You wouldn’t know it from the stock market’s record-breaking tear since Hillary Clinton snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but the mood among Trump-averse Americans remains bleak.
Blinkered with rage and disbelief because Clinton won more votes than any other presidential candidate in U.S. history (except Barack Obama in 2008), the despondent blame her stunning upset on nefarious reasons such as “whitelash” bigotry, as CNN’s Van Jones fumed on election night, leading many to sever relations with friends and family.
For partisans inhabiting thought silos influenced by social media’s curated tribalism, the election was rigged, if not by hacked voting machines in Rust Belt states or by hacked journalism’s “fake news,” then by Russian email hackers who exposed Democrat dirt, including revelations about how Democrat primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders.
No credible intelligence source maintains Russia tipped the election in Trump’s favor, only that they meddled to sow chaos and discord regarding the election’s integrity and the winner’s legitimacy. With Clinton supporters clamoring to hack the 227-year old Electoral College, demanding its electors Think Again about making Trump president, you can almost hear Vladimir Putin’s evil maniacal cackling.
The scheming of 2016’s losers negates Clinton’s laudable concession speech, politicizing and muddling serious matters like Russian malfeasance and cyber-security, and sullying the electoral process by which presidential power peacefully transfers under the world’s oldest constitution.
Unfortunately, political elites — including Trump, the master media manipulator — are being played by Putin, whose long-term strategy is to discredit American-style democracy and the liberal order we lead. Considering the post-election freak-out, it’s as if the combatants are double agents working for Russia.
All Americans should agree that Russian covert influence in our democracy is an intolerable threat. It’s one reason why Mitt Romney considered Russia our top geopolitical foe, a claim famously mocked by President Obama, who scolded, “The 1980s are calling. They want their foreign policy back.”
That wisecrack followed the Obama-Clinton “reset” with Russia and Obama’s assurance to former-Russian President Dimitry Medvedev (caught on an open-mic) that he’d have “more flexibility” after the 2012 election — such as disregarding Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories. Meanwhile, foreign cyber-intruders have repeatedly hacked federal agencies, without much consequence.
Now, despite dismissing Clinton’s Espionage Act violations related to her unsecured email server and her foundation’s international solicitation fraud, and after denouncing as un-American Trump’s assertion that the election might be “rigged,” Dump-Trumpers insist Clinton would be president-elect but for Russian cyber-rattling.
On his “The Messy Truth” program, CNN’s Jones heard otherwise from two-time Obama voters who switched to Trump, flipping six states.
“If she’d spoken to the blue-collar worker, she’d have won,” explained Ohioan Scott Seitz about Clinton, who hardly campaigned behind her “blue wall.”
In the industrial heartland left behind in America’s asymmetric recovery, long-suffering voters believed Trump would address the issues affecting their livelihoods, preferring Trump’s message of “I’m with you,” to Hillary’s “I’m with Her,” as Seitz framed it. Clinton’s elitist sneer about Trump’s “basket of deplorables” didn’t help.
Rather than grapple with their most staggering electoral losses since 2010 — Congress, governorships, state legislatures and now the presidency — or their aged and weak leadership bench, Democrats prefer to fundraise off claims that Russian saboteurs stole the election and Trump voters are stupid or racist.
If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that Trump shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should his outsider appeal. According to his “Art of the Deal” playbook, “controversy sells,” and he’ll manufacture it if necessary, as he showed en route to the White House.
Speaking bluntly and carrying a big Twitter stick, Trump outlasted 16 primary rivals, the well-funded Bush and Clinton dynasties, and an unprecedentedly hostile media, which he trolls to perfection.
Like all reality-TV stars, Trump is a survivor who’ll outlast the current freak-out too, assuming he revives blue-collar jobs. Hopefully his compulsion to trumpet cronyist deals like Carrier will fade as his economic growth plans make America ripe for private-sector deal making again, as the stock market expects, even amid rising interest rates.
Among history’s greatest dealmakers were America’s founders, whose Constitution was a heavily negotiated compromise designed to assure that unaccountable power couldn’t be centralized. They believed the boundless potential of individuals operating free from government intrusion would make America great, and they were right.
Unfortunately, as ruling elites have circumvented constitutional guardrails, concentrating power in the ever-growing, unaccountable federal bureaucracy, presidential elections have become life-or-death slugfests. Now half the country quakes in fear that the other half will punish them if they gain power.
The solution is not to further erode constitutional guardrails by defacing the Electoral College; it’s to return the role of Congress, the Supreme Court and the president to their original proscribed limits.
Think Again — Wouldn’t it make America great again if we didn’t have to care so much about who won the White House?
This column was first published in the Aspen Times.