A Mythologist looks at the Election of 2016
The stunned question echoes among liberals: How could this have happened? How could this racist scumbag become president? Wasn’t it finally time for a woman?
I’m going to propose some other questions. Forget about How could he win? or How could she lose? – because she didn’t (see below). The real question should be: Why didn’t she beat this immensely unpopular bufoon by thirty points? Why was the election – even in Red states – so close?
We need to look deeper and deeper. Let’s begin by acknowledging a reality that led Mumia Abu-Jamal to say from prison: “If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism, so be it.”
1 – The corruption and fatal incompetence of the Democrat Party leadership symbolized by Hillary Clinton, whose essential messages were “I’m more of Obama” and “I’m not Trump.”
Bernie Sanders said after the election:
You cannot be a party which on one hand says we’re in favor of working people, we’re in favor of the needs of young people but we don’t quite have the courage to take on Wall Street and the billionaire class…People do not believe that. You’ve got to decide which side you’re on.
Clinton was an insider when the country was screaming for an outsider… If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn.
Clinton was the candidate of the military industrial complex and international finance capital…enthusiastically and expensively supported by the one percent who profit from arms contracts and the trade deals they write themselves for their own interests…Many of them (Trump voters) would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had the choice…
The Democratic Party has mastered lying to itself and its core constituencies. It claims a progressive identity, but is as moderate and lukewarm as it has ever been on so many issues that matter to everyday people…Its strongest voting blocs are people of color…but the party insisted on having an all white presidential ticket.
Clinton’s arrogance was on full display with the revelation of her speeches cozying up to Goldman Sachs—the bank that caused this misery more than any other…It’s a repudiation of the arrogant elitism of the Democratic Party machine as represented by the Clintons, whose radical deregulation of Wall Street created this mess…Yes, we need a female president, but not in the mold of Margaret Thatcher.
Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate…Trump vowed to destroy the system that elites love (for good reason) and the masses hate (for equally good reason), while Clinton vowed to manage it more efficiently…the conniving choice the Democratic Party made decades ago: to abandon populism and become the party of technocratically proficient, mildly benevolent managers of elite power. Those are the cynical, self-interested seeds they planted, and now the crop has sprouted.
All these writers agree that for 25 years the Clintons have led the Democratic Party into imperial militarism, financial instability, increased inequality and betrayal of working people, and that the DNC did everything possible to marginalize Bernie Sanders while attempting to manipulate the millions of people who supported him.
Many have blamed African-Americans for not turning out in the same numbers as they had for Obama. But perhaps now we can ask: If Clinton promised nothing more than an extension of his policies, were those policies so popular except in contrast to the Republicans? And if so, if Obama weren’t a Black man, would you have supported him in 2008? And if he and his family weren’t so articulate and photogenic would you still be idolizing them now? Neoliberalism is neoliberalism, regardless whether its face is Black or female, and enough of the voters rejected it to make Trump seem a palatable alternative.
Michael Moore, now freed from the burden of having to publicly support these people, admits that if they had nominated Sanders, he would have won.
2 – Public apathy. Decades of negative campaigning have had their effect. When the only choice was the lesser of two evils, some one hundred million Americans apparently decided that the lesser of two evils is still evil and stayed home.
As I wrote in Chapter Eight of my book, this is nothing new; it is a long-term trend that began in the late 1960s (only briefly impacted by Obama), that the Republicans have consistently manipulated, and which the Democrats have consistently accepted as the price of selling their souls to Wall Street.
The Republican vote, roughly sixty million in 2008, remained about the same, while the Democratic vote declined from 53% to 48%, or ten million fewer people voting for Clinton than voted for Obama.
(Note: on 11/15, Chris Bowers posted that the final 2016 vote will be about the same as in 2012, that “It is possible that turnout was down among key demographics that lean toward Democrats, while up among demographics that are more favorable toward Republicans.”)
This was the choice that the election offered: a broken system, or a system that needs to be torn up. As larger and larger holes appear in the fabric of the Myth of American Innocence, all of society’s institutions reveal the corruption at their core, and each of them inspire the worst in us. In this context, I don’t think we can judge those who refuse to participate.
But we need to go deeper.
3 – The Electoral College
Once again a Democrat won the popular vote – this time by as much as two million votes – but lost in the antiquated Electoral College, which reflects 18th Century values and demographics that have always ensured that rural votes count more than urban votes. Please note that “urban” is now a euphemism for “African-American.”
And not simply rural vote but white votes. Christopher Petrella writes that, with the infamous designation of a slave as 3/5th of a person, “…the Electoral College incentivized the institution of slavery.” It produced a system in which, by 1800, Pennsylvania had 10 percent more free persons than Virginia, but had 20 percent fewer electoral votes. It was responsible for the fact that four of the first five US presidents were white slaveholders from Virginia. According to legal historian Akhil Reed Amar,
Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive. Were a slave state to free any blacks who then moved North, the state could actually lose electoral votes.
Even after the Civil War and ever since, rural conservatives in lightly-populated states have known the value of retaining the Electoral College and limiting direct elections.
The new narrative is that rural and working-class voters were behind the big upset. Without the Electoral College, however, the new narrative would be: Trump so unpopular that Clinton got millions of fewer votes than Obama did in 2012 and still won.
But we need to go deeper. Read Part Two here.