Summary: By nightfall after Trump’s election we had rationalized away this astonishing event with myths, ensuring that we learn nothing from Campaign 2016, Let’s strip away these pleasing stories and confront the truth — no matter how painful. Then we can start to prepare for a better choice in 2020.
- Myth: Trump won the election!
- Myth: The polls were very wrong!
- Myth: The election repudiated US elites!
- Myth: 2016 was a victory for populism!
- The big lesson from Campaign 2016.
- For More Information.
(1) Myth: Trump won the election!
The final counts are not in, but Clinton currently leads by over 200,000 votes (roughly 0.2%). Estimates for her actual total are well over a million votes. The Electoral College put Trump in the White House, as it did with Bush Jr. in 2000 (Gore won by 440 thousand votes, 0.5%.
Like our bizarrely allocation of votes in the Senate (our version of Britain’s “rotten boroughs“), the Electoral College is a historical artifact of our governing system that has outlived its utility — but we are too lazy to fix. For more about it see this article by Scott Lemieux (Prof of Political Science, College of St. Rose) in The New Republic.
(2) Myth: the polls were very wrong!
People saying the polls did not predict correctly predict the outcome often point to the surveys in the months before the vote, forgetting what polls do. First, polls measure the public’s current intentions — they don’t predict future votes. The correct comparison is between pre-election surveys and the actual vote. The last average of 4-way polls tracked by RealClearPolitics gave Clinton a 3.3% lead — vs. her current lead of 0.2%. The remaining uncounted votes will narrow this gap, perhaps giving her much larger win. (California has 4.4 million of them; if she gets 62%, that’s 2.7 million more votes.)
Second, polls are statistical tools — not Dr. Strange’s magic spells. They should be presented with error bars showing the uncertainty of the survey. News stories about election polls and forecasts don’t have them, nor do stories about economic surveys, nor do stories about climate data and forecasts. The press want simple stories. Experts who insist about discussing uncertainty get no more calls from journalists. We’re ignorant because we read the news.
Consider the uncertainties in estimating the vote from polls. Only a small fraction of people answer polls, only some of those will answer honestly, and only some of those who answer will vote. Then there are systemic challenges in any polling methodology, such as extrapolating from the sample who they call and who answers to the actual population of people who vote.
The average of pre-election polls missed the actual result by 3.1% (estimated 3.3% vs. actual +0.2%). I have not found the margin of error for the major polls, let alone the average of polls, but I’ll bet that is within the 95% margins.
Third, our whining about the polls is so modern American. We get the poll accuracy we pay for. Journalists could pool their money and have a few large accurate surveys. But polls are fillers between the advertisements, so each corporate media wants its own. So we get dozens of polls, none very accurate. For more about the margin of error in polls see this note by Pew Research.
(3) Myth: we repudiated US elites
“The claim that America’s elites unified to oppose Donald Trump is plausible only if by ‘elites’ you mean David Brooks, Ross Douhat, and George Will, as opposed to, say, the Republican …party’s entire leadership class, almost every one of its elected officials at the federal and state level, its money, its many and various propaganda outlets…”
— Paul Campos (Prof Law, U CO-Boulder) at Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
That we defied our ruling elites is a pleasing view of the election (we are big and bold), hence its popularity. “The democratic man requires flattery, like any ruler…” says Allan Bloom in Closing of the American Mind. It is also nonsense.
In 2008 we picked a candidate with almost no political record and projected our fears and dreams on him. Some Swedes joined the party, immediately awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize, while the Right proclaimed him a NAZI-communist-Jihadist-anarchist. In 2016 we did it again. We have even less knowledge of Trump’s policy goals and priorities than we did Obama’s in 2008 (most of his goals for the first 100 days are just hand-waving, lacking the months of preparation needed to make these possible).
But Presidents are only avatars of our ruling elites (who run the country, and don’t have time to make speeches and kiss babies). Look at the institutions through which our rulers exert their power, not their front-men. The two parties represent factions of our elites.
THE Democratic Party has been damaged. But the Republican Party now dominates our State and national governments. They have 33 governorships (the most since 1922), 56% of State House seats, and 57% of State Senate seats. Plus controlling the House (55%) and Senate (51%), and soon the Supreme Court (one seat vacant, 3 over age 75).
