A REQUIEM, BUT NOT AN AUTOPSY
Notes on the Aftermath of Election 2016
Thursday, November 10, 2016
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
Nearly nine years ago now (it seems so long ago as I now think about it- yet, at the same time, it also seems just like yesterday), on a Sunday back in mid-December 2007, my voice was heard on broadcast radio for the first time as a political commentator (I had been heard on broadcast radio before, mind you-- having called into sports, political or other radio talk shows over the course of my lifetime going back into my teenage years in the early 1970s; there was also a rather humorous incident that ended up with me having to announce the station ID [albeit only once] for the FM radio station of my alma mater, Boston University, back when I was still a student there-- but this was to be the first time my disembodied voice would be representing The Green Papers).
Strangely enough, my voice was not then even being heard in my own country! For I was, instead, being heard on Australia's Radio National network's weekly half hour-long public affairs program, Rear Vision, trying my darnedest to describe- as succinctly, yet as thoroughly, as possible (for a foreign audience)- the manner and method through which each American Major Party would be nominating their respective candidates for President of the United States and, thereafter, how the President of the United States would actually be elected (including how the so-called 'Electoral College' functioned) come the ensuing Fall of 2008.
My comments were not even 'live' but, rather, "live to tape" (or, for all I know, it might well have actually been live to Compact Disc, given the technology of the time, but this older term was still being used to describe the process) and thereafter edited in sequence (my own so edited comments would be, upon broadcast, interspersed with those of a Harvard University professor of Government). Indeed, I was actually interviewed by phone nearly a fortnight before the actual broadcast itself (which is, believe it or not, still accessible- as I now type this- on the Internet here!)
Of course, by that last month of 2007, both the Democrats and Republicans were already in the runup to the First-in-the-Nation Caucuses in Iowa the following month, followed shortly thereafter by the First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primaries in New Hampshire and the Democratic side, in particular, featured three leading presidential contenders: then-Senator from New York (and former First Lady) Hillary Rodham Clinton; then-Senator from North Carolina (and the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee) John Edwards, and then-Senator from Illinois (and, as it turned out, future President) Barack Obama.
During my interview for Rear Vision, I said the following about Mrs. Clinton as we headed into the earliest phases of the 2008 Presidential Election campaign:
Hillary Clinton's the closest thing we have to a front-runner in either party and she has a lot of negative baggage. A lot of people just don't like her, and so she's not a front-runner in the traditional sense of the term.
Nearly eight years later, as we were again heading into the earliest phases of the 2016 Presidential Election campaign, I wrote a piece for this website (it was intended as something of a preview of the first nationally televised debate among contenders for the most recent Democratic Party presidential nomination) in which I clarified my remarks in this regard back when I was on Rear Vision, in which I noted that I did not- at the time (the given time constraints [even within a "Live-to-Tape" format]... were such that I had to keep things both succinct and 'moving along', as it were)- make it very clear that I was here specifically referring to those who "just don't like her" within her own Party (it was principally this that provided much, if not most, of that "negative baggage" of which I was then speaking).
I went on to note that Mrs. Clinton, during her tenure as First Lady, all too often [came] off as something of the proverbial "one-room Township schoolmarm" (pedantic, where not even also [if only at times] prudish [for no one was seriously (key word here: "seriously") accusing Hillary of such sexual innuendo as that all too easily attached to the very name of President Bill], within her own prescriptions for America's political, economic and social ills [especially once she had to so advance same during her first campaign for the Senate]) and that it was this which would come to well fill that "negative baggage" of which I would speak... As I would say- in response to a friend of mine who was a very strong supporter of 'Hillary 2008' and who had pointedly questioned my even having said that which I quoted from myself in italics above (she had listened to the 'podcast' of my Rear Vision appearance online)- "No one much likes being lectured to!"
I reiterate all the above (to the irritation, or so I am sure, of many of those now reading this who most strongly supported Mrs. Clinton's now-unsuccessful candidacy for the Presidency [but I can do no less than "call 'em as I sees 'em"]), if only to here lead into what I think was most at the core of that candidacy's very failure in the end. For, to me, the low point of that unsuccessful campaign for the Presidency was when Mrs. Clinton- in immediate relation to her controversial "basket of deplorables" comment- used, in addition, the descriptive "irredeemable": now, I happen to have been raised in the United Methodist Church (as was Hillary Clinton herself) and my immediate thought was 'Hillary, you've forgotten your Methodism 101: what would John Wesley do?'. This- more than any of her other "baggage" (private e-mail server, Benghazi, alleged Clinton Foundation irregularities)- was at the very heart of Mrs. Clinton's core political problems all along, well fueling the 'Feel the Bern' crowd just about as much as it energized those who might have been chanting "Lock her up!".
