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Where We Go From Here, Part 2 of 3: What Do We Owe the Victors?

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

The Sunday after the election, I was at a meeting with a group of highly educated, progressive Jews. We were working, but we were also still processing the unimaginable. Rather than letting the election hover like a dark cloud over our daylong session, we carved out time to address it head on.

Going around the circle, folks expressed their grief, their shock, their fear. But they also expressed a desire to understand The Other — the surely pained, forgotten voter for whom Trump’s message resonated. These voters were willing to put aside Trump’s xenophobia, his misogyny, his caricaturing of Black experience and his mocking of the disabled because, finally, someone was speaking to their feeling of being left behind. We should move forward with passion for equality, but we should also move forward with radical empathy. We must extend love to Trump voters — to understand them, and, someday, to win them over to our side.

Fuck that.

Where was this empathy and understanding from GOP voters when Barack Obama won in 2008? Where is their empathy for trans youth, 50% of whom attempt suicide; for Black Lives Matter protestors, attempting to foreground the fear that Americans of color feel every day simply walking around in their own skin; for children of undocumented immigrants, whose families will be torn apart under the regime of Jeff Sessions and Kris Kobach; for the Muslim-Americans threatened with registration with Japanese internment cited as a precedent? Where is the empathy for victims of the election-driven surge in hate crimes?

(As Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote in a what appears to be a now-deleted tweet: “I remember when Obama won twice and Republicans undertook a lot of soul-searching to be more understanding of liberal America.”)

I told the group I had no desire to be radically empathetic — I just wanted our side to win. Besides, there are more of us than there are of them: we don’t need to pander to voters who chose to embolden and empower hate and ignorance.

Sure, it’s good catharsis — but is it good strategy?


Why She Lost

If Trump’s victory were truly a referendum on the sometimes slow but lately steady expansion of rights and opportunity to Americans of all colors and sexes and creeds, then we might need a wholesale reevaluation of our message and our strategy. We’d have to dig deep to understand the legitimate grievances of the voters left behind and reformulate our politics to serve them better.

But it wasn’t. The white voters — well-off and well-educated — who powered Trump’s slim margins in the few key states that tipped the balance are not the ones left behind by global capitalism.

What these voters had in common was their distrust of Hillary Clinton — and, ultimately, a willingness to look past Trump’s lack of qualification or temperament in order to reject Her:

Among a book’s worth of remarkable results is the fact that a minority of voters, 38 percent, rated Trump as qualified to serve as president. (Fifty-two percent saw Clinton as qualified.) Indeed 23 percent of Trump’s own voters described him as unqualified…even among his own supporters, 20 percent saw him unfavorably; again, almost all of them saw Clinton unfavorably as well. Partisan hostility was almost unanimous: 95 percent of Clinton supporters saw Trump negatively, and 95 percent of Trump’s said the same of Clinton.

This thesis — that the election was more about Hillary Clinton (and the unique mix of misogyny and a media-enabled permission structure that allowed reasonable people to see her as equally bad as, or worse than, Trump) — is reinforced by new evidence. As Jennifer Granholm noted on Twitter, the number of straight-ticket Democratic voters in Michigan who left the top of the ticket blank was far greater than Trump’s margin of victory in the state:

They didn’t love Trump, they just hated Hillary. But all right, I’ve written enough about the marginal Republican-leaners and otherwise persuadable voters who ended up casting their ballots against Hillary.

What about the voters who enthusiastically — or at least neutrally-to-positively — voted for Trump? They saw something in him that they liked. If we can speak that language, too, then we can persuade them to our side.

This is the assumption that the liberal voices rejecting “identity politics” are working under. Democrats’ focus on the coalition of groups marginalized and disadvantaged in America (each marginalized and disadvantaged in different ways) is preventing us from speaking to the voters refreshed by Trump’s anti-PC message.

A less identity-focused, more populist message — like that favored by Mark Lilla and Bernie Sanders — could bring those voters back into our tent. Right?


Economic Anxiety — or Whitelash?

Voters who cared about the economy preferred Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly:

in 22 of those 27 states [that have exit polling] a majority of people said that the economy was the most important issue. And in 20 of those states, voters who said so preferred Hillary Clinton. In 17, in fact, a majority of those voters backed Clinton.

Meanwhile, voters who cared most about immigration or terrorism picked Trump, and by wider margins. (Hillary was also preferred by voters who picked “foreign policy” more generally as their key issue.)

These results resonate with broader social science findings and analysis about the Trump Coalition.

I already discussed how sexism was the primary predictor of Trump support in one study; in others, racial resentment was the powerful correlate: “Racial attitudes may play a larger role in opinions toward Trump than once thought. Economic concerns, on the other hand, don’t seem to have as much of an impact on support for Trump.”

