It is 8:00am CET (2:00am EST) Wednesday and I am writing this on no sleep. I decided to turn off the computer and télé around 5, when the debacle was near certain, and go to bed but to no avail—and my sleeplessness was not helped by the two strong espressos I had had after midnight (to say awake through the returns) plus three shots of vodka (to calm my nerves). Speaking as an American, this is the biggest political catastrophe of my life—which now spans six decades—and certainly the biggest to befall the United States since the Civil War. I am alarmed, terrified, worried sick, near panic-stricken, and you name it, for the future of America but also the world. No need to explain why—as everyone reading this understands perfectly—but I simply cannot wrap my head around the reality that Donald Trump will be in the White House for the next four years and with the extreme right-wing Republican Party in control of Congress and, in short order, the Supreme Court—and with the calamitous consequences this will have on almost every domain of policy and the equally calamitous impact on the lives of countless millions (for starters: the environment and climate change, health care, immigration, voting rights, the global economy, America’s standing in the world…). And there’s nothing to be done about it. One feels the same helplessness and despair as did the people of Paris on June 14, 1940, watching the Germans march down the Champs-Élysées. Now I am not suggesting that Trump is akin to the Nazis—though we can talk about that—but the German presence back then lasted four years, was aided by a collaborationist regime (cf. GOP) that had a strong political base, and led to outright civil war (Free French vs. Vichy). The consequences for French society were terrible.
It’s unlikely Americans will start killing one another—in greater numbers than they already do—but the divisions and animosities will only worsen. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, one of my favorite political journalists, tweeted this thought a few hours ago
I didn’t quite understand how much white people hated us, or could at least live with that hate. Now I do.
If Trump makes good on his pledge to punish his political detractors, have opponents thrown in prison, and opposition media put out of business, then all bets are off.
I have communicated with numerous friends over the past several hours, via Facebook and email, and everyone’s sentiments are identical. Everyone in my social class—that class of educated people connected into or open to the world beyond America’s borders and who are allergic to populism and blood-and-soil nationalism—is devastated by Trump’s utterly unexpected victory and fearful for the future. Around 3:00am I posted a comment on Facebook that I was having the same sinking feeling as the night of the Brexit vote, when the statistical models had the probability of a ‘remain’ victory melting like snow on a warm day. The first states to be called, Indiana and Kentucky, at 1:00am already caused a little alarm in my head to go off. Those who have watched presidential election returns over the years know that if Indiana—which is rock-ribbed Republican—is called as soon as the polls there close, this signifies that the Republican candidate is going to win or that the national result will be extremely close. If the state is announced too close to call, that points to a good night for the Democrats. Last night Indiana was called right away.
What is stunning—just unbelievable—is Trump winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, plus the 8½ point margin of victory in Ohio. It was predicted that he’d take OH but absolutely no one foresaw MI and WI. The breathtaking collapse of Hillary’s firewall. This has to be the biggest polling failure in election history. Absolutely no one saw this outcome coming. Even Frank Luntz was predicting a Clinton victory at 8:00pm EST. So much for the Princeton Election Consortium’s random drift/Bayesian probability at >99. And so much for sophisticated GOTV operations and TV ad budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This is deeply unsettling, as it upends everything we know or understand about how election campaigns are run, or at least supposed to be run—and, moreover, with the upending being done by a demagogic, mentally unstable billionaire populist caudillo wannabe with no organization to speak of and who attracts millions of adoring supporters—and tens of millions of voters—through the sheer force of his dark persona. That such could happen in a rich and powerful country like America is quite terrifying.
If the polls were disastrously wrong, there was one that turned out not to be: the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times Daybreak tracking poll, which consistently had Trump up over Clinton throughout the campaign. It seemed obvious that the poll was an outlier and not to be taken seriously, but lo and behold. My old friend Don, who has had a long and illustrious career working on labor and grassroots campaigns in the Midwest, posted this comment on social media a few hours ago
USC/LA Times polled 3,200 same people every week and always had Trump ahead…I talked to their pollster and I said if your large sample, panel study is right you’ll be famous… NYT and Nate Silver criticized their methodology but it seemed pretty solid. I just refused to believe it. It did not fit with my opinion nor my hope.
That’s right, I also dismissed the poll’s numbers, mainly because I did not like them (though the thought did occur to me two days ago—which I quickly banished from my head—that perhaps this one could be right and all the others wrong).
One person in particular merits kudos for his prescient analysis, which is Michael Moore, who, in a widely circulated post on his website last July, enumerated the “5 reasons why Trump will win,” the first reason labeled “Midwest math, or welcome to our Rust Belt Brexit,” in which he asserted that Trump would win Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In a blog post shortly after, I devoted several paragraphs to rubbishing Moore’s piece. What to say, Michael was right and AWAV was à côté de la plaque.
These are random, sleep-deprived thoughts, which I have more of. Maybe I’ll offer them later, or in a few days, if I’m up to it. I have to go to town now to teach a 2½-hour class, to American undergrads, one of whom is Latino and has been deeply worried for weeks over the prospect of a Trump victory. This will be tough.