Wednesday 9 November 2016

It wasn't about Hillary


Till last night I thought any Democrat but Hillary could easily beat Trump. Now I don't. 

It was a revolt against what Democrats and the GOP had become, against globalism. Bernie was part of the revolt too, but he could not have won. Biden has a down to earth, avuncular quality and is a nice man (though it's hard to respect a man who says he's a Catholic but backs abortion), but it wasn't about personalities. Except in that Trump's amazing coarseness and dangerous outspokenness was what made people see him as the antidote to identity politics.

Please remember that what we make of Trump is filtered through the American press, that is horrified by him (there are simply no words) and the European press that is always horrified by Republicans. 

In 2000 George W Bush was treated in the European media as a potentially dangerous idiot, who hadn't visited Europe. In the end, it tuned out that he had once, as a teenager with his mother and father on holiday. Reagan was always regarded in Europe as a dangerous fool, throughout his eight years in the White House.

I don't watch TV and follow news on the net via newspapers. I just watched Mr Obama for the third of fourth time in 8 years - he is lovely. And funny. He struck me as cold and desiccated some years ago but he is not. Not folksy of course as American Presidents often have been from Carter to GWB. Which doesn't matter, of course. Whenever he Michelle or Bill campaigned for Hillary they only highlighted how weak she was.

Hillary's concession speech yesterday 
was dignified (she couldn't bring herself to appear before the cameras on election night to concede) but I am so pleased not to have to put up for eight years with her dull speeches, that smile and, yes, those pantsuits. 

Still, though she was a very weak candidate, who got close to the top only by marriage and whose way had been cleared for her by her party's establishment, it wasn't about her. 

It was what she perfectly represented. 

The ideas that Obama represented with eloquence and freshness with her seemed cant. But the ideas were out of date. Identity politics which promised liberation in fact turned out to be, in they eyes of the Deplorables and others, a prison.

Politics in America is a lot about television. The election is a lot like that old film, Network. Don't underestimate how much hatred of the (extraordinarily biassed) media drove Trump to victory. Yet media made him a star.

Thinking about globalism brings to mind these words of Disraeli's which explain where the USA, the UK and Europe have gone wrong since the 1990s.

In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines. 
In 2016 people in both Great Britain and the USA voted for the traditions and customs of a people and against abstract and general doctrines. 


  1. And yet, more Americans actually voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump in this election (as of Nov. 9 afternoon, by more than 200k votes and increasing). Indeed Trump was right, albeit for the wrong reason: The system is "rigged." In America, the popular will of the people is subordinate to an eighteenth-century voting system written by a coterie of elites highly suspicious of democracy. Last night we surely witnessed an unexpected "revolt," as you wrote. Just that it was made possible by an arcane system, unique to America, in which a majority is sometimes reached by a minority. The election of Trump is analogous to Brexit in many ways, with one notable exception: a majority of people in Britain voted to leave the EU, whereas a majority of people in America voted for Hillary Clinton as their president. Go figure.

    1. A very good point. Perhaps another Democrat would have beaten Trump. The turnout was low in the end. Not high as we expected. I point out that many people like Nate Silver thought it very possible that Trump would win the popular vote and lose in the EC - and none of those people said it was unfair.

    2. Just that it was made possible by an arcane system, unique to America, in which a majority is sometimes reached by a minority.

      Unlike say the British system, which allowed the Conservatives to win the last election with 36.9% of the vote.

    3. David in Banja Luka10 November 2016 at 10:56

      Surely the US presidential voting system is analogous to the UK parliamentary one?

      In the UK, whichever party wins the most constituencies (has the most MPs) is invited by HM to form the new government.

      In the US, the candidate who wins the most states (electoral college votes) gets to form the new government.

      Neither system is based on winning an overall majority of the national vote.

      Some people are always going to be unhappy with the result. But getting over losing can be character building :).

      The beauty of both systems is that another election is guaranteed in 4-5 years time.

      Suck it up and try harder next time.

    4. No shortage of popular will...

      Electing something with a .2% margin amounts to indifference (earlier, by popular will peace and war were deemed indifferent up to a .2% margin). It seems reasonable to relegate the choice to whatever other considerations. The US take that there ought not be excessive territorial partition of the vote seems good as any.

