Put down the Nate Silver blog and step back slowly.
Yes, stop pouring through the exit polls for someone to blame. You can slice and dice the map or population endlessly, and with just as much accuracy as the pre-election projections, and all you will do is miss the point even more.
What happened is simple: the Democrats ran a candidate who was historically disliked and Democrats and left-leaning independents stayed home. No group “broke” for Trump. Trump didn’t “hear anything that no one else heard,” Paul Ryan. Trump’s numbers were lower than Romney’s, which were lower than McCain’s. Trump will wind up with fewer white votes, in all likelihood, than either of those two men did. With fewer male votes. And, of course, with significantly fewer voters overall than Hillary Clinton. Apathetic voters stayed home in slightly smaller numbers in some key battleground states for Trump than they did for Clinton. That’s it. End of story.
Am I being pedantic? No. Because while nothing will change the outcome of this election, the way we understand it will have a profound impact on the future of our country. Understanding that approximately 25% of eligible voters viewed Trump as the lesser of two evils, or the less offensive of two evils, is a hell of a lot different than saying voters endorsed him, or his message. It’s a lot different than saying there’s an open revolt amongst whites, or men, or college educated Latino carpenters, or whatever 3D chess bullshit slice of the population a pollster can single out to blame for his or her own terrible projections.
Hillary Clinton, rightly or wrongly, has been hated, and she’s been hated for a long time. At least since 1992. Her biggest electoral win came over Rick Lazio. She lost to an upstart with 4 years of Senatorial experience in 2008 and she damn near lost to an elderly socialist in 2016. Whether or not it makes sense, the public has been screaming that it does not want Hillary for years, and nobody at the DNC listened, or at least no one with enough influence to push Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, or some other candidate without historic negatives, into the race. That is the story here. Unpopular person loses popularity contest. Everything else is projection and rationalization and angling for personal gain. The public did exactly what every indication should have told us it would do.
Yes, it is beyond horrifying that even a small minority of our fellow citizens would vote for a candidate as retrograde as Trump. Yes, it is horrifying that he will effectively have control over every branch of government when he enters the Oval Office. But do not double down on this misfortune by granting him a victory he never earned. Do not allow the story to become about his win; for he won nothing, he simply crashed and burned less spectacularly than did Clinton.
So, please, do not say that Trump won because of racism, sexism, xenophobia, or the rest of it. Not only is it factually false – if anything, Hillary lost because she failed to convince her voters that those were issues worth turning out to defend – it gives those who traffic in those issues undue credibility. Saying that Hillary failed to convince voters that the importance of turning out to defend those issues outweighed their personal distaste for her, or that voter apathy ran higher on the Democratic side of the aisle, is a very different thing than a successful insurrection by racists, sexists and xenophobes. It is a very different message with very different political and social consequences. Racists, sexists and xenophobes should not feel emboldened by these results – again, as a simple matter of fact, Trump got fewer white male votes than the last two Republican candidates, and fewer votes overall than Hillary Clinton – rather, Democrats should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask why so many of our people who turned out for Barack Obama did not for Hillary Clinton, and then figure out how to produce more Obamas in 2018 and beyond.
Theologian Emil Fackenheim once commanded, “Thou shalt not grant Hitler any posthumous victories.” What he meant was that, though Hitler was a dead failure, we still had the power to make his twisted vision more of a reality, if we lent it credibility or anything less than its fully deserved scorn. Well, our commandment from this election is simple: Thou shalt not grant Donald Trump unearned victories. Do not legitimatize his policies or transient existence in the White House by allowing him to control the narrative. Now is not the time to bury our heads, to cede to the basest among us, or to give up. It is the time to pull together and get behind the issues that matter with the passion and fearlessness that will inspire voters to turn out in 2018 and beyond.