Well, that just happened. (This was written on election night, but I’ve held off on posting it until this morning to confirm some final results.)
Duluth Area Elections
First, let’s get the local stuff out of the way. In the one competitive Duluth area race: Beth Olson pushed past Jay Fosle for a seat on the St. Louis County board. It was competitive, but clear, as her 57 percent margin carries the day. This shifts the county board somewhat leftward, and keeps the city council as is. Everything in Duluth was predictable, with only minor nuance relative to some of those details I outlined in my pre-election post. A strong Republican state senate candidate only loses by 30 percent of the vote, instead of by the 40 percent margin suffered by the two house candidates.
The Range upset(s) I predicted happened: Republican Sandy Layman, head of the IRRRB under the Tim Pawlenty administration, knocked off Tom Anzelc in the 5B house seat in Itasca County, and Justin Eichorn took down Tom Saxhaug in the 5th state senate district. Layman and Eichorn are business class candidates, not Trumpistas, so this wasn’t them riding the President-elect’s coattails so much as the natural culmination of the once-blue western fringes of the Range becoming more red. Elsewhere on the Range, however, it’s remarkable how much ticket-splitting happened: the other Democrats at the local level won pretty comfortably, and Rick Nolan proved resilient, even as Trump performed well. Without looking at all the precinct results, it appears Trump won the Range, while Stewart Mills lost it.
On a night in which Democrats got wrecked across the country, Rick Nolan stands out as a rare point of resistance, if not the most impressive Democratic win of the night in the entire country. It wasn’t easy, but the veteran Democratic congressman scraped out a second straight win over Mills. This, I think, is a triumph for old-fashioned retail politics, and for careful focus on some of the more immediate concerns in the district. Specificity triumphed over a generic conservative message, even in a district that one might expect to break conservative. The rest of the Democratic Party—and plenty of Republicans, for that matter—have something to learn from Rick Nolan.
The Presidential Election
The world is a fascinating place, isn’t it?
I was critical of Trump, but if you read between the lines here, you’ll see a weird ambivalence on the issues, and general skepticism for the level of apocalyptic fears of many over a Trump presidency. I recognize that this is easy for me to say as a straight white dude who’s fared pretty well in the lotteries of genetics and upbringing. I still think this neophyte is going to get rolled in some arenas of politics, and many of his supporters are in for some nasty shocks. The empowerment of extremist elements bears watching, and if Trump goes through on some of the more extreme policy proposals that further divide people by race or ethnicity and so on, I’ll join the resistance. But there’s more here than meets the eye, and anyone who thinks this result is the product of simple bigotry or sexism needs to get out an awful lot more. This election was a fundamental failure of elite opinion and elite consensus. It was a failure to understand the plight of rural America, middle-income whites, and Christian Americans, and years of dismissiveness coming home to roost. My region of Minnesota, which largely stuck with its reliable Democratic stewards at lower levels but saw Trump make some serious gains, is obvious proof of this.
This defeat should cause some soul-searching on the left. If nothing else, it should discount the absurd nonsense that claims history has sides, or that it bends in a particular direction. No: it only has any direction we give it as active agents. Left-leaning millennials can be forgiven for making blithe assumptions about some steady march of progress, given the course of events in their lifetimes. But we now must adjust to a reality in which we actually have to understand and talk to people who disagree with us. Demography as destiny? Maybe, but gains in one place can cause equal and opposite reactions in others, and these things always revert toward the mean. If we reduce these things to interest groups and focus on riding certain ones instead of building a broader coalition—as the left has, unquestionably—it will rebound in other places. A failure to understand this give-and-take is the fundamental failure of the Democratic Party and the fundamental failure of the current progressive movement, and if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, you live in that bubble.
The Third Way Democratic Party, the movement that was born with Bill Clinton, dies with his wife. (Worth noting: Election Day was the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.) It had a good run. Its two presidencies oversaw general economic growth, the steady march of a left-leaning social agenda, and persistent and haphazard efforts to reform healthcare. (These incomplete, limping efforts may ultimately have proven its downfall.) But by 2016, it was clear how tired they all seemed, and how thin the bench of plausible candidates was; everyone felt like holdovers from the past two administrations. It was a curious place for the party that was supposed to represent the Coalition of the Ascendant, of groups that are growing in size and influence. Its inability to contend with rising inequalities and splits between a globally connected class and the rest all came home to roost.
The party is now in the wilderness, and it will be curious to see who rallies to take control of it in the coming years. If there is a winner waiting in the ruins, it’s not a holdover from the previous administrations, nor a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont. It is someone who can command a muscular, optimistic call for a multicultural America, not a reactionary defense of interest groups. The Democratic Party is utterly adrift; its outgoing president, despite his considerable popularity—it’s amazing what a little integrity will do—will likely see much of his agenda rolled back.
As for the Republicans, well, they have the keys, and they will soon control all three branches of government. Good luck to them: their coalition will be fractious, and there’s no Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to blame now. It’s their ship to steer. I won’t even begin to predict where President Trump and his merry band of Republicans in Congress will guide the country. This president is going to be quite malleable in areas, and there are opportunities here for a lot of people. We’ve known all along that the policy prescriptions are fluid, only time will tell where he ends up landing on so many issues, and I expect wild fluctuations.
Still, we can conclude a few things here. “Change,” whether peddled by an Obama or a Trump, is a winner. Money edges mean less than we thought they did (which I guess is good?), and relying on ground games and carefully refined data operations is less important than genuine enthusiasm. As with Nolan’s win, this is oddly heartening for the basic practice of democracy, whatever you may think of the vehicle. J.D. Vance and his ilk are on to something, and we need to listen to them. The Democrats, who lost ground among people of color, cannot take them for granted. Polling practices were deeply flawed, and in a way consistent with Brexit and a number of other recent votes. No one knows what will happen next.
The circles in which I run trend quite liberal, and I’m seeing a lot of despondency now. Again, maybe I’m privileged and crotchety, and maybe the wine bottle is talking, but I don’t feel that way. I was aware enough as a kid to recognize that a lot of this language is awfully similar to what came out in 2000 and 2004, and for all the absurd rhetoric in this campaign, actions, not rhetoric, are what decide policy. This drama is only beginning, and our whacky President-elect rarely conforms to expectations. I’m too uncertain about what the future holds to have a strong reaction.
This result isn’t a cause for lamentations. No, this election is a rallying cry. It is a call to re-commit myself to everything I truly believe in: that localism trumps slavish following of national politics, and that we can build safe havens closer to home that can withstand the buffeting of broader trends. God only knows which direction national politics will lurch now, and it will go as it goes. It affects us, and we should still care, but it pales in comparison to what we can do at home. That, and not some distant presidential candidate, will Make America Great Again.