You could call it the tale of two election reflections, two competing points of view, two American perceptions of out-of-focus reality. Two important media voices looked back at the November election this week to try to figure out how and why Donald Trump, who everybody despised and nobody wanted to win, actually did win.
Less in anger than in searching for insights, we get glimpses of two radically different points of view in a radically divided America. The Washington Post followed Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s senior policy campaign adviser, in a discussion with Yale Law School students over why he thinks Clinton lost and what he thinks most contributed to the losing. The man who might have been Clinton’s secretary of state calls the campaign experience his personal post-traumatic stress disorder.
The New Yorker flitted out of its urbane comfort zone to flyover country and landed in Colorado to see “How Trump is Transforming Rural America,” as the article headline read. Peter Hessler discovered a viewpoint as outrageous to New Yorker readers as what Yalies believe is to those who danced Inauguration Day away at the Republican Women’s DeploraBall in Mesa County, Colorado.
By far, the more colorful and less predictable perceptions emerge from deep in the heart of Trumpland, in Grand Junction, Colorado. Clinton won the Colorado popular vote by a modest margin and won the state, but Trump won nearly twice as many counties, including Grand Junction, where rates for unemployment, drug addiction, crime and suicide are high.
Here you hear how women became activists shortly after the leak of the Trump “Access Hollywood” tape, which captured him talking dirty about a certain part of the female anatomy 12 years ago. When this news broke, two days before his second debate with Clinton, most of the pundits, consultants and other wise men thought it was the end of his campaign. But the Donald was not dead. Neither were his followers.
Women in Grand Junction gathered with other Trump fans to plot a Women for Trump rally, and more than a hundred showed up — impressive in the circumstances. They didn’t like the candidate’s lewd vulgarity, but they liked even less how the mainstream media kept repeating it. And nothing infuriated these women like Clinton’s remark that half of the Trump voters were racists, bigots, sexists and other undesirables that she put in a “basket of deplorables.”
Matt Patterson, a Columbia University graduate who was born in Grand Junction and now lives in Washington, D.C., attended the Women’s DeploraBall in his hometown. He told Hessler there, “What she said was, ‘if you don’t vote for me, you’re morally unworthy to talk to, to take seriously.'” It was just the kind of condescending attitude toward conservative thinking he found at Columbia, where students believed that “only liberal views were legitimate.”
For many women, it was fierce reinforcement of their perception of the Democratic candidate: Clinton wanted to be the first female in the Oval Office, and she is a woman who detests women who don’t see the world as she does.
Many liberal women thrive on vulgar language, reveling in “slut walks” and “p*ssyhats,” and many conservative women revel in being identified as Clinton’s “deplorables.” They cheer President Trump’s blunt counterpunching, which they see, despite his occasional outbursts of coarseness and ribaldry, as defending their own righteous dignity.
They are the people who Sullivan must have had in the back (if not the front) of his mind when he concluded that Clinton’s losing was a rejection of an elite who had lost touch with the people she presumed to serve. He asked the Yale students: “How do we solve for this basic and growing division in our society that gets to issues like dignity and alienation and identity? How do we even ask the question without becoming the disconnected, condescending elite that we are talking about?” Clinton’s “prescription-heavy speeches” missed the point, and her cold, programmatic solutions had nothing to say about the pain of others.
That was her husband’s forte, not hers. Her campaign was a “job interview” to show off how she was Mrs. Fixit. Sullivan regrets she did not push a message pulsing with empathy, but most of us know that to do that would have required a different candidate. Trump grasped early that globalism lacks soul and spoke of his concern for the down, the out and the overlooked.
The New Yorker finds the Trump supporters in Grand Junction “more interesting, and more decent than the man who inspires them.” Patterson still roots doggedly for the president and his agenda. “The more they hate him, the more I want him to succeed,” he says. “Because what they hate about him is what they hate about me.”