In the wake of further revelations about Russian-inspired hacks and coordinated WikiLeaks aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton and bolstering Donald Trump, it has become painfully clear that the 2016 election was not democratic. Concerns were raised before the election, but the significance of Russia’s interference was eclipsed and somehow less relevant than the beaten-dead-horse story of Hillary Clinton’s emails and her private email server.
When FBI director James Comey broke protocol to effectively sabotage Clinton’s victory days before November 8, with the vague suggestion that his agency might have a smoking gun, mainstream media pounced. By the time Comey got around to meekly announcing, roughly 24 hours before Election Day, that the FBI (once again) had nothing, much damage had already been done.
Investigation into sexual assault allegations against Donald “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump ceased prior to the election, though women numbering in the double digits were apparently ready to go on record against him. His disturbing ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia or contact during the campaign were largely unexamined.
Instead, the focus was on raking Hillary; on enacting a gendered double standard of the basest order. In the aftermath of the election, talk was of mislaid blame: “identity politics” had somehow alienated real Americans. Translation: feminists, people of color, religious minorities, black and brown immigrants, and the LGBTQ community went too far, and white people had revolted.
No investigation into whether hacking could have happened during the election. No serious discussion about repercussions from Comey’s dubious actions. Rather, presses and pundits breezily noted that although Hillary won the popular vote, now by nearly 3 million ballots, she ultimately lost the presidency on a smugly purported myth: Hillary wasn’t likeable; Hillary didn’t connect.
Third Party candidate Jill Stein and her important recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania received similar treatment in the media. Since the election, coverage of the recount has morphed from outright ridicule to begrudging acknowledgement to shallow, haughty accounts noting the efforts failed.
Rather than investigating why judges, and lawsuits undertaken by Trump supporters, have stymied these efforts, the press seems content to continue writing it and Jill Stein off. Never mind that Stein managed to raise nearly $10 million for the recount in seven days. A feat which suggests widespread concern for the fate of US democracy; it also gestures toward real fear that the sanctity of the franchise has been comprised.
Wisconsin increased the cost of the recount from $1.1 million to $3.5 million once it became clear that Stein had raised the initial sum. Then the state refused to do a hand recount.
That the Michigan recount started and then was stopped by Michigan’s Supreme Court is truly shocking because the margin by which Trump supposedly won is so narrow. Moreover, information that a slew of voting machines in Detroit broke down on Election Day also seems suspicious given that the region is a Democratic stronghold. Since intelligence agencies agree that Russia undermined our electoral process, how is this not a bigger story?
Under the circumstances, it is hard not to wonder about how differently Stein’s recount effort might have been covered if she was a white man. Would the pieces have been as mocking? Earlier articles tauntingly noted that Stein had raised twice as much money for the recount effort than she did for her campaign. Would journalists have listed the concerns about voter fraud with phrases like “cyber hacking” in quotation marks? Those oh-so-ridiculous concerns certainly have legs now. Are the apologies forthcoming? Is serious investigative journalism on its way? Unlikely.
Clearly, the current media push is for the country to move on and accept Trump especially now that the Electoral College votes have been cast, but there is value in history—lessons in looking back.
Where might we be now if the questions raised about the validity of the election had been taken seriously, sooner? A thorough recount might well have discovered hacking and other irregularities that could account for how the majority of polls before the election were so wide of the mark. The process might have reconciled the popular and Electoral College votes.
If we’ve learned nothing else in this election cycle, it’s that sexism and misogyny in this country have reached appalling levels and have harmed society and our political future. 2017’s imperative is clear: US democracy and mainstream coverage of it must rise above white patriarchy.