This morning my social media threads seem full of emotional outbursts, even hatred, and the ripping of garments. All over the results of the US presidential elections.
But I have to ask – why this emotion? Why the surprise? And why blame the voters.
Why the surprise? Surely a Trump victory was on the cards – even a strong possibility? At least that is how it appeared to me. But then again I did not have a dog in this race. I wasn’t going to vote. I didn’t support either of the main candidates – and weren’t we all saying it was a matter of choosing between two evils? Then why get so partisan, so emotional?
Perhaps it is because of that irrational indulgence – wishful thinking. By the media – to me the election coverage of the main stream media was partisan and biased. And certainly many people in my social media streams were partisan – refusing to face up to the way the US establishment manipulated the election process (successfully in the case of the Democrats) and willfully allowing themselves to be diverted and manipulated by cynical neo-McCarthyism.
But why blame the voters – especially if it was a choice between two evils? Why not blame the system that delivered such a limited choice to voters?
I could go on – but Thomas Frank’s article in the Guardian today certainly says it more eloquently than I can – Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there.
Is Trump all bad?
Frank starts by ripping into Trump and his campaign. Many will agree with his criticisms – although the fact Trump succeeded suggests the possibility he may have known something his critics didn’t, or understood the mood of the electorate better than his critics did.
Frank considers the election result “is a disaster, both for liberalism and for the world.” Again, Frank may be exaggerating. I think he is a buffoon but if Trump’s policies of real international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and getting along with other countries become realities I consider that a positive.
But instead of expanding on what is wrong with Trump, Frank asks the questions others have been afraid to ask.
The electorate was in a mood to punish the establishment – so why put up an establishment candidate? Frank puts it this way:
“What we need to focus on now is the obvious question: what the hell went wrong? What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?
“Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.
“She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.
“And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.
“To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both.”
A biased and manipulating media
Frank also blames the media – and in my view rightly so. Even with my limited appreciation of politics the media bias and manipulation stood out like a sore thumb:
“Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.”
After listing some of the medias biased pro-Clinton propaganda Frank says:
“How did the journalists’ crusade fail? The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?”
I think this post-election media comment is very relevant – The media didn’t want to believe Donald Trump could win… So they looked the other way.
Where my social media friends went wrong
What has amazed me, and taught me a lesson (I guess), is how irrational some of my Facebook friends were about this election. And these were people I had friended because on many issues (particularly scientific ones) I considered them rational and unbiased. In the end we are not a rational species and wishful thinking, confirmation bias and avoidance of self-criticism are only human traits. But Frank describes this self-delusion as “the single great mystery of 2016:”
“The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment.”
That insulting and silencing were very real. I experienced the shouting down when I criticised Clinton’s dishonest use of neo-McCarthyist tactics to divert attention aways from her faults. Critics, and even the ordinary people, were insulted and, yes, silenced by this intimidation. Frank points out – “And then they lost.” We are now forced to face up to facts – the emperor really has no clothes.
But I hope at least some of those social media friends who were caught up in the wishful thinking and group thinking – the partisanship of the US elections – can take on board this bit of advice from Frank:
Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.”
Featured image: Donald Trump depicted in an episode of The Simpsons. Credit: 20th Century Fox