When I finally went to bed, what popped into my head was something the great cynical journalist H.L. Mencken used to say. “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want – and deserve to get it, good and hard.”
They will now get change, though what form that will take, nobody can say. What’s clear is that they wanted something different, and that the scope and the depths of their discontent was something that none of the experts grasped.
The voters appeared to want to send a message to the elites, and disregarded things that the experts thought should prove decisive.
The overall national polls were not that far off, when it came to the popular vote in this election. Here’s something startling that I realized this morning.
Hillary Clinton will probably win the nationwide popular vote when all this is over. Early this morning, she took the lead, with millions of uncounted ballots in California, which she is winning overwhelmingly. This won’t affect the outcome at all. Al Gore won the popular vote too.
But it is clear that voters decisively wanted change. Not just at the top of the ticket. They took their frustrations out on the Democrats, who lost senate seats they seemed sure to win.
This was even more evident in Michigan. In two races for Congress where the Democrats had attractive candidates and spent lavishly, Republicans won by landslides larger than in two yearsago. Even Republicans thought they would lose seats in the Michigan House of Representatives. Democrats thought they might gain control.
But the results show Republicans actually gaining at least one seat in Lansing. The pattern of the voters’ discontent was somewhat irregular. Longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson was reelected, but by a considerably closer margin than ever before. Voters in New England and the far west of the United States seemed to be much less enamored of Donald Trump than they were in this part of the nation.
But what is clear is that voters in what is often sneeringly called the Rust Belt are dreadfully unhappy. Some of this almost certainly has to do with the collapse of what you might call the assembly line economy. For decades, young men could get out of high school, or sometimes drop out, and get a good paying assembly line job.
That way of life vanished forever. Trade agreements like NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Act, clearly hurt this region’s economy, though for a long time neither party would admit it. Bill Clinton long ago made voters believe he felt their pain. Hillary Clinton never did. But Trump told them it was time to get even.
Trump won this election in the white blue collar areas of metropolitan Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Toledo, Milwaukee, and Detroit. That gave him Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Otherwise, he would have lost. Was misogyny a factor? Was xenophobia?
What’s clear is that many voters didn’t care what Trump said about women or Vladimir Putin, or what the other leaders of even his own party said about him.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.