Society

America Now Has (at Least) 9,999 Problems

We will have to confront the deep problems that allowed Trump first to hijack the Republican Party and then to win the election.

America Now Has (at Least) 9,999 Problems

Latinos vote at a polling station in El Gallo Restaurant on Nov. 8, 2016 in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

When I wrote this piece, “The Hole in Obama’s Legacy,” for The New Yorker back in August, I did not, even briefly, imagine that Obama’s failure to reach the white working class would lead to a Trump presidency. I thought it would be a problem for Hillary and Democrats in the future. And I also believed/worried that it was more the problem of the white working class than it was for the Democrats. Demographic changes in the country were weakening the chokehold they had previously held on our recent elections. Their time, sad to say, was up. (Obama did far better with these voters than is commonly understood; had Clinton done as well with them as he did, she would have won Tuesday night.)

Well, that part sure was wrong. One of the many miscalculations that many of us made was how willing so many women were to vote for a predatory sexist pig as president. Another was the size of the white working class, male and female, relative to the rest of the electorate. Latinos certainly upped their game, thanks to Trump’s hateful threats. Jews stuck to the Democratic fold, thanks in part to the shocking anti-Semitic imagery in which the campaign regularly trafficked.

There were Bernie Sanders voters who would not pull the lever for Clinton; Jill Stein voters who fooled themselves that anyone cares (or will remember) their egomaniacal ‘protest’ votes and Gary Johnson voters who didn’t mind casting their ballot for a total ignoramus.

African-Americans, however, did not turn out for Secretary Clinton as they had for President Obama, and hence failed to offset the surge that Trump got from rural voters looking for him to restore an America that (thankfully) no longer exists.

This is consistent, I’m sorry to say, with the reaction I received to my New Yorker article. Almost all of it was from African-Americans who read it as an attack on President Obama for failing to cure white racism. I found this silly and did not respond, but I think it speaks to the fact that many in the left/liberal community have lost the ability to see that we still live in a country dominated by powerful white and wealthy institutions, and never more so than we do today.

Of course, African-American non-voters are hardly alone to blame, especially when one considers how purposely difficult so many states made it for them to cast a ballot. (On average, those in African-American neighborhoods waited about an hour longer to vote than did whites.) There were Bernie Sanders voters who would not pull the lever for Clinton; Jill Stein voters who fooled themselves that anyone cares (or will remember) their egomaniacal “protest” votes and Gary Johnson voters who didn’t mind casting their ballot for a total ignoramus.

I don’t mean to make this a first-shot in a circular liberal firing squad. The deeper problems that allowed Trump first to hijack the Republican Party and then to win the election are surely more responsible for the catastrophe that has now befallen us than any made by women or minority voters (who, it must be noted, voted in large numbers for Clinton overall).

The most obvious of these problems are:

  • The power we have given money in our political system to determine the terms of debate, long before any choices even reach the voter.
  • The television media, and particularly the cable media, that utterly failed to hold Trump to any standards of truth but piggybacked on his lies and hate speech because it ginned up ratings.
  • The near complete lack of attention to the issues in mainstream media coverage. As Andrew Tyndall reported, beginning in January 2016, the three evening network news shows devoted a combined total of 32 minutes to actual issues, with as much as half of that going to “terrorism.” Not a single report on trade, health care, climate change, drug policy, poverty policy, gun control, infrastructure investment, etc. — and all of these topics overwhelmed by the amount of time given to Hillary Clinton’s email troubles.
  • Trump successfully stood down the media by refusing to release his tax returns. Meanwhile, the same media happily regurgitated the Wikileaks material stolen for them from the likes of John Podesta and the DNC by Julian Assange, who was likely working hand-in-glove with Russian hackers.
  • False equivalence.
  • The collapse of the newspaper industry (where, despite the problem of false equivalence, almost all of the true reporting on Trump originated).
  • Rupert Murdoch (and Roger Ailes).
  • Sheldon Adelson.
  • The Koch Brothers.
  • Breitbart, Drudge and the willingness of so many in the media to follow their lead.
  • The weird “respect” demonstrated by mainstream news sources for House Speaker Paul Ryan coupled with his cowardice in condemning Trump no matter how outrageous his behavior and actions.
  • Fear itself.

And that’s just for a start. But remember, hard as it may be right now, the words of my friend Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the intellect; Optimism of the will.” For the moment, it’s all I’ve got…

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman is CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of nine books, including When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences (2004), Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (2011) and Inequality and One City: Bill de Blasio and the New York Experiment, Year One (2015). Follow him on Twitter: @Eric_Alterman.