Trumpocalypse, Day 3: I still feel like my whole body is bruised from the inside out; like my soul swallowed glass. I have however, been able to start reading a bit about the election, and I have some initial thoughts.
One thing I feel is missing from the post-election analysis – something I think we all missed – is the power of Donald Trump’s celebrity. For years he was in millions of living rooms on a weekly basis, filling the role of commander-in-chief in his own little universe. He was what most Americans aspire to be: a rich, powerful businessperson making decisions and imposing his will, with his attractive spouse at his side. That’s the kind of image-making even the best political ad can’t achieve.
Look at the primaries. Four years ago, with a similar clown-car lineup of Republicans, everyone got their moment in the sun. Newt Gingrich was the leader for a nanosecond. Rick Santorum ascended to the top spot for an eye-blink. But this time, Trump simply sprinted to first place and stayed. Nobody could touch him. He has always been a special candidate in more ways than one, and it’s clear to me that I underestimated him from the start. I think he excited people who don’t usually turn out to vote, and that’s one reason the pollsters didn’t see this coming.
The second thing that killed Hillary Clinton’s chances was the most prolonged and effective propaganda campaign in modern American history. The right wing has been invested heavily in myth-making against Hillary since Bill Clinton first won office. Whitewater, Vince Foster, Benghazi: time after time, official probes have cleared her, but her enemies understood that the mere fact of allegations and investigations was enough. Yes, Hillary has made mistakes, and on occasion she has lied. Every politician does. But the air of untrustworthiness that hangs around her is largely the result of this incredibly dogged and effective smear campaign.
Thirdly: I believe racism is a disqualifying attribute. I do not feel it is morally correct to support a racist, even if you agree with their political positions. I have voted for Republicans over Democratic racists, and I will continue to do so.
I think the Clinton campaign relied too much on the assumption that most Americans feel the same way. They hammered Trump – very effectively – with ads showing just how toxic his prejudices were. But they guessed wrong. Many, many of my fellow white Americans were willing to look at his racism and misogyny, shrug, and pull the lever.
The Clinton camp made the wrong political gamble. But they believed Americans would do the right thing, and I have to love them a little for that. The Trump campaign believed all the worst things about our country, and they were right. That’s part of the soul-shredding agony of this election.
Now there is a general movement to forgive the voters who winked at bigotry – or embraced it outright. As Jamelle Bouie tweeted:
Three days after the election, the overwhelming consensus is that feeling neglected makes backing a race-baiting demagogue understandable.
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) November 11, 2016
We should resist that narrative. Forgiveness is always possible; however, we must understand and acknowledge the transgression first. It is a transgression that may literally kill the planet, since the Trump administration is shaping up to wreak devastation on the climate. It is a transgression that’s already making life more difficult and dangerous for women, people of color, LGBTQ Americans, and others who don’t fit into Trump’s vision of a “Great” America.
Trump’s stardom and the anti-Clinton propaganda campaign helped make a President Trump possible. But our readiness – even eagerness – to put a bigot in the Oval Office sealed the deal. From the very founding of our nation, racism has been our central tragedy. As Trump’s election confirms, it still is today.