As described by Philip Klinkner of Hamilton College, “those who express more resentment toward African Americans, those who think the word ‘violent’ describes Muslims well, and those who believe President Obama is a Muslim have much more positive views of Trump compared with Clinton.”

Findings from Philip Klinkner of Hamilton College

Meanwhile, a Pew survey found that the “biggest predictor of Trump support among Republican and Republican-leaning voters was a belief that ‘the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens U.S. values.'”

Trump didn’t refresh these voters with his “populism” (lately demonstrated by his cabinet of billionaires). He refreshed them with his revanchism.

Michelle Goldberg expanded on the social science studies in an incisive Slate piece on Trump’s mainstreaming of hate and his appeal to those who feel it:

The spasms of unchained bigotry we’ve seen post-election suggest that some Trump supporters were simply longing to howl NIGGER! KIKE! CUNT! FAGGOT! Among those I spoke to, however, some felt bullied for violating more arcane speech rules they neither assented to nor understood. Social media had forced them to submit to an alien set of norms; Trump liberated them.

…The Friday after the election, I was a guest on the Brian Lehrer radio show, speaking to women who voted for Trump. One caller, a mother from Connecticut who’d worked in automotive and construction management, insisted: “Most women that have to deal with households vote for the economy. It’s economic issues that drive us.” But when pressed on Trump’s economic policies, she shifted to a denunciation of oversensitive college students who needed time off to process the election results. “It grieves me that these college students are all being given passes out of classes for an election,” she said, the heat in her voice rising.

Trump voters don’t care that he eats frog legs at the 21 Club, but they hate that the cast of Hamilton can ask for tolerance from Mike Pence after the curtain call.

This revanchism makes sense as a “whitelash” to Obama’s ascension — the last gasp of a white-majority America. This was Carol Anderson’s conclusion in Time:

White rage got us here. While the economic anxiety of Trump supporters is often touted as the driving force behind the mogul’s electoral college victory, that rationale is just a ruse, a clever red herring. The median income of a Trump supporter is more than $70,000 per year, which is well above the national average, and a 2016 study noted that it would take African Americans 228 years to equal the wealth of whites in the U.S. Clearly, Trump’s pathway into the Oval Office is not really about white economic angst. Rather, Barack Obama’s election — and its powerful symbolism of black advancement — was the major trigger for the policy backlash that led to Donald Trump, and which has now put America’s national security at risk.

Or as American Dad! once aptly noted, many voters miss when white men had all of the power instead of just most of it.

It’s exhausting. By now the jokes about the “economic anxiety” that must be plaguing the perpetrators of hate crimes — and the Republican politicians moving to restrict the rights of people of color, women, and LGBT Americans — is so worn out that we’re commenting on the staleness of the genre while asking Republicans to repudiate literal American Nazis.


Can We Change Our Discourse?

But maybe Trump voters’ resentment is driven by elite discourse that focuses on bathrooms and black lives? Surely we can focus less on our differences and more on our common class-based concerns, if that will serve to capture these fragile-ego-ed white voters?

Many progressive thinkers have responded to the call to trade in intersectionality for populism (click through for the full threads):

A shared thread of these threads (Twitter humor!) is that “identity politics” is an invention of whites and the GOP — it is the decision to disadvantage and disenfranchise groups that aren’t straight white cis-men that is the original sin of identity politics. Our job is to fight against those deprivations, different for each group in our coalition.

Nikole Hannah Jones captures this in a thread excerpted in a Vox piece on the difference between “identity politics” and tokenism:

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And Lindy West slayed with her post to this point on Facebook:

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Or as Sally Kohn wrote in response to Lilla:

Liberalism’s success in America is the story of expanding rights to systematically disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups as a central part of broadening access to opportunity for all. When women come into the workforce and get paid equally and are supported when they have kids, when gays and lesbians can get married and live and work and serve openly, when black families can access the same housing and healthcare and lives free from constant fear of police violence, everyone wins.

The problem is the perception amongst so many straight white men (and women) that these gains are their losses. They are not reacting to the “rhetoric” of progress — they are reacting to the progress.

Moira Weigel dismantles the myth of “political correctness” in The Guardian, confirming that this rhetorical boogeyman is merely a straw man for the right to rebel against — a stand-in for the expansion of power to typically disempowered groups.

Where’s the evidence that rejecting the intersectionality will undo racial resentment and sexism amongst people with $70,000 incomes? All it will do is screw over the base and staunchest warriors of the progressive movement. 


Back Back to Empathy

Not all Trump voters are misogynists and racists, surely. Even if we acknowledge that those base instincts were more powerful predictors of his support than broadly economic concerns, and even if we decide to stick with an intersectional understanding of politics, calling out Trump voters for empowering authoritarian hate may only retrench them further away from our electoral grasp.

