We Blew It


I admit it; I blew it. I was convinced that Hillary Clinton would win. The election of Donald Trump is the culmination of a series of mistakes by experts, media, pollsters, politicians and diplomats. In other words, the intellectual class got it all wrong. But not only did it get it wrong on this election, it also got it wrong in predicting the end of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring. 0 for 3; in baseball terms three strikes means you’re out.

This demands serious reflection.

For many years I have hesitated to write an article about how my generation of the Age of Aquarius blew the post-Vietnam era. By hanging it all out – Let the sun shine in – we got Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the Bushes. For all the levitating of the Pentagon, we got invasions of Kuwait, Iraq, Libya as well as drones, Homeland Security and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. For all our peace and love, we got the wolves of Wall Street, huge income discrepancies and Kissingers in disguise.
But this time, we directly blew it. We were so immersed in identity politics, worrying about transgender toilets and the latest fad or hip addresses in The New Yorker, The New York Times or The New York Review of Books, that we missed Trumpism. By focusing on the two coasts – basically New York, Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Washington - we ignored the heartland of the United States. The Clinton campaign was so sure that she would carry Wisconsin that she never once visited the state during the general election. And, she didn’t carry that Democratic bastion.
If you are a democrat, and not only a Democrat, forgetting the heartland is an unpardonable mistake. As a result, we blew not only the election of Donald Trump, but we also misunderstood what was really going on in the country in reaction to globalization.
While economists can rationally explain the advantages of free trade and customs unions, we were unable to convince those who did not benefit. Trickle-down economics is fine in principle, except when the advantages from those who profit don’t trickle down.
During the election of 1968, one of my professors stated that he was voting for Richard Nixon. Astonished, we asked for an explanation. He said that the Democratic Party should be punished for widening the war in Vietnam. Punished.
Pundits, including me, said that Donald Trump risked exploding the Republican Party. As it turns out, it is the Democratic Party that is in trouble. They will be punished again.
For all those who voted for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, fully remembering Ralph Nader and Florida in 2000, for all those who couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, what are you thinking now? For those who burned for Bernie and couldn’t switch allegiance, do you realize how you could have changed history?
But this time it is more than the Democratic Party who will be punished. The election of Donald Trump is part of a wave against globalization that stretches well beyond the United States. Anti-immigration sentiments and renewed patriotism are all part of a world-wide movement, perhaps a natural reaction to technology and the opening of borders, part of an historical pendulum swing.
We were unprepared for Trumpism. There will be consequences for the United States and beyond. We blew it, and we should accept that responsibility. We should have understood what was happening in places like Detroit and called for greater distribution of wealth. Michael Moore understood, and correctly predicted the election’s outcome.
My only hope, and perhaps consolation, is that Trump must now perform. He must respond to the anger of the white middle class. For if he doesn’t, there will be riots in the streets from the right as well as the left. He will be the president of no one. And the United States will no longer be a leader let alone the dream of so many.

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  • You say that "The election of Donald Trump is the culmination of a series of mistakes by experts, media, pollsters, politicians and diplomats". This asserts strong causal links between the actions of these groups and the outcome. A better hypothesis might be that there are stronger causal links between things other than what these groups do, things these groups didn't see. For example the extent to which the human mind is drawn to promises of simple "solutions" to complex problems.

    Polls offer limited prediction power. This time, statistical margins of error were proved to exceed poll differences. The question might be: why was so much faith placed in polls?, rather than, what was wrong with the polls?

    As Daniel Kahnmann explains in his book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow, difficult questions often get replaced by simple ones (substitution bias), we see an illusion of control (optimistic bias), illusionary causation, and fall prey to the confirmation bias. Perhaps the world would benefit from a better understanding of these flaws in human thinking. This could become a core subject at school and beyond. Then fewer might have these heuristic weaknesses exploited, both experts and non-experts.

  • Previous commentary by Philipp Judd is indeed spot on and goes a long way in explaining what actually happened in the mind of the voters. The irony is that both Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler worked with the democratic party to develop models for predicting voters 'behaviour that traditionnal polling methods cannot identify. You can read about it in Sasha Issenberg's "Victory Lab" (2012), quoted in our recent book “#Trump - De la démagogie en Amérique". (2016)

    This being said, a June 2016 piece in the "New York Review of Books" titled "Why Trump Was Inevitable" clearly showed that above all, his message resonated loudly across the Republican electorate, which in turn explains why he was able to defeat his 16 rivals during the primaries.

  • I think the reason is more evident than it seems. The mainstreem Medias didn't want Mr. Trump as president. So most of people connected to those medias where convinced Hillary would win. All the polls where in her favor, except those from Fox news. I found this strange.

    It took me 2 hours looking one of his speeches on youtube to understand that nobody would stop him.

    So here he is. Let's see what's going on. I am optimistic.

  • When I said to my uncle, who is a policeman with NYPD, back in 2007, "Americans aught to elect a President for America, and not for the wider world" I merely wanted to express my desire for an approachable candidate. That was John McCain(R) running against Barack Obama(D), and I felt rebellious. When Mitt Romney ran, I checked my assumptions again, surely America deserved more than a Governor-President, and I felt justified. There were fewer ordinary voices around however. Do these assumptions lead to Totalitarianism, Total War?

    I want to believe in one-man-one-vote, but I don't, it is better to lose some battles at the expense of my 'voice,' becoming a citizen requires certain initial faith in parliaments and institutions. How can anyone have faith in a Presidential election that more resembles a divorce proceedings? "If there is hope, it is with the proles" said Orwell in "1984" so I accept the 'proles' have a right to a voice, and I am still waiting to here from them.

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