by Harold A. Gould
There is no simple answer to the question why Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost the presidential election to Donald Trump and his odd admixture of right-wing Republicans, disgruntled working-class Democrats and a wide range of alienated White racism-tainted bigots who feared the growing political immanence of women, of darker complexioned socio-culturally diverse ethnic communities, like African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and Middle-Eastern immigrants in general, and transsexuals, all of whom in the past had languished in second-class social status in an Anglo-Saxon-dominated society.
I miscalculated, and so did the Democrats, by assuming that this emerging admixture had become formidable enough to carry the day and enable Hillary and the Democrats to win the election. In one sense, of course, they actually did carry the day -- after all, they actually won the popular vote by a 3 million vote-margin -- and, therefore, in a conventional democratic polity Hillary would indeed be the first female US President of the United States. But the arcane and obsolete electoral college system essentially nullified the popular vote’s outcome by allowing a handful of so-called ‘rust-belt’ states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin etc,) to hand a razor-slim majority of electoral votes to Donald Trump and the Republicans -- and, in this manner, win the election according to the existing rules.
In this sense, the election was, therefore, a fluke. The huge popular vote majorities that Hillary amassed in the highly urbanised, politically progressive coastal states of the country -- like New York and California, New Jersey and Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts -- counted for nothing in the end.
Then there were the consequences of what is called ‘gerrymandering’. This is the process originally initiated by disgruntled Whites in the Southern states following their defeat in the Civil War to impede the ability of emancipated Blacks who as free citizens were henceforth legally entitled to cast their votes in free and open elections. It involved concocting rules and qualifications that made it difficult and, whenever, impossible for people to go to the polls and cast their votes.
It also allowed state governments to demographically construct the boundaries of the constituencies from which voters were allowed to cast votes for authorised candidates for seats in both state and national legislative bodies (viz, the Houses of Representatives and the Senates in each state, and the Senate and House of Representatives at the national level). These techniques included gimmicks such as literacy tests, quizzes on the Constitution, and picture-IDs which enabled state governments to both limit individual voters’ access to the polls (meaning primarily uneducated Blacks and poor people generally) and otherwise, wherever possible, establish at the state-level demographically structured constituencies in which Whites were in numerical majority.
A token number of constituencies, of course, were always demographically constructed in such manner as to enable a limited number of minorities to get elected. This was, of course, a form of tokenism designed to parry public challenges by critics to what was obviously racial discrimination.
The point is that this pattern is followed to this day, and in two-thirds of the states where nowadays Republicans are in the majority, especially in the South, constituencies are demographically structured so as to favour right-wing candidates getting elected. It is in fact the reason why the Republicans now control both the House of Representatives and the Senate!
And this, of course, is one of the main reasons why a charlatan like Donald Trump won the presidency: The Democrats failed to mobilise enough support for their political agenda at the grass-roots; they were unable to nullify the gerrymandering of the state-level constituencies that enabled the Republicans to gather just enough electoral votes for Trump to win the election. Grass-roots mobilisation is a fundamental variable in American elections because it is the only way to nullify the impact of gerrymandering; the party that fails to successfully select candidates who can be winners in a majority of the individual state constituencies has no chance of getting a majority in the electoral college. And this is a major reason why Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost in 2016; and why if they fail to recapture control of enough grass-roots constituencies in future elections, they will remain out of power.
There is an interesting irony in all of this: Since Trump’s ascent to the political throne, in the manner of all typical fascistic political demagogues, he has claimed that the electoral system is ‘rigged’ against him. In fact, through the existence of gerrymandering and the manipulation of the Media by systematically promulgating lies, in the form of so-called ‘alternative facts’, about the integrity of journalists and political opponents, the only provable ‘rigging’ that has taken place, and continues to take place, is being perpetuated by Donald Trump and the Republicans. During the election they successfully waged a smear campaign against Hillary’s moral character, her conduct of foreign policy while Secretary of State (e.g. Libya), and the ethics of the Clinton Foundation. All this by an opponent who is a certified hustler, a liar, a sexual predator, an intellectual mediocrity, and in all probability a mental case as well!
From the standpoint of the Democrats’ personal responsibility for the election’s outcome, I think it comes down to this: They blew it for at least two reasons: First, as I’ve already suggested, they lost control of the grass-roots. They took it for granted that ordinary working-class voters would support Democratic candidates because in previous years they had done so. Second, automation, overseas jobs-outsourcing, stagnating economic growth in smaller towns and rural America, especially among the working-class, and the declining viability of labour unions, produced a growing number of predominantly discontented Whites who were increasingly prone to respond to an authoritarian, populist demagogue like Donald Trump who promised a return to an allegedly racially pure halcyon past that in fact never ever really existed.
So the Democrats missed the ideological boat! And their remiss was compounded by the charismatic inadequacies of their presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton is intellectually gifted and authentically socially progressive; she repeatedly demonstrated her policy-making capabilities when she was First Lady and when she was Secretary of State. But she was less impressive as a political campaigner; she lacked the charisma and the rhetorical dynamism of an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie Sanders, or, of course, Barack Obama, or for that matter even a Donald Trump. In this sense the Democrats would, in my opinion, have been better off with either Elizabeth or Bernie as the party’s presidential candidate.
But after all, despite her alleged deficiencies as a political campaigner, Hillary actually won the popular vote by a wide margin and, therefore, if the election process itself had been really fair she would be President today! So the outcome was a mixture of structural and personal factors, and this is why the Democrats must undertake a careful and comprehensive analysis of what took place and what they must do to return the party to power.
Obviously they must find ways to regain power at the grassroots; obviously they must find ways to increase working-class optimism about their job prospects in an increasingly more technologically sophisticated industrial economy; they must promote policies that make tuition-free college-level education (such as Bernie Sanders advocated) generally accessible to ordinary people; and they must concentrate on inspiring young people to become more committed to political participation and getting out to vote on election day all the way down to state and local contests.
One sees signs of this happening in the outpourings of public protests against the Trump-administration's anti-immigration and other reactionary socially-discriminatory policies. One now hopes to see the Democratic Party reorganise itself around a younger more dynamic leadership. And indeed this seems to be in the process of taking place. For clearly such political revitalisation is essential if Donald Trump’s fascistic, implicitly political agenda is to be contained and ultimately eliminated before it irreversibly contaminates American democracy.
(The author is a Visiting Professor at the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)