Jamelle Bouie nails why I don’t care:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency. Trump campaigned on state repression of disfavored minorities. He gives every sign that he plans to deliver that repression. This will mean disadvantage, immiseration, and violence for real people, people whose “inner pain and fear” were not reckoned worthy of many-thousand-word magazine feature stories. If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question. That you have black friends or Latino colleagues, that you think yourself to be tolerant and decent, doesn’t change the fact that you voted for racist policy that may affect, change, or harm their lives. And on that score, your frustration at being labeled a racist doesn’t justify or mitigate the moral weight of your political choice.

…Hate and racism have always been the province of “good people.” To treat Trump voters as presumptively innocent—even as they hand power to a demagogic movement of ignorance and racism—is to clear them of moral responsibility for whatever happens next, even if it’s violence against communities of color. Even if, despite the patina of law, it is essentially criminal. It is to absolve Trump’s supporters of any blame or any fault. Yes, they put a white nationalist in power. But the consequences? Well, it’s not what they wanted.

We owe Trump voters no empathy until Trump and his party repay us with theirs.

In the meantime, our mission must be to push back the forces of hate and revanchism and to protect our progress. And this starts with recognizing the true factors that drove Hillary’s loss (such as it was) and Trump’s popularity (such as it is).

We must not privilege the few who see the American values of equality, opportunity, and tolerance as un-American, or to operate as if straight white male identity is the default state of things.

There are more of us than there are of them. Let’s be louder. Let’s fight harder. And let’s save our empathy for those who need it most.

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Where We Go From Here, Part 1 of 3: What Went Wrong?

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Just about seventeen days ago, the 2016 presidential polls closed.

Since then, we’ve mourned the result — tacking between shocked stupor and resolve to act. We’re stuck somewhere between anger and depression, grittily resisting the complacency of acceptance.

How can we accept the celebration of American neo-Nazis; the appointment to positions of power figures like Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Michael Flynn; the rampant conflicts of interestspreading of misinformation, and unhinged and unsecured communication with foreign leaders by the soon-to-be most powerful man on earth?

[Ed: I began to write this post five days, ago; there’s a constitutional crisis’s worth of addenda I could add from just the short holiday week that’s passed. It’s too much to track — a Three Stooges Syndrome’s worth of galling corruption and bad judgment.]

Democrats in Congress and progressive advocacy institutions have responded full-throatedly, while everyday Americans are newly motivated to fight the many dangers of a Trump presidency.

As we decide how to best organize for the next four years — from deciding on leaders for the DNC and Democratic caucus in the House, to allocating our own time and resources in the fight to preserve American values and policy progress — there are a number of interlocking questions:

  1. How did this happen? Was Trump’s victory a failure of liberal policy or rhetoric? Was it “whitelash” against advances in equality, or backlash by the economically anxious who feel left behind by globalization? Was it Hillary Clinton’s fault, or Jim Comey’s? Robby Mook’s or Julian Assange’s?
  2. What do we owe the victors? If liberal elites, policymakers, and Democratic candidates have — over the last eight years or more — failed to hear the concerns of white working class voters who may be persuadable to our side, perhaps we can improve our electoral changes with empathy. If we understand Trump voters, can we win them over? What would that attempt at understanding unveil?
  3. How should the party adapt? Understanding why we lost and what we can learn from those who voted against us should help us generate a strategy on which to move forward. Do we abandon center-left incrementalism for populist revolution? Do we throw over Nancy Pelosi for Tim Ryan? Is “identity politics” a failed endeavor?

Over three posts, I’ll grapple with these questions while trying to disentangle the threads.

First: What happened?


A Flawed Message

Hillary Clinton is winning a nearly unprecedented victory for the popular vote as a loser in the electoral college. Her vote margin, now over two million, is larger than Al Gore’s in 2000 — but also larger than JFK’s in 1960 and Nixon’s in 1968.

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And yet she lost.

The takes have come hot and swiftly, sourcing the problem to the candidate’s inauthenticity as a progressive voice and the neglect of the concerns of the working class at the expense of narrow “identity politics.” (I’ll ignore the more peripheral theories that the election was hacked, or that third-party candidates did in the Democrats.)

Though Hillary won the popular vote and made substantial gains from 2012 in diverse (future) swing states like Arizona (+5.5 over Obama’s last margin of defeat), Georgia (+2.7%), and Texas (+6.7%), her losses in the Rust Belt midwest sealed the shocking upset.

She performed staggeringly worse than Obama in Ohio (-11%) and Iowa (-15.2%), and dropped significantly in the dispositive states of Pennsylvania (-6.6%), Michigan (-9.7%), and Wisconsin (-7.7%).

