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The unthinkable happened, and it's still hard to process, but in two short months, Donald Trump will be taking the oath of office, his tiny left hand resting (I assume) atop a copy of "The Art of the Deal."
I considered simply submitting a one-line column ("The election results confirm all of my pre-existing beliefs and biases"), but that's not what you come here for. So instead, I offer three takeaways from what happened last Tuesday.
Takeaway #1: The election was "rigged."
To be clear, I am not suggesting Trump cheated or that the result is somehow unfair; I don't support throwing any kind of lot in with lawsuits or creating faithless electors in the Electoral College. Rather, I mean that Trump and Republicans can and did win only because the rules favor the political party that can win older whites. This shouldn't be a surprise; our country was founded by them – and by them, I mean white slaveholders – and they designed a system to keep them privileged.
The Republican Party has won the popular vote for president exactly once since 1988 – in wartime in 2004. Though they're still counting in some places, we know Trump will lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by over a million ballots. We know he received fewer votes, both in raw numbers and as a share of the total popular vote, than Mitt Romney in 2012.
And, importantly, the only demographic group Trump won was whites. Not a single non-white demographic, looking at age, education level or income, voted for Trump. As we have discussed before, this is not a way for the GOP to build a future coalition. Whites, this year's exit polls say, were 80 percent of all voters, but they make up just 63 percent of the population – with that share rapidly declining. Republicans also again lost the vote of those aged 18-44.
But as noted, the way the rules of this game are now, both old rules like the design of the Electoral College itself and new rules like stricter voter-ID requirements, all a party needs to win is older white voters. And having a Republican official – James Comey of the FBI – engineer a way to dampen Clinton support in the critical last two weeks of the election doesn't hurt, either.
So yes, the election was rigged because our system is rigged. Eventually, the Republicans won't be able to count on that staying true; they know this, though, so watch for major additional efforts to restrict the franchise in advance of the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election.
Takeaway #2: Media malpractice makes a difference.
Of all the unbelievable parts of this election, to me, the biggest is that the most transparently examined candidate in modern presidential history – Hillary Clinton, whose every utterance, glance and twitch was hyper-analyzed – was viewed as shady and secretive. At the same time, the candidate refusing to release even the most basic information about himself, like tax returns and a real medical report, was seen as forthright and trustworthy.
This only happened because of media coverage, almost exclusively around the bogus Clinton email "scandal." Every investigation of Clinton's email use found she did not break the law, did not withhold emails from public view and did not lie to Congress or the FBI.
And yet the word most people think of when asked about Clinton is "liar." Trump played on this with his "Crooked Hillary" epithet.
Every single non-partisan or media-based fact-checking group overwhelmingly found Clinton to be more truthful during this campaign than Trump. Every Trump stump speech or debate appearance produced a flood of false or misleading claims, from his repeated claim that he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq to saying over and over that violent crime in America was at an all-time high.
And unlike Clinton, Trump was found to have actually destroyed emails and other evidence in defiance of a court order to avoid costly penalties or legal sanction. Unlike Clinton's foundation, the Trump Foundation was actually penalized just this year for political pay-to-play and had its fundraising shut down by a state attorney general. He's currently demanding a delay in a trial for fraud related to Trump University. And he has not taken any steps to shield his foundation or business interests from the influences of his office.
Much has been written about the media and its unequal treatment of Trump and Clinton this year – here's one I recommend – but without question, the way Clinton's poor judgment about an email server was treated as equivalent to a host of severe and disqualifying statements and actions by Trump was disgusting.
Consider not just the missing Democratic votes last week but also the elevated vote for third-party candidates like Green Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson, especially among the young. Young people do not know the 1990s and have never lived in a world where either Clinton was not considered dirty, scandalous and mendacious. The third-party votes alone were enough to change the electoral vote here in Wisconsin and in Michigan. That would not have changed the overall electoral outcome – Clinton would have needed Florida or Pennsylvania – but it would have made the Electoral College vote much closer and given Clinton a wider popular-vote lead.