      This is another argument:

  2. You're right: it wasn't about Clinton. Regardless of her perceived faults, from full-blown Clinton Derangement Syndrome to her patent mistakes and faults, anyone with any modicum of political judgment knows that she was a landslide loser in the faults category. The president-elect is a liar, a bullshitter, a tax-and-draft dodger, a misogynist, and a racist who promotes violence. He has the temperament of a spoiled, petulant little boy, the character of a huckster, and the experience of a used car salesman. (He is a terrific salesman. He sells baloney and people buy it. Once.) He has no real friends, only toadies. Who admires Donald Trump? (Envy? Yes.) He is a man of low character, without a moral compass, a sociopath. I wish none of this were true! If this had been a loss to Mitt Romney, character and moral compass would not be issues. Trump is sui generis in American politics.

    The sui generis aspect of Trump is that U.S. electoral college system (not the voters) have elected a classic demagogue. A nation that followed FDR and refused the blandishments of Father Coughlin, Huey Long, and other crackpot demagogues in the Great Depression now succumbs to this? A nation that put aside Joe McCarthy and George Wallace surrenders to this huckster? This is like a second fall, a loss of innocence, the end of American exceptionalism.

    How do we account for this? Going back to the original point, it's not about Hillary Clinton. She’s a Methodist do-gooder who developed political savvy and power through mastery of the material and the system--surely intimidating to the weak-minded males. The smart, hard-working girl who left behind the lackadaisical boys like Donald Trump. But Trump had inherited wealth and privilege, but his voters, especially the less educated white males that voted as a minority group (which they increasingly are), don't have this cushion. The class clown and bully just beat the smart, ambitious girl for class president--and that's about how seriously many voters thought about this election. Clinton had to have grave character faults--A liar! A crook! Benghazi! Emails!--because Trump voters needed justification for their license, their willingness to set aside tradition and civic decorum to vote for this monster from their damaged ids and egos.

    But why take this reckless risk? That’s the deeper question. I agree with those who see this vote like Brexit, only this choice will have more tangible, significant consequences. But the common thread is that the herd is spooked. What is making them so restless, so willing to trample the Establishment? Voters act as if they were young French radicals eager to "Épater la bourgeoisie!" But these people want the good life, the middle-class--if not fabulously wealthy--life. The establishment has made mistakes and has ignored the festering problems of working class America, but this willingness to risk the political order to express grievances is classic, but not rational. The cost of the balm will very soon exceed the temporary satisfaction. The hangover will become apparent soon.
    If you think that the media was unfair to Trump, you're wrong. The media created Trump—a classic television "personality.” He received a free ride early because he drove ratings higher by his antics. Only later--much later--did conservatives who take political principles seriously raise a hue and cry, and they work mostly in print. Only two general newspapers endorsed Trump, and many prominent conservative intellectuals spoke out against Trump. But who was heeding them? The degree of Establishment (elite) unity opposing Trump was impressive, but it was ignored.

    I’m headed back into the books, deeper into history and political thought. Arendt, Niebuhr, Lukacs, Lippmann, Ophuls--those who've lived and written about dark times. The American body politic is ill and needs serious and sustained attention. But first, we must know the disease and follow the path of the those who have long recognized these symptoms.

    1. What do you think of this?

      A lot of the craziness comes from cultural/ethnic issues—rural White Americans who feel they are losing their country, and they are right. They are losing their country. In the end, the power they now have will go away, but it’s a very difficult and dangerous time until then. Paul Krugman, 2014

    2. Krugman's quote spells out what has been worth defeating. He could have talked of Austria or France ...

    3. Krugman is correct (as usual). This movement in many ways recapitulates the original populist movement of the late 19th century. Turbulent economic times coupled with as sense of a loss of status led to a political revolt. Elites then, like now, did not appreciate the level of discontent, because the rest of economy was growing rapidly (albeit with great turbulence and unevenly). And like the original populists, much of the anger as morphed into racism, nativism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and susceptibility of to demagoguery. "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." (Mark Twain)

    4. I can't bear Krugman but if he is right that white Americans are losing their country why is he right to be pleased about this?

      I don't know but I get the impression that the USA is remarkably un-racist these days like everywhere else in the developed world (but not outside it).

      I notice anti illegal immigrant feeling - why is this necessarily deplorable?

      Please explain why 'nativism' is considered a thought-crime.

      "Trump’s voters sense the system is rigged against them. This does not mean they blame blacks for their problems. Nor do they have any language for describing themselves as victims of racism. They may be deeply hurt or embarrassed by accusations of bigotry. Perhaps that is Hillary’s thinking in calling them a ‘basket of deplorables’. In an aspirational country where much of the middle class is downwardly mobile and taking its signals from television, people are terrified of exhibiting attitudes thought of as low-class."