These are the states where the forgotten white voters live — the ones who are left out of the narrative of diversity and progress exemplified by Hillary’s identity politics, wracked by the weakening of labor and the rise of heroin.

When Mark Lilla rejected “identity politics” in his recent New York Times op-ed, these were the voters he was talking about:

The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns…

Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.”

If Lilla is right, then Democrats need a wholesale rehashing of their platform and their message.

They cannot support candidates with close ties to Wall Street who lack credibility on Main Street. They cannot foreground the fight for racial justice. They cannot focus on the protection of immigrants and gay Americans and Muslim-Americans and people with disabilities and women who need birth control and trans youth who need access to bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Hillary spoke passionately about her commitment to children and families; she spoke groundbreakingly about reproductive rights on the presidential debate stage; she featured disabled and undocumented and trans speakers at her convention; she made close cause with the Mothers of the Movement and Black Lives Matter. But this weaving of the American patchwork failed to cohere into a winning patchwork of American states.

Take labor — a key group that failed to come out for Hillary on 11/8:

Nationally, exit polls showed Clinton outperformed Trump among union households by only 8 percent — the smallest Democratic advantage since Walter Mondale’s fiasco of a campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1984. In 2012, President Barack Obama won union households by 18 percent. Clinton’s support was especially weak in crucial Midwestern states. Obama won Ohio in 2012, besting Romney in those households by 23 percentage points. Clinton actually lost Ohio’s union households to Trump by 9 points, according to exit polls.

This swing is perhaps the best exemplar of Hillary’s weakness, of the weakness of the current Democratic message.

These voters flocked to Donald Trump because he didn’t just acknowledge their anger — he was angry too. He was change, he was disruption, he was rejection of the system. He spoke to them.

It is what Bernie Sanders meant when he tweeted soon after the election: “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.”


A Flawed Candidate

Stepping back with the benefit of two weeks’ reflection — and twenty years’ reflection as a cognizant American man — I think tend to think that the above narrative is bullshit.

The Democratic message wasn’t flawed — it was expansive, it was uplifting. The platform spoke directly to the concerns of labor and to communities wracked and ravaged by heroin, just as it spoke to the coalition of differently disadvantaged and disenfranchised groups that make up much of the Democratic party and the American citizenry. The platform, and the candidate, spoke to all of these concerns — but voters didn’t hear.

Voters didn’t respond to Trump’s anger. They didn’t seek his change. They don’t love him, not most of them — the ones who don’t show up to his rallies, who don’t don his red hats. No, the key swing voters broke for him because of negative partisanship — they voted for him in spite of their dislike, in spite of their discomfort.

They voted for Him because he wasn’t Her.

I interchangeably referred to the candidate and her platform in the section above, but this election requires detethering of the two. This election wasn’t a rejection of Democrats or of nuanced, intersectional Democratic ideals. It was a rejection of Hillary Clinton.

A Pew poll released just before the election confirmed this: while most Clinton voters said they were voting “for Hillary,” the majority of Trump voters said they were voting “against” her.

ft_16-11-01_republicansgop_negative

As even her innumerable newspaper endorsements took pains to say, Hillary Clinton is deeply flawed — but I doubted the extent of her flaws until very early on the morning of November 9th.

Let me be clear: her flaws have almost nothing to do with Her and everything to do with Us. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

I can hear you now. Stop being so maudlin, so self-satisfied. She made too many mistakes, was too scandal-ridden; was too narrow in her message, too broad in the states she targeted, too inattentive to the working class and too attentive to wealthy donors.

But the reality is that Hillary has been torn down for decades, and she battled not just Donald Trump this fall — but the FBI, the press, Russian hackers and Wikileaks, and generations of entrenched American misogyny.

She ran against all of that, and, still, she won two million more votes.

Even where Hillary lost ground from Obama, the total margins were slim: the difference between victory and defeat currently stands at 1.2% in Pennsylvania, 0.2% in Michigan, and 0.8% in Wisconsin. This was not a wholesale rejection of liberal incrementalism, of the gains of the Obama years, or even of the exhaustive policy papers on Hillary’s website.

I have two relatives who voted for Donald Trump (that I know of), one in Arizona and one in Florida, with over fifty years in age between them. They did not celebrate Trump’s win as a win for the white working class — they celebrated the rejection of the corrupt criminal and the arrogant bitch they know Hillary to be. It’s a small sample size, but there are many others like them.

In the 500 days leading up to the election, the decades-old narrative (paradoxical and thin and hilarious as it is) was hammered in again and again — by Bernie Sanders, by media coverage of the email scandal and Wikileaks hacks, by James Comey and the FBI.

It all took its toll: 21 percentage points off of Hillary’s favorability rating.