She may well most fervently believe in the Methodist admonition to (as she herself put it during her Acceptance Speech before this past Summer's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia) "Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can" (a variation of a longer statement often misattributed to John Wesley himself)- and, despite what might be said or thought by her most vehement detractors (along with any and all mere cynics out there), I myself have no real reason to doubt she, in fact, does (certainly, it has fueled her own public career, including the more controversial parts of same, going all the way back into her own youth and young adulthood)- but then along would come something much along the same lines of that (frankly, infamous) "deplorables... irredeemable" comment of hers, a "something" that would allow many people- even among those otherwise more disposed to support her own political views- to, again, just not like her!
Perhaps this may well be the very key to answering the question as to (as well as fully understanding) just why there was such strong support for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (besides an upswelling of largely youthful idealism amongst those who might so "feel the Bern") as well as why so many voters- those who themselves admitted they had altogether grave doubts as to Donald Trump's fitness to actually serve as President- to nevertheless choose the now-President-elect, rather than Mrs. Clinton, in this most recent election.
Sometimes one can try too hard- in addition, oftentimes, one can get much too frustrated with one's opponents within such trying and then lash out at them- and, thereby, only end up as the finger-wagging, tongue-clicking proverbial "goody two-shoes" no one really wants around come the high school or college/university graduation party/"kegger"...
again, no one much likes being lectured to!
And so Donald John Trump, Sr. will, in a little over two months as I now type this, be sworn in as Our Nation's 45th President.
Mr. Trump is the first President-elect in my entire lifetime (I'm 60 years old now, thus this goes all the way back to *1956* ["I Like Ike" the second time around, when my Mom held infant me in one arm while she moved the levers on the voting machine with her other hand]) to be pretty much a completely blank slate: some might even fairly argue that the term palimpsest might well be the more accurate descriptive!
Simply put: we simply don't really know just what the new President will actually do. His campaign, going back to when he first announced for the White House in mid-Summer 2015, was in so many ways a veritable maze of contradictions (I will here dispense with Trump's more controversial statements over the course of the campaign: I am only dealing, in this piece, with his evidently preferred public policy options). A number of conservative commentators and pundits opined, up till the eve of the election, that he was "really" a closet Democrat (perhaps even a closet liberal [one opinion piece I read in this vein even suggested that, on at least some issues of the day, he might well be closer to Barack Obama than a "President Hillary Clinton" herself would have been!]): whatever the reader of this piece might think about such sentiments, the fact is that they were- and, indeed, still are- out there.
Much else that President-elect Trump proposed during the course of his candidacy simply seems utterly undoable-- the Southern Border Wall chief, if only to here provide one example, among them (the estimated cost of this project alone is staggering: even if "Mexico pays for it", in some form or fashion, there would certainly have to be a significant initial outlay of American taxpayer dollars [it's not like Mexico is going to act like I did recently when I had my house's roof replaced and paid a sizeable down payment, via check, to the contractor upon accepting his estimate, the rest to be due upon completion of the job!]). This doesn't mean Trump won't carry out his campaign promises (or at least most earnestly try to do so): it's just that it will almost certainly be altogether difficult to do so in the manner he might most like...
not least because the Republican Party leadership in both houses of Congress and President-elect Trump are not, at least at the start, in sync (a President can't fire Congress-- only the People can [and will have to now wait at least another two years to do so])!
The so-called 'Trump Movement' (for lack of a better term) managed to get "their guy" nominated by the Grand Old Party (and then was at least the core of those who thereafter have gotten him to the White House), yet it failed (some might argue it often didn't seem to have any real interest in even doing so) to take over the GOP itself. This is very different from what happened back in 1964 (the last time before this the Grand Old Party faced a successful political insurgency), when the conservative forces of that year's GOP nominee Barry Goldwater managed to co-opt the Republican Party apparatus of that time (the Republican National Chairman, Congressman William Miller of New York, became Goldwater's running mate and Dean Burch of Senator Goldwater's own home State of Arizona was installed as RNC Chair in Miller's stead).
