Angry at the Clinton Campaign

November, 2016

Washington -- It was a curious feeling to fly into National Airport after the election of Donald Trump. The usual friendly surroundings seemed as if occupied by a malevolent power.

Some people upset with the election have said they feel as if there has been a death in their family. To me, the feeling is more like the foreboding that comes with the diagnosis of a serious disease, like cancer. Many diseases can be cured, but many are fatal. Who knows how a Trump presidency will turn out?

As I have previously written (and will doubtless write again and again), the election results came to me as no surprise. I did not believe the Clinton campaign could win with its strategy of identity politics, demographics, and attacks against the other candidate. Others are now saying the same. Mark Lilla, humanities professor at Columbia University, has written a perceptive commentary about identity politics and coined the term "post-identity liberalism," which he hopes will guide the future of his political party. Amen. What about focusing on substance for a change, and less on identity?

What I missed seeing in the Clinton campaign was the Hillary Clinton who won election as senator in New York in 2000. Back then she traveled the state, listening. She spent time in the upstate rural areas with dairy farmers, learning as well as listening. When she went to Washington as senator, she made a mark as a work horse, not a show horse, and won respect for her ability to work both sides of the aisle and with rural as well as urban interests. It is ironic that she lost the 2016 election by abandoning rural interests. Surely she knew better. Who was running this disaster of a campaign?

Also, it was clear to at least some of us all along that she could have, and should have, won over rural and small town undecided voters who were unsure of voting for Trump. Harry Truman would have exulted in attacking a "do-nothing Congress" in her situation. If ever there was such a Congress, this was it: no infrastructure bill, no immigration bill, nothing but obstructionism. The country was fed up, but the Clinton campaign was in its own world and did not make an effort to go after this constituency, despite the candidate's credible record of legislative accomplishments.

I am angry at the Clinton campaign because now the country is in many ways at the mercy of a man who is untested and perhaps dangerous. Can a post-truth democracy maintain the rule of law? Probably not. I have worked in government at all levels (and in three branches) for over five decades. Our institutions are not as strong as many people think. We've already had some narrow escapes: recall the torture-permissive memo at DOJ and the near collapse of the world economy under George W. Bush. One or two mistakes by the incoming vanity-obsessed president could bring our country down much more quickly than most people realize. Over the longer term, cutting taxes, increasing the deficit, and then reneging on debt payments--heretofore unthinkable--is a sure path toward nation-bananafication.

Like a cancer that metastasizes, the disintegration of the country as we have known it could be at hand. Yes, I admit to reading Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here recently, so perhaps my concerns are more influenced by fiction than fact. (I certainly hope so, but the Trump campaign is eerily like that of Lewis's Buzz Windrip.) On the eve of this election, I told my daughter to mark the day as perhaps the last we would remember of the USA as we knew it, and loved it.