I wonder whether the nation woke up in shock or glee Wednesday. Whether real or not, regardless of the messenger, even regardless of the message, the desire for change was so palpable that the voters were willing to overthrow the Constitution, the interlocked branches and the historical nature of government. Because without doing that, almost every promise Donald Trump made is unworkable. And the world will reel while he tries to figure it all out.
That sounds harsh, but no other conclusion is left. Trump made an unusually controlled and complimentary victory speech, saying he would deal fairly with everyone, but he had to be hoping the audience would still believe all those things he had said about Mexicans, Muslims, his sniping at the press and at Republicans who disagreed with him, since this was what endeared so many to him in the first place.
Perhaps they will forget his pending trials for fraud and sexual abuse or his hidden tax returns because, really, could that be the real him? Could he have been elected by the world’s greatest democracy if that was the real Donald? Or was the real Donald the one promising to preserve the Supreme Court, the one promising jobs and more ferocious dealings on immigration, terrorists and trade, the one who would know how to throw America’s weight around.
Half of the citizenry stood aghast at what had happened – no crack in the glass ceiling, no balance to the Supreme Court, no freedom to marry whom you love (a pet peeve of Mike Pence), no work on climate change (heck it doesn’t exist), no campaign money reform, no future for Planned Parenthood, a supermodel whose naked pictures fill the Internet as First Lady, a victory midwived by Vladimir Putin, the FBI director and an enthralled media.
The other half is probably happy – they no longer have to hide from pollsters who they were voting for. They may not quite see they had committed to a Barnum salesman who would need a different form of government than a democracy to deliver some outlandish promises.
Brace yourself. Not only was the Democratic Party dashed, the Republican Party was equally devastated. Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr. and Ben Carson will now dominate your living room when Donald doesn’t want to supply the outrage on his own. We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t blaze a big TRUMP neon on the White House.
Brace yourself also for both the forgotten side and the bigoted side of white America to enjoy its last time at the top, because the march of demographics is irreversible, even if they find a way to deport 11 million residents.
Rail how you will that the votes can be blamed on too much television illiteracy and other forms of ignorance, on the media’s failure to comprehend that some college educated white voters went to very bad colleges. The vote is the vote. The electorate must have wanted exactly the brash, nasty, in-you-face agent of change. Even those who didn’t like his words put that aside, as if the words didn’t stigmatize his character or his pledges. As one Trump voter told a TV interviewer, all men talk like that.
Voters suffered this same short-term memory in 2010, where the electorate forgot the time capsule of FDR.
What does that mean? FDR, if you read history, took over the presidency three years into the Great Depression. By then the public was prepared for emergency action, even demanded it of the president.
But most Americans didn’t suffer that badly under the Bush years. He may have caused the Great Recession, but he left it to Obama to patiently solve it. The public was still absorbing pain. Most had never experienced so devastating an economy, so their votes took it out on the president despite his slow steady repairs. Couldn’t he make the income, the jobs, the flourishing mortgage industry return?
In reality his progress had been considerable by 2016, wages were finally rising and Obama’s favorability ratings are higher than Reagan’s or any other president. But even today the electorate’s patience had not improved, the pace was steady but too slow in their frame of mind and they were primed for someone who pointed out the problems again and again, with exaggeration and no solutions.
They do not see they are acting as victims and seeking scapegoats. But there’s also what Obama himself suggested two years ago about another Democrat succeeding him. The public, he mused, “may want that new car smell.”
Hillary Clinton thought the economy’s improvement was self-evident and offered detailed plans to pick up the torch and run with it – not the bravura of Trump to solve everything. She knew the emails and Benghazi were simply a political distraction and thought the public would also see that, underestimating how powerful were the four years of negativity the GOP was pasting on her when they realized she would run for president. So she talked sense and policy about the economy, feeling it would be enough to remind voters of what Trump said and stood for. She never expected their hatred of someone out of office for four years would be that potent.
I didn’t see it coming – even hoped for a progressive wave. Especially in Wisconsin. Despite the iron grip of conservative money and control, what I saw were the small towns that have seen their schools struggle and their roads suffer under the GOP regime, the agriculturists and dairy farmers who desperately wanted a solution to the immigration issue that would keep their operations thriving. Wouldn’t they stand up finally and vote for that kind of change?
But not only did the Democrats not pick up seats in the state legislature, two of their incumbents lost and some easily superior candidates were thrown away. Ditto Congress, where no honest person in the state can say things have been improved in D.C. by who was sent there. Even those sent there are going to find it difficult to work with this president, in between struggling how to explain things to him.
My historical optimism? It’s not present in this column, which may be dismissed as sour grapes by those who will all too soon learn what real sour grapes taste like. It’s really a diatribe of profound sadness, thinking how much work lies ahead to return the nation of Lincoln to equilibrium.