Thursday, November 10, 2016

An election like no other

My greatest fear before the election was that some angry Trump supporters would follow through on their promise to go armed to the White House and take over the government if Trump lost. A Trump victory resolved that fear but didn't eliminate all protests and violence. Small protests with some rioting broke out after Hillary Clinton conceded.

A smooth transition of power has been the greatest attribute of American democracy over the past 240 years. Even when the change was abrupt, as it was after the elections of 1800, 1876, 1912, 1976, 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2008, there was no rioting and few, if any, public protests.

The 2016 election has shaken not only the leadership in Washington but also the entire political, polling and commentary industries. The polls had it wrong. Nearly every poll showed a Clinton victory -- usually a close win but a win nevertheless. But Trump was able to win nearly every battleground state, some by wide margins. The polls had it wrong, not because they were pulling for the Democratic nominee but because their data were wrong; data were insufficient or distorted by the difficulty of polling in the 21st century. At a time when a majority of people use cell phones instead of land lines, it's increasingly difficult to find a representative sample of the electorate. Pollsters will be examining their techniques and strategies to try to make polling great again.

The armies of political consultants also took a beating. Clinton had hundreds of data analysts, organizers, managers, publicists, graphic designers and other consultants guiding her campaign. She had the greatest "ground game" in history, we were told. Look where it got her! The political consultants, like the pollsters, missed the working class anger that fueled the Trump bulldozer.

They should have known better. Working class anger has been around for a while. Twenty-five years ago, as NAFTA was signed, workers worried but didn't have the power to stop the free trade stampede. The loss of industry, retailers and just basic prosperity in small towns have left millions feeling crushed by the global economy and the politicians who set the table for it. Trump tapped into that anger without offering a viable solution. The anger and frustration were so great that supporters were willing to overlook his insults, misogyny, narcissism and lack of knowledge. All that mattered was getting back at the political establishment that had done them wrong.

Political pundits, including highly regarded conservative writers, backed away from Trump. They couldn't abide the bombastic posturing and the ignorance of policy details that Trump's supporters willingly overlooked. As a result, many, including George Will, David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer, exposed Trump's lack of qualifications and urged his defeat. These writers had relied on what the polls said and failed to get out of Washington into the "flyover states" to see how fiercely upset the working class voters were.

At the state level, N.C. Republicans rode the Trump wave, with the exception of Gov. Pat McCrory, who was apparently undone by the "bathroom bill" he had championed. Unofficial results show Democrat Roy Cooper with a slim victory over McCrory, who lost Charlotte, Raleigh and other urban centers. Voters took revenge on McCrory for the unnecessary law that has cost the state an estimated $600 million in investments.

Unfortunately for those voters who wanted revenge, they could knock off McCrory but not the supermajority of Republicans in the General Assembly. Running from gerrymandered districts, legislators didn't have to contend with an electorate diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, party affiliation and political philosophy that McCrory and other statewide candidates did. GOP dominance in the legislative branch is unabated. So long as the General Assembly remains overwhelmingly in GOP hands, nothing will change.

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