Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

‘We were all wrong’

Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. The unthinkable became the inevitable just after 3am Eastern Time when Hillary Clinton conceded defeat. Like many, I began the night thinking there was little chance that we would ever reach this point, believing instead that demographic data and superior Democratic organisation would be enough to ensure victory. We were all wrong.

In his victory speech to assembled supporters in midtown New York, the president-elect struck a somewhat conciliatory note. Trump thanked his opponent for her years of service and promised to ‘bind the wounds of division’ that he inflicted on America. He promised to ‘dream big and bold’. There was also the outlines of a political agenda: action on inner cities, infrastructure spending and veterans affairs. In a further nod to conciliation there was no immediate mention of immigration.

But the nature of his victory makes this unlikely to last. Trump won a convincing electoral college victory that dismantled the supposed Clinton ‘firewall’ of blue collar states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. His victory came on the back of an astonishing ‘spiking’ of the non-college educated white vote but also, exit polls suggest, high support amongst college educated whites and 29 per cent of Latinos. There is now a new political map.

Trump Republicans – the days of Paul Ryan’s leadership are surely numbered – will control the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate and the fact that ultra-conservative Republicans like Senator Jeff Sessions were singled out for praise by Trump is not a promising sign of things to come. With undivided conservative government, prizes like the repeal of Obamacare and a supreme court seat will soon be within reach and any desire to remain conciliatory will fade.

Watching the results come in at the official Clinton campaign party was a particularly grim experience. Her supporters began the night with cheery resignation about (predicted) setbacks in North Carolina and Ohio. This soon turned to desperation, with hours spent hoping in vain that the votes of urban democrats in places like Wayne Country, Michigan would be able to offset huge Republican support in rural areas. The paths to victory narrowed with every hour, before vanishing completely. By the time campaign chairman John Podesta took the stage to send us home the convetion center had long begun to empty out. The walk back took us past groups of tearful Clinton supporters, foreign journalists and NYPD officers.

Throughout the night the contrast between the rhetoric of the Democrats’ campaign and the reality of the results became painfully apparent. Love did not ‘trump’ hate last night. If progress was on the ballot with Clinton, then it was rejected – along with temperament and experience. Trump’s punishment for boasts of sexual assault and stoking racial divisions will be at least four years in the White House. Assumptions about the inevitability of progress have been found badly wanting.

If courage is grace under pressure then Clinton has certainly been a courageous candidate. It is hard to imagine how difficult this defeat must be and harder to see how the Democrats rebuild in the short term. Like many, I badly underestimated Trump and his ability to build a winning coalition around white America in an increasingly diverse country. We were all wrong.

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Charlie Samuda is a former adviser to the Labour party and is studying at the Harvard Kennedy School. He tweets at @CharlieSamuda

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Charlie Samuda

is a master in public policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School. He tweets @CharlieSamuda

6 comments

  • Neoliberalism is being rejected by the American working class as it has already been in the UK. That’s why Labour members were right to reject Tory-liteness in both leadership elections. Thank heavens for Jeremy!

  • Some years ago I wrote a paper titled towards a new consciousness for a new global politcal economy. And in this paper I raised the issue of the rise of nationalism and the rise of the new right as we experienced the rise of the new social movements contesting the current global politcal economy and Unfortunately, we now see the full realization of what some of us saw because the few of us who wrote about this, all were not taken seriously enough as much could of been achieved then to capture the new power flows we now see today.

  • ‘We’ were all wrong?

    That the same ‘we’ that said the Tories wouldn’t win?

    The ‘we’ who believed Red Jez couldn’t be elected?

    and the same ‘we’ that said people wouldn’t vote for Brexit?

    Just checking….

  • It is a pity that the multinational corporations had such a hold on the Democratic Party that Bernie Sanders had to step aside. There are certainly some conservatives who will even risk loosing to the ultra conservatives in their wish to preserve their place over socialists.

  • From the Durham Teaching Assistants’ dispute, to the victory of Donald Trump, the lesson needs to be learned, and learned the hard way. The workers are not the easily ignored and routinely betrayed base, with the liberal bourgeoisie as the swing voters to whom tribute must be paid. The reality is the other way round.

  • It seems to me that almost any Democrat, except Hilary could have beaten Trump but the elite of her party, who thought they knew best, campaigned and worked against other possible candidates.
    Some thought it was time for a woman but people will not vote for someone based on their genitalia. I was disappointed that this seemed to be the main thrust of Angela Eagle’s leadership bid, it didn’t work on our members and wouldn’t work on the public
    Others believed that they needed professionalism and HC was the ultimate professional. Owen Smith used that argument, it didn’t work on our members and wouldn’t work on the public
    We need to learn from America and not have a professional elite who think they know best chose our candidates but trust our members.

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