      Trump, I agree, is obviously a demagogue. Which is worrying and alarming. But perhaps it is in some ways good that he is alarming.

      Have there been previous populist presidents? Was Jackson one? How does Trump compare with Huey Long or McCarthy?

    5. This article might explain what is happening to you. I suspect it inspired Theresa May's speech about why citizens of the world do not understand the word citizen.

    6. Ana, do I understand that you expect Austria and France to have non-white majorities and opposition to this is worth defeating? Why?

    7. A nation that put aside Joe McCarthy and George Wallace surrenders to this huckster?

      It turns out that McCarthy's claims were perfectly true, and if anything he underestimated the extent of communist and communist-leaning infiltration. Whether you think that communist infiltration of the US was a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of personal opinion of course, but his claims were substantially correct.

    8. As far as I know Mccarthy's claims were about as true as the thousands of muslims who allegedly danced in the streets in Jersey as the towers fell. McCarthy\s fabrications were exposed by Senate colleagues and he went away. I wish the same remedy (shame; intellectual honesty; decency) operated now but...
      (P.S. Paul, I really think Bernie could have made the difference.)

    9. Paul, neither, of course.

  3. David in Banja Luka10 November 2016 at 10:28

    IMO, the only commendable thing about Donald is that he is not Hillary.

    My first reaction to hearing he was in the lead when I awoke Thursday morning and switched on the radio, was a feeling of relief.

    Thank goodness that war-mongering, bankster moll is no longer in danger of becoming POTUS and, I hope, is consigned to the dustbin of history.

    When Mrs Thatcher died, some unkind people made this ditty briefly popular:

    I'd love too see someone throw a bucket of water over Hillary:

    Hail, hail Donald!

    1. David in Banja Luka10 November 2016 at 13:56

      But of course, not drop a house on her, I hasten to add :).

    2. A search for #Yemen on Twitter yielded exactly the same message.

  4. Dear Mr. Wood,

    That was a great article, which is in accordance to my beliefs too. The issue was not Hillary or Trump, but what they represent and what politicians have done up until now to their people. This outcome definitely shows how unsatisfied people are with the current political and economic system. Globalisation is a change which politicians still have to understand how to apply to their own country, in the context of their culture and history. I look forward to your next article.

    Best wishes,
    Roxana Mihai

  5. You are not alone in disliking Krugman; he's outspoken in a prominent position, puts his predictions and observations on the line, and he's most often correct. The perfect way to make enemies.

    Despite the fact that I'm an older white male from small town Iowa, I have a hard time picturing myself the member of an oppressed minority. However, I do understand that much of middle America has been left behind for a variety of reasons, and that elites, Democrat & Republican, have been negligent in addressing this simmering problems. The Republicans, the worst offenders, but that's an apparent point. See, e.g., Kansas.

    Neither Krugman or I really care that whites (however defined) become a minority. Defining Americans by race or ethnicity is a habit, but not a good one. Nativism is an atavistic response by the ignorant (sorry, I can't sugar-coat this) to perceived loss of status. (Read Richard Hofstadter). It's true that too much immigration taxes the ability of society to incorporate new arrivals, and the U.S., is--perhaps more than any other nation--"a nation of immigrants".

    The tribalism that Trump plays upon is truncated, small-minded form of community. Christianity and Islam met their success--and for the Catholic Church, continues to have surprising success--because of their universality. The liberal tradition inherited and seeks to expand this outlook. The American experiment has extended the idea of universality with its "novus ordo seculorum", but it regresses at times. My only hope that the election of this demagogue, this man with all the markings of a would-be despot, doesn't ruin the noble experiment.

  6. Atavistic and ignorant are just insults. Please can you explain why nativism is bad?

    1. It seems to me the original republic was destroyed by Lincoln and since 1941 you have had an empire in the form of a republic, like Augustan Rome.

    2. "Nativism is an atavistic response by the ignorant (sorry, I can't sugar-coat this) to perceived loss of status."

      No, these are not intended as insults, but as descriptions, although I realize that the connotation of each is negative.

      Nativism, in U.S. history & in U.S. political discourse is anti-immigrant sentiment. I suspect my Puritan ancestors may have opposed my Irish Catholic ancestors, but these tides come and go as assimilation occurs and economic circumstances vary. Nativism is not based on reasoned argument about the effects of immigration, but the perceived need for scapegoats based on social and religious prejudice. Immigrants are different, and different is hard for most folks to deal with. Nativism is atavistic because by definition atavism is appeal to a more primitive form of social allegiance, the tribe of native born Americans (excluding, of course, the first native born Americans (i.e., American Indians). While civil society is a must, tribalism is a regression on social and political organization and belief.

