Some Thoughts on Election Night
As Donald Trump took his victory stage around 2:30 AM, he looked like he was about to shit his pants. In a subdued, smile-free speech, you could see him trying to figure out what came next and if there was any way to wriggle out of it.
Which is an odd position to see him in, knowing that he and his staff ran one of the most brilliant campaigns in American history, a campaign so deftly modern that only the country’s most backwards people noticed it.
Blame the GOP establishment. Blame the DNC establishment. Blame Hillary. Blame liberals and weak-kneed conservatives, blame blue collar whites and all black and latinos, blame the media, blame Giuliani, blame aliens or Russia (or both), blame your generation and the one before it, blame both men and women, blame the Electoral College and blame your nutso relatives who sent pro-Trump spam weekly but went mysteriously and maddeningly quiet when you woke up this morning. But, above all, blame our broken and fragmented Democracy for what it’s given us.
Fix it? It worked exactly how it was supposed to. And that’s why democracy has got to go. Because we can't be trusted with this in a country as big as America anymore.
Ignore, for a moment, the fact that Hillary looks like she’s won the popular vote on the backs of many voters whose voice was made meaningless. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that multiple battleground states were ordered to strike down discriminatory voting laws but refused to comply, disenfranchising large chunks of Democratic voters where they were most needed. And ignore that pesky email “scandal” that the FBI brought back without reason or evidence. The fact is Donald Trump is exactly what democracy was built to create -- a spitting image of the electorate that voted for him.
Donald Trump is not representative of us as a country -- he lost the popular vote and is widely disdained by a plurality, if not majority, of US citizens. When the numbers can in, he can only statistically claim to represent about 25% of all eligible voters. But in practical terms he represents us all.
His lack of a ground game was no accident, and in many respects it was an extremely shrewd cost cutting move that kept the campaign nimble. With such a temperamental candidate, he couldn’t risk his temperamental voters creating uncontrollable press. The ground game as we know it is useless today -- especially in an era where every news article looks equally valid when posted on Facebook. Even shrewder, the low ground game made him appear the underdog throughout the election, a surprisingly obvious tactic to keep us precious liberals from the booths: “Hillary’s got it in the bag, and I don’t like her anyway. God -- can’t wait for this election to be over, eh?”
And so we ended up with the lowest voter turnout since 2004, and Donald J. Trump as President.
This election had the lowest turnout of any election since Bush-Kerry. Think of that in the context of “the most important election of our time.” Think of that in terms of how angry and political even the least new-attuned became over the last month. We can ignore Comey’s last-minute bullshit, voter suppression in North Carolina, the Electoral College, and the “rural surge” because the fact of the matter is, dumb white people ruined it again. Democrats do overwhelmingly better when more people turn out to vote -- and we didn’t turn out.
Make no mistake, this is largely a white phenomenon. White people, men in particular, are the ones with nothing to lose. I have very little to lose in a Trump presidency. Which is why it is so easy for white, liberal voters to throw their hands up and say “fuck it, why not?” It became not only easy but fashionable to “conscientiously object” to voting at all. The number of my compatriots, mostly white and male (but not always) who said, “I can’t vote for either of them,” is staggering. We’ve absorbed every label we viciously deny -- we’re entitled, self-absorbed, selfish, and Donald J. Trump is our President.
Trump, by all accounts, nurtured this feeling like a puppet master. He realized very early on that he didn’t need to grow his voting base-- he just needed to shrink hers. By diminishing the value of voting not only for him but against Bernie Sanders, he legitimized apathy in his opponents while excising it in his own.
And we, the white male electorate, the liberal intelligentsia, actually took the bait.
But voting is not about finding your soul candidate. It is about being an adult. It is about making the best rational decision for you and your country -- it is a civic duty, not some plaything you pick up when it interests you and ditch when it gets hard. Voting is not your voice. Your voice is your voice. There are literally millions of political actions you can do to ensure that your nuanced and personal opinions help shape our country. Voting is but a single action, a single decision at the end of a long line of advocacy, support, dialogue, and compromise. For any true democracy to flourish, this must be the case. You think you’re a radical for not voting? Say it outloud to yourself and tell me if it feels true.
There is no way you can claim you’re not a sexist if you didn’t vote against Trump. There is no chance you can distance yourself from racism if you didn’t think it important enough to go out and vote for the next best option. You can’t pretend to care about climate change if you couldn’t be bothered to fight it’s most powerful denier. If you didn’t vote, if you “couldn’t look yourself in the eye and vote for either of them,” then you are nothing but a selfish coward who believes that you are more important than the rest of the nation.
It is not a mistake that even Plato, father of Western Philosophy, predicted that democracies tend to favor the liars and cheats -- the conmen who twist and turn to please the largest number of voters. It’s no mistake that Plato himself saw governments descend from oligarchy to democracy and finally into tyranny, a pattern as true in Athens as it is in America.
In the end, then, it is the same belief in our own exceptionalism that will bring that exceptionalism tumbling down. We’re no longer the one democracy that could hold back the tide of tyranny. We’re no longer the singular democratic experiment that kept it’s shit together when the inevitable waves of nationalism and xenophobia hit our shores.
We’re a failed democracy now, which is to say -- we’re exactly what all democracies are meant to be. And yet the worst part of it all is that the agents of our democracy’s destruction are the ones least likely to be destroyed by it -- the white men. Lord help us -- we can’t become the minority fast enough.
Republican house, senate, and President. Soon to be Supreme Court. Is this what your precious unused vote was for? Was this the principle that you had to protect at all costs? You say you couldn’t vote for Hillary, that you just couldn’t do it, but if I offered your office a free trip to Chernobyl or the Florida Panhandle, would you risk radiation poisoning just because Florida fucking blows? Or would you act like a fucking adult and make the a decision for everyone.
Sadly, I believe there are a lot of people that, faced with a decision like that, still wouldn’t vote. It would hurt their precious principles.
But I hold that those principles are a lie. They are a shield for people’s cowardice, an excuse to scream without actually doing anything. It is cognitive dissonance -- a convenient way to make yourself feel like a hero through inaction.
As I sit here, using Trump’s victory to claim democracy is a wasteland of stupid and selfish voters easily taken advantage of, I’m fully aware that I’m about to get my wish. The tyrant rises. Plato has been right so far, after all.