Of these, Congress is the most powerful, as Madison explained in Federalist Papers #51 — especially when one Party controls all three branches of government. The GOP’s leaders in Congress have a well-defined agenda. Expect them to rapidly implement it, perhaps in a first 100 day surge, without waiting for Trump. I doubt he has the willpower to veto many of their bills as they land on his desk.
What might Congress do? There are policies that Trump agrees with, such as large tax cuts for the rich, more military spending, a bigger war in Syria, crushing unions, withdrawing from the Paris Climate agreement,
We can only guess at Trump’s reaction to Congressional action on much of the Right’s wish list: voiding the Iran nuclear arms control agreement, either selling off cheaply vast tracts of Federal land or transferring it to the States (who will do sell it at give away prices to insiders), gutting a wide range of regulations, attacking the Fed, implementing many economic policies based on the Right’s faux economics, cutting education spending, wrecking the IRS (giving the rich and corporations greater freedom to not pay taxes), and many more bold policies to rollback the New Deal and restore the Gilded Age.
What about keeping massive immigration, repealing ObamaCare (leaving the working poor uncovered), cutting the social safety net, cutting infrastructure spending, and passing new “trade” treaties (such as the TPP)? These will test Trump’s will and skills, for they are core GOP policies.
The price paid for building this New America will be the fracturing (further fracturing) of America’s social cohesion. Fortunately the police and Federal agencies have been militarized, and the domestic security services greatly expanded — ready to crush opposition.
Only delusional Americans could consider creating this situation a blow against our elites. The real winner from all this: East Asia, as they pass by the self-crippled America.
“Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch!”
— US elites’ strategy in Campaign 2016. Don’t elect a GOP-run government!
(4) Myth: 2016 was a victory for populism!
Trump ran as a populist. This brought him victory. We shall see if he governs as a populist — or as a plutocrat. I will bet on the latter, hence I list this (tentatively) as a myth. Populism is despised by America’s ruling class, and has near-zero institutional support in the Republican party or elsewhere. 2016 was a win for populism only if it produces populist actions.
For example, a core tenet of populism is opposition to the power of banks. While popular on both Left and Right, America’s ruling class will fight to defend them. Does Trump have the will and skill for protracted political struggle, unlike the speech-making and carnival side-shows that are our campaigns? Does he even want to limit banks’ power? His campaign finance chairman is Goldman Sach’s alumni Steven Mnuchin (Goldman wins because they back both candidates). Rumors are that he and JP Morgan head Jamie Dimon are among the likely Treasury Secretaries.
Populism! Repudiation of elites! In our dreams. Reform of America is impossible unless we build a reality-based community.
The big lesson from Campaign 2016
“Although Nero’s death had at first been welcomed with outbursts of joy, it roused varying emotions, not only in the city among the senators and people and the city soldiery, but also among all the legions and generals; for the secret of empire was now revealed, that an emperor could be made elsewhere than at Rome.”
— From The Histories by Cornelius Tacitus (~56 – 117 A.D.).
Trump is a clown. But he was able to defeat the central leadership of both major political parties. Stronger people and more powerful groups have seen this and will draw the logical conclusion: our political structure looks unchanged, but has grown hollow. Sanders’ insurgency came so close and Trump’s succeeded. Expect 2020 to be even more interesting.
For More Information
Understanding the results of Campaign 2016…
- Resources to help you prepare for the Trump years.
- Breaking the myths about Campaign 2016, so we can prepare for 2020.
- Clinton lost because fear failed, and her SJW’s terrified voters.
- Three big things to expect from the Trump era.
- Will Trump and conservatives inflict payback on their foes?
- Trump and the 1% lead America back to its past, to its roots.
I recommend these articles to understand what happened on November 8. “How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul” by Matt Stoller at The Atlantic — “In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system.” Also, “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit” by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.
- Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
- The psychopathic leaders of America.
- The unspoken issue of the election: America’s descent into darkness.
- American politics isn’t broken. It’s working just fine for the 1%.
- The best response to Campaign 2016: anger.
- An anthropologist looks at the narrow choices we’re offered in Campaign 2016.