In response to the question of why the election went the way it did, one of the reasons given was Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment. That hurt her, they say. It turned people off.
Really? Which people? People so close to not voting for her that, once in the voting booth, remembering that phrase over and above everything else drove them to pick Stein instead? Or people who were already committed to not voting for her? Or perhaps people who were already disinclined to go to the polls anyway—because they had something more important to do than participate in deciding the direction of the country for the next four years—that maybe, had she not said that they might have decided on that day to go vote anyway.
Because I doubt seriously it hurt her among those who had already decided to vote for her, especially since, whether they might wish to admit it or not, they actually agreed with that assessment.
Because really those who were never going to vote for her under any circumstances would likely not have been affected positively or negatively by that remark. They already didn’t like her. Being nice to them would have gained her nothing, because they would not have either believed her or recognized the concession. Not saying something about them would have had zero persuasive impact.
So exactly who then are people talking about when they criticize her for that?
No one. They’re trying to come up with excuses for either their own poor judgment or the lack of involvement in the process by people who were disinclined for many other reasons to vote.
Hillary’s loss is a case study in the dysfunction of our electoral process. She lost due to a toxic combination of apathy, anti-intellectualism, ignorance, and a media environment that offers little in the way of separating fact from fiction, truth from fraud, legitimacy from exhibitionism. The markers necessary for people to draw useful coverage from the ocean of feed in which they swim are either absent or so obscured as to be invisible. If you don’t already have an idea how to judge worthwhile from dross you simply have to guess, and a lot of people guess wrong.
Ah. Why should anyone assume that those who did not vote would have voted for Hillary? A perfectly legitimate question. The answer, roughly, has to do with turnout and dedicated numbers. The GOP seems to have a very solid army of about sixty million voters who vote that way every single time. No doubt the Democrats can count on a similar cadre. But only if the turnout is below 63%. Once turnout rises to 65% or more, the vote tends to go against the Republicans. Those voters who sit at home tend to vote Democrat or Liberal. (People like to point to Reagan’s “landslide” win, but there was only a 52% turnout. True, he buried Carter, but had the turnout been 65%…? Of course, to be fair, Bill Clinton won his second election with about the same turnout, 51%. His first, though, was 58% turnout and he buried Bush I.) Where it seems really to tell, though, is in congressional elections and the problem there is with gerrymandering. Gerrymandering has always been a bit of a problem, but the GOP has turned it into a high art. One suspects they know in a fair fight they wouldn’t have a chance. All they have is that 60 million block.
But this a very rough calculus. The question remains, why Trump?
(I suspect another chief reason Hillary lost—and part of the reason for low turnout this time—has to do precisely with her opponent. Had Cruz won the nomination, I suspect turnout would have been considerably higher, because that would have looked like a real fight instead of the joke this appeared to be, especially with the media putting out all those charts showing how she was a shoe-in because, really, who could possibly in their right mind vote for him? Of course, where it really hurt was the all-important congressional races.)
So, how is this “new era” working out for the people who voted for him?
We have already seen the dismay of many who supported him when it dawned on them that repealing the ACA meant they would lose their own health coverage. Either this is an example of stone ignorance (a few, we don’t know how many, actually did not realize that their ACA was the same thing as the hated Obamacare) or an example of self-selected delusion—that they thought the repeal would only affect people of whom they disapprove. They were voting to take it away from Other People.
It was claimed that Hillary didn’t understand lower income and working class people. That may well be true, but what kind of mental gymnastics is required to convince yourself that a billionaire born to wealth who even in bankruptcy lived a life of luxury did understand, on the kind of intuitive gut-level clearly meant by those statements?
But this is anecdotal at best.
Two questions now dominate concretely. The growing evidence of collusion with Russia in securing the election and the deals made more than a year ago. And the efficacy of Trump’s “leadership style” which seems to be nonexistent. The very first time he runs into the kind of normal roadblocks of Washington politics, namely the lost vote on the ACA repeal, he declares it a dead issue and asks congress to move on. This is lack of staying power at best, a lack of genuine conviction at worst.
During the campaign, one of things Trump said was “vote for me, what do you have to lose?” More or less. It doesn’t matter which group he was talking to, it matters which group heard him.
A recent book by Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers In Their Own Land, takes up the question of the voter block that seems consistently to vote against its own best interests. Hochschild, who lives in Berkeley, California, practically lived in Louisiana among people who are both dependent on and victimized by the oil industry. In the course of her study, many contradictions emerged. One example, she met many dedicated environmentalists—who also hated the EPA and wanted to see it gone. People who knew that the refineries and processing plants were destroying their environment, had poisoned friends and family, were responsible for wild-life die-offs, and yet resisted the idea of regulation, often because they feared it would adversely impact employment. Jobs meant more than the rest, but it was by no means a simplistic metric being applied. Many felt the companies themselves would eventually “do the right thing” and clean up and improve safety.
Reading this book gives us a tour through funland mirror thinking. Coming face to face with the blatant contradictions and the ingrained belief in systems that have repeatedly failed them and the rejection of solution because of a belief that failure from them would be even worse. The conviction that the federal government was the Enemy. Hochschild tried to find the Narrative. In anthropological terms, this is the ur-story people tell themselves in order to organize their beliefs, the strategies of their lives, and determine the principles by which they live. It’s the Who We Are story and when that is found, then what follows begins to make more sense. What Hochschild discovered was a variation of the City on the Hill dominant among these people. Instead of the religious kind, though, this one had to do with the American Dream. They believed in the idea that hard, honest work would get them to their city, where they would finally achieve the comfort and security they see as the promise of dedication. They are willing to wait their turn.
