Jumaane Williams Op-Ed: We Won The Popular Vote, But Continue To Miss The Forest For The Trees

Inauguration Day Blues
City Councilmember Jumaane Williams

Inauguration is only a day away, and if the Democratic Party continues to focus on the popular vote and other lame excuses, then it remains just as tone deaf to reality as it did when it lost the entire United States government. The same holds true about the focus on Russian influence, CIA input and melanin challenged rural working class folks. It seems to me that the Democratic Party refuses to really accept that it, and it alone, could have prevented the monumental whupping it recently received, leaving all of us from this country’s shores and beyond in a precarious, if not utterly dangerous position.

Yes, Dems won the popular vote; so what? Did it give us the House, the Senate? How many governors or State Houses were flipped? How many dog catchers did we pick up across the entire country? Yes, the Electoral College has flaws. It had flaws before the election started and Dems seemed fine with it. I’m all for reviewing our government system and making it better. But we shouldn’t pretend that we now have Trump solely because of it.

And yes, Russia influenced the election and indeed the CIA didn’t help. We also have to acknowledge that misogyny played a role in some not supporting the Democratic nominee. Anyone who denies that is not being honest. Yet, the State of Pennsylvania voted for a white female Democrat over a white male Republican for governor and still voted for Donald J. Trump. Now what?

The fact is the Democratic Party crumbled under the weight of its elite hubris. The type that tried to shove down the country’s throat a candidate that an ever-growing growing chorus screamed was deeply flawed. This came complete with in-party espionage against another candidate. This is important to note because the Republicans allowed their bigotry-mongering candidate to serve as an answer to the call of its folks clamoring for change. He brought forth every awful part in the base emotions of human beings. On the flip side, the Democrats did everything possible to quell a candidate who could answer the same clamor using the opposite emotions, while appealing to our sense of inclusivity and equity. The party instead treated his supporters like annoying, loud but harmless, gnats that should be ignored.  

To dispel another myth, the Democratic Party did not suffer this horrific loss because they ignored white rural working-class Americans. The Party lost because it took demographic bases for granted and in effect ignored almost everybody. By doing so it exposed its prideful hypocrisy of saying it is the party of the working class while refusing to listen to them. It refused to believe it had to do anything to even excite its base except make sure President Obama, Bernie Sanders and Jay-Z campaigned for them because, “where else were y’all gonna go.”  

The Party did adopt some decent platform points, but never really rallied around them or earnestly campaigned to them. It did almost zero to excite its core much less anyone else, and didn’t believe it had to even try. While Tim Kaine appears to be a nice guy, his selection was a slap in the face to everyone who had been pleading for the party to do something, anything we could rally around. Meanwhile, the Republicans gave red meat to its base in the form of Mike Pence.

 Dems may have never gotten the same demographic turnout we saw for Obama in ’08 and ’12. What should not have happened however, was Democrats in all of its actions and inactions effectually suppressing a steady rise in voter turnout and bringing it back to levels not seen since the ‘90s. That was not rural working class, and that was not the Russians or email servers. It was willful, blind ignorant hubris. The reality is if Democrats thought enough to respond to the frustrated masses, they would have turned out in enough quantity to compensate for whatever number of Democrats went Republican. Even better had Democrats gotten behind a message that was really exciting, that same message might have been honest enough to prevent them from voting for a Trump in the first place. 

This op-ed is not for the purpose of “I told you so,” (well maybe a little). But only in as much as it makes us reject lame excuses and be real about what happened and why. Yes, the excuses mentioned hurt us; AND we still could have and should have won, period! So far, in response to the absolute embarrassment of a drubbing, I’ve seen no changes in the Party leadership that got us here. We must at least make changes in how we move forward in messaging, policy and action — from the Federal level to the local.

I write this keeping in mind a conversation I had with Beth Knowles, a fellow Council Member colleague in Manchester, England on her recent visit. She spoke about lessons learned as the Labour Party cannibalized itself after the Brexit vote.  Still, in order to see a different result we must take stock of what really happened and not feel comforted by BS excuses; not just for a party, but for real people whose livelihoods are depending on it. The fact is Democrats fully earned this beating. And if nothing changes it deserves more in 2 and 4 years. Sadly, many families would have paid a steep price.