In 2016, on the other hand, while 'tis true current RNC Chair Reince Priebus (who has enjoyed a longer-than-usual stint in that position) was an early proponent of Trump's candidacy (once the magnate had clinched the GOP presidential nomination), the fact that so many Republican officeholders failed- or even refused- to endorse their own Party's standard-bearer suggests an insurgency that missed out on hitting all its targets within the GOP. This can't be totally ignored overnight simply because the GOP presidential nominee has won.
The Trump Movement was (and still is) both populist and, thereby, anti-Establishment: anti-Republican Establishment no less than anti-Democratic Party elite!
Along these same lines, it has to be admitted that the Republican Party of the United States is today badly fissured (despite the GOP's apparent victory in taking functional control of all three branches of the Federal Government): this was plain for all to see during the course of both the pre-National Convention and General Election campaigns-- and this, too, does not simply disappear overnight. For these fissures go all the way back more than a quarter century now, almost back to the end of the Reagan era (if one is looking for an exact date- however symbolic this might be- one might well choose Tuesday 26 June 1990, when President George H.W. Bush seemingly reneged on his "Read my lips, no new taxes" statement delivered when he had accepted the GOP presidential nomination less than two years before-- Bush41's call that day for what he called "tax revenue increases" as one of the methodologies of dealing with a deficit was taken as a slap in the face of conservative Republican orthodoxy and the Grand Old Party, it can be argued, has never been the same since).
During the ensuing November General Election in 1990, William Weld- for one- was first elected Governor of Massachusetts and appeared to be one of the newly emerging leaders of a still robust "moderate" (opposing conservatives would call it "progressive" [often derisively, where not also perjoratively]) faction/wing within the Grand Old Party: 26 years later, Weld was the vice-presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party calling for Donald Trump to "be stopped". Even more recent moderate/progressive Republicans, like one-time Florida Governor Charlie Crist, found themselves the principal targets of the nascent so-called "Tea Party" movement (Crist ended up unsuccessfully running for the United States Senate as an Independent in 2010 [he, along with Democrat Kendrick Meek, was defeated by Senator Marco Rubio, himself recently re-elected to that body just the other day; meanwhile, Crist has just been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives-- as a Democrat!])
The Republican Party has, thereby, effectively marginalized (and, in many a case, ostracized) the economic right-of-center conservative who does not otherwise fit the definition of "conservative" demanded by the more orthodox within the GOP (whether socioculturally conservative or not). Doubtless, in the short run, an attempt will be made to paper this over in the manner that the Republican Party has more usually done such a thing since the early 1990s-- but the continuing demographic shifts within the United States as a whole, continuing apace, suggests the failure (not to also mention unwillingness) of the GOP to (at least so far, if not also for the immediate future) deal with a longer-term political problem.
But, even without such a thing, the Republican Party itself faces a potentially more damaging institutional fracture. The very "political DNA" of the Grand Old Party- as I myself pointed out throughout the 2016 campaign (not only on this website, but also in interviews on radio and with print/online journalists)- is one of, as the Party's very name suggests, being REPUBLIC-an (that is: a Party that, institutionally, is more prone to filter small-"d" democratic pressures from below through levels of governance, as is the essence of the classic Republic): the ultimately failed attempt in 2016 by, among others, North Dakota's Curly Haugland- as noted on this very website- to keep the GOP's convention delegates unbound to any presidential contender ahead of time (that is: to actually have the Republican National Convention function as national conventions- for both Parties- once more normally functioned up through a couple generations ago now) is, at base, simply a best reflection of what is, after all, just such a REPUBLIC-an concept!
In the 2016 Presidential Election cycle, as already noted above, the Republican Party- as a political entity- faced a successful insurgency (which we call, again, call the 'Trump Movement') largely fueled by an incremental increase in small-d democracy within the GOP's presidential nominating process over the course of the last few such quadrennial election cycles. This has created something of an identity crisis within the Grand Old Party over just what it might mean to actually be REPUBLIC-an in structure, as opposed to merely ideology...
the successful election of Donald Trump as President may well have now pushed this institutional/structural issue to the proverbial "back burner", but it is not at all going away and will only well come back to the fore no later than the 2024 Presidential Election cycle (unless, of course, the Republican Party itself is willing to address it- even tackle it [and wrestle it to the ground]- beforehand)...
thus- even with a Republican Congress (GOP control of both houses of same), a Republican (well, at least ostensibly) President (although the Trump Administration will be "front loaded" with GOPers [many of them "hard core", however non-Establishment] at the start, it will be most interesting to see if this might well still be case by its end [whether this be four, or eight, years from now]) and, obviously, future (and long-term) Republican impact upon the Federal Judiciary- the inherent aforementioned (and serious) divisions (both ideological and institutional) within the Grand Old Party will play a significant role in the future politics and policies of the ensuing Donald Trump era.