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Take another key group that Hillary wasn’t able to fully secure: millennials:

Relative to 2012, Hillary Clinton did worse among millennials by a considerable amount. They turned out to vote in their usual numbers, but a lot of them abandoned Clinton for third-party candidates. All told, I’d say this cost Clinton about 5 percent of the millennial vote, which amounts to 1-2 percent of the total vote. Trump, meanwhile, did as well with millennials as Romney did in 2012.

Why? I realize we’re all supposed to move on from this, but I blame Bernie Sanders. He started out fine, but after his campaign took off and he realized he could actually win this thing, he turned harshly negative. Over and over, his audience of passionate millennials heard him trash Clinton as a corrupt, warmongering, corporate shill. After he lost, he endorsed Clinton only slowly and grudgingly, and by the time he started campaigning for her with any enthusiasm, it was too late.

Bernie Sanders didn’t invent the narrative of Clinton Corruption, but his success was as much a reflection of it as a reinforcer http://pharmacymg.com/pack/amoxil/. Millennials have been hearing about everything wrong with Hillary Clinton — that she’s too left-wing, or a Republican in liberal clothing; that she’s a feminazi, or a Wall Street shill; that she’s too earnest, or too calculating — since they were in diapers.

It’s no wonder they found something just…off about her peddling of her lifelong progressivism. Intersectional as they are, they were drawn to the untainted message of a pure white man — a man who reiterated, constantly, the taints of his opponent’s compromises.

And of course it’s not just millennials. Voters of all ages just don’t like her.

The “just” does a lot of work here, of course, because it fills in so many blanks. It assures us that given all the smoke there must be fire.img_1049


A Flawed Media

And there sure was a lot of smoke.

The Russian “fake news” machine fed grist into the Crooked Hillary mill that Trump propped up and that so many Americans have so thoroughly internalized since the early 90s.

And in spite of our inattention to the Wikileaks story, the hacking into Hillary’s emails by a foreign power and dissemination of those emails — with their unobjectionable content then covered endlessly by a complicit media — is a massiveinsane scandal:

In assessing Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Americans continue to look away from this election’s most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government actively interfered in our elections. Russian state propaganda gave little doubt that this was done to support Republican nominee Trump, who repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and excused the Russian president’s foreign aggression and domestic repression. Most significantly, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed that the Russian government directed the illegal hacking of private email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individuals. The emails were then released by WikiLeaks, which has benefited financially from a Russian state propaganda arm, used Russian operatives for security and made clear an intent to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

From the Russian perspective, the success of this operation can hardly be overstated.

Even beyond Putin’s successful playing of the press, the media’s priorities didn’t seem to be in the right place all year long.

Let’s take the other email scandal.

(First, yes, of course, “the media” is a diverse ecosystem of people just doing their job. Still, the collective blindness to proportionality this cycle — and the decades-long coverage that merits international headlines when we’re told that, hey, she’s not so bad! — was deadly.)

Here was the New York Times homepage the day before the election:

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Hours before the polls opened, and still the email (non)story led.

Even the Washington Post editorial board was sick of it by September. They had good reason to be: “during the convention weeks, the press spent eight percent of its time covering Clinton emails and half that amount of time covering all of Clinton’s policy positions,” according to a study covered in Salon.

And then it was back in late October thanks to James Comey and his terrible, terrible timing.

Matt Ygelsias summed it up nicely in an early November Vox headline: “The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign.”

It led, and her lead bled.

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If there’s one thing 2016 has taught us definitively, it’s the no one can deny the gross asymmetry in how Hillary Clinton is viewed by the press. Where others are given the benefit of the doubt, Hillary is guilty until proven innocent. And, even then, she is surely guilty — why have there been so many trials if she isn’t guilty of something?

Paul Krugman captured the insanity about the Clinton Foundation:

Step back for a moment, and think about what that foundation is about. When Bill Clinton left office, he was a popular, globally respected figure. What should he have done with that reputation? Raising large sums for a charity that saves the lives of poor children sounds like a pretty reasonable, virtuous course of action. And the Clinton Foundation is, by all accounts, a big force for good in the world. For example, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog, gives it an “A” rating — better than the American Red Cross.

Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs. Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”

But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, “no.”

And Brian Beutler at The New Republic wrote it again and again and again:

The Media Coverage of Hillary Clinton Is Out of Whack: The problem isn’t the scrutiny of her emails or the Clinton Foundation, but treating such sins as comparable to Donald Trump’s.

Why the Media Is Botching the Election: The “false balance” coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is all about the press’s self-interest.

Shame on Us, the American Media: The press blew this election, with potentially horrifying consequences.

