Trump wins: America's great state of disconnect

by

Proved everyone wrong: President-elect Trump
  • Proved everyone wrong: President-elect Trump

ANALYSIS

We could have been talking about how women, and the 168-year-long spirit of the suffragette movement, carried Hillary Clinton over the finish line — a historic victory that would break the thickest glass ceiling in the world. The raw emotion and political intensity of those women would have been a power never before seen in American politics — the power of the pantsuit writ large all across the Electoral College map.

We could also have been talking about how, over the past 17 months, we watched as Donald Trump stormed the cockpit, sent the experienced pilots back to coach and took the controls of the Republican Party. How he expertly manipulated the media and tapped into a raw nerve of anger in America. 

And around 11:30 pm Tuesday night, just as this newspaper was going to press, Hillary Clinton conceded after the Associated Press called the election. Donald Trump will be sworn in as president come January. Here’s a look back at a campaign we’ll never forget.


Clinton played her Woman Card, and that card had two sides — both powerful in their own way. Of course Clinton attracted support from women wanting to make history — women who were also sold on her impressive background. But even women less than excited by the prospect of another Clinton in the White House joined the fray. Sure, most women can relate to Clinton’s very public, 40-year struggle with double standards, but her tent got even bigger because she had women voting either mostly for her or mostly against Trump.

In the end, women came out for Hillary Clinton in big numbers — but not quite as big as expected. Not only were the majority of her donors women (a first), a CBS/New York Times poll taken just before the election also showed Clinton leading Trump, 50-36, among all women. Yet according to exit polling reported by ABC News, the actual margin was 12 points, not 14. 

The polling was way off, and that will be a big story in the days to come. Polls leading up to Election Day showed a Clinton lead bigger than the one President Obama had over Mitt Romney in 2012. It seemed like the election would be competitive, but not close. Then results started rolling in. Florida fell to Trump. Then Ohio. And North Carolina. The dream of taking the Senate died, and Pennsylvania — Clinton’s firewall state — went to Trump, and soon after the White House with it.

You could say that Election 2016 was about the split between urban and rural America, but you could also say it was about gender. While Clinton won women by 12 points, Trump won men by 12. In the end, lots of women came out to support their candidate, but not quite as many as they had hoped. It wasn’t enough. 


Trump, meanwhile, proved all the conventional political wisdom in the world wrong. Turns out, you can tell voters that, “This country is a hellhole” and get elected president. You can say the dictator of Russia is a better leader than America’s president and get elected. You can lie constantly, as documented by armies of fact-checkers, and get elected. You can even say horrible things about women, including being accused by a dozen women of doing horrible things to them, and get elected president of the United States of America. Trump was the Teflon candidate.

Trump seemed a particularly vulnerable opponent for a woman, since his history of sexism had been well known since the 1980s. And as the campaign went on, he dug himself deeper by attacking Rosie O’Donnell, a former Miss Universe and even Megyn Kelly of Fox News. Notably, it was Kelly who kicked Trump right in his Achilles’ heel in the very first debate, asking him why he’s so degrading to women. In response, he attacked her, suggesting she was probably just menstruating. His woman problem got much worse after the release of Trump’s sex-predator confessional tape with Billy Bush — and the stream of women who publicly accused him of doing exactly what he said he did on the video. 

Eventually, Trump turned his misogyny on Clinton, questioning whether a woman would have the stamina to be president, calling her a “nasty woman” and even judging her sex appeal at one point. None of these tactics earned him any support from women — but, perhaps, it may have drawn enough men to Trump’s take-no-prisoners manliness. 

Without anything resembling a traditional campaign apparatus, Trump overcame his many shortcomings as a candidate. He lost all three debates and barely understood key issues — as recently as last month, he didn’t even know how the Affordable Care Act worked. His refusal to release his taxes was disqualifying for many voters. Not knowing that Russia invaded the Crimea and his pallin’ around with Vladimir Putin sent the foreign policy establishment (mostly conservatives) running across enemy lines to the Clinton camp. Patriotic voters were alarmed when he claimed that our military is “a disaster” and John McCain was not a hero, and when he wondered why we have nuclear weapons if we don’t use them. 


There’s no way around it; roughly half the population woke up to mourning in America on Nov. 9. Soon, however, the Monday morning quarterbacks will be asking whether Bernie Sanders could have defeated Trump. Sanders never had an email controversy hung around his neck, and his populist policies were oddly in synch with many Trump supporters. Clinton’s slew of semi-scandals did add up to some serious fatigue among voters. 

This campaign also revealed a lot about the voting public. In our self-absorbed Facebook culture, people don’t listen to each other much, and rational arguments don’t seem to work. We can’t even agree on facts — Trump never could accept that unemployment is below 5 percent, that incomes are growing and that crime is down. 

America is in a great state of disconnect — from each other as we stick to our own tribes, and from facts that could guide and unify us. If there’s any common ground to start fresh on, it’s that America has spoken. And President Obama is living proof that, sometimes, we learn to live with presidents we weren’t so sure about early on. 

On Monday, basking in public approval a point higher than Ronald Reagan’s at the same point in his tenure, Obama addressed a huge crowd outside Freedom Hall in Philadelphia — a state that Trump would win a day later. “I still haven’t given up on hope,” Obama said. “I’m betting that the wisdom, decency and generosity of the American people will once again win the day.” 

Every four years, we all have to hope that’s a winning bet.