What Happened and Why — and Where Do We Go From Here?

WhoWhatWhy’s Russ Baker provides a morning-after analysis

President-elect Donald Trump Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

What just happened? That is a question that Clinton and Trump supporters, as well as the tens of millions of voters who sat this election out, asked themselves Tuesday night when it became clear that pollsters and pundits were wrong again.

On the morning after, that question was replaced with “How did that happen?” and very soon Americans and the world will begin to ask themselves: “What happens next?”

In this post-election podcast, WhoWhatWhy Editor-in-Chief Russ Baker addresses all of these questions and more.

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Full Text Transcript:

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman.

The dust hasn’t settled. The brain is still foggy from election night and not since the headlines blared “Dewey defeats Truman” have we been so surprised. So what’s next? Where do we go from here? To begin what will clearly be a long national conversation this morning after, I’m joined by WhoWhatWhy’s own, Russ Baker.

Russ, let’s begin by talking about the degree to which you were surprised by all of this.

Russ Baker: Yes, indeed. Here in New York City, I picked up copies of the newspapers; the New York Times showing that maybe they’re having trouble staying relevant, it says “Race for the Presidency Hangs On Tally in a Handful of States.” The Daily News, typically a democratic paper says “House of Horrors” and shows the White House, and the New York Post says “They Said It Couldn’t Happen: President Trump”. So you see the different views from the city that once had thirty or forty newspapers.

Jeff Schechtman: And of course, even online you’re seeing similar things. Huffington Post headlined this morning: “Morning in America: Mourning”.

Russ Baker: That’s right and you know Jeff, I think what this reflects is obviously the divisions in this country but more importantly is just how kind of out of touch we are with each other, that we’re like a married couple that really just can’t listen to the other person at all and that’s really what’s on my mind: our failure to find common ground. That’s really what’s on my mind. I am certainly blown away by the result, I think everybody is, although I went out for breakfast this morning and the guy at the diner said “you were right,” because I had said that I thought that the Clinton forces were smug and the people had a naïve sense of what was going on in this country and I said I thought it was entirely possible that he was going to win, that a lot of people had not properly expressed themselves and that the motivation was going to be very, very strong for those people to come out and vote, unlike the people who said they were for Hillary Clinton.

Jeff Schechtman: One of things that really became clear in this, I mean if you look at the Clinton vote in the places they expected it, whether it was Philadelphia, whether it was in the urban areas in Michigan, the Clinton vote was what they expected it to be. What was so remarkable is this surge, this wave of Trump voters; not only red states, but red counties in blue states had such an overwhelming and powerful turnout for Trump.

Russ Baker: That’s right. What it means is that not necessarily, I guess you could say, that the Hillary Clinton campaign did anything wrong, I mean certainly they were massively organized, they had a tremendous get out the vote effort, they spent a lot of money, they had a lot of professionals out there. They seemed to have done everything they could, but this authentic passion, this tremendous anger, inchoate anger I think, anger that’s not very well directed but not entirely without basis, was so powerful and people just feel like they’ve had enough and it’s very, very hard to stop something like that. Of course, as you point out, it is so surprising because these red areas in the blue states, I mean these are largely rural areas and it’s been a long time since we really thought about rural America: the family farm, the small town that has been bleeding for so many decades. The fact that there are even people in those areas, that there are enough of the people in those areas to make a difference and of course, we want to take a closer look at how well Trump did in many of the suburbs. They use a sort of pejorative term; they always talk about uneducated white voters which just to me seems like such an unnecessary insult. There are lots of different reasons that people don’t go to college. There are a lot of people who go to college who are dumb as all get out. There are a lot of people who work as bus drivers, mechanics and police officers, what have you who really are quite resourceful individuals and so these are all the kinds of things that I think just enhanced the divide this year.

Jeff Schechtman: Of course, the overarching aspect of this divide, and this is where it has similarities to elections and anger at the turn of the last century and the Industrial Revolution except that it is happening so much more dramatically and so much faster this time around, is this sense of change that all of the institutions, that all of the things that people relied on, counted on, expected for so many years are suddenly pulled out from under them and that really speaks to dramatic changes taking place and so many more to come, whether Trump likes it or not, quite frankly.