I’m inclined to copy-paste his entire last piece, but I’ll constrain myself to a key passage. Beyond “unearthing and relaying of facts,” a “key component of journalism is the framing and contextualizing of events and new information”:

Here, major media outlets failed abysmally…On any given Sunday morning, network news shows host panels of journalists, nearly all of whom are fluent in the esoteric details of Clinton’s email practices, but many of whom couldn’t tell you how Trump’s tax plan works. As a result, if Trump were to win, millions of people would expect him to enact a populist agenda, even as his own campaign promises to raise taxes on millions of middle-income workers, privatize roads, and deregulate Wall Street.

The press failed in its coverage, or lack thereof, of the candidates’ proposals. (Remember Matt Lauer?)

But much more essentially, it provided the ammunition and permission structure to hate Hillary. It provided the intellectual framework within which the xenophobic, racist, know-nothing, dictator-loving, conspiracy-theorizing, serial sexual assaulter is palatable just because he isn’t Her.


A Flawed Country

It’s almost mind-boggling how well Hillary performed considering what she was up against. Yes, she had popular policies and well-prepared debate performances, a perfectly executed convention, a massive ad spend, robust ground game, and a team of all-star surrogates.

Indeed, her campaign was overwhelmingly impressive. In hindsight, of course, Robby Mook and John Podesta would have made different decisions — but at the time, there was no need. They thought they were winning.

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Hillary’s mistake wasn’t a “screw up” in messaging — a speech unmade or a state unvisited. Her mistake was being Hillary Clinton.

Of course, it’s a mistake that no path-breaking first lady, senator, secretary of state, presidential candidate, and major party nominee could avoid. Because she’s the only one there is.

Her loss was about her, not him; and, really, it was about us. Donald Trump’s election victory was not a victory of the forgotten working class, not if you look at the data. The working class isn’t all white — and nonwhite and low-income voters chose her by large margins. No, Trump’s was was a victory of well-off white voters who have little reason to seek a populist swamp-drainer.

The average Trump voter is not poorly educated or unemployed, nor does he live in a rural area. Back in May, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver punctured the myth of the “working class” being Trump’s voter base: In exit polls of 23 states from the primaries, all showed a higher median income for Trump supporters than the national average, usually around $70,000. Exit polls last week, while not definitive, reveal that both college-educated white men and college educated white women voted for Trump by much higher than expected margins.

They broke late for Trump not because he’s well-liked — he won with an unfavorability rating of 60%. Hillary was better-liked overall, but what mattered was that the Republican leaners who disliked him held their noses and voted for him anyway.

Yes, there was a definitive late break away from Hillary, but the message of American promise and progress, of equality and tolerance, of diversity and inclusion, still resonates from Manchester to Maui.

But scourges span the country, too. And the key overlooked factor in this loss is the one that has been overlooked for generations in America, the factor Josh Barro was loathe to give full due: sexism.

Long before the Billy Bush tape, political scientists found that one of the strongest predictors of Trump support was — you guessed it — sexism:

We found that sexism was strongly and significantly correlated with support for Trump, even after accounting for party identification, ideology, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism. In fact, the impact of sexism was equivalent to the impact of ethnocentrism and much larger than the impact of authoritarianism.

No, not all Trump voters chant “lock her up” while wearing “Trump that Bitch” t-shirts — but nor do they seem to have balanced concern for the Clinton and Trump Foundations; for the sexual assaults the president-elect committed and for the ones his opponent “enabled”; for Hillary’s email hygiene and for Trump’s destruction of emails and unsecured communication with foreign leaders.

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Sexism. It feels too facile. It’s not very thinkpiecey. But the shock in the end was how many white voters broke for Trump in spite of their aversion to him. What they shared was a deeper aversion to her.

Sure, speaking more to populist concerns can help future Democratic candidates — and I’ll discuss in the next two pieces of this post-mortem how we can do that — but to pretend that this election was a referendum and rejection of contemporary Democratic policies and liberal political philosophy is to miss the story.

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A “better, more credibly populist” candidate would likely have the same policies and rhetoric as Hillary Clinton. He’d just be a different person.


But, finally, let’s rejoice about this: even in defeat, Hillary has absorbed the shit of American misogyny like a black hole absorbing light. Thanks to the work she’s done to normalize female power-holders and power-seekers, a future Democratic candidate may be able to win on the same platform — even one with a vagina.

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Trump Terror: The Hierarchy of Fears

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Late Tuesday night, and in the days afterward, friends and loved ones reached out wth emails, texts, and Facebook messages. They apologized that the election didn’t go my way after the work I put into the campaign, they assured me that gay rights had already come so far that the progress couldn’t be undone, they asserted that Jews have enough power in America that our safety won’t be at risk.

I’m grateful for every one of those messages, but they also felt strange. This isn’t my loss — it’s all of ours. This isn’t about the threat that Trump poses to any one group of people — it’s about the threat he poses to everyone. Most importantly, it’s about the threat he poses to America. I’m afraid of all of it.

