The Left Should Not Get Excited By Trump’s Election
Spare a thought for Hillary Clinton. Election Day was meant to see her election as president. Few doubted that she would make history as America’s first female president.
Instead, she will be remembered as the establishment candidate who lost against a nominee with no credibility and no experience. That she won the popular vote will be consigned to the trashcan of history. Trump won. Clinton lost. Hate trumps love. Myth trumps reality. Clinton is now a loser.
When we bury the dead those at the wake tend not to speak ill of the person in the coffin. When we bury a politician we do to do so with as little dignity as possible.
As they were sprinkling the ashes over Clinton’s political corpse, Trump supporters continued to chant “Lock her up”; her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, declared himself the “anti-establishment” candidate who would have beaten Trump. Those still “feeling the Bern” agreed. If only we had listened to them, they tweeted, those rustbelt states - Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin - would have remained in the Democratic column. Having worn down their keyboards, they then went to bed - righteous anger satiated.
Those who backed Clinton have to acknowledge she lost. It is hard not to as Donald Trump visits the White House as president-elect. We got it wrong. Her experience and discipline did not win through. That does not mean Sanders would have won.
Despite beating him in the popular vote, Trump won and Clinton lost
Sanders supporters forget that he lost in a fair race against Clinton. She got more votes than him. Their argument is that the candidate with fewer votes in the primaries would have won more votes at the general election. It does not quite follow.
Florida provided election night’s drama but the election was lost in the rustbelt. The contention is that Sanders would have won there where Clinton failed. Of the four states Sanders won three but in Ohio and Michigan his margin of victory was less than 2%. Only Wisconsin did he win convincingly. A Sanders candidacy would have given the Democrats an anti-establishment freshness, he would have beaten Trump on honesty, but they would have lost experience and readiness to lead without the former Secretary of State. While he might have won votes from the Green candidate he might have lost more in the centre. There is a case that Sanders would have won. It’s good. There is also a case he would have lost. It is also good. Which one you prefer depends on whom you supported.
Despite that Clinton won more votes, Trump won and Clinton lost. However, Sanders also lost. To say Clinton failed because she was the establishment candidate is right. But it is also right that she lost because of misogyny and race. Trump supporters’ cried that they wanted their country back (sotto voce from a black man) so some might have been equally reluctant to elect America’s first Jewish president. Who knows? Alas. The Delphic oracle retired from public duties many years ago.
The flip side of counterfactuals is what might be. Emily Thornberry, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson, indulged in this when she spoke of similarities between the billionaire president-elect and the parsimonious Labour leader.
Corbynistas should not take comfort from Trump. All the polls predicted that Hillary Clinton would win. They were correct but they were also wrong. Trump - like Corbyn - was seen as unprepared for office and was generally unpopular. Perhaps we should not trust polls but in the American election they were the only evidence - beyond party votes - that we had. In the UK we have evidence of actual people voting and it is only in misleading social media memes that we can see Corbyn as an electoral titan.
We simplify politics to create a narrative. It is fashionable to compare Trump’s election to Brexit. It is convenient and contains some truth but also ignores the complexities. Both votes were accompanied by a despairing plea to return to older certainties. However, higher turnout won Brexit; lower turnout elected Trump.
If we see Trump’s victory as a humbling of the establishment then it does not follow that Britain will elect Corbyn. Trump’s devious outrageousness created headlines that spawned a movement. Corbyn does not have that capacity. His movement is narrower. Trump promised to make his country great again. It is unlikely Corbyn will adopt a message of similar appeal.
President Obama’s popularity masked that a majority saw the country going in the wrong direction. In Britain the establishment has already been rejected. Brexit has already changed the paradigm. We have had our democratic catharsis. The left may dislike that Leave played on people’s fear of immigration and won but it cannot ignore it.
The next general election’s victor will be the party that listens to this cry and creates a wider proposition. Theresa May is listening but her answer is crude, partial and often ugly. Maybe Britain will opt for a man whose Brexit position started with a rejection of the single market and an acceptance of the free movement of people. It seems unlikely though.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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