The New Political Divide, Part II – trying to make sense of WH2016

The New Political Divide, Part II – trying to make sense of WH2016


If the new battleground is of the elites and the insurgents we need to consider where it came from, whether the seeds of it were present earlier than this run of electoral victories. The Tea Party has disappeared in name but Trump is a strong spiritual successor, while the Occupy movement shows how insurgency and elites is a dividing line that runs across rather than between left and right. In a different world (perhaps one where Democratic party grandees had as little power as Republican ones) we would’ve seen Bernie Sanders take on Trump in an unlikely insurgency showdown (and no certain winner).

If that had happened both would’ve seemed odd choices to lead revolutions. White male New Yorkers, one born a billionaire while the other spent a lifetime in politics they’d ostensibly carry the establishment hallmarks stamped firmly on them. But perhaps we’re overlooking a much more likely figure who marked the start of this shift.

The Clinton campaign was looking to revive the Obama coalition to carry her to election victory. The coalition that, when it emerged, was hailed as the demographic engine that would drive an era of Democratic victories until the Republicans transformed themselves in the wilderness. The coalition that has never really showed up when Obama himself was leading the way, not in the mid-terms and not now (Sean Trende may yet be hailed as a prophet). What we should’ve been focusing on is the ability of Obama to be a candidate of disuption, and insurgency (there’s that word again).

Obama won not on policies, but the promise of change and the idea he was a voice for the outsiders. He leveraged the force of his personality and his persona into comfortable victories for himself, but couldn’t pass those voters on. There were many voters on Tuesday who were happy with Obama’s performance but didn’t associate that satisfaction with his Secretary of State. The traditional strategy of running the lieutenant of a popular president came unstuck, Hilary Clinton proved far more popular in office than on campaign. She’s no-one’s idea of a natural campaigner to say the least.

There have been suggestions that gender bias is at play here, while the hard analysis examining it provides rather more mixed results.

Clinton was able to use the brute force of her competence to get past Bernie Sanders, and almost did so against Trump she was always swimming against the current. She thought she was speaking to an electorate with an emerging consensus in favour of Democratic policies, she found she was speaking at an electorate who wanted another cycle of revolution. Perhaps she was the ideal candidate for a different political era, or had this era come at a different time in her life she would have suited it better.

Perhaps if James Comey doesn’t write a letter she makes it all the way upstream to the White House, perhaps if she wasn’t facing Trump she’d never have been in the race at all. There is so much noise, sound, and fury in these results we should be wary and hesitant (we rarely are, but we should be) of reading too much into them. But the overriding signal is clear as if it was shouted in chorus. Something is wrong.

Which is about as big a simplification as you can get, but then there are ever only really two kinds of elections. “Things are alright” and “something must change”. Hilary Clinton fought the first and ultimately wrong one. It seems like we’re in an era of “something must change” elections (for some, for many it’s probably closer to something must change back) and it looks unlikely to break that pattern any time soon. Or perhaps this was just a presidential election swung by a picture of a penis.


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