It’s taken me a couple of days to sort out my thoughts on the election, but here’s what I have to say, more or less.
First, and most importantly: It’s going to be okay.
It’s sad, and it’s terrifying. Things are going to get worse. But this country has been through the Civil War, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. And we’ve coped with disasters before as individuals, too. A lot of us are scared now, but we’ve been scared before. And whatever happens, I hope, and I really believe, we can get up tomorrow and cope with it. Until in the end it goes away, and things start getting better again.
I was nine years old when the second intifada started, and fourteen when it ended. At times it seemed like there was a bus exploding somewhere in town every other week. I remember feeling like it would never get any better, that there was no solution and no leader who could possibly solve it. But in the end, it got better. We’ve had four terms of Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems to be becoming as unhinged as Trump is. And we’ve survived that too.
Tim Urban said something similar here, probably much more eloquently than I have.
It can help to think what the fallout will be in practical terms. A good place to start is Paul Krugman, who’s generally pretty good at predicting fallout1. At first, Krugman predicted immediate and sustained economic collapse. But after taking a few days to calm down, he predicted more moderate economic consequences: It will probably take at least a year or two for Trump’s policies and lack of experience to have noticeable negative consequences. In the short term, we might even see some strengthening. It helps that most of his more disastrous ideas, like starting trade wars, go against congressional republicans. Considering their already-slim majority, these parts may be stoppable. Similarly, foreign policy disasters will probably take a while (though the sheer fact of electing Trump has already hit America’s credibility on the world stage).
There’s Obamacare. But there’s a limit to how much damage Trump and Congress are willing to do – while the overall law is unpopular, a lot of its details are. So they’re probably going to target the parts of the law that aren’t functioning that well in the first place. While I don’t trust Trump and Ryan to actually fix them well, at least there’s only so much damage they can do. On the pessimistic side, they might cancel central parts of the law, like the individual mandate, which are unpopular but necessary. But they are aware they would face backlash for that. See also 538 on the subject.
The worst consequence will be climate change. Trump wants to put a climate change denier in charge of the EPA, which is horrifying, coming just when it seemed like we were finally making some progress. On the other hand, much of the progress is being done by technological advancement and individual states. And even China is starting to take unilateral steps on the issue. This isn’t nearly enough; we need strong government action. But we’ll make progress regardless. For anyone worried about the effects of a Trump presidency, this is the thing to address – giving money to effective green charities like Solaraid and the Cool Earth Foundation can do a lot to offset it. (Seriously, they’re great!).
Finally, there’s appointing judges. Democrats can filibuster hardline judges for now, and Republicans have practically made it the norm. So unless enough Republicans win in 2018 to override a filibuster, this doesn’t seem quite as worrying.
So that’s the potential fallout. It’s time to address the big question: How did the Democrats lose, despite running against the least popular candidate of all time?
There’s an obvious disclaimer to be made here, which is that the people to blame for this are the people who voted for Trump. But we do have to ask what the Democrats did wrong. And the answer, as it turns out, was to make this an election over identity politics. Republicans won the electoral college because they won the midwest. They won the midwest because working-class whites turned out to vote, in large numbers, for the Republican candidate. They voted like a minority group. Democrats kept saying this election was about race, that it was white people vs. minorities, and they listened. Democrats kept talking about how Trump was a racist and a misogynist, for saying things most people say in everyday conversation. This was not the knock-down argument Democrats thought it was. But it did convince white voters that Democrats just didn’t care about them, so they broke for Trump. Educated whites were split about evenly, because Trump was pretty obviously incompetent to anyone really following the election. Others didn’t.
Democrats have two options now: They can double down on identity politics, making everything about race and judging everyone who voted for Trump, everyone sympathetic to anyone who voted for Trump, and so on as racist, misogynist homophobes worthy only of contempt. It seems like half the people on my facebook feed have decided to do this.
An example: I told someone yesterday that while I was worried about black people being shot by the police, I consider some BLM tactics counterproductive. She didn’t just say she disagreed. She said she thought I was completely evil for saying it, and nothing I said further on the matter could ever change her mind.
People like her seem like an increasingly central part of the democratic party. And a party like that can’t win elections. Hillary Clinton realized this. She said in the debates that she stood for all americans, that she was out to help people, not judge them. Which is why her poll numbers shot up after every debate. But after some time passed, they started going down again – because too much of the democratic party is hateful, and those parts were speaking louder while she was offstage.
If the Democrats keep this up, not winning elections will be the least of this country’s problems. People will stop trusting the government, and each other. People are increasingly talking about a red tribe and a blue tribe. What happens when we really get to a situation of two tribes who hate each other? I’ve lived in Israel, which has one version of this between Jews and Arabs. Colombia has an even more similar version, with a full-on civil war between the far left rebels and the right-wing government. Once things start going bad and trust is lost, there’s no telling how bad things good be.
If this split happened, I’d want to be on the left, because they believe in climate change, they’re generally about 40% less hateful, and all my friends are there. But I don’t know if I could. I’m straight and white and male, and to the social justice left that puts me in the outgroup. If the split between the red and blue tribes really comes down to it, I might have nowhere to go where I won’t be hated for who I am or what I think.
To close with, I’ll just put this
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1. Among other things, Krugman predicted both the 2008 crisis (which was worse than most people thought) and the Brexit results (which weren’t as bad as most people feared). So he seems to have his predictions fairly well calibrated.↩