The View From the Settled Dust

by Alex Knepper

I waited for a month to write anything here. I wanted to give myself time to absorb what happened. At the same time, I have not emerged from the blog-wilderness with any special insights. What is most important for me as a writer and analyst is simply to figure out what my blind spots were, and try to make adjustments.

I will not attempt to falsify history: my election prediction, like just about everyone else’s, was quite bad. I missed the popular vote margin by 3% and gave Clinton an electoral lead of over 100, taking Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania totally for granted. I do not believe it is because I neglected the concerns of the white working-class or ignored the existence of my Big Fat Elite Coastal Bubble — I was berating my ex-party about these concerns during the primary season, and I forecast that primary quite precisely. So I will perform a merciful act today by sparing my readers any new ‘think-pieces’ about these already-exhausted topics.

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I always knew that Hillary was a bad candidate, and I had a few mischievous moments during which I marveled that this crazy saga was actually going to work out for this most flawed and fascinating of candidates. In September, I wrote that Hillary was about to win the presidency by default. I half-jokingly remarked in the summer that I was convinced God wanted her to be president.

Clinton’s loss was so narrow that any one factor could be said to have made the difference for her — so it is misleading to blame it on this-or-that particular. If she has a ‘tragic flaw’ at the bottom of it all, it is probably, as Colin Powell remarked, hubris, which is also the general character flaw for which Washington is being punished. The post-election focus on the white working class, stemming from Trump’s surprise victories in the Rust Belt, is misleading. One could marginally tweak the results in just Michigan and Florida and produce a Clinton victory with a totally different narrative: one about how changing demographics did just enough in Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada to save her from what was otherwise a Republican wave.

The Trump victory represents an important turning point for the republic. It is too soon to speak too much about what it all might mean, but it should serve first of all as a reminder that there is no intrinsic law of history dictating that America is destined to resolve its problems — such as angry, bitter political polarization — in a satisfactory manner. There is also no law stating that the advance of progressivism is guaranteed. I became a bit sanguine about this, and resigned myself to a lot of progressive social ills to try to protect an international arrangement I continue to believe is worth preserving. I underestimated the resilience of the right and failed to anticipate the strength of the rebellion against their being written into the history books as the bad guys of the American story. (That is a pretty good reason to be angry, by the way.) And as Clinton, whom I like as an individual, fades from view, I am reminded why I voted twice for Republicans against President Obama and for various Republicans in 2010 and 2014, and why the Democratic Party — with which I am stubbornly remaining registered, for now — is so unappealing as an alternative to the Republican circus.

There is no way around it: Trump is really bad. But I refuse to spend the next four years in perpetual disappointment, embarrassment, and outrage over what is likely to be a long series of unfortunate events. I will cheer Trump when he succeeds, and I hope he defies expectations in the best way. But I cannot pretend that I see my country the same way I did two months ago: Clinton was right, at least, that we are even more divided than we thought. Our nation is deeply confused about its moral purpose and its place in the world in a post-Cold War, post-Iraq, post-financial crisis era, and we cannot count on History to deliver us a Lincoln. The future of liberalism is up for grabs in a way it has not been in decades. The boundaries of what is politically imaginable today are opening up for the first time since the collapse of the USSR.

I have tried to use this website as my small example of how people who disagree strongly can still try to understand each other, work together, and debate the issues forcefully but honestly, frequently finding common ground. As the Trump era dawns, these are some of the ideals we need most. Take heart, Trump opponents: the republic will endure, and maybe, if God is in a good mood, we will even get to learn something from all this.

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