Russ Baker: Yeah. Of course, a lot of the changes are very, very good. It’s a subjective statement on my part, but I think most people would say that they appreciate certain aspects of technology and if they are, or if they have people in their family who are immigrants or where there is racial intermarriage, where there are people of other than the majority sexuality, for people where that’s them, the changes have been good. For people where that’s not them, they feel left behind, they feel afraid and it’s interesting when you go to places like Silicon Valley or New York City or something where you have this very young, very ambitious, upwardly mobile population, everybody with devices and whatever app they were using yesterday they’re no longer using today, it’s exciting but in some ways, it’s kind of crazy. It seems like the world is permanently unstable and I think, by the way, that some of those things are reflected in the climate change denial or the continued hueing to religious fundamentalism is finding that safe space to feel grounded and to feel centered and to feel that there is some kind of meaning to people’s lives. One of the things that interests me is the possibility out of all this, that we could end up having a more interesting conversation where we would acknowledge the things that, if you want to say both sides, if we can call it that although I think that’s too simplified, different factions in this country, the aspects of what they do and how they live and what they have to say that have merit and ought to be interesting to the other people to learn a little bit more about it.

Jeff Schechtman: Part of that requires a degree of honesty, which we certainly haven’t seen in this campaign and we certainly haven’t seen in terms of what’s put forth to those rural voters. I mean, manufacturing is a great example. There’s all this talk about bringing jobs back. The reality is that manufacturing output in the United States is higher than it was 30 years ago. The difference is it just takes infinitely less people to accomplish the same thing. There are 3 million truck drivers out there, 5 to 7 years with autonomous vehicles and there’s already tests going on with autonomous truck driving, that’s 2 million jobs that are going to disappear. That doesn’t mean there’s less goods being manufactured or shipped or anything else, it’s just a different world; it requires less in terms of people.

Russ Baker: Well that’s exactly right, Jeff. This brings up an interesting point; that those who are being left behind, those who are most likely to be left behind, maybe the people who need the most help are the ones who feel that they’re not being given help and are the angriest about the help they see being given to others. This to me is a tragedy and is a fascinating situation, that for example, a lot of the people who voted for Trump say they want less government and at the same time, those are also the people who will be left behind and who in another society, Scandinavia, Germany or somewhere else, the society would say we have to help these people, we have to retrain them or we have to just provide them with some kind of support. The rest of us who can stay up have to provide these people with some kind of a minimum so they are able to survive. And this is such a paradox because I think that all of this sort of dog whistle stuff that Trump did and certainly people who supported him did, this notion that others are coming here and taking things from these people. It’s not so much that they’re taking things from these people, these people may just not be able to cope in this fast changing environment. It doesn’t make them bad, but they’ve got a certain skill set, a certain amount of capability, a certain ability to change rapidly, certain circle, maybe they don’t have the right connections and ability to adapt and we need to look out for them also. I think this was unspoken, but it is a tragedy of course, that those are people who are voting for interests that really are inimical to theirs. In many respects, the Republican Party is still the party of big business that wants to cut back, reduce workers and benefits and all of those things and it’s just quite ironic that the justified anger at their situation ends up being directed in a way that may end up harming them more, not less.

Jeff Schechtman: I mean, it really is a rejection of change, of modernity, of globalization, I mean everything that is the bedrock of the way society operates today is really what’s being rejected. It’s really what’s being rebelled against by this large group of voters. The irony is, and the conversation that we’re having about what all of this means and who gets left behind and how it can be dealt with and what are the other models around the world, these conversations might be taking place in think tanks around the country or around Washington or New York, but it’s hard to imagine any of this taking place in what will become the Trump Administration and the Paul Ryan Congress. It’s hard to imagine that any of this is going to get addressed in any kind of meaningful, forward thinking way.

