But the results themselves are only part of my dismay. I am an optimist about people, and I feel my optimism may have been misplaced. People who I thought were bright fell for outright lies and didn't even care that they could have been lies. After 150 years of civil rights progress, we have a president who is supported by the KKK. Climate change denial will be official policy. The world may not stop spinning but the U.S. is going in a very very wrong direction.
So.... what have we learned?
First, we have learned that 2000 wasn't a fluke. It is indeed possible to win the popular vote but lose the presidential election. Could it happen again? I think so. I also think it may be time to abolish the electoral college system. Trump received 59,611,678 votes, or 47% while Clinton received 59,814,018, or 48%. That's over 200,000 disenfranchised voters. I think I would feel the same if the numbers were reversed (though relieved it couldn't be a retroactive change). Fair is fair, and this system is not fair.
It's the economy, stupid. Sanders appealed to people who can't have a nice life because of the cost of post-secondary education and the debt that goes with it. Trump appealed to people who can't have a nice life because they don't want to go to college (or are too stupid or old for college). The transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy or knowledge economy just isn't working the way we were promised it would. Bernie's strength in the Rust Belt didn't translate to Hillary, either because she didn't work hard enough to earn Rust Belt support, or because Bernie poisoned the well. Swing voters are apparently the ones who are most dissatisfied with their job prospects.
Negativity works. This has been known for a long time, but Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high" slogan just doesn't apply, at least not to white people. Political marketing strategists know this, which is why TV ads on both sides were relentlessly negative. People complain about them, but they are influenced by them. The biggest problem that I see is that they are increasingly personal in nature, which makes policy or party less important to the voter. Like it or hate it, the party system is the way that most business is conducted in Washington. Your senator or congressperson is unlikely to buck their party's platform out of principle because they can be punished in their next primary.... by a contender running negative ads supported by the party. Until and unless we have term limits & election finance reform, party affiliation is more important than personality. This year some Republicans were repulsed by Dirty Donald and voted for Hillary, but apparently not enough.
The more similar the candidates, the more the differences will be exaggerated. Hillary is not a crook and Trump is not a buffoon, according to Larry King. Both are part of the New York elite. Would the focus on Clinton's supposed crimes be as bad if her opponent had been Mike Pence or some other traditional conservative? Likewise, she & Bernie Sanders are both New Yorkers who served in the Senate. During the years they served together, they voted the same 93% of the time. How could Bernie the Underdog make a case that he's different from an East Coast liberal he agrees with 93% of the time? His fan base dipped into the ready reservoir of anti-Clinton lore (and haven't let go of it if my Facebook feed is any guide).
Liars win and bigger liars win bigger. The famous quote by Goebbels comes to mind:
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.In 2016, the truth didn't seem to have any impact. I have been fooled by fake news or meme-lies, and when informed that my Facebook post was not true, I deleted it. When my republican friends learn that their post is a lie, they don't. One refused to delete a lie about Michelle Obama because although not true, it reflected her feelings about her. I tried to get her to find something truthful that could support that same feeling but she made it clear that the truth didn't matter.
The October Surprise is still a thing. Comey's ill-advised letter about e-mails that mainly turned out to be duplicates may have swayed just enough voters to either vote Trump or stay home. There were no such surprises on Trump's side though he most likely has many skeletons in his closet. Would anyone have cared that he cheated in an investment deal, lied on his taxes, or slept with women who were not his wife? No. Because they do not have the same power that the lie about an imminent indictment based on these duplicate e-mails generated.
Racism is still a thing. Reagan's Welfare Queen is now a drug-dealing Mexican rapist illegal immigrant. And instead of black people in the cities spending tax money on luxuries, the working class thinks they are being put out of jobs by immigrants. Well, they should be happy now. Nobody will want to come to the U.S. for at least four years.
Third-Party Candidates don't have a chance. If the Green Party or Libertarian party would have had a chance, this would be the year for them to prove themselves. The pro-Bernie camp who insisted that his small-donation, internet-driven, small-money candidacy could have been applied to a national election should have demonstrated this in their support for Stein or Johnson. Likewise, the Republicans who were horrified by Trump could have thrown their support (and their money) behind Johnson. Instead, it's hard to make a case that either of them had any impact on the election at all. Even though an "outsider" won, it was by a tiny margin and he wasn't outspent. Until we have campaign finance reform, the minor parties will continue to be irrelevant, no matter how devoted their fanbase.
A four-party system could actually be interesting. We would have to have a coalition governmental system, though, which is basically what we have now. We have two parties that are made up of a coalition of different parts of society and platforms comprised of a variety of niche issues.
False Equivalency is still a thing, but few seem to have noticed that it's false. That's why it still works. Someone who lies a lot isn't equal to someone who lies a little. Someone who makes six figures for a speech to people who make millions is not equivalent to someone who makes seven figures using workers making slave wages. Someone who has disclosed thousands of e-mails and decades of tax records but has a few slips (if that - many were common knowledge or were classified after the fact) isn't equivalent to someone who has kept all that secret and whose few slips reveal sleaze and narcissism. Someone who doesn't say the right things once or twice about a minority isn't the same as a person who plans to do ethnic cleansing (which is what banning muslims & deporting hispanic immigrants really is). I don't always agree with Bill Maher, but he got this right:
And lastly, we have learned that the Religious Right still has clout. Pence is their boy, and they vote in high enough numbers to add to the coalition of the gullible. Trump is the antithesis of everything they believe in, but he said enough of the things they wanted to hear to satisfy them. They have looked past deplorable acts of pastors, "reality" stars and homeschool book publishers, so why would they care about Trump's morality? They think they are saved from damnation for saying the right words and letting themselves be waterboarded by their authority figure. They don't really expect much of themselves or their leaders.