Polman: The primal scream for Trump and what it means
I didn't think it would happen. I was wrong. And if it's true what they say, that misery loves company, well, I have plenty of it.
"Never been as wrong on anything in my life," said David Plouffe, the guy who guided Barack Obama to two decisive victories. "But sobriety about what happened tonight is essential."
Sobriety, huh? OK, I'll give it a try.
Clinton had the money, the ads, the turnout game, the Hispanic surge, and the long arc of history. But one half of this profoundly divided nation summoned a primal scream for the ages, giving the middle finger to the established political order. On behalf of a con man with no qualifications.
We've truly gone through the looking glass. This is a repugnant milestone in the history of this nation, but that middle finger is real and warrants our full attention.
If the whitelash had been confined to the rural towns, Donald Trump would've lost. But according to the latest national exit polls, he won the suburbs by five percentage points. (He won Pennsylvania, the first GOP victor since 1988, in part because he over-performed in suburban counties.) And if the whitelash had been confined to the under-educated voters, Trump would've lost. But he won white college graduates by four points.
Did Clinton lose because she was a woman? To what extent was she doomed by misogyny? I'm being lobbied to buy that argument. But it's not that simple. Yes Trump won male voters — but his share (53 percent) was just one point higher than Mitt Romney's in 2012. President Obama beat Romney among women voters by a margin of 11 points; last night, Clinton widened that margin by a grand total of one point.
Wrap your head around this: Forty-two percent of women nationwide voted for a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women, who was hit with groping/molesting accusations by at least a dozen women, and who said at one point that women who get abortions should be punished.
Did "the media" create Trump and give him oxygen? Again, it's not that simple. Cable TV in particular beamed his every utterance during the primary season, but if his message hadn't steadily resonated, cable would've pulled the plug. More importantly, the mainsteam media for much of this year performed admirably — digging into Trump's various cons and frauds — with The Washington Post leading the way. But we live now in a fractured media universe, and Trump's voters simply don't read or heed the mainstream outlets.
What's clearest — if we can believe the exit stats — is that this election was basically a backlash against Clinton (and, more generally, against the Clintons and the politics-as-usual that they apparently represent). Fifty three percent of Clinton voters said they "strongly favored" their candidate; only 42 percent of Trump voters felt that way about their guy. But 51 percent of Trump voters said their strongest motivation was "dislike" of his opponent. Fairly or not, Clinton had too much baggage. Which makes me wonder what Joe Biden is thinking right now.
One other thing. When a Democrat loses a state like Wisconsin — for the first time since 1984 — it's proof anew that the party has lost its ancestral ties to the Rustbelt worker. Several generations ago, the Democrats were known as "the party of the working man." But Trump was able to exploit the blue-collar anger about stagnant incomes and the exodus of jobs. Clinton failed to speak to and for those people. Democrats haven't spoken for those people in many years, and last night paid the highest price.
And a cruel irony: Clinton may well wind up winning the popular vote, but if you deem that a nice consolation prize, consult President Gore. All it means at this moment is that nearly 60 million Americans feel less connected to their country, less proud of their country, and more fearful than ever before that the democratic values they hold dear are imperiled.
Elections have consequences. None are more profound than those we'll soon experience.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Pennsylvania.