Russ Baker: That’s right, Jeff. This is the great conundrum, that there is no evidence that Donald Trump or Mike Pence or any of these people have ever really taken an interest in people who are struggling and actually done anything concrete for them and it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to change and so the question is, what now? Certainly, I think that those issues that his supporters raise, they’re not all crazy. The idea that you cannot have unlimited numbers of people coming into any physical space. Their notion that the people who are already in some physical space deserve some kind of consideration; these are not in themselves, wacky or crazy but we’ve gotten so polarized that people who think of themselves as sort of humanitarians, think of themselves as humanists, whatever term you want to use and trying to be concerned about everybody have felt, to some extent some pressure, if you want to call it political correctness, to embrace every new thing, every new liberation movement, every new “I’m here. I count. I’ve got the loudest voice.” This has forced the democratic party instead of really being the party of the people, to be a cobbled together coalition. I mean, we still see that. Hillary Clinton was counting so much on particular segments of the population to pull her through when in fact the issues themselves, minimum wage, soup to nuts you go through these kinds of things, income equality, fairer tax burden, education, so many of these things are things that do or should serve all of the population, particularly people who don’t have a lot because they need it. Government, which provides jobs to people who might not easily find jobs elsewhere and provides services and infrastructure that everybody needs, these are arguably not the enemy, but have been made the enemy. Hillary Clinton certainly for whatever reason, I guess she tried, she couldn’t connect with these people. By the way, I think that’s in part not necessarily because of what she said but because of the trappings that we see of the Clinton family and their coterie. The sense that these people are hypocrites and fake populists, that they hang out with wealthy donors and that Wall Street and these titans who fund the foundation, the people they pal around with, the glitz, they see that, average people see that and they don’t like that. It’s kind of ironic because who does Donald Trump pal around with? I mean, it’s hardly any different and so this is really one of the most amazing things about this is in some ways, putting aside Trumps rhetoric and who supported him, the ways in which he actually is kind of similar to Hillary Clinton.

Jeff Schechtman: One of the things that is worth thinking about in all of this and this goes to the heart of so much of what you’ve talked about and written about in WhoWhatWhy, is the degree to which Donald Trump selection and ascendency to the presidency in January is going to fundamentally change how the country is run and who is running it.

Russ Baker: Yeah. I mean we don’t know that that’s going to change. The reality is that he’s got to staff up with a huge number of people and my sense of him, if you look at him historically, I mean this man is a New Yorker. He and Hillary Clinton, they’re from the same state, they go to the same restaurants, they know the same sorts of people. It is going to be very hard for him to take to a lot of these very extreme people that you’d have to bring in to carry out some of the things that he has said. Certainly Mike Pence, who is a guy who is really against science. Mike Pence turned loose, I think, would put together an astonishing selection of individuals in key positions, but he’s not the president so we don’t really know what Trump is going to do and also by the way, we have to remember that in some respects, Trump was really much more moderate than Hillary Clinton, particularly if you look at what he said at least as a candidate on some days about war and about the US role in the world. She was very much the one taking the fight to the Kremlin’s doorstep. I was constantly astounded by the specter of the Democrats, almost sort of red baiting the Republicans in talking about what a threat Russia was and of course, Hillary Clinton being – we’ve written quite a bit about this at WhoWhatWhy – such an enthusiast about military adventurism and the American notion of empire and so it’s a mixed bag because some of Trump’s statements and plenty of his support are really isolationist rather than being this sort of military industrial wing. So we have no idea how that’s going to play out.

Jeff Schechtman: And the degree to which we have no idea who he’s going to bring in and who’s going to be in some of these positions and what relationships they’re going to have and how deep they go.

Russ Baker: Well that’s right. It’s entirely possible that rather than bringing in the sort of corporate Republicans that prior administrations, the Bush’s and so on have brought in, that he would look to libertarians more, that wouldn’t surprise me. He may just look for people who we don’t know of and we haven’t thought about: who are seen as sort of apolitical, kind of technocratic, can do types of people. That’s very, very interesting. His advisors during the campaign, the people he named were such a motley crew, such a strange bunch of unknown people and some of them were pretty out there. A few of them were a little less so, but then that of course was just the fact that so few people that we know of, so few people in the establishment of any kind were willing to associate themselves with him. Jeff, that’s another fascinating thing. What do you do when the Republican leadership is so mortified by him? I assume that now that he’s won, they’ll be just scrambling to prove to him that oh no boss, I never really meant it, I always thought you would be tremendous, I just was in a difficult position. They’ve got to do that. The Mitch McConnell’s and all of them have got to do that because they’ve got an opportunity to further their agenda and of course, their agenda in terms of the Supreme Court, in terms of lessening government regulation, in terms of preserving the kinds of tax advantages for the wealthy that really is the bedrock of their platform; that’s what they’re going to be focusing on. One of the questions I suppose, is how attentive will Trump be? He seems to have a short attention span. He doesn’t seem to be studious, to put it mildly. We don’t really know how much he even knows about or understands about or cares about any of these issues, so a lot of this is going to be how much of this is he going to turnover to other people who may not share the agenda as it was explained to his supporters.

