Columns » Max Brantley

Fixing blame: President Trump

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Kyle Massey of Arkansas Business posed some questions to me about the Donald Trump presidential victory.

Did the press fail? Were liberal-leaning journalists on the coasts responsible for missing the Trump wave among middle-to-lower income white voters with lower educational attainment?

I responded. And I'm so morose about the outcome and the future (Go ahead, Mr. Trump, surprise me. Please.) that I'll just repeat what I said to him here, with some small changes.

Well, the polls weren't really far off. Clinton did win the popular vote. But Democratic turnout was down somewhat (not as much as early reporting had it). Lots of reasons for that. Hillary Clinton was not President Obama. Vote suppression worked in some key swing states. A lot of the young Bernie Sanders enthusiasts stayed home or went third party. I happen to think the press fixation with a largely empty story — emails and Wikileaks — was extremely damaging generally and then specifically when FBI Director James Comey reopened the email issue. I never doubted Trump would carry Arkansas and I had written several times that I wondered whether we were that far outside the mainstream. We weren't. White identity politics was important in the Democratic vote dropoff, particularly among older, less-educated rural voters. So was gender. While plenty of people voted for Hillary because she's a woman, most white women did not, because she was viewed as a threatening sort of woman.

A lot of people feel threatened by change and cultural markers — economics, immigration, sexual orientation, Black Lives Matter. Hillary couldn't fix that without an ideological makeover.

I think media's big failure was attempting to work everything into a simple theme (i.e., Hillary's a crook). I reject the notion that media missed the broad dissatisfaction among a segment of voters — working class whites, to oversimplify. We read about their estrangement so often that it became a cliche and a subject of satire. They voted enthusiastically, but that wasn't surprising given their fervor.

I was nervous unto the very end, precisely because the polls DID indicate the race was inevitably going to come down to evenly divided, within-the-margin-of-error states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin where important U.S. Senate races were big voter drivers. I still think Comey and email were decisive factors where the margin was razor-thin.

But, hell, what do I know?

Trump and his people clearly thought they were going to lose, too.

PS: I add this local angle to what I wrote to Kyle Massey. The Trump effect was evident down the ballot in Arkansas, with some contradictory grace notes. The Republican hold on power expanded in the legislature. Voters who rejected Clinton in part for her ties to the corporate power structure readily endorsed a giveaway of tax money to the swamp of corporate lobbyists and special business interests in Arkansas that promoted Issue 3. But they did not buy the establishment line on medical marijuana. Some magic brownies might be just the thing for coping with Election 2016.

Finally, the triumphalism of Trump fanatics in Arkansas was evident in taunting and bullying of the other side, particularly in schools. Kids will be kids. But the school officials who've blown this off in some places (encouraged it, even) are adults and need to act like it.

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