So here we are, nine months into Trump’s presidency. I could talk about his policies and their implications, the rising tensions between white nationalists and antifa or even make half-hearted jabs at the scandals that rocked the GOP long before they won the White House; but indicting President Trump’s actions is an easy target, and I get enough of that on Twitter. So instead, I will try to give my post-mortem on the 2016 election, as it is important to discuss what happened. I will also try to provide some options for the future.
Hillary Clinton was “destined” to win. Polls had her winning the election with over 300 electoral votes. The public all shouted her inevitability from the rooftops. The problem with this, and the main reason that we ended up with Agent Orange in the White House, is this: Clinton is not a good candidate.
Why do I say this? Is it her horrible voting record, as well as her rhetoric on the campaign trail? Kind of. Is it the fact that proven collusion existed between her campaign and the DNC, effectively robbing Sanders of a fair chance? Well, yes, but it’s more complex. The common thread between these issues is a numbing unawareness of the people’s interests.
Both candidates in the 2016 general election had horrible campaign rhetoric. President Trump’s ad hominem and use of fearmongering would have killed a less interesting candidate’s campaign. His biggest aid was actually the media’s constant gawking and attention. With constant attention being paid to then-candidate Trump, it is no wonder that some voters were converted. CNN would even air full Trump speeches, unedited and unfact-checked. His words were so ridiculous, so vitriolic, how did Clinton possibly lose?
The answer lies in how Clinton attacked Trump’s statements. Instead of going after his policies on substance, for example, the practical impossibility of the wall and so on. 75 percent of Clinton’s campaign ads consisted of nothing more than personal attacks on Trump.
This combined with Clinton’s overall focus on ethos and virtue signaling (“I’m With Her” comes off as particularly patronizing), creates a clear picture where the reasoning becomes known.
Now, let’s look at the voters, particularly the ones who supported President Trump. A popular talking point from the Democrats is the notion that third party voters — Stein supporters in particular, stole major numbers from Clinton; however, nine percent of registered Democrat voters supported candidate Trump in the election. So why would a Democrat support a far-right candidate?
This is where we get to the largest point, and the point that I need to stress will matter in 2020. Hillary Clinton represents the establishment. Clinton’s voting record shows a clear support of neoliberal domestic and foreign policy; she supported the invasion of Iraq, she supported intervention in Syria and she was, at least, neutral on NAFTA and TPP. This kind of record, particularly with the issue of trade, is damaging to any politician’s image. Working class Americans see their jobs going overseas to unregulated, cheaper labor. They see their children fighting in a war that we have no need to be in. They see a candidate more beholden to the interests of donors than constituents, a candidate that is trying to appeal to as many people as she can because she views votes as merely numbers. She alienated herself further by targeting Sanders supporters, as well as referring to half of President Trump’s supporters in the infamous “basket of deplorables” comment. All of this shows a candidate who only considers the voter a means to an end, a way of climbing the ladder to more power.
I’m not arguing that Clinton would have been a worse president than Trump is. I voted for her. I’m not saying that President Trump deserves the presidency or that Clinton would not have tried her best to put forth policies that she believed would help the country. My argument is one of optics above all else: Clinton lost because she was unable to convince the voting public that she was a genuine candidate and she was unable to do this because she seemed disingenuous.
Look at a candidate like Bernie. If somebody, on the right, at least, attacked Sanders, it is because they disagreed with his policy. Not because he seemed like a corporate puppet.
Now, why am I writing an election post-mortem in September of 2017? It is important to remember that Clinton’s loss is not an anomaly; corporate Democrats have been losing seats in Congress since Obama’s election. The GOP have managed to invert the narrative, appearing to be the party that actually supports the working class. This is how they can keep winning, even though Americans support much more liberal policies than the Republican Party.
How can the Democrats correct course? There are a few options. Several groups, such as Brand New Congress, are trying to jumpstart the Democratic Party into a new, fresh face that is free from corporate ties. I support this. Many have recommended term limits for congressmen. I support this. There are groups supporting a constitutional amendment to clean up the corruption in the election cycle. I support this. More transparency in the DNC and RNC to prevent the kind of collusion that stained Clinton’s record. I support this.
What I’m trying to get across is this: There is a multitude of genuine options to solve the problems of corporatism and neoliberalism in the Democratic Party. The solution is not more of the same status quo that has rotted the Democrats on a national level. If you actually care about this kind of thing, get out there and talk to your politicians. Hold them accountable. This is the proper way to exercise democracy. Don’t stand behind any single candidate: Stand behind the ideas themselves
Dean Cahill is a second-year student majoring in English literature. He can be reached at DC884286@wcupa.edu.