Donald J. Trump ran as a carnival barking, misogynist, xenophobic authoritarian and defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in one of the most remarkable elections in our nation’s history. Given Mr. Trump’s positions, it would be easy to view the results of the race as America’s tacit acceptance of his deplorable beliefs. But we do so at our own peril. Take Wisconsin for example. President Obama carried the state in 2008 and 2012. Yet Wisconsin voters chose to vote for Trump last night. Did these same voters that supported President Obama in Wisconsin (or Michigan and Pennsylvania for that matter) suddenly become bigots in the intervening four years? Or was last night more a reflection of our nation’s view of Secretary Clinton? It’s probably more complicated than either, but reducing this to just race or gender seems too easy.
While I’m on the subject of Wisconsin, it’s important to note that Trump received fewer votes (1,407,401) in Wisconsin than Bush in 2004 (1,478,120), or Romney (1,410,966) just four years ago. What that tells me is that Republicans simply “came home.” It does not seem to be the case that some hidden block of white voters came out en masse to support Trump.
For Democrats, it’s clear that not enough supported Secretary Clinton. Indeed, two major voting blocks within the Obama coalition – blacks and young people – either stayed home or voted for a third-party candidate. Why? Tough to say. Her long career in public life offered many targets. Comments that she made about black gang members in the 90s, as well as her reversals on issues such as gay marriage, seem to underscore a view held by many voters that she was just another politician. Of course she did herself no favors by setting up a private email server in her own home.
In the end, elections are about “tomorrow.” Hillary Clinton – for better or worse – manifestly represented the status quo to too many voters. As did Jeb Bush, and a whole host of Trump’s Republican primary foes. Trump clearly represents a terrifying sea change. Just today, I’ve seen several teachers remark on the fears of their non-white students. That we live in a society in which young children sit in fear of our President is disheartening to say the least.
As I look back on how we got here, I have to admit that Bernie Sanders may have been the wiser choice to face Mr. Trump in the general. Given that neither Republicans nor the Clinton campaign ran any ads against Bernie, it’s tough to say for sure whether his socialist crusade would have carried the day. But at least now it should be clear to many (including me), just how deeply flawed Secretary Clinton was as a candidate.