Like many Americans, I viewed the election results last Tuesday night as they emerged and came to the realization that Donald Trump had a real shot at winning the election. All of the expert pontification about the narrow road to a Trump victory in the Electoral College proved to be inaccurate; he paved a highway that most pundits said was illusory at best. So, is this a mandate for radical change, either in following the various threads of Trump's various initiatives or in pushing through the roadmap of the Republican party? I'll note that more people voted against Trump than for him, so this was a razor thin victory and more fodder for those who'd like to dismantle the electoral college. So it is hardly a mandate and one which also has strong opposition, at least in numbers.
But this is a time to think about what went wrong to produce an election that so many people found disheartening. Here are some thoughts.
- Why did Hilary Clinton lose? She complained about FBI director James Coney, but she never addressed several fundamental issues. Her primary messages in the last weeks were to complain about how bad Trump was. When I found out about the email debacle, my first thought was, one set of rules for the Clintons, another set for everybody else. Using a private email server for government business was a foolish mistake, particularly in the post 9/11 era. Hilary's team was also arrogant and acted like she was entitled to be President because she'd paid her dues. She is much more qualified to be President than Mr. Trump based on her experience, but no marketing campaign can be successful if there isn't a coherent message.
- Globalization - Both candidates were in denial about the degree to which globalization has totally changed the game when it comes to running successful businesses or having a successful national economy. Trump did a good job of realizing that rust belt America had been left behind when the post WWII manufacturing economy began transforming into the information economy in the Nineties. But he implied that he could turn back the clock and get those manufacturing jobs back. Sorry, that economy is gone. Today manufacturing is still a robust industry, but it's highly automated and requires higher levels of skills for the participants. The US can't turn its back on the global economy and expect to have the economic success that Trump has implied is just around the corner after he gets elected.
- International Trade - This issue was a punching bag for Trump and Bernie Sanders, and Hilary Clinton changed her positions to pile on. All were in agreement that trade deals were a bad idea, at least in their public stances. But it's easy to criticize diplomacy and to take shots from the outside. It sounds like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) might have even lived up to Hilary's original assessment that it was the gold standard for trade deals. The alternative is to let China set the rules for the Asian economy, which would be a disaster for US economic interests. Check out the assessment Tom Friedman did of the deal in a column he wrote several months ago. If we don't engage in trade deals, somebody else will set the rules and many countries do have not the rule of law, environment protections and intellectual property protections that make the US a great place to do business. We can't ensure a level playing field for our US economy unless we negotiate to make it so.
- The Electoral College - This anachronistic system is bad for a whole bunch of reasons. It's absurd to have the winner of the popular vote -- whoever they are -- lose and have the current system where the only competition is in so-called battleground states. In most states, your vote for President doesn't count under the current system, whether its Massachusetts, Alabama or California. The current approach encourages pandering to special interests and totally ignoring the needs of the larger states who aren't considered to be "in play."
- Repeal and Replace Obamacare -- This is a case where a catchy slogan is supposed to be enough to substitute for the hard work of negotiating a better approach to meeting the health insurance needs of all of the millions who can't be on company or other group health plans. But 20 million people have enrolled in Obamacare because it met their needs. This despite the myopic view of numerous states that refused to expand Medicaid to cover the poorest of citizens. This deal was messy when it was being negotiated and hardly perfect. But trashing the deal without having a substitute ready will penalize the struggling portions of the poor, working class and middle class that don't have a better approach today than Obamacare. Show me the better program and then maybe I can get behind it. Or more reasonably, Congress needs to do its job and fix it, instead of complaining while they (the members of congress) get gold star health coverage from the government.
- Climate Change - The science is clear. Climate change is happening and is not a conspiracy set out by the Chinese government as Trump has absurdly claimed. The Paris agreement is a reasonable step forward, but is still not a solution in itself. The oil industry in the US has its head in the sand on this issue and Trump has been pandering to the anti-science crowd. The US should ratify the Paris agreement, but the Republican party is on record in denying there is even a problem. In the meantime, seas are rising, our shoreside military installations in areas like Norfolk, VA face flooding conditions and a wide array of conditions caused by increasingly volatile weather are threatening multiple regions of the country. The opposition is making economic arguments, but the problem won't go away unless we get real about what's really happening instead of choosing to deny whatever data we choose not agree with.
As I put together this list, these items were merely the first ones which came to mind. The list could go on, but the common thread is that we need to get the real data about what is happening in problem areas in our country, before we can even hope to solve problems. It's frustrating when the politicians lie about what's really happening or choose to sell pipe dreams instead of acknowledging an issue and then doing the hard work of developing programs that work and negotiating until they come to life. For whatever reasons, the choices this year were unsatisfactory for many voters. As John Kennedy once said, it's time to pass the political torch to a new generation of leaders. We can do better than we did in 2016 and we must.