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Trump’s victory stretches the fabric of America’s democracy to its limits

The responsibility for Trump is anything but black and white.


Nico Lang


Posted on Nov 14, 2016   Updated on Feb 28, 2020, 8:44 pm CST


Who is to blame for electing Donald Trump?

That’s the question of the moment after the CEO—who spent his entire campaign making disparaging comments about Latinos, Muslims, and women—defied poll projections, criticism about his lack of a ground game, and all expectations to become the 45th president-elect of the United States on Tuesday night. This is after Real Clear Politics showed that Hillary Clinton led in nearly 90 percent of all surveys conducted throughout the race. Twenty-seven percent of the polls that showed Trump leading were conducted by Fox News, whose former CEO also served as an “unofficial” advisor on Trump’s campaign.

It might seem easy to point the finger at one particular group of people for providing a pathway to a Trump victory, and doing so has been extremely popular on the Internet in the days since the billionaire was elected. Susan Sarandon, usually known as a vocal critic of Clinton on the left, has been virtually silent on her Twitter account following backlash to her support for third-party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. An open letter to the Oscar-winner posted on GlobalGrind blamed Sarandon directly for Trump’s shocking win.

The truth is, however, that this election stands as a failure of the democratic process at every possible level—from repeated hacks of Clinton’s campaign to the myriad groups that pressed the eject button on common sense from the voting booth on Tuesday. This is your fault, this is my fault, and it’s a burden each of us will share for the next four years.

Who you believe is responsible for creating a Trump presidency likely says more about you than it does about them.

The most common explanation for Trump’s victory is that women, who were expected to vote for the first female president in record numbers, decided to hand the presidency over to a man who tweeted that because debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked him questions he doesn’t like, she must have been on her period. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, according to exit polls, as opposed to the 94 percent of black women and 68 percent of Latinas who cast a ballot for Clinton. But to be fair, even those enormous numbers among people of color were slightly down from the previous election: 96 percent of black female voters went for Barack Obama in 2012.

Who you believe is responsible for creating a Trump presidency likely says more about you than it does about them.

Here lies the case of the missing African-American and Latino vote. Trump began his campaign by referring to undocumented workers as “rapists,” threatening to build a wall around Mexico to curb the entry of immigrants into the U.S. Those comments were expected to compel Latinos to vote in record numbers against Trump.

That didn’t happen. Trump just barely outdid Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance with both Latinos and black voters, particularly men. Exit polls suggest that 29 percent of Latinos went for the Republican ticket in this year’s election, as opposed to 27 percent four years ago. Meanwhile, Trump claimed eight percent of the black vote, a two percentage point improvement from the previously election. In addition, 13 percent of black men voted for Trump, which is perhaps surprising considering the politician’s noted opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.

What about millennials? The coveted youth voters came out in record numbers for Obama in 2008 and 2012, partially in response to a presidential campaign that targeted digital natives en masse. Sixty-six percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 went Blue in 2008. In fact, the only age group that voted for his Republican challenger, John McCain, were those ages 65 and older.

While a similar number of millennials turned out at the voting booth this time around, far fewer voted for Clinton. Exit polls show 55 percent of young people cast a ballot for the Democratic ticket, lower than Kerry in 2004 and Carter in 1976. A larger share of young white voters supported Trump over his opponent—at a share of 48 percent to 43 percent. Meanwhile, a historically significant number of youth voters didn’t side with either of the major party candidates: While just three percent of those between the ages of 18 to 29 voted for the Green or Libertarian parties in 2012, eight percent did so this time around.

Because millennials are the second-largest group of eligible voters, just behind Baby Boomers, losing what seems like a small percentage of votes can have a huge impact on elections.

And whither those third-party votes? They could have made a difference in a number of close races, particularly in swing states where Trump eked out an unexpected victory. As of current totals, Clinton and Trump were separated by just 119,770 votes in Florida, while a total of 295, 490 people voted for a third-party candidate. The number of ballots that divided the two major-party contenders in Pennsylvania (68,236) were smaller than the number of people who voted for Jill Stein (69,808). The same was true in Wisconsin, where Stein’s 46,501 votes would have put Clinton over the edge. The former secretary of state lost by a tally of 27,257.