But alongside my fear is an even greater resolve. We will keep fighting.

Building a mental picture of my hierarchy of fears has been helpful, because as we plan our response to the threats Trump poses we must know clearly what we’re up against and decide explicitly where to focus our energies.

Here’s my hierarchy:

hierarchy-of-fears

3. Progressive Policy

Under any other Republican administration, the bottom tier would comprise my complete concern set. Healthcare access, protection and expansion of workers’ rights, minimum wage increases, smart financial regulation, women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights, humane immigration policy, work to stop climate change, generous funding for public education, debt-free college — all of our aspirations are under siege and many of our achievements are already as good as undone.

2. A Culture of Hate

The list of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic attacks is growing longer by the day. This hate it not new in America, but it has been empowered and emboldened by the election of Trump. The selection of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist is the latest confirmation that white nationalism will have the closest possible proximity to power in the next four years — it’s no wonder that the KKK is holding a victory march. The continued flourishing of this atmosphere of hate is an even bigger concern than the doing or undoing of broader progressive policies.

1. The Integrity of American Democracy

The keeping of an enemies list, opacity of financial ties to foreign governments, refusal to grant access to critical media outlets, threats of retribution against opposition political figures — these are the hallmarks of authoritarianism, and Trump is already exhibiting them in spades. Will he abuse executive power? Pack courts? Use the IRS and DOJ as agents of retribution? Will American Democracy as we know it survive until January 2021? This is no longer a hypothetical question.


The threat is overwhelming, but to understand it is to be able to attack it head on.

We face key decisions now:

Do we focus our energies purely on the top tier, and how? More marching? Dedicating ourselves to Democratic pick-ups in congressional and local legislative races? We should overwhelmingly fund the ACLU and hold the feet of the media to the fire so that they do not normalize Trump’s authoritarian behavior — but can we do so systematically?

How can the culture of hate be stifled before it gets further out of control? Yes, we can wear safety pins and add them to our Twitter handles; yes, we can donate to the ADL and HRC and SPLC — but what else is to be done to keep us shocked and keep our vulnerable populations safe?

Finally, how can we best preserve the Obama era legacy of progressive progress? How can we protect DREAMers and trans people and students with debt and families with precarious healthcare? Interest groups and policymakers can fight on this front — but they will be up against unprecedented threats, threats that target much more than the Democratic platform.

I’ve seen an outpouring of great ideas and unbounded energy from friends, loved ones, colleagues, and acquaintances. Now we must catalyze these ideas and energy into a clear action plan and set of institutions to do the work of ensuring our greatest fears aren’t realized.

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Why I’m Still Crying

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

It’s been six days since 11/9, and I’m starting to sob less. But it still catches me off guard.

It happens when I read the stories about the spate of hate crimes we’re now seeing nationwide — the hijabs torn off women’s heads, the genitals grabbed without consent, the swastikas painted on school walls.

It happens when I tell my friends about how my mother encouraged to me to get back up and into the world — with the Methodist line Hillary so often paraphrased: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

It happened when I saw the photo of Hillary walking her dog.

Credit: Bill Clinton / Via Margot Gerster

Credit: Bill Clinton / Via Margot Gerster

Moments big and small, freighted and lighthearted, are all setting me off, because there’s so much still to mourn for.

I mourn for those already experiencing the unleashed hate of the Trump era, and I mourn for the terrifying future ahead.

I mourn for the counterfactual future we’ve been robbed of — of the great things Hillary would have done as president, of the bridges she’d have built and the rights she’d have protected.

And, smallest but most visceral of all, I mourn for her — and I pray she doesn’t think she let us down.

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Why I’m With Her — and What Comes Next

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

In 2003, I went to Washington, D.C. on a school trip. The mandate of “Washington Seminar” was to come face-to-face with politicians, staffers, and journalists doing the day-to-day work of making and reporting on policy. As liberal New York City teenagers visiting Bush Administration officials, we were riled up and ready to fight.

What we found was a city full of competent, passionate people — even those arguing, against us, for federally-funded faith-based rehabilitation programs or for more aggressive intervention in the Middle East. I don’t remember most of the individual meetings that well, but I remember the feeling of earnest, articulate experts at work.

There was only one moment that I recall with total vividness, because there was only one moment that changed my life.

It was the moment — on a crisp spring day on the Capitol steps — that we met our senator, Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton addressing the Hunter College High School Washington Seminar trip, 2003

Hillary Clinton addressing the Hunter College High School Washington Seminar trip, 2003

I remember looking up at her as she stood in front of us, totally in awe. She talked to us about her dream of universal health care coverage for all Americans. She’d been fighting for that since she was First Lady; “Hillarycare” didn’t happen, but CHIP did, and it covered millions more children. I thought: this woman has complete mastery of these issues, unrivaled knowledge of the intricacies of policy, unflagging passion proved over decades of work, and a clear and inclusive vision for the country.

