Since the election, those of us stunned by the results have collectively tried to emerge from our nightmarish rabbit hole and make whatever sense possible that might provide insight moving forward. Finger-pointing and blame abound: the Comey letters; the perception of Hillary’s untrustworthiness and dishonesty; the Republican lynch mob; an America not ready for a woman to lead; angry Bernie supporters who stayed home; her too cozy relationship with Wall Street; uninspired African-Americans who didn’t vote; Russian hacking and complicity with the DT campaign; traditional Republicans willing to look past the hate and hideousness of DT to vote their tax brackets; etc. Many of these elements were deeply baked in the cake long before the general election and it is unclear how much a different approach from Hillary might have altered those negatives.
But in her concession speech--magnificent under the circumstances--she herself acknowledged that the widening divide in our splintered country runs far deeper than she had understood. She was not alone in that stunning miscalculation. Apart from rare outliers, mostly from the alt-right, nearly every reputable poll wrongly predicted a Hillary victory by unprecedented margins.
Among those the factors that Hillary could meaningfully have changed, her campaign committed what many now believe was the game-changing mistake of failing to reach out sufficiently to the “silent minority,” by which I mean people of good heart, sense, and will who urgently need economic change. Though many in the group are rightfully frustrated and angry, the silent minority does not include the very un-silent haters of every stripe who found a bullying voice in DT. Nor am I including those who have thrived since 2008 and before, who voted their pocketbooks, ignoring that this election had zero to do with traditional republican v. democratic philosophies.
I am proud to be from the bluest of blue collar families. In September, I visited family members who still live near our hometown and have followed in our father’s footsteps. The campaigns were raging, but we conspicuously did not talk politics. Though not devastated, the area has been hit hard economically since well before the 2008 Great Recession, and I am aware that pay raises and even part-time jobs are virtually non-existent. They know my position and their silence suggests that some might possibly be planning to vote for DT. To a person, they hate no one and live by the golden rule. Any of them who may have voted for DT fit squarely in the silent minority I am describing.
They have indeed been ignored by Washington. Taken together with the false equivalence Republicans have successfully portrayed between the two candidates’ negatives, the silent minority voted against Hillary who was viewed as an arrogant elitest, completely unattuned to the working class, who would continue to neglect their powerlessness, mounting needs, and quiet suffering. Enter the demagogue, sensing what people needed to hear and saying it over and over: “I alone can fix your problems;” “I will be the voice of the voiceless;” “I will fight for the forgotten man.” Though many from both parties are convinced that he has neither the competence nor the intention of delivering on his promises, the silent minority voted against Hillary and for DT, not because of his vile words and actions, but in spite of them.
Hillary’s strategy was to attack DT with every speech, every rally, every TV ad, with every surrogate on the trail. In the face of advice from people like Joe Biden, Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, and even Bill Clinton himself, she blasted DT in ways that the Republican candidates in the primary seemed afraid to do, until it was too late. She would not make the same mistake. If DT could continue to be exposed and castigated for his despicable hatemongering, fearmongering, and incessant lying, surely the path to victory would be clear. In addition, negative advertising historically has tended to work very well.
In choosing to go exclusively negative, she did indeed fail to reach out positively and connect with the silent minority. She strategically chose to spend little time getting the word out to hard-hit working families, explain her plans, and convince them that they would be her highest priority--as indeed they would have been, in my view. The laser focus was relentlessly assailing DT as an incompetent, temperamentally unfit merchant of hate.
I believe Hillary’s best self is not that of a fiery attack dog, stabbing the air with her volume on high, adopting a persona that struck me as unnatural and ill-fitting. In sharp contrast, I was deeply moved by her first public appearance following her defeat, addressing the Children’s Defense Fund where she went to work right out of Yale Law School. She obviously had many far more lucrative and cushy options, and her work for the CDF heralded the beginning of nearly 40 years of public service (“I’ve been much better at the service than the public part”) for our most vulnerable citizens. Making eye-contact, in a nearly conversational voice, she personally engaged the audience. I’m confident many felt she was speaking, not to the masses, but directly to them, as I did. Unhurried, sincere, speaking with clarity and a sense of quiet purpose in the most natural manner possible, giving a positive message about hope, resilience, and picking people up, not knocking them down.
I wish we had seen more of that Hillary during the campaign, giving that message in that genuine voice. We’ll never know if the silent minority might have listened more carefully had they been engaged in this manner by Hillary being herself.