As the dust begins to settle on Tuesday night’s election results it feels easy, even comforting, to point fingers at the “racists” and “bigots” for bringing down Hillary Clinton. But blame is a two-way street; we can no longer retreat back to those same excuses while stubbornly ignoring our own faults.
Hillary Clinton did not lose to Donald Trump because “they” took over; she lost because the Democratic Party refused to listen to the true pulse of the nation.
It was during Occupy Wall Street that we first heard the drumbeat: “We are the 99 percent”. For so many Americans that phrase represented the rage they felt against the country’s elites; the poor were paying for the mistakes of the wealthy after the 2008 recession and the government was turning a blind eye.
In the years that followed the Democratic Party evolved to reflect that sentiment. Senator Elizabeth Warren became the new progressive hero of Congress for her aggressive stance on Wall Street. New York City elected Mayor Bill de Blasio who promised to end the “tale of two cities” while standing just blocks away from Zuccotti Park. Finally lawmakers were listening to working- and middle-class voters; their worries about rising college debt, stagnant wages and affordable housing were not being ignored.
So when Bernie Sanders, the 72-year old populist senator from Vermont, emerged in 2015 as a presidential candidate it seemed the American people finally had a leader to steer the helm of the new Democratic Party.
But Sanders was a step too far for the old guard. The party had their own candidate in mind — a more moderate woman who had been denied her right to the presidency in 2008 and deserved a second chance.
In July thousands of emails released by WikiLeaks revealed that the Democratic National Committee had taken Hillary Clinton’s side early in the election. Privately, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz referred to Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver as a “damn liar” who was “particularly scummy”. Publicly, Sanders was unfairly criticized for being a one-trick pony who spoke at length about a rigged economy and not much else.
Ironically RealClearPolitics data showed Bernie Sanders consistently leading Donald Trump by double digits in a general election while Hillary Clinton often polled only one or two points higher. Yet the focus was always on Sanders’ inability to attract Latinos and African Americans, two coveted demographics. His base was, for the most part, young white men.
Those young white men would be Donald Trump’s key to cinching the presidency months later.
To her credit Hillary Clinton spent much of her campaign touting what Sanders stood for. She promised free tuition at all public colleges and universities; she spoke about raising the federal minimum wage, equal pay for women and national paid family leave.
But to liberals Clinton was just a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing paid for by an out-of-touch party. Her track record showed an affinity for free trade agreements, an uncomfortably close relationship with big banks, and hawkish policies on the Middle East. The cries of the working- and middle-class were falling on tone-deaf ears. The only way to make their voices heard was to take a sledgehammer to the whole damn thing.
We often forget that Donald Trump is a billionaire, the type of candidate that would sicken a progressive voter. Perhaps if Democrats had listened to their own constituents and stood behind the anti-establishment guy that fault would have been more prominent and we wouldn’t be left floating in such uncharted waters.
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