As the stories come tumbling out now about Russian interference in our election process, we’re all experiencing the simultaneous relief and horror of knowing it was not our imagination. Yes, something truly terrible happened to our country in November 2016.
It can’t be said enough: We need to understand how this came to pass, so we can learn from our mistakes and make sure it can never happen again. We have to untangle this ugly snarl and backtrack this trail of treason to its source, wherever it goes. Many factors worked together to put this dangerous man in the White House; we have to understand each and every one.
How did he get elected?
I continue to struggle with the emotional backlash of shock. For several months after the election, I suffered from a kind of mental anguish I’d never experienced before. It was a confused numbness, a kind of dazed disbelief. Overnight, I was disconnected from the reality I’ve always taken for granted. As a nation, it seemed to me, we had collectively gone mad. It seemed so unreal. I could only conclude I was completely out of step with America. Or maybe America was not what I thought it was. I suddenly felt like a stranger in my own country.
The ugliest truth of this election, for me, was the fact that so many Americans voted for this despicable man. Who are these people? Why were they so vulnerable to Trump’s brand of snake oil? I’ve tried to understand. I’ve read about how the lower middle-class Americans resented the Wall Street bailouts, how they felt left out of Obama’s efforts to pull America together after the financial meltdown of 2008. I know they object to social programs that help the poor and they’re angry about the disappearance of good jobs. I understand that they saw Clinton as more of the same. OK. But surely that wasn’t it, was it?
Even now, as we are discovering the extent to which Russia manipulated our election, these people continue to support him, gathering at his Nuremberg rallies to wave around their red hats together. How can they continue to defend him, knowing what we are learning now?
I remember the moment I read that Clinton had won by a sizable majority. I was washed with relief, tears of gratitude in my eyes. Thank dog. Not everyone in my country had gone completely nuts.
But it wasn’t just the Trump voters who did this to us. It took the participation of millions of other voters to put Trump in the White House, the ones who didn’t vote for Clinton. They were suckered into helping Trump get elected, the same as the ones who voted for him.
This is my take on it. In those last weeks before the election, I wasn’t really worried. I had faith that the majority of Americans would vote responsibly. I dismissed the possibility of a Trump win. Surely, I felt, we aren’t that stupid! As the pundits and pollsters showed Clinton with a respectable lead, everybody relaxed a little. I confess I was one of them. (Put a big asterisk next to the name of every commentator who predicted Clinton’s win at the time. We need to come back to them.)
But a good-sized chunk of ambivalent voters faced a decision. Sure, they thought Trump was a joke, but they didn’t love Clinton either. Some of these people had even voted for Obama. So they decided to make a statement with their vote — and either stayed home or voted for someone like Jill Stein. They did this not because they wanted Trump for president but because they believed Trump could not win. (Who told them that? Asterisk.)
Then we got the infamous last-minute FBI announcement of possible issues with Clinton’s email. That non-fact was enough to push another chunk of voters to stay home on election day or vote for a third-party candidate. (Put another big asterisk next to James Comey’s name. We need to come back to him too.)
That was enough to put Trump comfortably over the top, thanks to our electoral college system (which has got to go! Asterisk!).
So. It only took 26% of eligible voters to put a president in the White House. That’s all it takes. Stop and think about that for a moment. That is terrifying, and we should never forget it, ever again.
It’s a sad statement that a quarter of eligible American voters are so credulous or desperate or vulnerable to a flim-flam man. But I guess a democracy will always have a bottom of the barrel.
On the flip side of that coin, it also means 74% did NOT vote for Trump. Either they voted for Clinton, stayed home, or voted for somebody else.
So. Three-quarters of eligible voters did not vote for Trump. That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Three-quarters of us are not nuts. WHEW.
Yet we ended up with this sociopathic narcissist in charge of the most powerful country on earth. Paired up with the Republican wins in Congress, it seemed like the set-up for a bad dystopian sci-fi movie.
