As I type, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote stands at over 1.7 million votes. Her loss to Donald Trump marks the second time in her career that she’s been forced to concede an election despite having won a plurality of votes. While this is happening, the Democratic Party stands in a state of disarray. There is hand-wringing and regret, confusion and disbelief.
After the election, pundits and political experts in their usual rush to judgment followed a path of least resistance. It was obvious. Hillary Clinton lost because — Hillary. She was a weak candidate that failed to inspire the Obama coalition. Her massive baggage of emails and supposed scandals dragged down her chances. She didn’t campaign hard enough to working-class whites in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The list goes on, but blaming Hillary Clinton for what happened on November 8th is a shortcut to thinking. It filters out the nuance and complexity of 2016 and boils down the results to a single spurious cause.
It’s the easy way out.
Scapegoating women for cultural defects has deep roots. Ever since Eve “tricked” Adam into taking an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, women have taken the blame for problems perpetuated by men. Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships and started a war. Cleopatra drove a wedge between Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. There’s a mythology behind this thinking, and it’s still very present.
If Democrats are ever to get beyond this election, they’ll have to get beyond the myth that it’s all Hillary’s fault. They’ll need to come to grips with the fact that her failings were only exceeded by the divisions and flaws within their own party.
Expectations were unrealistic from the start. There was an immediate demand that Hillary needed to be somebody we already knew she was not: Barack Obama. Barack Obamas, like John Kennedys, only come around once in a generation. Obama in 2012 could barely compete with himself in 2008. Tangible resistance to President Obama’s policies can be traced back to the midterm elections of 2010 when Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives.
In 2016, the rise of Isis, Obamacare premium increases, and the natural cycle of elections made a third presidential term for Democrats a steep hill to climb. The president’s comments earlier this week that he won two elections by campaigning everywhere reveals a disconnect between him and the electorate that repudiated his presidency.
It’s a ridiculous assumption that Hillary could have appealed to working-class whites uncomfortable with the demographic changes in America, while simultaneously promoting an inclusive message that addressed the issues of minorities and other disadvantaged Americans. The truth is that she was being held to a standard even the president himself couldn’t achieve under the current state of our politics.
Then there’s Bernie. Within a week, Senator Sanders went from brushing aside suggestions that he would’ve beat Donald Trump to hinting out loud that, “maybe I would have been elected President of the United States.”
Like President Obama, Bernie’s detached from the reality of 2016 politics. The voters in rural America that voted for Trump were heavily conservative, angry at an expansive federal government, concerned with security, highly religious, and hell-bent on repealing Obamacare. The idea that they would’ve broke in large numbers for an apparent irreligious, self-avowed pacifist-socialist promising free college and health care is ludicrous. Add to that Sanders’ lukewarm support from African-Americans and Hispanics uncomfortable with leftist politics that harken back to Latin American dictatorships, and Bernie’s victory is even less plausible.
With a new book out last week, Sanders is likely looking to increase his sales numbers rather than acknowledge his role in creating this mess. Sanders’ assertion that he made her a better candidate is delusional. It was in fact, Sanders and his voters that shaped the false equivalency between Clinton and Trump in the first place.
Trump’s line that Hillary, “lacks the judgment,” to be president originated from the Sanders campaign. Strings of misleading allegations, from corruption in the Clinton Foundation to Hillary’s unwavering support of NAFTA and other trade deals started as social media memes circulated by Sanders’ supporters. Erosion in the African-American community and young women can also be linked to overzealous Sanders’ surrogates holding Hillary responsible for Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill and sexual assault allegations.
Sanders’ insistence that he carry out the primary even after it became clear he wouldn’t win, and his insinuations that he’d contest the convention kept Democrats divided long after Donald Trump secured the nomination. For two months Hillary had to campaign on two fronts, dealing with internal strife in her own party while responding to attacks from her opponent.
If the internal forces working against Clinton weren’t enough, external forces sealed the deal. Hundreds of thousands of emails were released related to Hillary Clinton, her career at the State Department, and top officials in her campaign. Though the world probably knew more about Hillary than any other candidate in history, the flood of information ended up hurting her more than helping. Nobody ever questioned the fact that only one side of the story was being presented. No one ever demanded a trove of emails be released by either the Sanders or Trump campaign.
Imagine what the internal discussions between Steve Bannon and Kelly Ann Conway may have done to their support had we the benefit of their disclosure.
Instead, we accepted the double-standard as our entitlement to transparency. We allowed Julian Assange and the Russians to divide and conquer Democrats by capitalizing on puerile demands for purity over pragmatism. Fake news stories propagated online, an entrenched patriarchy with a penchant for blatant sexism, and James Comey’s letter to Congress with eleven days left in the election put the final nails in the coffin.
In the end, it was just too much for any political campaign to overcome.
History will treat Hillary Clinton better than we have in the present. The passage of time will give us perspective and allow us to understand that we held her to a higher standard than her male counterparts on both sides of the aisle. As we take the time to examine the evidence related to the opinions leveled against her, we’ll realize that her flaws were overstated and her contributions to America understated. For whatever it’s worth, she may even be respected more as a loser than she ever would have as a winner.
I’m guessing she finds that of little comfort as Donald Trump fills his cabinet with white men embracing archaic views on race, immigration, LGBTQ issues, and women’s rights. Scapegoating Hillary for this loss will have a similar effect; the comfort it provides will only fade once we realize what we’ve unleashed on our country. The odd thing about sexism is that it crosses party lines, and in some cases, even aims its ugly assault at friendly targets. Democrats can point their fingers in any direction they choose, but they may want to save a finger or two for themselves.
Even as I close this post, it’s clear Democrats haven’t learned anything from this election. Bernie’s still running the primary, railing against Wall Street, and scapegoating Hillary.
“It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” He told a reporter yesterday.
I guess it doesn’t matter that Hillary Clinton never uttered those words, or that she said a thousand things that were more important, because that’s apparently what he heard.
And for men like Bernie, that’s all that matters.