Jeff Schechtman: The other part of that, sort of the next phase, is the fact that so much of what he said and so much of what he promised to this disaffected group of red state America, can’t be accomplished. It’s just antithetical to modernity and to the way the world works and when that doesn’t happen, when the manufacturing doesn’t come back and the jobs don’t come back and all those things he promised don’t happen, who does he blame and what happens then?

Russ Baker: Right, so that’s where you would see this tremendous reaction because I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have any idea how to do any of these things. He himself hardly even claimed that he knew how to do it, given every opportunity to explain in any kind of detail how he would accomplish these things. He chose not to say and he would basically almost say, look don’t worry about it. He just kept saying things like make the country great and do this and do that and no agreements that are not in our favor. But as you point out, they’re not realistic. He himself is very much of a globalist and he doesn’t represent practically any of the things that the people who backed him believe in, so he’s got himself really in a corner. I’m sure he never expected to win and now he’s kind of smacking himself on the side of the head and saying oh my god, what do I do now?

Jeff Schechtman: The other question is what’s going to happen to the country; not in terms of policy, not in terms of the things that we’re talking about now, but in terms of this divide that we talked about at the beginning of this conversation. This red-blue divide, which now seems to be  cleaved more deeply than ever and how people are going to react over the next few years.

Russ Baker: Right. That is the question. We can go in two different directions. We can either increase the animosity and the rancor and divide more harshly. He’s up and his people are up and then begins the effort almost immediately to take the country back from them; obstinacy on the part of a minority democrat Congress, all of these kinds of things. All the same sorts of foot dragging that Democrats don’t like when Republicans are in the opposition. We can see stratification and greater anger expressed in all sorts of ways. We at least felt the palpable sense of potential violence; that is one way this country can go, the continued resort to firearms as a means to people feeling safe. Or, something else can happen. We can begin trying to listen to each other. That may sound like a panacea but it seems to me that it’s really the only way out; that we have to listen to each other. We have to understand those who, for example, think that the country is kind of crazy with guns, need to understand why people are afraid and why people do have guns or whether it’s because they’re afraid or because they need them for some other sense of themselves, whether it’s their manhood or it’s an opportunity to take out aggressions. Whatever, I mean negative or positive; there’s a multiplicity of reasons on these major, hot button issues that people respond the way that they do to the rapid change in our acceptance of sexuality. This is another one that I think hasn’t been openly discussed and people who take a more traditional view feel intimidated and pressured and left out. I think there has to be dialogue, certainly between the races there has to be dialogue. The irony of a country where people who I think would almost call themselves racists sit in a bar cheering for young black men to win a basketball game in their name. I mean these are the kinds of things that you don’t hear discussed and I don’t think Hillary Clinton discusses them either. I don’t think even Bernie Sanders really even discussed them. These are very, very deep rooted things and we need some national therapy, Jeff. We need people who can rise to the occasion and get all of this out in the open and begin the conversation.

Jeff Schechtman: That’s the positive side of it, but what that also requires in terms of the national therapy, is a national therapist or multiple ones. People that are conveners, people that can bring people together to have that conversation and have that dialogue. As you look around the public sphere today, I don’t see them.

