Archive for Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Opinion: What happened? America’s political axis tilted

September 20, 2017

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— Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke. I believe a political realignment is underway, and those who fail to discern its outlines could end up powerless and irrelevant.

With all respect to Hillary Clinton, her newly published memoir, “What Happened,” doesn’t really tell what happened. It is perhaps inevitable that she would focus on the daily twists and turns of the campaign. It is understandable that she would blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin and the media for damaging her prospects — and that she would downplay her own strategic and tactical missteps.

But take a step back and look at the election through a wider lens. Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.

That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew — or thought we knew — about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing — and at least the attempted collusion — of the Trump campaign.

But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.

In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either, as evidenced by the way his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration. But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking — as is the contrast between what both Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.

Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue — immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.

The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.

But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

— Eugene Robinson is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 months, 3 weeks ago

What happened??.....WHAT HAPPENED???? I will tell you.......

Hillary Clinton got the most votes. That wins elections in any venue...Except in the fraud we have in our Constitution called the "Electoral College" This eighteenth century fraud should have been amended out of our Constitution many years ago. It was originally intended to prevent the presence of slavery in the south from affecting national elections. It is a fraud that should be gone.

Mrs. Clinton won the election. In any Universe but this one. The fool who was "elected" is incompetent, foolish and debauched. But he was elected

That is the reality of our "real world".

THAT is "what happened".

Bob Smith 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The Electoral College functioned as it has for the past couple of centuries. Just because your candidate lost is no reason to junk a reliable, efficient system.

Daniel Kennamore 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Except, it hasn't.

A lot of states have literal laws to prevent their state's electors from voting against the vote results of their state.

If ever there was a case for the EC to serve its actual purpose of voting against the will of the popular vote to prevent an unhinged madman from becoming president...it was this election. And yet, there were only two electors pledged to Trump that broke faith.

If it's not fulfilling it's purpose, why exactly are we keeping this archaic system in place?

Bob Smith 2 months, 3 weeks ago

You're mistaking your own prejudices for fact. Better luck next election.

Armen Kurdian 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Bob is right, you would not be making that point if Clinton had won and the situation were reversed, But you know what? If it had been, I would have still defended the EC if she won and Trump had had more popular votes. Sure you say, "Oh that's so easy to say because your candidate won." Well guess what, I voted Libertarian.

Armen Kurdian 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Bob, just ignore Fred from now on, there's no talking to or even at him.

Bob Smith 2 months, 3 weeks ago

It's too much fun to taunt the dynamite monkey.

Marc Wilborn 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Mr. Robinson is too kind when evaluating the extent to which Mrs Clinton's personality issues played within the election and the results. While Mrs. Clinton may have had some relevant experience suited for the job she was applying, her real personality and habits after the election prove what many suspected - she doesn't care who she tramples to get what she wants and that is not a good leadership trait. In retrospect, Mrs. Clinton is much more like Nixon than Trump is.

As to where the country is headed, it appears to be a battle between individualism versus some form of collectivism. No longer is the good of the group paramount to individual rights and that may be a good thing now as we exorcise our angst over our poor historical behavior. Long term, individualism without the context of the group will not end well. It never does.

Bob Smith 2 months, 3 weeks ago

People who had voted for Red Bernie decided that Trump was the lesser of the two evils. That's one thing that happened. The Democrats veering off into the weeds beyond left field also contributed to the election of Trump.

Josh Berg 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hillary lost that's what happened. Should have listened to her staff in States like Michigan and Pennsylvania. They warned her it wasn't good and she chose to blow them off because they were just low level staffers.

Richard Aronoff 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I understand that in the second edition of her book, Mrs. Clinton will be adding Fred and Dorothy to the list of people responsible for her loss.

What happened, Fred? Hillary happened.

Daniel Kennamore 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't agree this shows a fundamental shift in American politics.

There have always been neo-nazis, fascists and racists in this country. The difference is over the last decade the GOP has gone out of their way to fan those flames for partisan gain. What they got with Trump was the embodiment of that fervor taking over the party when they thought they could always control it.

Thankfully we had an intelligent and charismatic democrat in Obama that was able to get enough excitement on the left to overcome that trend...but for a variety of reasons Clinton couldn't get out the base like he did.

Trump election has been a wake-up call, though. I suggest we wait to see how the Democrats fair in 2018 before proclaiming a national paradigm shift.

Armen Kurdian 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I think this is one of the best columns LJW has published in a long while. It says more about HC than it does about Trump that she lost.

Trump had no business winning the nomination, Clinton had no business winning her nomination. Democrats had no business trying to annoint her for the last eight years. Many Republicans are political cowards, and others are too stubborn to properly govern, and Democrats are great at rallying around bad policy.

Term limits people!

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