We are witnessing a complete rout of the American establishment. The politicians were outfought by an outrageous reality TV host, the intellectuals and moralists were ignored, the press was outmaneuvered by Breitbart, Infowars and a bunch of teenagers in Macedonia, the pollsters and statisticians were humiliated by deskewers from the dark corners of the internet.
I don't find it hard to explain how Trump won. He fired up rural voters and working-class whites, and most other Republicans decided that in the end they preferred an unpleasant Republican to any Democrat. Hillary showed in the debates how much more knowledgeable and capable she was, but rather than see her use her experience fighting for Democratic priorities they chose to roll the dice on a Republican with no experience at all. Identity and partisanship trumped reason and experience.
The underlying story is that change makes people nervous. Every time liberals get an hour in the sun to push for their priorities, there is a backlash. The 60s gave us Nixon and then Reagan. The Obama years, and the huge progress for minorities and gay people, gave us Trump. It's maddening but it is reality, the cycle repeating again and again across the whole modern era.
Where does this leave us? First, there is the ugly issue of economic stagnation and the decline of rural and small town life. Since Trump and Paul Ryan have no clue what to do about this, the problem will certainly not go away. The sense among millions of people that the dream of a better life is over for them and their children will linger, and these people will remain fertile soil for future demagogues. We badly need new economic thinking, but I doubt we will get it.
Second, the influence of the elite has evaporated. Hillary got the endorsement of more than 100 major newspapers, which had no effect. One of the few big city papers to endorse Trump was in Nevada, a state he lost. I would have said before Trump that a Republican could only win with the unified support of the business and religious elite, but he proved me wrong. American voters are in no mood to take advice from their supposed betters.
Which is why I wonder if the complete failure of polling and punditry may have bigger effects in the long term than anything Trump can cook up in office. My greatest fear for the future is a world in which we all pick our news from sources that flatter our beliefs and any notion of reality gets cast aside. The next time the experts in the big papers claim that something is true, why should people believe them? The elite's ability to guide the government in areas like foreign diplomacy, science policy, and protecting the environment has drastically shrunk. The only way to fight for those things now is in the electoral trenches.
I am depressed, although not as depressed as I was during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. At least this time the mass of the elite shares my worries about Trump, and I hope that will limit the damage he can do. Unified Republican control will be plenty bad, but we had it 2002 to 2006 and the Republic endured. How bad Trump will end up being? I don't know. But I believe in the future of democracy, and I don't believe that Americans are ready to throw our political heritage away.