. This is a political hegemony achieved in only a few brief intervals in our nation’s history. The litany of What We Didn’t Vote For is entirely theirs to effect or reject. We will now see how wisely this monolithic power will be wielded in the crucible of governing, and how the people fare as a result.