This election was particularly agonizing for me because of the poor choices we had. In a time of turbulent change, both candidates carried so much baggage that I was “confident” that neither would be able to effectively govern; neither would be able to help us rapidly recover from the crises to come.
In some ways this election was reminiscent of 1972 – two highly flawed candidates – then we had to choose between a crook and a fool. In this election, both candidates seemed foolishly oblivious to the reasons for the other’s support; both were tainted by scandal. Mrs. Clinton – and the media – clearly did not pay attention to middle class America’s distrust – and disgust – with the performance of the political elite. If we look at the last eight years, the top 5-10 percent have prospered; the next 20-30% have made no gains; and about half of the country has been steadily losing ground (The loss of ground among African-Americans has been startling – the growing unemployment among young black men of special concern). Mrs. Clinton’s “Deplorables” were those who saw themselves falling behind, and more importantly, those who were worried that their children would be worse off than they were.
In response, Mrs. Clinton tried to run a campaign based on demonizing Mr. Trump. But she never gave us “a reason to believe” in her; she never gave us (as Sean Collins observed) “a positive message that genuinely inspires.” If you’re going to depend on identity politics, it helps to have an identity. In many of the key demographics, she ran well behind Mr. Obama in 2012 – male voters, minority voters, those making less than $50,000/year, the more poorly educated (black and white), the unmarried, “Small Town America,” and those who feared future change (lost this group big time). And to top all of that, the Wikileaks revealed that her campaign had actually encouraged the media to focus on Trump to the detriment of more worthy candidates (Be careful what you ask for!).
Almost unmentioned in all of the post-election punditry was Mrs. Clinton’s remarkably poor record as an executive: two election campaigns which she managed to lose despite huge initial advantages, and a tenure at the State Department that was almost a case study in poor management.
And then there was Mr. Trump. His many misogynistic remarks were disgusting (but, surprisingly, didn’t seem to greatly impact his support among women). The leaked “locker room” tape was appalling. Early in the campaign he went out of his way to antagonize immigrants, Hispanics and Latinos and Muslims. The four bankruptcies didn’t give me much confidence in his executive acumen, either.
In spite of all this, he was elected and will soon become our President. I didn’t support him, I didn’t vote for him, but on January 20, he will become my President. In all honesty, I hope he succeeds, but I fear a failure.
Six years ago, I wrote about leadership using Sun Tzu’s dictum that “Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage and sternness.” Focusing on trustworthiness, I said, “A trustworthy leader is recognized by the community as a person of integrity. Thus, the community believes that a trustworthy leader will carry out promised actions, and will provide support to the rest of the community … Such a leader is thus able to communicate more effectively to the larger community, because even unpopular messages are more likely to be heard.”
However trustworthy Mr. Trump may be, I’m afraid his earlier remarks have poisoned the well of discourse; erstwhile antagonists will never trust him. Future crises (e.g., an impending recession) will require concerted action by us all; it is difficult to see how Mr. Trump can gain a hearing, let alone a consensus around any action.
I hope I am being unduly pessimistic. I hope I am under-emphasizing my country’s ability to pull together in time of crisis. I hope Mr. Trump may overcome his campaign rhetoric and be recognized as President of all the people. I hope – because the resilience of America depends on those hopes being realized.