I recently shared a quotation from George Lakoff listing some of the many accomplishments of the liberal movement. A friend asked, "With such a beneficent and munificent party, how could it have been so shellacked in 2016?" Great question - let's explore the answer. Or answers - the reasons are many. In four installments we'll examine some of them.
- All the "standard answers" can't be ignored
- Maybe the Democratic Party isn't all that liberal
- Structural flaws were embedded in American Democracy from the beginning
- We've seen a cold, calculated, corporate conservative conspiracy
You've heard these standard explanations. Let's look them over.
The Democrats fielded a candidate who had been the subject of decades of political attacks. All of her flaws were amplified by widely spread conspiracy theories that ranged from brutal multiple murders to masterminding a child sex ring. A little closer to reality were the attacks on her record as Secretary of State. Fabricated narratives surrounding the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi and the use of a private e-mail server were effective in sowing the seeds of distrust. And the content of the e-mails that were selectively released to the public reinforced the image of a ruthless, aggressive female capable of wielding her power - an image that carried a powerful psychological impact on the GOP popular base.
The Democratic Party primary of 2016 exposed the true nature of party politics. Political parties must acquire and exercise power to survive, and the survival instinct can sometimes subsume their principles. The nomination was closely contested, and both candidates had their diehard supporters. This split never completely healed, and the protest vote - the no lesser evil vote - contributed to the outcome of the general election.
Third party candidate Jill Stein attracted a portion of the protest vote. Her presence on the ballot undoubtedly drew support away from Clinton. She was, after all, a liberal and a woman. And aside from that appearance at the table with Vladimir Putin, she was not encumbered with decades of conspiracy attacks.
The skill and aggression of the Republican candidate can't be denied. A candidate with no limits, no integrity, and no regrets was a political rarity until recent years. The effectiveness of hate speech has probably never been tested as it has been in our age of social media and captive television networks. Obvious and provable lies, repeated loudly and often enough, became truth to the faithful. The deflection of criticism - and blaming the country's problems on minorities and liberals was and is a fruitful strategy. Credit must be given when winning at any cost results in victory.
Russian interference is now well documented. And while there are those who deny its effectiveness, the ranks f those who deny its existence are thinning out with each new revelation of evidence. The diehards will continue to discredit Russian influence, but it's getting pretty hard to deny that it played a role in the outcome.
The demographics of rural communities combined with a sense of cultural isolation to empower Trump's brand of populist conservatism. The country vote went against the Democratic Party in favor of a movement that promised to empower it by returning to archaic models of economic and energy policy that were trending toward newer, more efficient technologies.
Anger over economic inequality was directed in support of the very party whose policies most directly shaped it. Key to this appeal was the brand of populism that promised to return to an idealized past without detailing the policies that would effect that return. Or worse, the appeal of promises that somehow corporate tax cuts and deregulation would somehow lift economically oppressed communities.
Democrats stayed at home instead of voting, lulled into complacency by polls that predicted a Clinton victory. Perhaps they believed that their vote didn't matter anyway, or were ambivalent about the candidates. No such sentiment was evident among voters in the Trump base, whose numbers exceeded expectations.
Bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, and religious intolerance all played a part in the election's outcome. All of these were actively cultivated by the Trump campaign, and by the GOP machine. A more comprehensive exploration of how Republicans harnessed these gut-level issues will be presented later.None of these explanations can be entirely discounted, and taken together they were a powerful force. But they fail to provide a complete explanation. Maybe the failure of liberal influence isn't really the same as the failure of the Democratic Party. Maybe our history can show us the much more fundamental structural flaws in our system of allocating political power. Maybe - just maybe - a covert conspiracy has exploited these flaws to capture the institutions of democracy for its own purposes. Stay tuned.