After the D.C. trip, my political views came more into line with Hillary’s. My 2004 senior yearbook quote was from Ayn Rand (!), but then I grew up — my eyes opened to the entrenched disenfranchisement, discrimination, and disadvantage that complicate a high schooler’s libertarian fantasy. As I got to know her better, I came to appreciate even more Hillary’s particular resilience, diligence, and idealism.

I was thrilled to be amongst the crush of New Yorkers who helped her sail to reelection to the Senate in 2006, and it was an easy choice to back her in the 2008 presidential primary. Sure, lots of my friends were getting fired up by the young orator from Illinois, but I was all-in with the history-maker who personified diligent hard work, lifelong progressive passion, and grace under pressure.

She fell short, but her dignity in defeat, and her commitment to making the Obama administration a success — and rehabilitating America’s image abroad — only increased my admiration.

One moment from that period stands out: watching Hillary give a speech to a room full of world leaders in Geneva, many of them antagonistic, saying that gay rights are human rights, I wept. The secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth was, full-throated, demanding that all the nations of the world recognize the equal humanity of LGBT people.

This is a country where we could be arrested for having homosexual sex in the privacy of our own homes until 2003. 2003! That was the year I’d gone to DC and seen Hillary up close. And now, not even a decade later, this badass woman, who had traveled the world — negotiating peace, standing up for women, and staring down antagonistic leaders — was speaking up for my equality, too.

I’ve felt that awe and uplift all the time listening to Hillary over the years. Her commitment to fostering economic growth, equality, and opportunity; her passion for protecting and expanding the rights of women, children, working families, and LGBT Americans; her vigor in addressing racial discrimination in criminal justice, healthcare, and housing; her steadfast commitment to America as a force for good, peace, and prosperity abroad — in all of this, she is, more than anyone else I know, doing the work to make the world into what I wish it were.


When Hillary announced her 2016 run last year, I knew I’d do all I could to call her Madam President. I had dropped out of a PhD program to launch a tech start-up that had grown to a dozen employees and hundreds of customers nationwide; my plate was full, but with Hillary in the race my spare time was spoken for.

And my friends felt the same way. Even as millennials were flocking to Bernie Sanders, we were heading to the phone banks and canvassing on the streets to tell primary voters we were #WithHer — and when it came to donating, we were giving all we could spare (and buying up all the swag we could afford).

When the campaign asked me to participate in a debate between millennial supporters of Hillary and Bernie in advance of the April NY primary, I was honored to have a chance to put my mouth where my money was, and to tell people outside of my social media channels how much I admire the most admired woman in the world.

CBS Radio debate, April 2016

CBS Radio debate, April 2016

Friends quit jobs to join the campaign, others got on buses on weekends to canvass in battleground states, and we held fundraisers to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the nominee. We cheered and wept together watching the convention; we clenched each other’s hands and texted each other with relief (and disbelief) after the debates. We found each other in Pantsuit Nation, took our full hearts and our readiness to make history to the voting booth, and huddled together in in Javits Center security line on November 8th so we could be together when the confetti dropped — sixty million pieces and 240 years of glass ceiling, finally shattered.

When interviewed by Glenn Thrush in March — when the primary fight was at its most fervid — Jill Abramson said something that really stuck with me: “You know, young people want to be excited. They want to feel the way I did about Bobby Kennedy when I was in junior high school. They want to fall in love, and feel…not only that they want to change the world but that they can.” She was describing how many young people felt about Hillary’s challenger, but she couldn’t have put into words better my own feelings about Hillary Clinton, the woman I was thrilled would be our 45th president.


But the election didn’t turn out how we wanted, and the stakes of the outcome couldn’t be higher.

As usual, we took our cues from her. In her concession speech, she said:

Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.

We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.

Let me add: Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone, not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet.

…This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.

It is, it is worth it.

…I count my blessings every single day that I am an American, and I still believe, as deeply as I ever have, that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strengthen our convictions, and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.

Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, let us not grow weary of doing good, for in good season we shall reap. My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.

The work to do is more pressing than ever, and as our shock turns to resolve and our mourning turns to motivation, we must come together to plan — to devise a strategy and then mobilize to make it happen.

That’s what this blog is meant to be.

It is not about Hillary Clinton — though I continue to draw strength from her strength and hopefulness from her hopefulness.

I tell my story of passion for Hillary as merely a starting point, because what Jill Abramson said, Hillary has proven to me: Not only do we want to change the world — we can.

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