By Jack Random
Everyone who thought they knew anything about politics in America awakened Wednesday morning in an unfamiliar land. Through the rigged system known as the Electoral College, we have elected president a man who promised to build a wall that – if ever built – a future president will promise to tear down. We have elected a man who cynically and skillfully capitalized on bigotry, racism, sexism and fear to navigate his way through the electoral process. We have elected a man who was caught on tape admitting to serial sexual abuse of women. We have elected a man who scorns facts and holds science in contempt. We have elected a man whose understanding of complex issues is reduced to bumper sticker slogans.
It happened. The Cubs won the World Series and Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States of America. Those who supported him must be accountable for what happens next and those who opposed him must resist his regressive policies. But before we deal with the implications of a Trump presidency, we need to understand how it happened. What follows is my contribution to that conversation. In my estimation, the election of Trump required a perfect storm. These are the factors that made it possible in order of importance.
1. THE COMEY EFFECT.
On Friday, October 28, FBI Director James Comey issued his infamous letter to congress, implying that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails had been reopened. To that point Clinton was comfortably ahead in the polls, the daily news drumbeat was all about the women Trump had groped, and the momentum was all on Clinton’s side. Trump was dead in the water. It hardly matters that on a Sunday, two days before the election, he recanted his story. The damage was done. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation inserted himself into a presidential election, reversed the polarity of the race, and attempted to cleanse his hands of the mess. It was an egregious affront to the democratic process. Director Comey should step down.
2. OBAMACARE PREMIUMS.
At the end of October a government report revealed that health insurance premiums under Obamacare would rise by an average of 25% in the coming year. The report highlighted what most Americans already knew: That the Affordable Care Act has failed in its most fundamental intent. It failed to make health insurance affordable. The Obama-Clinton response that there are good things about Obamacare, that 20 million people who didn’t have any insurance now do, that insurance companies can no longer disqualify a person with pre-existing conditions, was tone deaf. For years liberal Democrats have lamented that so many people vote against their own financial interest. Well, this issue hit us where we live. We didn’t need a government report to know that the cost of health insurance is out of control. How many of those 20 million people who now have insurance actually want it? We certainly don’t want it at any price. Sure, insurance companies can’t turn you down for a pre-existing condition but what prevents them from jacking up the rates until you bleed? There are in fact many reasons why the Affordable Care Act failed but the most fundamental is this: It retained the health insurance industry. If health care is a right, then Medicare for all is the solution. Bernie Sanders knew this. At one time Hillary Clinton knew it as well. If she didn’t she should now: It cost her the election.
3. TRADE POLICY.
There was a time when Free Trade was the hallmark of Republican economic policy. Bill Clinton changed that equation with the North American Free Trade Act. That act was the beginning of the end of American industry. It marked the beginning of the end of the working middle class and strong union representation. With the Free Trade mandate the Democratic Party ceased to be the party of labor. The new Clinton Democrats needed a new foundation and they looked to Wall Street to supply it. Though he never seemed to understand the premise of Fair Trade, Bernie Sanders understood what NAFTA and CAFTA had done to the workers of America. He understood that the Trans Pacific Partnership represented more of the same and he managed to pull Hillary Clinton to his side of the issue. But once the nomination was secured all talk of trade policy disappeared from the Clinton campaign speech. She was never credible on trade policy. She clearly represented Wall Street. So when Donald Trump went to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan with a promise to bring American industry back, the voters were ready to listen. At least someone was willing to talk about it and his name was not Clinton.
4. IDENTITY POLITICS.
It is typical of political parties that they take a winning strategy and work it to its death. The famed Obama coalition that won two close presidential elections was supposed to be good for several more cycles – at least until the Republicans found a way to appeal to minority voters. Barrack Obama, perhaps the best politician we are ever likely to see, could get away with Wall Street sponsorship and the compromised policies that went along with it because he was the first black candidate and he advocated progress on social issues. Hillary Clinton picked up the banner and ran with it. She felt certain she could sidestep her close relationship with the elites of Wall Street because she would be the first woman president and she too would advance social issues.
The Democrats went to the well one too many times and the well went dry. The Black Congressional Caucus lined up to support Clinton and effectively eliminated Bernie Sanders from the competition but they could not get the African American community to show up at the polls in the numbers required for victory. The Hispanic vote was supposed to make up the difference but it too fell short. This time we needed more than the first woman president and social issues. We needed policies that spoke to us where we live. We needed someone committed to Fair Trade and universal healthcare. We needed someone who had a viable plan to bring back the middle class. We needed someone who cared for us more than for the fat cats on Wall Street.
No, Hillary, we really didn’t care about your damned emails. We just wanted someone we could believe in. The electorate did not reject you because you’re a woman. They rejected you because they did not believe you stood with them.
5. A RIGGED SYSTEM.
This one is dripping with irony. As I write these words, Hillary Clinton is winning the popular vote for president of the United States. Al Gore won the popular vote in the pivotal year 2000. Had Gore become president instead of George W. Bush we would certainly have a different nation and worldview today. Maybe Gore would not have brushed aside that daily briefing warning that Osama bin Laden was planning an attack on US soil. Maybe it would have happened anyway. Whatever his response to that terrorist attack, it would almost certainly not have included starting a war in Iraq that predictably became a never-ending clash of civilizations.
How many times can we observe this result and still defend the antiquated Electoral College System? The system is rigged in innumerable ways. It offers endless barriers to third party and independent candidates. It requires vast amounts of money to stage a viable campaign. The media is biased – not in favor of parties or candidates but in favor of the corporate entities that own them. Voter suppression is an accepted political strategy when it should be a crime. Nevertheless, the most obvious and egregious betrayal of our representative democracy is the Electoral College. Had we gone about the business of ending it in 2000, we’d still be counting meaningful votes today.
We have had bad presidents before. Franklin Pierce conducted séances in the White House and based policy decisions on Tarot readings. His presidency paved the way for the Civil War. Andrew Johnson did all he could to undermine the emancipation and mitigate the twelfth amendment, sealing the racial divide that persists to this day. Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court and relocated the Cherokee nation in what is known as the Trail of Tears. Warren G. Harding gave us the Teapot Dome scandal and a legacy of corruption. Herbert Hoover’s response to an economic crisis gave us the Great Depression. Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. George W. Bush delegated his presidency to his twisted vice president and left a legacy of global economic collapse and perpetual war in the Middle East.
We survived them all and we will survive Donald J. Trump as well.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES, NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES. HIS PUBLISHED WORKS ARE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON. HE HAS POSTED COMMENTARIES ON COUNTERPUNCH, DISSIDENT VOICE AND NUMEROUS OTHER WEBSITES.