Takeaway #3: Republicans have no shame or modesty.
That scenario, a smaller Trump win in the Electoral College with an even wider Clinton win in the popular vote, wouldn't change what is going to happen. The Republicans will govern like they won in a landslide and would have if Trump had won by a single electoral vote. There will be no deference to Democrats, the nation's majority, and no memory of the last eight years when they pretended Obama didn't win large victories so they could block his every policy move and filibuster even the most mundane of bills and appointments. They are already throwing around the word "mandate" like it's a given, though there is no reasonable way to read last Tuesday's results as such.
Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, current Speaker of the House of Representatives, is already planning to implement a variety unpopular GOP wish-list items, from privatizing Medicare – something Trump explicitly campaigned against – to deregulating Wall Street. Even though initial stock market reactions to Trump's win were negative, in the week since, banks, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and transportation infrastructure firms all have seen gains because investors see a Trump administration as a license to print money for any sector whose profits come at the expense of the taxpayer or the little guy.
Trump's election could mean everything from the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education – goodbye, student loans and K-12 Title I funds! – to the deportation of millions of people and sucking billions out of the economy. He and the Congress will roll back environmental protections and clean-energy initiatives, and escalate the militarization of police. America's wealthiest families will see massive tax cuts while the vast majority of Americans will continue to be victims of enormous and growing income inequality.
By this time next year, we may be out of NATO, SEATO, NAFTA, CAFTA and dozens of other multinational cooperative agreements, abandoning our role in everything from promoting free and fair international trade to protecting Pacific allies from China and North Korea and monitoring Iran's compliance with the recent anti-nuclear treaty. A conservative federal appellate judiciary would jeopardize the rights of LGBTQ citizens and hamper the ability of regular Americans to fight corporate overreach; the rights of American workers to organize and bargain collectively over compensation and working conditions could vanish.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act will strip affordable health insurance from up to 20 million people, some of whom will die. Women who need late-term abortions to live will die. Children we deport to Latin and South America will die. Innocent civilians caught in the crosshairs of an emboldened Russia will die. Given Trump's propensity to promote violence and direct hatred at particular groups, it's entirely possible hate crimes will spike and non-white American citizens, quite possibly American journalists, will die.
Hillary Clinton may well be thrown in jail without having broken a single law.
Am I being hyperbolic? Maybe. The last week has seen a number of people, from moderates like Kevin Drum to liberals like, well, Bernie Sanders suggesting we can relax, wait to see which Trump shows up, and let the various checks and balances built into our Republic temper the the extremism. To them I say, have you not been paying attention? Do you not see what has happened in Wisconsin and Kansas? Why is it so hard to get that modern Republicans will not take an inch when they can take miles and miles with impunity?
But more than that, the idea that after this campaign, a campaign marked by vulgarity, ignorance and bravado, Trump will settle in and be no more extreme than, say, either of the Bushes or Reagan, is by far a worse-case scenario than one in which Trump turns his presidency into a spiral of fascism and tyranny, to borrow Drum's phrasing.
Why? Well, if Trump does overstep, if the GOP Congress and conservative courts don't stop him, then there's a chance America could learn the lesson that electing a demagogue like Trump is a bad idea. If, on the other hand, Trump turns out to be a "normal" Republican, it will only serve to normalize the kind of behavior and tone that led Trump to victory.
Every future Republican candidate for President, dogcatcher and anything in between will model their campaign on Trump's. They will channel Americans' legitimate dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and social change into hate against an "other." Candidates will, even more than they do now, make campaigns about tearing down opponents than supporting particular policies. Indeed, if Trump 2016 becomes the new normal, simply having knowledge of policy will be seen as a crutch; Trump wore his ignorance and outsider status as a badge of honor.
I wish I could end on an optimistic note, but this is where we are: Maybe Trump turns dictator and creates a Republican self-correction. Maybe he doesn't and creates a Republican party of mini-Trumps everywhere. Neither option ends well for most Americans. Good luck to you all.