Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thoughts on November 9th, one day after the election

Words are hard to find. The impact of what we've just experienced, and what we're about to experience, gives one pause.

A friend joked that yesterday's outcome was "disappointing," and added "hope he doesn't tank the markets," to which I responded:

Yes, hope he doesn't tank the markets ...

  • Or limit First Amendment protections on free speech ...
  • Or create a Deportation Force ...
  • Or try to screen all Muslims ...
  • Or punish women who have abortions ... All of which he has called for or alluded to during his campaign for the presidency. 

Our best hope is that Donald Trump ends up something like Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister who made his country into a laughing stock.

The larger point of this election has been made already by many -- the split in the American electorate is so striking. Many repudiate elites as a way of expressing their fear, anger and frustration over their diminished role in the world. "An unmistakable rejection of establishment" is how British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn put it, but to my mind, it is Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and the fomenter of the Brexit vote who may have described the U.S. election best when he released this statement:

"Today, the establishment is in deep shock. Even more so than after Brexit.  What we are witnessing is the end of a period of big business and big politics controlling our lives.
Voters across the Western world want nation state democracy, proper border controls and to be in charge of their own lives.
I commend Donald Trump for the courage with which he has fought this campaign and I look forward to a closer relationship between the USA and the UK.  We now have a President who likes our country and understands our post-Brexit values.
Prepare for further political shocks in the years to come."

Those of us who do not ascribe to Farage's philosophy of statecraft and leadership in a complex world ought nevertheless to listen to his words carefully. In two recent elections, in two very like-minded nations, voters by narrow margins have chosen the Farage-Trump path.  We are in this time and this place. We ought to see it as clearly as Farage has spelled it out for us.

As a postscript, I can't help but notice two corpses on the floor:
  • The Republican Party has once and for all been killed by Donald Trump. It is no longer a vessel into which a political philosophy has been poured. It is now a name only, and that name has lost its brand identity. [For more on this, I recommend this excellent article by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal.]
  • The Republican Party's cousin, the post World War Two order of nations, with the United States in the lead position, also died yesterday. It was also killed by Donald Trump and the voters who put him into office. Isolationist nations do not lead. They do not follow. If they are lucky, the do not get attacked. In classic psychological transposition, Donald Trump claimed that the U.S. was "the laughingstock of the world." What he will accomplish over the next four years will turn his dark vision into reality.

The responsibility of the Left and of progressives is not to whine or make platitudes about moving to Canada. Their job is to regroup, reorganize, rethink and find a path forward where their values can commingle with dissenting voices. I suspect that if the Democrats really tried to re-attract those proverbial blue collar workers in the Upper Midwest, they would be confronted with sentiments that New York  or Massachusetts or California Democrats would find very hard to swallow. Therein lies a conundrum. Bernie Sanders may be helpful here, since he was the closest to being able to speak that language. 

Some argue, notably Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center on Twitter this morning, that an innovation economy will fill in those lost jobs in places like Michigan or Ohio. That seems more pipe dream that reality to me, given the different type of worker each of those jobs attracts and retains, but it's a pipe dream worth testing out. We on the coasts are decidedly without creative ideas when it comes to those we claim to speak for. In some ways, it's the tyranny of demography that grabbed us.

The bigger worry is that this election is really about identity, and all the awful things that humans do to gain or maintain a position of power, dominance or control. That is a tougher nut to crack.

And in my final, darkest, gloomiest note, I cannot help but observe that on this date, November 9, 1938, the Nazis instigated Krystallnacht, the destruction of Jewish homes, schools and businesses throughout Germany in which 100 Jews were killed. It was a heinous act, but worse, it was a signal of the violence to come. Germany has spent the last 70 years trying to undo that damage.