“Sorry to keep you waiting. Complicated business. Complicated. Thank you very much.” —Donald Trump’s opening remarks in his victory speech
Complicated? Americans just elected to the presidency a candidate whom the vast majority don’t like and consider dishonest, lacking the temperament and the experience to lead the country. They chose him even as broad majorities oppose his signature policies from building a wall to mass deportations to tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Complicated doesn’t begin to describe it. Here are some commonsense reflections on this political tsunami.
A Populist Explosion
Trump won with the endorsement of one major newspaper; his party establishment disavowed him, and many of its billionaires sat out the race; his campaign was out-spent and out-organized; his tax dodges were exposed; and a video documented his predatory sexist boasts reinforced by testimonies of several of his victims.
He won solely because of the choice: He promised change to a country desperate for it. Hillary Clinton personified the establishment, and campaigned on continuity. Trump trumpeted his independence and promised to clean out the swamp. Clinton was indelibly marked by the corruptions of our politics. Trump, the billionaire buffoon, presented himself as the quintessential outsider. Clinton, unable or unwilling to put forth a compelling vision of fundamental change, wrapped herself in Obama. For the 39 percent of voters who considered change the most important quality of a candidate, Trump led 83-14 percent in the CNN exit polling.
The Center Did Not Hold
This was a class act. Clinton fared better among college graduates than Obama in 2012 and far worse among high-school grads or less. The populist temper of the times, reflected in the Sanders surge in the Democratic primaries and Trump’s victory, is a revolt against political elites—“Washington,” “Wall Street”—that have failed most Americans.
This isn’t about gridlock. It is about the policies that have been supported by both parties—global trade and tax deals of, by, and for the corporations, financialization and Wall Street bailouts, big-money politics and crony capitalism, decades of promises not kept.
In the “blue firewall” state of Michigan, half of all voters thought trade cost jobs. They voted Trump 57-36. One third thought it created jobs; they voted Clinton over two to one. The same was true in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This isn’t simply about what Republicans obstructed. It is about what elites in both parties have done or accepted that corrupted our politics and rigged our economy.