The blame game began on Tuesday night. It will probably follow historians for the next hundred years. A good many of these articles will be quite insightful. A good many will not. But at their essence, I suspect the majority of these retrospectives will be bunk, by the flaw of confusing the responsible with the guilty. Or, more specifically, by believing the guilty are limited to the responsible. I cannot yet say who exactly is responsible. While I can certainly identify the ideologies at fault, the specific individuals are harder to determine. But the responsible are a segment of the guilty, and they can be identified second. The guilty must be identified first.
Hillary Clinton or her staffers are the common targets of blame. For the writers concerned with politicking, the question of guilt is really just “what did Hillary do to lose?” Or, extremely rarely, “what did Donald Trump do to win?” (There are a number of articles on this, but few examine it from the context of guilt). These questions are crucial for technical discussions. But the technical discussion of what tactics and strategies were effective should be unconcerned with the moral question of guilt. Guilt is a concern to society. And in our society, the election is not a game or even a contest. A president does not “win” an election, because no president (except, perhaps, Kennedy or Bush) elects himself. Instead, the president is elected.
According to our system, the president is elected by the Electoral College, but in practice, they are elected by the people. The will of the people is not perfectly translated, but it is always present. No matter how much the popular vote is abstracted, the founding document does not begin with “I.” Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, collectively, cast two ballots, in a nation of over 200 million eligible voters.
Elections are discussed as if the candidates are the actors. They are not. They speak and campaign, spending millions of dollars and hundreds of hours, but this all an attempt to convince the real actors: voters. When we think of the candidates as the actors, we think of our government as being something fundamentally distinct from a democracy, as if it were solely controlled by the machinations of the mighty. And when we say “Clinton lost,” or “Trump won,” we act as if the election was solely decided between the candidates. But this is a democracy; thus the election was decided between voters.
All governments are derived from a mandate. Ancient kings and queens claimed their blessing from the heavens; a democratic government derives its mandate from the people. And just as the reign of a monarch was an act of a god, the term of our president is the act of the people. Our President-Elect was not chosen by God. He did not choose himself. The College were the technical deciders, but the College is merely an instrument. All that remains is us. We elected Trump. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote. It doesn’t even matter if you voted against him. We elect as a collective entity, even if our preferences are divided. We do not elect a president for liberals and a president for conservatives, or a president for whites and a president for blacks. We elect a president for the United States.
It may seem that there is little relevance to my argument. It does not present a strategy, or even a diagnosis that could be of any use to a campaign. But as I mentioned earlier, that is not the purpose of evaluating guilt. (Evaluating responsibility is how we can discern new strategies). Guilt is examined for the purpose of moral judgements. And that is all I offer.
Trump is president because of us. Clinton, James Comey, even Trump himself—they are each a single person, all guilty, but not alone. They share their guilt with the entire nation, all free and enfranchised citizens. When we claim the right to vote, we rid ourselves of the freedom of childhood: to act without consequences, whether those are good or ill. When we elect the first woman president, it will be a credit to the entire nation. But on November 8, 2016, we elected Donald Trump. That guilt is on all of us.