And it’s at that point that the Narrative becomes the problem. Because they see, they perceive, in their view undeserving people cutting in line in front of them. Poor people, minorities, refugees, illegal aliens. People who, in their opinion, have not done the work, have certainly not waited their turn. And in service to this, the federal government is to blame, because they see federal programs enabling this butting in.
Meanwhile, their own reward recedes before their very eyes.
Resentment is only natural.
At this point, it is fair to ask, how come the default blame goes where it goes? There are many reasons for their eroding situations. The changing economic environment, the increasing population, the influx of legal immigrants, the globalization phenomenon. Even without the federal programs they blame, it is likely their situations would be just as precarious.
Except they have been told that all those factors are the result of government overreach, government meddling, government—by means of treaties, of regulations, of corruption. Their preferred media services certainly have told them all this, but they also get it through their jobs, from the companies that are also anti-union, advocates of Right To Work, multinationals often that pretend to be America Firsters but then remove the wealth of communities and put it elsewhere.
The kind of people Donald Trump is part and parcel of.
Their fears are easily played upon because they have them. Fears. No one is doing much to educate them out of such fears. Rather they are told, from a hundred sources, that they are justified in their fears.
And they vote for anyone who tells them they are right to be afraid.
The profound distortions of fact to be found among them is indicative of much of the problem.
A few examples of belief versus reality:
Welfare rolls are up and people on welfare don’t work. The reality is, total welfare rolls dropped 20 % since 1996, which was the year of Clinton’s welfare reform, the reform that cut welfare to a short time and required work for certain benefits. As for that work, the poorest 20% only get 37% of their income from welfare. The rest is compensation for work. You might ask, if they’re working, why do they need welfare? Obviously because their jobs do not pay enough. You might want to look at the current debate over minimum wage. At best, “welfare” is a supplement, and most of the beneficiaries are children and the elderly. But of course, this is not believed by people dedicated to not believing it and scapegoating the poor.
Black women have more children than white women. I was startled that this was still current. I grew up in the heyday of the Welfare Queen, which was a canard even then. The reality is that fertility rates for white women and black women is just about equal.
Maybe as much as 40% of people work for federal and state government and are overpaid. This sounded to me like the one about foreign aid. The numbers are inflated because few people bother to find out, they just want to be angry at something. Adding together all levels of government—federal, state, and local—total workforce as a percentage of employed people comes up to around 17%. It varies with which party is in office. Republican presidents since Reagan have overseen expansions of federal workforce because it’s an easy way to finesse unemployment figures. Obama oversaw a real reduction in the size of the federal government measured by employees, but of course no one opposing him wishes to believe this. As for the overpaid aspect, on average private sector workers at comparable levels make 12% more than government employees—government employees, by the way, who often work longer hours.
These are a few of the beliefs held by people who likely voted for Trump. Clearly, there is a simple lack of fact in this, but it seems just as obvious that there is a lack of interest in any fact that contradicts as belief that helps explain their anger. Make no mistake, these are angry voters. They don’t want to be informed, they want to be vindicated.
Trump is representative of all this. Whether he genuinely believes anything he says, he has played these people. The rest of the GOP has decided evidently that as long as he’s the president, they’ll play him to get what they want.
How’s that working out?
Not well. All the myths that have been driving Tea Party and affiliated rage for a decade are now coming onto the front lines and getting an opportunity to play and it turns out that the myths aren’t based on solid anything. It seems a lot of people voted to strip Other People of things they believed were not their due. Except these angry voters will lose out as well and that wasn’t the way it was supposed to work.
The small government argument has gotten lost, consumed by a mindless urge to eliminate government altogether. People are being played by international finance. Everything in the GOP wish list serves only one end—the unopposed leaching out of latent wealth into capital pools disconnected from any nation. If Trump and Ryan and McConnell got everything they wanted, all the people who voted for them would see their incomes reduced, their savings (if any) pillaged, and jobs decimated.
For their part, the Democrats are unwilling to tackle this head on because they have become tied to the same teat for campaign financing as the GOP. They have the rage but they often waffle. With a few exceptions, they won’t call this out, but would rather work at it around the edges and try to mitigate its worst effects while avoiding being shut out of the flow of money. Fundamental policy changes are required and once in a while someone calls for something, but then they talk it to death.
In the meantime, that basket of deplorables continues to work at gorging itself at the public trough.
Hillary did not lose votes over that comment. If we’re honest, we recognized the truth. The problem with it, if anything, is she didn’t specify very well who was all in that basket. But let’s assume for a moment that saying that did have a negative effect on her campaign. Why would it? What is it about calling something out for what it is that would put off people who, perhaps secretly, agree with her? We are, those of us who count ourselves progressives, sometimes falsely delicate, it seems. Like being unwilling to use the word “lie” when in fact that is a perfectly accurate description of what the president has done. And when someone is so sunk in their own petty resentment that they are willing to dump on everyone out of revenge for what they see as their raw deal and tolerates no counterargument at all and be damned the consequences—well, that really is kind of deplorable.
Whatever the case, let’s be clear about one thing—it wasn’t the people she was talking about when she said that who changed their mind about voting for her. She was never going to get those votes.
And I doubt it turned very many if any of those leaning in her direction off at the time. They’re all just using that as a rationalization for the fact that too few of them turned up at the polls.
Come to think of, doesn’t that kind of count as deplorable?