“In the end it is how you fight, as much as why you fight, that makes your cause good or bad.” — Freeman Dyson
I’ve struggled for the past couple of days trying to come to terms with what I believe to be a momentous wrong turn taken by my country. Like a lot of people, I am angry — angry that our economy has been mismanaged for the benefit of the rich rather than the benefit of everyone, angry at the media for chasing attention and dollars rather than the truth, angry at politicians who use fear and lies rather than evidence to persuade, angry at all of the people who stayed home and failed to vote, angry at the setbacks to the rights of people who deserve so much more, angry that the future looks so much more dangerous, angry that so many of my fellow Americans thought it was OK to vote for someone so willing to incite and encourage hatred, angry at myself for not doing enough to change the dialogue. But I’m also clear that anger is what brought us to this sad point.
Why Hillary Lost
Long ago, when I was having a public argument with an internet troll, a wise friend offered this bit of folk wisdom: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” I thought of this advice often during this Presidential campaign.
Donald Trump ran a campaign based on fear and anger, and despite claims that “when they go low, we go high,” the Clinton campaign responded with appeals to fear and anger. Her supporters were barraged with a constant stream of emails warning of the dangers of a Trump presidency, and far fewer expressing the positive vision of a Clinton presidency. And her supporters were quick to flood social media with stories demonizing Trump and his policies and even his supporters. (In looking back over my own conduct, I too fell prey to this temptation all too often.)
The result was predictable. There has been evidence for decades that negative campaigns depress turnout. And low turnout indeed looks like it was a factor in Tuesday’s election. This graph, originally tweeted by Swiss economist D Yanagizawa-Drott, has gone viral.
Numerous commentators have pointed out that the graph makes the problem of low voter turnout seem more extreme because it doesn’t set the y-axis to zero. While that is true, the graph nonetheless highlights the point that it was low turnout by Hillary supporters rather than a strong wave of support by Trump voters that decided the election. Despite a larger population, Trump had fewer people voting for him than Romney in 2012; Hillary, though, had far fewer than came out for Barack Obama.
The following longer view going back to 2000, with bars starting at zero, and with an additional line showing the percentage of eligible voters who showed up for each party, provides additional perspective.
There are of course many possible reasons why turnout for Hillary was lower than in past elections. There are numerous articles arguing for the role of voter suppression, sexism, FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedented last-minute resurrection of the Hillary’s private email server issue despite the FBI’s official announcement that there was no case, Facebook filter bubbles, and the failures of mass media.
I am persuaded by Glenn Greenwald’s piece Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit that Hillary Clinton’s failure to address the way that our economy has been optimized for the benefit of elites with little regard to the consequences for the economy as a whole played an outsized role. (I’ve been exploring this topic myself in my writing and at events like my Next:Economy Summit. I even turned up in the Wikileaks dump of John Podesta’s emails, urging him (and Hillary) to read Rana Foroohar’s Makers and Takers, a book about the rise of finance and the decline of American business and the economy. (See my World Affairs Council interview with Rana Foroohar.))
But in the end, I believe that the far larger problem was that the Clinton campaign wrestled with the pig. The media loved it, but voters did not. The high point of Clinton’s campaign was the Democratic National Convention, which did indeed “go high,” with an affirmative vision of the future and what we were fighting for, rather than what we were fighting against.
How We Fight
That is a long preamble to the point of this piece. There are protests in the streets. I’ve gotten emails and calls from friends asking how we can throw sand into the gears of a Trump government. This is wrestling with the pig.
Bernie Sanders struck just the right note:
“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids — all while the very rich become much richer.
“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
“Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views…. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.”
That is, let’s focus on the outcomes we seek, and where there is common ground and the possibility of progress, let us aim for it.
Let us fight what needs to be fought. But let’s fight for, not against. Let’s not meet anger with anger, hatred with hatred. Let us fight with intelligence and strategic insight into points of leverage to achieve positive outcomes. Let us fight with honor, and kindness, and the love of the good.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
— Martin Luther King