It’s becoming clear that Trump didn’t win the election so much as Democrats lost it, when disenchanted liberals either didn’t show up or voted third party. Exactly as Kshama Sawant urged them to do.
Suddenly, Kshama Sawant is all fired up about Donald Trump.
The other day she led two rallies against Trump’s shocking election. She said she was so horrified at Trump’s “racist agenda” that she was calling for a national protest in Washington, D.C., in January to shut down the inauguration.
“I think it is our moral and political and historic duty to call for peaceful and powerful protest against Trump’s agenda,” she said.
Fine. But I have to ask: Where in the world was any of this before Election Day? When it would have mattered.
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The Seattle City Council member, you may recall, spent the last six months protesting not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. Sawant held a rally in Philadelphia — the biggest city in a crucial state — urging people not to vote for Clinton. She called Clinton a warmonger and a tool of Wall Street. She wrote a column in The Nation, the national house organ for the progressive left, urging liberals not to “waste your vote on the corporate agenda” — by which she meant Clinton.
“Progressives should not support Clinton,” she said, calling the election a “false choice between a corporate Democrat and a yet more horrifying Republican.”
I bring all this up because the way Donald Trump improbably won the presidency now is becoming clearer. It boils down to two trends. One is that he won the votes of white men in historic proportions. Two has been much less discussed: that voter turnout, predicted to be huge, was down. It was the lowest since 1996. Most tellingly, it was low by design, according to the plan of the Trump campaign.
First, the white male vote. Trump won white men by 32 percentage points. White men as a group always vote Republican, but by comparison, John McCain won them by only 16 points in 2008. Even George W. Bush — the only Republican to win the popular vote since 1988 — won white men by less, 25 points, when he was re-elected in 2004.
“Just looking at the data of what makes up a Trump supporter … a bit older, a bit more male, a bit more white than the traditional Republican. A bit more rural,” one of Trump’s data advisers summed up to CBS News.
Second, the yarn that this was part of an electrifying mass movement is baloney. Turnout was so low that Trump actually got fewer total votes than Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, and also fewer than Clinton herself. This means Trump got less popular support than the losers of the last two elections.
Trump sought to depress turnout, according to a prescient story by Bloomberg’s Joshua Green a few weeks before the election. Trump’s team knew he was losing, and so had set out on a cynical, but smart, strategy to shrink the electorate.
“We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” a Trump adviser said. Their strategy was to shout that the whole system was corrupt and the election rigged, turning off voters. They also tried to dissuade three specific groups from voting for Clinton: “idealistic white liberals” (i.e. Bernie Sanders supporters), African-Americans and millennial women. They wanted these groups to be too disgusted to vote at all, or to opt for a third-party candidate.
Sawant’s message played into Trump’s hands perfectly.
I don’t believe Sawant actually wanted Trump to win — she said repeatedly that she didn’t. Or that she influenced the outcome of the election, because that’s hard to imagine. I’m highlighting her here because she’s an example of how progressives nationwide just forfeited the election by standing down.
Liberals seem infected by a purity virus — a delusion that politics should be about ideological consistency or “voting your conscience.” It has never been about these things, and never will be. President Obama loped around the country warning about this, saying, correctly, that politics is the art of compromise, of incremental gains, of making hard, unclean choices.
One of Obama’s most unappreciated qualities is that while he comes in a smooth modern package, he has old values. Here he was hammering home the most conservative of chestnuts: Success comes from plodding work. It comes from showing up.
But the “New America” Obama voters didn’t show up in force. There are lots of reasons, starting at the top with Clinton running an uninspiring campaign. But it’s likely this notion that it’s all corrupt, and both parties are the same so who cares, played a role in keeping turnout low.
How, with the stakes this high, could more than 90 million eligible voters not vote? Why did anyone listen to Sawant and others and opt out by voting for the Green Party’s Jill Stein (which probably affected the outcome in states like Michigan and Wisconsin)? What is wrong with us that we don’t take this more seriously?
Don’t boo, Obama said, vote.
Liberals now are definitely booing, only out in the streets.
Protest is fine — it’s as much of a tradition for liberals as losing elections. But somehow, going ahead, the left has got to build room for some of the old values Obama’s talking about.
Such as the value that quiet civic participation is often the loudest action of all.
And that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Well, that one’s so old, it’s definitely not operative anymore.