Opinion

Elephant in the room: No one’s fault but her own

“It was in Spain that my generation learned that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own recompense. It is this, doubtless, which explains why so many, the world over, feel the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy.”
-Albert Camus

Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States is a disheartening result and an unmistakable disaster for America. Whether he has stated outright his disdain for a demographic (any number of minority groups, women) or whether it is his policies themselves that will cause harm (his protectionist trade policies particularly endanger the poorest Americans), the economic and social progress of the last half-century will likely be undone by President Trump.

The fact that a chauvinistic bigot has been elected to the highest office in the world is abhorrent. It cannot be doubted that Donald Trump has given a voice to the “Silent Majority” (or plurality, perhaps) of overlooked working-class white voters. But it is important to examine how he got to this point—a feat no one thought he could accomplish.

As Americans search for answers to this perplexing question, the fact of the matter is simple: Hillary Clinton deserves the overwhelming share of the blame for losing the election. She has proven time and again to be an execrable candidate, and her incompetence in that role has now reached an unfathomable level.
James Comey deserves to be held accountable for his role in reigniting public mistrust with Mrs. Clinton, to be sure. It is safe to assume that a significant sum of votes was swayed by Comey’s misdirection. But it will be impossible to know to what extent this is true.

Hillary Clinton failed to win an election that even a casual observer could recognize was handed to her on the most pristine of silver platters. The mighty Clinton, renowned for her political savvy and status as a pioneer of modern feminism, against the host of “The Apprentice.” Anyone could distinguish between the two; as recently as April, she was polling nearly 11 points ahead of Trump.
It is not the fault of the media that she lost this election, nor should we erroneously ascribe blame to third party candidates. To do so would be to overlook entirely the shortcomings of — per the results of the election — the worst candidate that American politics has seen in quite some time.

In an election cycle that harbored deep resentment against the political elite, Hillary exemplified the root causes of this nationwide frustration. Despite her repeated cringeworthy attempts to connect to millennials through outdated pop culture references, she failed to mobilize that key demographic enough to counteract Trump’s stranglehold of older voters. Clinton ceded 29 percent of the Latinx vote to a man who branded them collectively as violent criminals. Moreover, while Trump packed an election day surprise of impressive voter turnout — especially within Rust Belt states — Hillary struggled to invigorate her base to an equal degree. She drew roughly seven million fewer votes than Barack Obama’s reelection bid as a result.

What may have hurt the Democratic Party most of all was their steadfast refusal to reach out to the discontented, blue-collar white voter that characterizes a substantial demographic of the key Midwestern states. Republican wins in the House and Senate, as well as shocking results in Michigan and Wisconsin, speak to this effect. Her inability to outperform a billionaire in a contest for the votes of middle-income Americans profoundly highlights her sheer ineptitude to reach the demographic she promised most to protect. This is not necessarily a rejection of the Democratic platform so much as it is a rejection of the party’s ability to champion it.

Hillary was content to be the same candidate she has always been. At best, she is an uninspiring pragmatist who espouses incrementalism over sweeping change; at worst, she is secretive and dishonest, an embodiment of the widely-reviled capital-e Establishment. By now, it would be reasonable to expect a woman of her intellectual caliber to recognize and act upon the pressing need for an image makeover. After all, she is fundamentally unchanged from the woman who lost a similarly favorable primary matchup against a woefully underqualified first-term black senator from Illinois. What should have served as a wakeup call against a literal socialist this primary season had no lasting effects on her campaign. An inexplicable defeat to an overgrown toddler is now added to her unimpressive electoral history.

It is still too early to fully comprehend how Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America. To condemn Trump voters for succumbing to a despicable con-man is to dig up another issue entirely. It is unwise to implicate the media in this disaster, as their ubiquitous coverage of Trump’s vile remarks was the fodder for his own unfounded claims of a rigged election. The inclination then becomes to gripe about the role of third party candidates in this debacle.

Ire directed at Gary Johnson is wildly misplaced. It is intellectually dishonest to insinuate that — if only two options were offered — that those four-million-odd votes would have been cast for Hillary, or even have been cast at all. Johnson’s support dwindled from 13 percent in early August to 3 percent on Election Day, diminishing the impact of the “protest vote”; furthermore, a glance at polling trend lines illuminates that Johnson’s fall coincided with Trump’s late surge in the polls.

Instead of lashing out at those who exercised their right to vote for whomever they saw most fit to run the country — a statistically flimsy argument — question instead what Hillary could have done to bring them into the fold. Hillary’s continued support of the failed War on Drugs, milquetoast answer to a debate question on current racial tensions, and measured approach to marriage equality all hindered her ability to draw on support from social ultraliberals. Adopting a more progressive message may have come at the expense of support from rural white voters, but the party opted to fully appeal to neither group, and it suffered accordingly.

The true culprit of Hillary’s defeat on November 8th is the complacency of the Clinton Machine. Hillary’s career of duplicitous positions and poor optics has finally come around to topple her house of cards. While Clinton ran a campaign predicated on her being a known commodity, she was ultimately done in by her incapacity to convince voters of her own merits. Her apathetic showing at the polls reveals that she could not capitalize on the millions of dissatisfied Republicans who view Trump unfavorably, but cast their vote for him regardless. That Clinton could not persuasively articulate her case for votes against a man with no legitimate policy positions is an indictment of the organization and message of her campaign.

The thought of a Bernie Sanders presidency — while less divisive and overall more well-intentioned than a Donald Trump presidency — was indeed frightening. I have no doubt, however, that he would have performed better than Hillary. Likewise for Joe Biden, who was understandably reluctant to sign himself up for another term of high-profile public service. The Democratic Party nominated a candidate who, though deeply flawed, represented stability. While she toiled futilely to excite Americans with her vision, Donald Trump based his campaign on voters frustrated with the perceived stagnation in Washington.

Hillary Clinton is infinitely more qualified than Donald Trump to perform the duties of commander-in-chief. But she was undeniably and indefensibly beaten by a grade school bully. Clinton remained unshakable in her belief that the moral high ground alone would lead her to victory, and failed to address severe deficiencies in her campaign. When looking for answers as to how this catastrophic conclusion was reached, Hillary ought to look internally.

November 11, 2016

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