Now after he’s had several months in office, he has confirmed everybody’s worst fears. Many Trump fans now regret voting for him. Once you pare away those people, I feel sure the remaining Trump supporters comprise only a very small percentage of Americans. I’m going to say between 15-20%.
That really doesn’t bother me, the idea that 15% of Americans are either deeply racist and misogynistic or are just not very bright. It’s sad but it’s not really a surprise. A democracy is going to have a bottom of the barrel.
So now we confront something we’ve never experienced before. We’ve had to step in and save our country from ruin. Every protest march, rally, and angry town hall meeting has energized me, reinforcing my sense that most Americans know the difference between right and wrong. I’m in love with the EPA scientists busily saving climate data. My new heroes are the rogue park service guys. The journalists facing down the daily onslaught of bald-faced lies. The governors and mayors across the country who are standing up for what’s right. The judges and attorneys who are putting the brakes on the orange maniac. The Democrats in Congress who won’t back down or shut up.
For a while I lost faith in us, but no more. Now, every day I see valiant people fighting back. My faith is restored. No, I am not a stranger in my own country.
Sure, lots of other factors contributed to this disastrous election, not the least of which is Trump’s role model Putin, who has his enemies poisoned, shot, or thrown out of windows. It wasn’t just Flynn and Manafort; I’m sure we’re only now seeing the tip of the Russian iceberg. It took a village to put Trump in the White House: an army of Macedonian teenagers who littered the Internet with outrageous anti-Clinton stories, the readers gullible enough to believe them, Fox News, the Koch Brothers and their ilk, the tea party, advocates of voter suppression and gerrymandering, the NRA gun nuts, all the stubborn racists unmasked during Obama’s presidency. If we’re going to see things clearly, we need to tell it like it is: a Trump supporter is Putin’s accomplice.
But the point is this: that sense of unreality many of us experienced after the election was not baseless. Something indeed was “off” during that campaign. We were being played. Our country was attacked, the same as if bombs had exploded or missiles launched, except this time the attack was political.
So no, I am not out of step with my country. Neither are you. And we are not alone. That is becoming clear.
Big picture-wise, this is what I think we went wrong. Things have been pretty good in America for a while, by and large. So the good people, the smart people, and the reasonable and rational people have all been busy focusing on our private lives, and while we weren’t looking, a lot of bad people got into politics. They seemed to do OK most of the time, so we were content to let them do the job. But now it’s plain to see these people can’t be trusted with the authority we give them.
It stands to reason: If you are a lazy, arrogant, egotistical bullshit artist, you will be strongly attracted to a career in politics. In fact, you could probably predict this, just like you’ll find pedophiles attracted to jobs working with children.
And besides, who else would want to do that job? Administrative drudgery and ego massaging. Ugh! Yes, there are some good people working hard for the common good in Washington, but I think we all know most of the people who go into politics these days expect to benefit from it. I mean benefit with a dollar sign.
This is a problem, and in the future, if we survive this catastrophe, we need to find ways to address this and all the asterisk people named above.
In the meantime, the good people, the smart people, the rational people need to take back the running of the country from the professional hypocrites and bullshit artists there today. We need to supervise them as closely as a contractor you hire to fix your leaky basement. That might mean calling your senator weekly or it might mean running for office. Or maybe it means we have to take steps now to remove people from office who are not doing their job, and not wait for the midterm elections. Many of these people are not special. They aren’t even leaders. They can be replaced.
This is a time when everyone has to choose a side, and not just politicians and bureaucrats — everybody. History will record. If you are not against Trump, then you are for him. If you are not against Trump, you are for Putin. You will spend the rest of your life wearing that label, like a scarlet letter. Nobody gets to be a bystander when there is so much at stake.
I look forward to the day when we can map out how things must change going forward to protect our country from this happening again. Keep notes. Meanwhile, don’t let the bastards get you down.