It isn’t over: the ghost of the 2016 election will haunt us for a long time

Yes, the most offensive U.S. presidential race in modern history has finally belched its last attack ad. The collective sigh of relief from the American public – which disliked the two major candidates almost as fervently as it disliked the campaign – is so loud that only mainstream media could manage not to hear it.

But don’t relax, folks. It isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

“I am told that there is no danger because there are no riots,” Alexis de Tocqueville warned the French Chamber of Deputies in January 1848, “[but] I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano” – a volcano that was, in fact, to erupt just weeks later.

Today, the volcano is an increasingly bitter and disillusioned American public; the ones sleeping on it are the politicians, pundits and business leaders who can’t see that people angry enough to challenge the system in a ballot box – viz., the tens of millions who voted for Trump, the tens of millions who would have voted for Sanders – are quite capable of fighting back in much less decorous ways once they realize that the winner of the election (whoever it is) doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t hear what they say, and doesn’t care what they want.

That, I fear, will be the real story of the 2016 presidential campaign. And it’s a story that begins, rather than ends, the day after Election Day.

Let’s face it. What was different about this election cycle wasn’t the candidates’ scabrous attacks on each other; not even Donald Trump ever sank lower than George Bush’s conversion of the 1988 presidential campaign into a referendum on the Pledge of Allegiance. And as for Republicans who profess to be shocked by The Donald’s sexism and ethnic slurs, one wonders where their consciences were when Ronald Reagan was charming Southern whites with lies about a “young buck” who bought T-bone steaks with food stamps, or when Mitt Romney was bullying debate moderator Candy Crowley in a display as offensive as Trump’s on-stage stalking of Hillary Clinton.

No, the real story in this election was that the Democratic Party abandoned every shred of populist pretense and joined its Republican rival in an outright attack on democracy. That step, without which Hillary Clinton would never have had a serious chance of becoming President, was unmistakable and probably irreversible – and it will haunt U.S. political history long after the election itself is forgotten.

How and when did the Democratic Party attack democracy? In plain truth, its paladins lashed out at voters so many times that it isn’t easy to select the most unkindest cut of all. You might pick party leadership’s gaming of the Democratic primaries (revealed in emails obtained by Wikileaks) to ensure the defeat of a surprisingly popular Bernie Sanders. Or you might choose Clinton’s strong-arming of manifestly reluctant Democratic delegates into swallowing a pro-fracking, pro-imperialism, anti-single payer party platform. (The less popular the position, the more Clinton doubled down on it.) And, of course, there was Clinton’s sneering attack on Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”

But whatever you pick, the underlying theme remains the same. The party of “the people,” recognizing that the center-right policies of its dominant investors have so alienated voters that hordes of them were prepared to elect an erratic, bigoted buffoon in the mere hope of escaping the straitjacket of the status quo, dropped even the façade of appealing to the public and, instead, chose to insult it.

Nobody escaped the insults – certainly not Jews. While polls depict the American Jewish public as increasingly fed up with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, Clinton ran to the opposite extreme, insisting on enlarging Israel’s already bulging arsenal (in defiance of American law barring military sales to persistent human rights abusers) and calling down anathemas on peaceful protest against oppressive Israeli policies.

Major American Jewish organizations applauded her for this posture. But the gift is a Trojan horse. If large numbers of the “deplorables” who voted for Trump begin to revolt against losing their jobs, losing their homes, and now (courtesy of Clinton’s rhetoric) losing even the illusion of having a voice in the political process – and that prospect isn’t really far-fetched – people who cannot feed their families just might start to wonder why the U.S. government has handed over another $38 billion to an outlaw regime that enjoys the support of virtually all mainstream Jewish leadership.

That sort of thing could start a train of questions that, in the end, might pair Jews with Muslim immigrants on popular media’s safe-to-demonize list. And where will the Jewish public be then? Does anyone imagine that the prole-hating political elites who funded Clinton and tolerated Trump will, in a crisis, embrace a Jewish minority at their own expense?

Like Paris at the beginning of 1848, American cities looked calm on Election Day. And like Paris at the beginning of that tumultuous year, their outward calm was deceptive. American voters have never been more fed up with their political system than they are now, and the policy stakes have seldom been higher. When voters awaken the morning after the official results and realize how completely they’ve been had – that the “better” candidate (let’s not even mention the Republicans) spent the greater part of her campaign marginalizing and bad-mouthing the very people she expected to vote her into office – a new chapter in American history will begin to unfold.

And it will be a long time before that story can end happily – if, indeed, it ever does.

About the Author
Michael Lesher is an author, lawyer and Orthodox Jew who lives in Passaic, NJ. His most recent book is Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014).