How we failed
America's political and media establishments failed to grasp the extent of the seismic shift that the rise of Donald Trump portended
Humility is hard. So is contrition. As is taking responsibility for one's own unjustified arrogance and undeniable mistakes.
But all of that and more is what America's political and media establishments owe to the country. They failed — we failed, I failed — to grasp the extent of the seismic shift that the rise of Donald Trump portended. Trump's campaign and personal behavior are so offensive to so many things that the members of these establishments take for granted, believe in, and valorize, that the thought that Trump could prevail electorally was close to unthinkable for most.
We can't blame James Comey. Hillary Clinton's slide in the polls began before he temporarily reignited his investigation into her State Department emails, and she rebounded from some of that decline over the past week.
The polls were just plain wrong. Poll after poll after poll, day after week after month. Dozens, hundreds of them — and almost none of them predicted this outcome. (The much-ridiculed L.A. Times poll is the very rare, perhaps only, exception.)
Go back and look at the pretty digital line graphs continually updated by statistical smart guys like Nate Silver and Nate Cohn to show the likelihood of either candidate prevailing. Except for a rare afternoon here or there where Trump came close to catching Clinton, she was always in the lead. Always winning. For goodness sake, the debate over the past week of the campaign was over whether Hillary Clinton had a 65 percent chance of winning, an 80 percent chance of winning, or a 99 percent chance of winning.
None of the smart guys came close to grasping the truth — which is that they don't really know what the electorate thinks, and they don't know who is likely to vote.
But this isn't just about the polls. It's also about the way the country's political and media establishments view the country in more qualitative terms. Yes, Americans have elected Donald Trump president. But they have also elected a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. The Supreme Court will now revert to a right-leaning majority. Plus GOP governors. And state houses. The Republican Party isn't dead or defeated, as so many (myself included) presumed throughout the past year. It's thriving — and certainly far more than the Democratic Party is.
If the political and media establishments were merely out of touch with much of the country, that would be one thing. But it's worse than that. They presume to know, they presume to judge, and most astonishingly, they presume that this will work out at the voting booth.
In one of the most bracingly incisive tweets from Tuesday night, left-wing gadfly Fredrik deBoer aimed squarely at the Democratic Party:
Can anyone tell me what Hillary Clinton's campaign stood for? I know, I know: "Visit my website," as she liked to repeat during the debates. But what about her own statements? Very often they seemed to boil down to a wholly negative message: Trump's a racist, sexist psycho! Vote for me, because I'm not him! Unless you're one of his deplorables, that is. In that case, you can just get on out of America!
I get it. I detest Trump. I'm stunned at his victory and deeply worried for the future of our nation. But as I've written on numerous occasions when imagining the Trump loss I thought was nearly certain, the millions upon millions of Americans who voted for him aren't going anywhere. They are our fellow citizens. We need, somehow, to learn to live with them.
And to be governed by them.
The first step toward that goal is taking the blame for convincing ourselves that we could skip the part where we try to understand the country we live in, as opposed to wishing away the parts of it that we don't especially like.