Who Should We Blame for This Hell?
On the lingering grief of the 2016 election.
Image by author via Getty Images
It's June 2017, but 2016 will never end—the rancor and hopelessness of the campaign is still with us, and so is Hillary Clinton. The defeated Democratic presidential candidate is on a redemption tour, boldly speculating on the cause of her surprise loss. On Wednesday, she told Recode's Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, "I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that's not why I lost."
Instead, in that interview and others she has placed the blame on misogyny, voter suppression, Russian agents, the Democratic National Committee, Facebook's fake news problem, the media's coverage of her email scandal (which she inexplicably compared to Pearl Harbor), and WikiLeaks.
It's natural to want someone to blame for Donald Trump's presidency besides Trump himself. The feelings of sorrow and powerlessness have to go somewhere. Politicians like Clinton don't like to blame the American people for anything, but if we're making a list of responsible parties, there's always the 62,984,824 Americans who actually voted for Trump, or maybe the 43 percent of eligible voters who didn't vote at all. You could even talk about the 7,804,213 third-party voters, some of whom no doubt are unhappy about Trump's shocking win.
But it feels unfair to castigate individual Americans, who individually possess basically no power. So let's move on: We could blame the Bernie Sanders left who never warmed to Clinton. We could blame the spineless GOP, the family values party who stood behind Trump even after he was caught on tape bragging about grabbing pussy. Clinton is no doubt correct in blaming misogyny, fake news, and Russian interference. Just as surely, Clinton herself is to blame—after all, she's the one who couldn't manage to beat the dumbest presidential candidate of all time.
More than Clinton personally, we should blame the view of politics that spawned her campaign. As part of a largely sympathetic Clinton profile for New York, writer Rebecca Traister spoke to Jess McIntosh, who served as the director of communications outreach for her campaign. McIntosh's postmortem went like this:
Should she have showed more emotion? I don't know. We don't know whether women who show less emotion get to be the president. Should she have been less hawkish? I don't know. We don't know if we can elect a pacifist woman president. We can't point to where she diverges from a path that other women have taken because she was charting that path, and that might fuck with your analytics a bit, as it turns out.
This of course just seems to reaffirm the criticism of Clinton as the product of too many focus groups, unsure even whether she should champion war or peace. What does Hillary Clinton fundamentally believe in? Why was she running in the first place? We know, God help us, what Trumpism looks like, and we know what Bernie Sanders represented. But what is Clintonism, beyond a desire to see Clinton in the White House? And now that she's not going to be president, what is she fighting for?
Too often, it seems like Clinton is fighting to be absolved. When she speaks about 2016, she portrays herself mostly as a victim, even if she has to fudge the information to make her case. "If you look at Facebook, the vast majority of the news items posted were fake," Clinton said, which isn't true and just one flower in a bouquet of inaccurate information she presented on Wednesday.
In her conversation with Recode, Clinton said that even though many people would like her to disappear, "I'm not going anywhere." If she's staying in the public sphere, she should know how easy it is for her to trigger our election-related grief and anger. When we see her, we're reminded of the person who could've been president, that it didn't nearly have to be this bad. So it's natural to blame her—for not being better, and for not understanding why she lost.
If we don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, we need to understand what they were. This means understanding why Clinton failed—her centrist politics, the campaign's fateful refusal to put more resources into campaigning in Michigan and Wisconsin, but above all, she lacked a clear vision. She promised nothing new to Americans who were hurting, just four more years of Barack Obama. Until the Democrats can come up with something better, we're not going to be moving on from 2016.
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