The race is on to narrativize everything that has led to the election of Donald Trump. On the right, a hero has improbably emerged to lead the party where Priebus and the old guard had no idea it wanted to go. On the left, everything that took place leading up to his victory is what led to it. We need to reject this scapegoating. It’s incorrect and internally divisive at a time when we need nothing so much as solidarity.
In the last few days, I’ve heard endlessly about the turpitude and corruption of Hillary Clinton.
“She was a bad candidate. The Democrats never should have run her.”
“What must Bernie be thinking? He would have won the election!”
“We brought this on ourselves by offering more of the same.”
These narratives are dangerous, and they are wrong. In order to move forcefully into a future that actually works, we progressives need to be honest with ourselves about what happened in this election. And it had nothing to do with Bernie Sanders.
Let’s start with a simple fact: the Democrats are the party that currently holds the White House. That means that until last week, they were the party in governance mode. Going into the election, all the available intel suggested they would continue to be the party in power. So Hillary planned on being held accountable to what she was promising as a candidate. And as you may have noticed, making campaign promises and keeping them are not the same thing.
Governance is fucking hard. It’s why the Republicans have fled doing it for eight years. Hillary built her campaign in the full knowledge of this. While Trump improvised a countless raft of bloody promises on the trail — nearly all of which he’s well on his way to reneging on, only three days after the election — Hillary proposed plans that could work.
I will never blame Hillary Clinton for failing to match the puerile demagoguery on which Trump built his platform. All she offered were physically achievable promises, imagine that, and by far the better plan to improve the conditions of the working poor in this country. All she offered was the better choice for president.
Better, yes, than Bernie Sanders as well. One of the more popular ideas floating around on social media is that had Sanders not been railroaded out of contention, he could have defeated Trump. That the DNC was so out of touch, it took away their party’s enthusiastic base just at the moment it could have come in handy.
It’s a tone-deaf proposition to float at a time when the young elites who formed Sanders’ coalition are exactly the people being forced to reexamine their place in, and influence on, America. Assuming red-blooded working stiffs would have gone for an ancient Jewish socialist just because he, too, was different is the same kind of half-assed autopsy we get every election. Like when the Tea Party cried that Romney wasn’t extreme enough to win.
The only real overlap between Trump and Bernie was the impossibility of their respective platforms. Bernie wanted to basically end the financial sector and make college free, and Trump wanted to prevent Muslims from entering the country. Both of them had to go big or go home because both were competing with Hillary, who was a boulder-like presence smack in the middle of the political spectrum with eminently rational aspirations.
In terms of finishing the race better than her, it’s hard to tell how Bernie would have fared. Two things would have helped Hillary on Tuesday: if she got better turnout, especially among minorities, in key cities, and if she won some of the white working-class voters who went for Obama twice. I doubt Bernie would have achieved either.
Sure, Bernie would have been a better advocate than either Hillary or Trump for people like the Carrier factory employees, who voted mostly for Trump. But there was a major cultural factor to Trump’s victory that Bernie wouldn’t have solved for. Trump’s candidacy embodied the solution to political correctness run amok. Bernie, by contrast, was a respectful intellectual who never had a great feel for vitriol. Trump was exciting whereas Bernie was righteous. Trump was an irreverent everyman (in presentation) whereas Bernie was a campus hero. Conflating the enthusiasms of their respective bases is folly.
Improving Clinton’s turnout would have required Bernie to animate another foreign demographic. The minority vote was never his base. He consistently lost it to Clinton — fair and square, I might add, just like the nomination, despite what Moscow Julian might imply. Bernie Sanders’ base were the same young lefties who are currently in the streets protesting Trump. It is an illusion that because both were outsiders and both opposed Hillary Clinton that both would have appealed to the same cultural element that elected Trump. And culture was a yuuge element of Trump’s victory.
So when I hear someone criticizing Hillary as a poor choice for being insufficiently radical, it falls on deaf ears. I’m proud that the Democrats didn’t appeal to foaming, aimless hatred, riling up the base with impossible promises, or hearkening back fifty years to an irretrievable economy. We ran someone who offered the option of expert stewardship of an improving economy and a safe country.
Trump’s people didn’t want expert stewardship. They wanted to throw a bomb. And you know what? Fine. Let them explode if that’s really what they want. The left is the out party now, which means we have absolutely nothing stopping us from gathering ourselves and charting the next course of action for progressive values. But don’t blame Hillary Clinton for failing to be a bomb herself.
Democrats, don’t apologize for supporting a candidate who would have done nothing but run the country well. Shame on the so-called progressives who are saying this. Anyone whining that Bernie should have been the nominee, or that Hillary’s establishment politics were the problem, are falling prey to Trump’s empty promises just as thoroughly as his supporters. Except worse, because you’re one election too late. And by the time the next election comes around, we will all have seen exactly how much of Trump’s “shake-up” his supporters got.