Russ Baker: Well, they do exist. As we’re moving to the close here, I want to talk a little bit about the role of journalism, particularly what we hope to do at WhoWhatWhy. The media could be so much better than it is. I mean it was really beyond the pale this election, if you think about it. The media made Donald Trump. The media thought he had entertainment value, media’s struggling to survive in a difficult environment, they always talk about eyeballs; people always say to me, how many unique visitors does WhoWhatWhy. People are obsessed with inches, so to speak and the media feels that and it’s got to deliver. So whenever it sees anything that people will stay with, will pay attention to, it grabs it. Now, I’m not blaming the media for this, the public is also at fault for babying itself and for wanting a diet strictly of sugar. So that’s why the media gave them Donald Trump. There was Donald Trump, they ignored all of these other candidates who were more, whatever you want to say more, more temperate, more moderate, duller, they ignored all of them. They also went after Bernie Sanders, I think, pretty clearly and he got – as we’ve shown at WhoWhatWhy – very, very little attention. One study showed something like 4 minutes for him on NBC over the period of months and 200 minutes for Donald Trump and that’s what happened there. The media then, once he became a real threat, the media then turned on him because the establishment did not want him, we saw that with the tremendous drop in stocks in the last couple of days and so yes, there’s great alarm. The media really is an extension of the establishment and reflected that. They tried to take him down and they failed and now they’re sitting there saying oh my god, what have we done. My sense is that what we need is new media Jeff, and you’re part of it. I hope you feel good about that. We’re new media talking more candidly, more openly with less of an agenda, trying to go deeper, trying to think about things in a historical context, looking at other countries and other societies, trying to listen to everybody and I think through that process, we will find great future leaders. This country is full of talented, thoughtful people. You talk about conveners and moderators and so on, there are loads of people. We all know them in our communities who are wonderful at being counselors and listening and bringing people together. We need to do a talent search in this country. Instead of having these people we don’t want foisted upon us, we need to find people that we all respect, we all would like to listen to and to have as part of our lives and part of our dialogue and we need to give these people our attention and our support and encourage them to move from the edges into the center of the national conversation.

Jeff Schechtman: The flipside of that and really as we come to the end of this, do you see a kind of sixties style revolution? A kind of sixties style anger that takes to the streets as a result of all of this?

Russ Baker: Well, we saw a 1950s style anger manifesting itself in the Trump movement. Will we see a counter reaction? Possibly. Although I think that the suppression of the Occupy movement by the, I would call it the liberal establishment, the lack of interest in the whistleblowers, people like Snowden and WikiLeaks and so on. The liberals, the Hillary Clintons and so on condemning these people and these efforts to bring things to light. I don’t know that we can count on the liberals, the progressives, whatever you want to call them to do much of anything. In fact, I would say that one of the biggest problems this country faces is the sort of liberal establishment. I live in New York City and these are my friends. These are people who get all of their information and their world view from one public radio outlet, one public television outlet and a few very well written magazines, and they believe everything they read in these places. But these places, as good as they are in some respects do not dig deeper into what ails us and they can’t because they are pillars of this system. If you look in places like New York and San Francisco and so on, most of the liberal, progressive people who have all of these ideas work in places like corporate law firms, they work in advertising agencies, they work in finance and they are really propping up a system that is fundamentally rotten. It causes tremendous discomfiture, it causes a kind of sense of denial and so people settle for small measures that make themselves feel better, but they’re not coming to terms with the tremendous dislocation of this country, whether it is young black people who just simply can’t get a break and can’t get a job no matter what, or the kinds of high school non graduate white people we’ve been talking about who are being left behind. All of those people really are ignored by the system, and I would include the people in this system who consider themselves to be the, you want to say the humanitarians; the ones who care about everybody, they’re not doing enough, fast enough. I think maybe we need to rethink the politics altogether. Maybe we need to move away from the Democratic-Republican model and the liberal-conservative and the left-right spectrum and rethink this whole thing because in truth, I think what we saw at least with Sanders, to some extent, it was some of these other candidates with the libertarian and what have you, that the old model, the old notion of who has something in common with who, I think is changing and I think that’s a good thing. This may be a real opportunity but it’s going to be really rough in the short run.

Jeff Schechtman: We live in interesting times. Russ Baker, thank you so much.

Russ Baker: Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff Schechtman: And thank you for listening and joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman.

If you liked this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to WhoWhatWhy.org/donate.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Trump victory speech (CSPAN)

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