Perhaps we would be talking about president-elect Bernie Sanders today if Democratic Party orthodoxy had not held its way against an authentic, populist insurgent candidate like Sanders.
And the bitter lesson for Democrats in Tuesday’s election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States: is to allow the people to have their way because authenticity carries more weight with voters than all the professional political experiences put together.
Democrats should have read the writing on the wall with the strong and unexpected primary performance of Sanders when he directly challenged the party’s anointed choice, Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic nomination.
What thousands of voters saw in Sanders as he excoriated Washington elites on the campaign trail calling for an economic revolution is the same others saw in Trump, the Republican nominee who waged a campaign not only against Democrats and the elites but also against the elders of his own party as an outsider.
Even though in a real sense Trump wasn’t much of an outsider because of his dealings with politicians in the past, raising money for them as he has repeatedly said on the campaign trail. But since perception is stronger than reality sometimes, voters bought into Trump’s outsider and populist message.
Lynn Pazdziora, 50, of Warren, where Trump campaigned repeatedly in a bid to win Macomb County, said the candidate’s populist message appealed to her even though she grew up in a house where her parents were Democrats.
“I voted for Trump because I want people to be proud of being Americans again. He talks about renewing our sense of optimism,” she said. “Trump should focus on creating jobs.”
By contrast, Clinton did not have a populist message that people could rally around. She did not make the case as to why she would be different from the Washington elites that Trump railed against.
In a May column, I explained how she could lose the presidency to Trump because it was difficult to see any mark of authenticity in her speeches. She played it safe and appeared at every turn to be delivering canned speeches instead of speaking directly from the heart.
Her repeated failure to clearly articulate what was at stake and presenting herself as a radical choice as Sanders did and a departure from the Washington status quo cost her the election.
The result is that a billionaire real estate mogul succeeded in selling himself to voters as the voice of the common man despite questions about his own business record, including the current litigation against Trump University for allegedly defrauding its students of thousands of dollars.
The irony is that a man whose comments sometimes can be found morally reprehensible, especially when he questioned the competence of a federal judge because of his Mexican heritage, mocked a disabled journalist, talked of instituting a Muslim ban and vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, is now president-elect.
The truth is that the man who built his political stardom by questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, is now set to replace him.
It shows the extent to which the white working class and suburban white women who voted for Trump were willing to set aside any concerns about race and divisiveness and choose a man who vowed to address their economic anxiety through his populist message.
Trump was not elected by the multicultural coalition which is the future of America — reflected in the 2010 census — and that does not bode well for an inclusive nation.
If Trump is characteristically unfit to be president given the tone of his campaign, his temperament, crude comments about women, the voters who succeeded in electing him did not think so.
The 2016 presidential election was a contest between orthodoxy and novelty. Clinton did not bring any excitement to the table, which explains why millennials including young African-Americans were hesitant to support her campaign while Trump was pulling massive crowds at his rallies.
In hindsight, her campaign was doomed from the beginning and Sanders’ supporters who were grieved that their candidate was denied the opportunity to bring about economic revolution are now vindicated.
Sanders would have given Trump a lot to chew on if he was the Democratic nominee and the results probably would have been different. Clinton was the choice of the establishment while Sanders was the Trump of the Democratic Party.
Donald Trump’s election is not the end of the United States. We must accept and respect the will of the people. He now has the task of uniting a deeply fractured nation. Because Trump contributed to the fracture, he should lead the effort in healing the nation. His remarks early Wednesday morning are a first step.
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on Super Station 910-AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.