Neoliberalism’s epic fail: The reaction to Hillary Clinton’s loss exposed the impotent elitism of liberalism
Conor Lynch has a very interesting column in Salon:
By the time last week’s presidential election was finally called for Donald Trump during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the initial disbelief felt by the millions of Americans who had been assured of a Clinton victory by the media had turned into shock and panic — if not yet full-blown despair. As pollsters collectively changed their predictions and news pundits started to resemble confused and dejected children, the fight-or-flight response kicked in for countless viewers. Hearts pounded, stomachs turned and some of the more privileged liberals started seriously considering whether to flee the country in the face of a national nightmare that had just become a reality (privileged, because the average American doesn’t have the resources to just pack up and run at will).
The surreal night concluded with Canada’s immigration website crashing from too much traffic, as if every alt-right Twitter troll’s fantasy had come true.
Although the instinct to flee from a Trump presidency is understandable, it reveals a great deal about the impotence of modern liberalism and its monumental failure to stop an unhinged and thoroughly unqualified demagogue like Trump.
Elite liberals who vowed to leave America if Trump was elected, which includes a slew of celebrities, are those who would be most insulated from the impact of a Trump presidency — unlike working people and seniors who stand to lose their healthcare, children of immigrants who may soon see their families torn apart, or poor people of color who could face heightened persecution under the already racist criminal justice system. Sadly, fleeing is not an option for the most vulnerable Americans. Their only option is to keep fighting; yet the first impulse that many of their professed allies felt was to do the exact opposite: to escape.
Of course, most of the “limousine liberals” who promised to leave America before the election didn’t actually believe that Trump could win. It was an impossibility. Not in their wildest dreams could the racist, sexist, misogynistic and xenophobic buffoon defeat the most qualified and deserving presidential candidate in history — no less the first women candidate. He had denigrated women, scapegoated minorities and immigrants, offended veterans and mocked the disabled. Not only that, but it was her turn! “It was supposed to be her job. She worked her whole life for the job. It’s her job,” wrote Clinton surrogate Lena Dunham (who had said she would move to Canada if Trump won) in a recent article recounting her grief-stricken reaction to the election, in which she admitted she “never truly believed” that Trump could win.
Besides all this, Clinton had received all the coveted endorsements — the editorial pages of every major newspaper, the biggest celebrities, the neoconservative intellectuals, the former presidents and statespersons. The Washington establishment was clearly with her. And then there was the Democratic Party’s supposed secret weapon: demographics. How could a candidate running on white-identity politics possibly win in an increasingly diverse country that had elected Barack Obama just four years before?
These liberals were borderline delusional — a delusion evinced by Chuck Schumer, the establishment senator from New York who was hoping to become majority leader, but has had to settle for minority leadership. “We’re going to have a Democratic generation. [President Obama] helped create it. But it’s just where America’s moving demographically, ideologically and in every way,” said the senator in an interview with Politico Magazine during the Democratic National Convention last summer. In July, Schumer made another rosy prediction at a forum hosted by the Washington Post: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
Turns out it was blue-collar voters who made all the difference. Trump won white voters without a college degree by a whopping 39 points, compared to Mitt Romney’s 26-point win in 2012. And in the industrial North (Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa), where the blue-collar vote went to Obama in 2012, Trump made huge gains and won decisively.
Demographic optimism proved to be the Democratic Party’s undoing. And it wasn’t just because of the white working class; according to exit polls, Clinton received six points less of the Hispanic vote than President Obama did in 2012, while the black and 18- to 29-year-old votes both both dropped by 5 percent.
Trump’s victory was a rude awakening for Democrats who have become all too complacent within the Washington power structure, and who mistakenly assumed that changing demographics, identity politics and sheer celebrity would be enough to stop the right-wing populism of Trump. Trump didn’t win the election because of a Republican insurgency; he won because of a Democratic collapse. He won because neoliberalism failed.
And now, as we enter a terrifying and uncertain new period in American history, the last thing liberals should do is double down on the failed politics that allowed this tragedy to occur. The Clinton campaign tried to make this election all about Trump’s hatefulness (“Love Trumps Hate”) and his “basket of deplorables,” while offering no real vision of progressive and populist change. And when those on the left raised legitimate concerns about Clinton’s uninspiring message or her political baggage during and after the primaries, they were ridiculously labeled sexist or racist “bros” by establishment figures (even though some of Clinton’s harshest progressive critics were in fact women and people of color). In a February essay, former Salon writer Daniel Denvir described this cynical political strategy in Salon as “peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare.” . . .
Matt Stoller’s article in the Atlantic also makes the case that the failure of the Democratic party is its capture by business interests, so that Democrats are no longer interesting in busting up trusts and keeping banks small and competing.