When Donald Trump delivered his acceptance speech in the early morning hours of November 9th, he did so with surprising gravitas. As he delivered his thank yous and committed once more to delivering on the radical promises of his campaign, he looked thoroughly unamused. In fact, against the backdrop of adoring fans and supporters, Trump alone looked the odd man out, as if he too bore the weight of the failure that had transpired. Not just the failure of an American electorate to see past racism, misogyny, bigotry, and fascism, but the failure of America's political parties to identify and meet, at the most basic level, the needs of a plurality of the American people.
The moment we all feared came and went with a whisper. If past performance is an indication of future behavior, Trump should have come in like a wrecking ball, fully validated in the victory of his populist platform, but he did not. Instead, he seemed mournful - a sad clown behind all that hair and makeup. In the wake of his acceptance speech, attention has focused on the protests - on all the reasons that the situation in which we find ourselves is unacceptable - instead of on the banality of Trump's victory and his own response to it.
If you peel back the layers of the internet far enough, you will, sooner or later, come across some article or another talking about how this entire election was a farce from the beginning; that Donald Trump and the Clinton's made some cloak and dagger pact with a cabal of the global elite that would turn Trump into a straw man for the Clintons, guaranteeing a Democratic victory and protecting the conspiratorial agendas of the proponents of globalization. The Alt-right had argued that the election was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton from the start and that Donald Trump was the only candidate "woke" enough to see it, although no one has questioned the validity of that claim, or any other for that matter, in the wake of the Republican victory. Whether or not any of that is true, Trump's victory in the face of even his own supporters' disbelief should tell us that if there is some global cabal funded by George Soros pulling the strings, it thoroughly failed in its assessment of the American reality.
It is unlikely that Trump is saddened by a clandestine scheme gone awry, but perhaps the implausibility of his own campaign has caught up with him. Trump carved out a niche by saying the things that middle-class Americans claimed that they wanted to hear - the things they claimed to feel but were too frightened to say in an increasingly politically correct world. But what does Trump, a New York billionaire who has turned his persona into a brand and a career, organically believe about this country that can be the least bit similar to the hopes and dreams of middle-class America?
The line between the man and the show is indiscernible by design. A mogul who has spent the last two decades of his life sensationalizing his brand by publicizing his own bad behavior is not about to break the fourth wall now to inform the American people that he had hoped we would do better.
Trump might not feel this way at all, and I don't pretend to know, but the fact is, we had uncountable chances to do better during this election. When I say "we," I mean the generally leftward leaning constituency of this country that favors a progressive platform rooted in inclusion, diversity, environmental stewardship, the free market, modernity, and all the qualities of freedom and equality that have become the hallmark of civil society over the last two decades.
Yes, we had chances to do better. Like it or not, we are responsible for the failure of this election as much as anyone. We sat in our ivory tower, assured of our victory, and then watched astonished as half the country stood up for itself and said, "We disagree!" Should it be any shock to us that young, educated urbanites misjudged the sentiment of a country built on the backs of blue collar workers? Can we really throw up our hands in dismay after we backed a campaign that continuously ignored the needs of an increasingly marginalized population within our own borders?
We are playing a game of win/lose politics. If my party wins, I benefit socially and financially while you lose. In a country as great as America, we act like prosperity is scarce during elections - that there must be a winner and loser to every policy - but how can that be when there are uncountable resources in the hands of the elite, including the very politicians preaching the scarcity doctrine?
There are 1453 days until the next presidential election. That's 1453 days to wake up and realize that we have wholly alienated half of the American people. How we choose to address the losers of globalization, inclusion, modernization, environmentalism, and the whims of the free market will determine our viability as a party. It is not enough to promise that green energy will replace the jobs that carbon taxes eliminate, nor is it enough to promise that globalization is the tide that lifts all boats when too many Americans have no boat and are barely treading water. Campaign strategy cannot be about appealing to lowest common denominators or silencing objections, nor can it be about winning cities at the expense of states or demographics at the expense of a unified America.
We failed and now we're on the Donkey Bench. We are down but not out; sidelined, but not out of the game. There is a lot of work to be done, on all sides, and not much time to do it.