      Ignorant has a pejorative connotation, and I intended that, but the plain truth here (and I'm revealing my conservative bona fides here) is that most of the electorate is ignorant--lacks knowledge of and about--what goes on in the political economy. They feel those effects exquisitely, but they look for scapegoats rather than causes (of which there are many). Of course, this is true for all of us (I'm one who believes strongly in the reality of human finitude), but we are not all equally endowed to comprehend different aspects of the world. E.g., don't ask me to fix your car. Indeed, a pressing problem, one long known (centuries?) is that most of the voting public is abysmally ignorant about government and political affairs and are prone to believing the ridiculous. (Obama a Muslim or foreign-born, the most recent manifestations.)

      The U.S. has for for all of the 20th and 21st centuries placed limits on immigration, which have been difficult to enforce, mainly because the American southwest has always (before 1848) been Hispanic, and culturally and ethnically, the Rio Grande has never been a real divider. The net flow of immigrants is in recent years turned back south, but it's a problem that the U.S. can (and has) lived with for decades.

    3. "It seems to me the original republic was destroyed by Lincoln and since 1941 you have had an empire in the form of a republic, like Augustan Rome."

      Nonsense. Lincoln attempted to alleviate the original sin of the Republic, slavery. He could not complete that task. Andrew Jackson and his movement shook the foundations of the republican outlook, and the post WWII national security state--which will soon be in the control of a man with all of the trappings of a would-be despot (would it that I am wrong!)--marks the real beginning of a slippery slope. Rome had many demagogues and despots, the U.S. not so many, and one never as this level--even Jackson--as president. Yes, I am going to bone-up on may Roman history. (In addition to 20th century Europe.)

    4. Is America a nation founded on a creed or on British stock and culture?

    5. Why is easy immigration good? It's not for the masses. It is for big business and people who can employ cleaners.
      And it transforms countries - people should be asked if they want to be transformed.

    6. Easy immigration is good because it destroys the incentives for illegal immigration. Just like drug liberalization is good (see Portugal) because it destroys the incentives for illegal drugs. This is only true for societies where the demand for immigrants (or drugs) is extremely high in the first place. Making these things legal reduces crime/cartels and increases respect for the law - which is fundamental to a civilized society.

    7. Unclear transformation ...

      I feel most Romanian abroad - the transformation isn't merely subtle.

  7. Non-college-graduate whites in this northern tier, once strong for Ross Perot, gave Barack Obama relatively high percentages in 2008 and 2012. Many grew up in Democratic union households and were willing to vote for the first black president.
    Now they seem to have sloughed off their ancestral Democratic allegiance, much as white Southerners did in 1980s presidential and 1990s congressional elections. National Democrats no longer had anything to offer them then. Clinton didn't have anything to offer northern tier non-college whites this year.
    It didn't help that Clinton called half the Trump supporters "deplorables" and "irredeemables" infected with "implicit racism." They may have been shy in responding to telephone or exit polls, but they voted in unanticipatedly large numbers, in a time when turnout generally sagged.

  8. Like 'Brexit' it's down to education, or lack of. Paul you are a dissembling prevaricating propagandist for the unconsionable. but with a weather ear for plausible lies. Surely you're better than that.

  9. When people talk about post truth politics they mean they regard their political views as objectively true and people who disagree as uninformed or unintelligent. This is why academic studies and experts are invoked. It's the EU way. Government by experts.

    1. There are facts and there are lies.

    2. Nowhere worse than in academic circles: you can't change your mind even if you'd wish... and virtually no one wishes.

  10. "In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines."

    A literary/thinking man and a wise politician? One who actually has historical perspective and genuine interpersonal skills Mr Wood? You really have to stop doing that, since I can't like you for both qualities. Don't get me wrong, nothing against you personally whatsoever, but liking another too much would undermine my efforts to be a fair observer who has no predefined agenda and/or favourites - would undermine the splinter of ice in the eye, as it were. After all, in politics and/or business, there are no friends, only interests.

    I liked Disraeli's 'Sybil, or The Two Nations' a great deal. I have not explored the gentleman's other works and ideas.

    I liked Disraeli's 'Sybil, or The Two Nations' a great deal. I have not explored the gentleman's other works and ideas.

    But enough of my rubbish for now. Thanks once again for the invitation to think.

    Arthur Eveleens