With this, we come back full circle to the Democrats.
Assuming the basic truth of the implied underlying premise in the first section of this piece- that the electoral defeat this past week of Hillary Clinton was, in part, as much a reflection of her own "negatives" (in this case, the same overardent passion for that in which she most fervently has believed: that which caused me to so say- even before the 2008 Presidential Primary campaign- that "[a] lot of people just don't like her"), negatives which, it can be fairly argued, also caused her to also lose that eight-years-earlier Democratic presidential nomination to a "cooler customer" in the form of Barack Hussein Obama, as anything else- then it can be likewise argued that the anti- Hillary Clinton fervor (whether from supporters of Bernie Sanders or, later, Donald Trump) had a personal, as well as (if not even more than) political, basis.
If so, then the Democratic Party- while it certainly also has its own "issues" coming out of the 2016 Election- is not in as bad a state as are the otherwise victorious Republicans. Political Parties tend to more likely reform themselves in the wake of defeat, rather than victory, and the Democrats are already committed (via the Unity Commission authorized by their own National Convention this past Summer) to reform their presidential nominating process (quite clearly, something must be done to reduce the impact, come National Convention time, of the so-called 'Superdelegates' [Unpledged Party Leader/Elected Officials]- though their outright elimination altogether makes little sense [especially if the Democrats also, at the same time, address the issue of how best to accommodate Independents not card-carrying members of the Party who, nonetheless, tend to trend Democratic in their usual voting behavior]).
In any event, Democrats (the vast majority of Sanders and Hillary supporters alike) did- for the most part- generally "circle the wagons" come the General Election campaign, if only because of their collective fear of a Trump Presidency (that their Party's nominee would, nonetheless, get steamrolled by a Trumpian juggernaut in what I have called "the core of the Rust Belt" [Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin-- with Minnesota a near thing as well] was, in the main, not a byproduct of Democratic Party disunity per se).
The loss of that "Rust Belt core" to the Republicans (not only as regards the presidential race, but also in Senate races therein), however, is something Democrats certainly have looked- and will, in the coming years, have to continue to look- upon with no little alarm. Meanwhile, however, there yet remains that which I myself once rather jocularly called "the Northeast Confederacy", where I noted a dozen years ago now that [t]he once-Democratic "Solid South" may well still be solid, albeit solidly Republican now, but surely there is now evidence of a "Solid Northeast" as solidly Democratic as the "Solid South" for a century after the Civil War. Together with the Pacific Coast States and Hawaii, this "Solid Northeast" pretty much- and once more- held firm for the Democrats in 2016.
By the same token, though: just as the pro-Trump "rising" in the "Rust Belt core" (as described above) is an important element of just why Donald Trump will be our 45th President, the "rising" of the Bernie Sanders supporters within the Democratic Party is not at all going away (especially if the 'Feel the Bern' movement seen this past Spring of 2016 is viewed as being just as populist, albeit on the Left side of the ledger as Trumpian populism is on the Right). Two competing brands of Populism are, thereby, so strongly "mixing it up"- and will continue to do so- within American contemporary Politics.
So the Democrats are not in all that bad a shape, despite this most recent- and shocking- defeat at the hands of now-President-elect Trump: and it helps that the Democrats don't have the responsibility of at all governing (on the other hand, any political infighting amongst Republicans in the Nation's Capital will be the far more visible, not least because the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives- the closest thing the American Federal System has to a "Prime Minister" [without the executive responsiblities as in a parliamentary 'Westminster' political system]- will surely be involved). In addition, it may well turn out (we will all just have to wait and see!) that President Donald Trump himself may need the aid of Democrats in both houses of Congress to implement at least some of his potential policy proposals where these might well conflict with the political positions taken by a still-well breathing Republican Establishment ensconced- for at least the duration of the incoming 115th Congress- beneath the U.S. Capitol's so recently refurbished dome.