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LEONARD QUART: The triumph of demagoguery and faux populism 

I see four years of roiling social and political conflict ahead, and the country becoming increasingly more polarized.

New York — It’s Election Day, and I have spent months obsessively reflecting about this divisive and volatile almost surreal campaign. I have watched to the point of irritability and boredom MSNBC’s politically sympathetic and incisive trio of commentators Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Chris Matthews analyzing the candidates’ political strategies and their debate performances. They are usually perceptive, but daily coverage means the repetition of the same arguments and judgments. And I have read The NY Times and The Guardian, and various magazine pieces in literate, first-rate publications like The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and checked on Nate Silver, Sam Wang and Real Clear Politics’ polling every morning without fail only to intensify my feelings of anxiety as the electoral college vote continued to shift on their maps. Especially after FBI Director Comey’s unwarranted and unprecedented intrusion into the campaign, which clearly hurt Hillary and the Democrats in down ballot races.

Obviously I’m biased, I’m pro-Clinton, and at this moment care little about her limitations (or Maureen Dowd’s constant personal attacks). I have no use for people who indulge in false equivalences, and unthinkingly damn both candidates, or deliver protest votes for the Libertarian or Green candidates. Since she is running against an egomaniacal entertainer like Trump (a man whom I feel visceral revulsion towards) whose racism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and lack of policy knowledge and impulse control make the competent, well-informed, pragmatic Clinton seem like a stateswoman.

Hillary Clinton

The final polls see Clinton ahead, but not by the kind of margin that makes me feel comfortable. Still, the morning of Election Day my polling station in Greenwich Village has people lined up outside two blocks long, albeit predominantly upper middle class and upper bohemian. It’s predictable that NYS will vote for Clinton, but still the crowds cheer me up, and, despite my fears, I want to believe it’s a good omen for tonight.

After 7 results start trickling in from states like Kentucky and Indiana — where the white working class and small town inhabitants dominate the vote and Trump wins easily. Right now it looks like a long night, and I’m pacing about my apartment. It’s clear as the votes come in that in general Democrats do best in urban areas and among the college educated and minorities. Nothing new about that, but the movement of the white working class to the Republicans, which has been going on for a long time (e.g., Reagan Democrats), has turned into a deluge. And the demagogic Trump has become their voice. The polls, including the Republican Party’s own polls, have gotten it all wrong; underestimating how deep Trump’s appeal to the resentment and rage of rural white and working class America was.

I go to sleep before all the results are finalized, hoping to wake up and discover that it has all been a bad dream, and Clinton has miraculously pulled it out. But at 5 a.m. I wake up, and learn that Trump has won, and the Senate and House remain in Republican hands. His triumph only causes me to feel great despair about the country I have inhabited for 77 years. I feel I live in a world where an invisible wall separates me from Trump voters. I know them only in the abstract, or in media interviews where they voice their support for a man they think will overthrow the establishment.

I see four years of roiling social and political conflict ahead, and the country becoming increasingly more polarized. Trump will try to undo Obamacare, appoint a Supreme Court Justice who will vote against abortion and unions, and ultimately do little for his supporters but provide them with red meat rhetoric. I can only conclude with this quote from Vanzetti’s speech in Dos Passos’ U.S.A — “We Stand Defeated America.”


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