Whether as Donald Trump says, Democrats received one of the “greatest defeats in the history of politics” or not – the vote was close and contradictory – that it was an upset of historic proportions is not in doubt. Many of us are still in shock. As to the future, we haven’t even entered the tunnel and for now it’s hard to envision much light beyond. Trump’s projected appointments thus far reflect my worst fears not my greatest hopes. Reflective of today’s rightist Republican Party, it’s a hyper conservative and ideological group mixed in with billionaires and ex-generals. It’s a cabinet that Ted Cruz will just love and that will cause Elizabeth Warren nightmares. An opponent of healthcare at Health, a climate denier at EPA, an anti-minimum wage boss at Labor, a public housing skeptic at HUD and an activist bent on undermining public schools at Education.
The largest number of identified wannabes coveted State. Perhaps the most revealing of these is the latest, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. His name came to the fore just as the President-Elect was denouncing the CIA’s conclusion that Russia had been playing fast and loose with our presidential election, perhaps favoring him. As it happens, Tillerson and Putin are pals, the oil man having been awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013. He isn’t the first Trump acolyte to be on kissing terms with Russia – remember Paul Manafort? On the stump, Trump himself lavished praise on Putin’s leadership in comparison to Obama. What’s gives? It’s a question many people (including some Republicans) are asking. Considering Trump’s own predilection for conspiracy theories, it’s tempting to suggest that we’re seeing some modern day Manchurian Candidate, manipulated not by a corporation but by one of our global adversaries. Of course, I don’t believe that for a minute nor should you, but this Trump-Putin bromance certainly is curious. Going forward it may cause some real problems since we and Russia have so many conflicting interests.
Some people continue to say they don’t know what Trump will really do. I think it couldn’t be more transparent. The people he has put forward have demonstrable records. They are all on the right, seemingly committed to erasing much of the progress we’ve made under Obama and before, even under Republican presidents and the Courts. I think we’re also beginning to get a clearer picture of the “greatness” that Trump wants to restore, one that apparently includes a return to back alley abortions where clothing hangers are the instrument of necessity. What isn’t clear to me is whether the people who voted for Trump – the many who were frustrated and looking for a change in their own situation (not the bigots or white supremacists among them) – had any notion of how the Trump team would look. Specifically, did the underpaid among them think there would be a Labor Secretary who opposes the minimum wage (not merely its increase) or an Education Secretary who seeks to syphon off federal dollars for “choice” leaving their children and already cash-starved public schools with even less? Perhaps that is what they want – some in the GOP playbook – but I’m not so sure. In fact, I doubt it.
Trump is not only transitioning in; Democrats are transitioning out including of course Barak Obama, but I’ll leave that for another post. Some changing of the guard played out on the floor of the United States Senate late last week where Leader Harry Reid was preparing to step down after more than three decades of service. Tributes to him included the presentation of a portrait to be hung in the Capital. Hillary Clinton spoke, a rare appearance since losing the election. What struck me however, indeed absorbed me, was the day before where tribute was appropriately paid on the floor to the presiding officer, Vice President Joe Biden. For most of his public career, he has been a man of the Senate and in many ways still is. The tributes, which I watched on C-Span, lasted two hours. It was both respect-fest and love-fest – and it was bi-partisan. More than one speaker (including the majority leader) commented on their addressing him as “Mr. President” (the title accrues to the senate presiding officer of the moment). In watching and listening, I couldn’t but help remembering my reaction to Biden’s appearance for Clinton in the late days of the presidential campaign – I felt it again when Biden spoke alongside Clinton at the Reid fest. Biden is a unique figure in American politics. Mitch McConnell took note of that in his tribute, saying “I don’t always agree with him, but I do trust him, implicitly. He doesn't break his word.” If the fictional Godfather was won’t to say, “it isn’t personal, it’s just business”, Biden’s life relationships have always been purposefully personal, vastly transcending the business at hand. Biden evokes good feelings and, above all, an authentic human decency.
What moved me so and, yes, troubled me so? It was that nagging feeling, one that just won’t go away. What if? Of course there are no “what ifs” in history, no redoes of what has happened. So we don’t really know and never will. I have absolutely no regrets about my vote for Hillary Clinton, one taken without reservation. Listening to her at Reid’s tribute only reinforced that. Experiencing what lies ahead will be a constant reminder of what we would have had, should have had. I have often expressed how important it would be to finally break through that glass ceiling, having a woman in the Oval Office. To have had such a capable woman in play and to have missed the opportunity is sure to haunt us. A majority of Americans thought the same and voted for her. For different reasons, I would have been equally enthusiastic about voting for Joe Biden. In retrospect, what haunts me is the question as to which of these two excellent people was right for this particular time? More specifically, since the election was decided state by state through the Electoral College, would Joe Biden have lost Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, his people, in November? Again, we will never know, but I think he might have prevailed.
Might have prevailed, that is if I’m right about what really drove voters this time around. I won’t, nor should any of us, discount the ugly side of the Trump vote, the Alt-Right and misogyny, the generalized fear of the Other including people of color and immigrants of all stripe. But I don’t think those voters won the election for him, at least I hope not. Rather what put him over the top had more to do with deep economic distress and frustration. Not merely that as individuals people were not getting along, much less ahead, but that no one was paying then attention or doing anything about it. At least that’s how they see it and not without reason. They may have been looking for change, but equally just to be heard. Donald Trump was and is their most unlikely “savior”, but he’s so outlandish and improbable that, at the very least, the powers that be and those satisfied who are getting along quite well thank you, would finally take notice. Joe Biden, the plain talking guy with genuine working roots and still very much “of the people” might have represented an alternative, a more viable alternative at this moment than a political establishment icon. The election this year would still have been very close – closer than many of us thought possible which why we were so wrong – but perhaps it might have tipped the other way. What if? The question will remain academic and pragmatically irrelevant just like Gore’s loss in 2000. What have we wrought instead? We can guess and fear – which I do – but we won’t really know definitively for some time to come. Fasten your seatbelt.