First, let me just say that as the name implies, Wednesday Morning Quarterback is meant to look at things in hindsight. Like the rest of the country, I fully expected Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency, and thought it probable the Democrats would retake the Senate. So, these observations are not meant to be an “I told you so” exercise, but, rather my thoughts over the last several days, starting with the outcome of the election and working backwards.
By now everyone on the planet except maybe some indigenous peoples in Australia know that Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States. Apparently, he won the presidency because, in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, white working class voters who had previously supported Obama switched to Trump, and fewer urban, minority voters showed up to vote for Clinton. With that in mind, I offer the following observations, caveats, and conclusions.
- Vision wins. Donald Trump had a vision. It was dystopian. I recoiled from it every time he referred to it in the two debates I watched. However, Hillary Clinton did not articulate a vision. She articulated policy points, but not a grand cohesive idea of where America was and where it should go. Typically, a hopeful vision beats a morose vision (see Obama v. McCain, 2008), but apparently a dystopian vision beats no vision at all. David Brooks made this point after the first debate. When asked for his reaction by the PBS team, he stated, “Well, Clinton did not articulate a case for why she should be President.” At the time I thought he was being overly critical, since she had done a really good job in the face of Trump’s boorish behavior. In fact, his observation was prescient.
- Themes persuade. “Make America Great Again,” became almost a joke in the final weeks of the campaign. Yet every time I saw Trump or his surrogates dressed casually, they were wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. In contrast, Hillary had –?? “I’m with her”?? Not really the same thing. As a prosecutor many years ago, I quickly learned that the way to win a jury trial was not with facts but with message – which I repeated over and over and over again. I saw jurors return not guilty verdicts not because the facts were weak, but because the defense attorney had obscured the facts with a clever and effective message.
- Sexism comes in many different forms, and the most pernicious may be the least obvious. I doubt that any one of the 58 million people who voted for Trump will defend his vulgar comments to Billy Bush in 2005. Nonetheless, the fact remains that white working class voters in the Rust Belt voted for Obama, oftentimes twice, but did not vote for a woman. Urban minority voters made sure they voted for Obama twice, but did not bother to show up for a woman. These two groups did not change their behavior because Clinton offered different policy prescriptions than Obama; she ran on a platform to continue and improve the status quo. When I was a young prosecutor, I was assigned to a courtroom with another young woman. The judge was a classic progressive liberal. He never said anything ugly or demeaning to us. I’m sure he prided himself in his equal treatment of women. But the only time I saw him come off the bench to speak to us was the day I brought a young male intern into the courtroom. The judge came off the bench to shake that young man’s hand. I doubt it ever occurred to the judge that he had never bothered to come off the bench to speak to me or my partner, let alone to shake our hands. Oftentimes, those treating different groups differently are completely oblivious to their own behavior.
- Sometimes bad people do good things. Before anyone moves to Canada, please take a couple of weeks to read Robert Caro’s magnificent “Master of the Senate.” It is the third in a so-far four part biography of LBJ. “Master” runs about 1000 pages, but it won just about every award possible and remains the most important 1000 pages of American history I’ve ever read. It comprehensively details not just LBJ’s eight years in the Senate, but also America in the 1950s. The point is that LBJ is every bit as vulgar, crude, dishonest, sexist, racist, narcissistic, manipulative and fragile as Candidate Trump. There were any number of honest, well-intentioned Democratic and Republic Senators serving with Johnson who wanted to end Jim Crow. Yet they never bothered to learn Senate procedure and allowed the Southern Democrats, led by Richard Russell, to outsmart them at every turn. It was LBJ, despite his many flaws, notwithstanding the number of lives he ruined, who passed the first Civil Rights Act in 1957, and then, as President, manipulated, threatened, and cajoled Congress into passing the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act (RIP!), the Fair Housing Act, Medicaid, Medicare . . . .
- Let’s all be a little bit nicer to each other just in case. I don’t know where this country is going. But I intend to smile a little bit more fully, to be a little bit more present, in my interactions with strangers, particularly those of a different race or religion. And I would ask those who do not share my race or religion, as well as those who do, to do the same thing. At the risk of sounding hokey, let’s turn “A house divided cannot stand” into “a people united cannot fall.” Every day, we can choose to offer civility, respect, and maybe even some empathy to others. It can’t hurt.