Should you really need someone to blame, though, you’d best be sticking to a more obvious demographic: men. Just 31 percent of white males cast a vote for Clinton.

But if a surprisingly diverse coalition of voters either didn’t show up in the record numbers they were supposed to or outright lost their minds on Election Day, that’s reflective of a 2016 race that repeatedly threatened the basic functioning of the democratic process.

Clinton and the Democratic Party faced repeated hacks that made even the most mundane of the inner workings of her campaign news. Sometimes this revealed useful, if troubling, information. In the John Podesta emails leaked by WikiLeaks, it was revealed that DNC head Donna Brazile passed the former first lady a debate question about the Flint water crisis prior to a primary matchup with Sen. Bernie Sanders. But when most other inquiries turned up nothing, websites like Breitbart made them appear to be more sinister than they were. The alt-right flagship alleged that Clinton still secretly opposes same-sex marriage, a blatant and willful misreading of a campaign correspondence about how to spin the candidate’s late support of marriage equality. Snopes debunked the website’s take.

Hacking dominated the election cycle. Throughout the race, U.S. intelligence reported that top Russian officials were attempting to infiltrate servers influence the outcome in favor of Trump, who repeatedly expressed favorable opinions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

You can go ahead and shake your fist at millennials, women, or even a famous celebrity, but no one should get off easy.

Elsewhere, the FBI investigation of Clinton’s private email server turned up no actionable intelligence that she put national security in jeopardy during her tenure of secretary of state—though it did reveal the “reckless” handling of classified material—yet repeated questions about her “untrustworthiness” dominated coverage of Clinton’s campaign. This is despite reports that the George W. Bush administration “lost” 22 million emails between the years of 2003 and 2009 while operating a private server of its own. When Congress subpoenaed for access to those correspondences, which discussed the false claim that the Iraqi government had access to weapons of mass destruction, the White House refused to comply with that demand.

Just days before the election, FBI Director James Comey—breaking with protocol—announced new correspondences located on the laptop of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton’s chief advisor, Huma Abedin. None of these messages were reportedly either to or from Clinton, and a majority were found to be duplicates of previous emails. Comey announced there would be no charges. Nonetheless, the damage was done, erasing a comfortable six-point lead over Clinton’s Republican rival at the worst possible moment for her campaign.

If that’s not enough, the Supreme Court’s nullification of Section 5 preclearance in the Voting Rights Act left many voters without polling places on Election Day, particularly non-white populations that tend to lean Democratic. In 2013, the Court struck down provisions of the 1965 law that compel states with a history of voter intimidation to vet any changes in their voting regulations with federal authorities. Without that law in place, North Carolina “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” as U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit charged. The battleground state decimated its early voting hours, giving people of color, who disproportionately cast their ballots before Election Day, fewer chances to vote.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund, a national legislative advocacy organization, found that there 868 fewer polling locations in the very states formerly covered by the Voting Rights Act, which included Arizona, Michigan, and Florida. All of these were key states in the election decided by less than 100,000 votes. All went for Trump.

Following 18 months of a campaign that threatened to undo the very foundations of the electoral system, in which Trump claimed the process was “rigged” and all but said that he would not concede if his opponent were elected, it ended in perhaps the most fitting possible way: Clinton won the popular vote but still lost the presidency. This is just the fourth time in the history of the United States that has been the case. It’s yet another testament to the outdated nature of the Electoral College, a system that was devised because the Founding Fathers didn’t trust the American people to vote for the president themselves. The irony is unbearable.

The 2016 race proved that elections are fragile and should be protected, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to know who they should be protected from. You can go ahead and shake your fist at millennials, women, or even a famous celebrity, but no one should get off easy.

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*First Published: Nov 14, 2016, 7:00 am CST