Magazine | December 5, 2016, Issue

The Tiny Violin

We deserve Donald Trump. By “we” I mean the entire class of political and cultural elites in this country who scoffed at Trump and wrote him off from the moment he descended that gilded escalator back in June 2015. Trump’s stunning, poll-defying upset over Hillary Clinton was a short-fingered smack in the face to many people, including many on the right, who had it coming, big league. 

Maybe Trump will be a disaster as president and all his critics will be proven right. Of course, their track record on Trump predictions is rather poor, so maybe he’ll continue to prove them wrong. In the meantime, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the magnitude of the comeuppance he has inflicted.

Let’s start with Hillary Clinton. She was supposed to be inevitable, to go down in history as the first female president. Her campaign team was so confident that “everyday Americans” would rally behind her that they reportedly popped champagne on their chartered jet en route to a “victory” party — at a convention hall with a massive glass ceiling.

After the race was called for Trump, venue staffers were seen emptying out confetti cannons stuffed with imitation glass shards — a fitting homage to a shattered legacy. Hillary didn’t even bother to address supporters after calling Trump to concede at roughly 3 a.m.

Hillary’s downfall is so ignominious as to almost invite sympathy, but not quite. Days after the election, Alan Cole, an economist at the Tax Foundation, reported via Twitter that he had overheard a Washington, D.C., suit lament how the “Clinton-connected people” his firm had just hired were now rendered “worthless.” If you listen closely, you can hear the world’s smallest violin accompanying a mournful requiem. The Clinton dynasty, and its barnacled hull of rotten grifters, will not be missed.

Don’t worry. Hillary will do just fine in the private sector, sitting on corporate boards, selling reverse mortgages on cable, and overseeing the Clinton Foundation’s transition. She won’t go down in history the way she planned, but she’ll always have her accomplishments as secretary of state, whatever they are.

The Democratic party suffered a delicious shellacking as well. Party elders had cleared the field for a boring grandmother under FBI investigation for negligent mishandling of national-security secrets who hadn’t driven a car in decades and focus-groups her fast-food orders, and tried to present her as a candidate of the people. Party elites lauded Hillary’s platform of 21-point policy papers and contemptuous attacks on her opponent. They tweeted “#YasQueen” at all her celebrity endorsements, dance-offs on Ellen, selfies with Lena Dunham, and rehearsed references to cat memes and Hamilton, a Broadway musical beloved by Acela-corridor millionaires worried about income inequality and North Carolina bathroom laws. What more could Rust Belt voters ask for?

Democrats can’t explain why their incessant cries of “Racism!” and “Sexism!” were not persuasive. Maybe it’s because they’re screeching to the converted and everyone else has tuned out. They spent years attacking John Boehner as an unhinged “extremist.” Mitt Romney was accused of killing a woman with cancer and mocked for using binders to keep track of women job applicants in the hope of hiring one. Liberal journalists wrote thousands of words this cycle arguing that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were actually more “dangerous” than Trump. Now, they insist, Trump is the single greatest threat to civilization. It’s confusing, to say the least.

Perhaps the most satisfying consequence of Trump’s victory is the broadside it delivered to the liberal bubble. Members of the media establishment and their armchair-activist counterparts in the entertainment industry — a distinction without a difference, perhaps — cannot fathom a President Trump. He used to be one of them, but they don’t know anyone who voted for the guy. They’ve seen Hamilton and they thought Hillary’s references were on point.

The media, who chased ratings by slavishly covering Trump’s every move throughout the Republican primaries and (to a lesser extent) the general election, now admonish one another about the dangers of “normalizing” a Trump presidency. They’re debating whether they could have done more to “convey the stakes” of this election — i.e., convince voters Trump is bad — but they’re unlikely to consider the possibility that maybe they’re not as influential as they think they are, that they are the ones who are out of touch.

The Saturday Night Live reaction to Trump’s improbable win was an exquisite testament to this bubble. Days after the election, the show opened with a somber Kate McKinnon portraying Hillary Clinton singing “Hallelujah” by the late Leonard Cohen. It was a decent performance, but it was accompanied by that same small violin — on a “comedy” show best known for roasting politicians. McKinnon, it’s worth noting, recently starred in the marketed-as-“feminist” reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise, a film whose poor reviews and box-office returns were blamed on misogyny.

The Republican party deserves no quarter, either, and should be prepared to receive none. Trump won by throwing out every recommendation put forward in the GOP’s 2012 post-election “autopsy.” The donor class thought victory could be achieved this time by nominating a third member of a political dynasty and offering a healthy dose of Paul Ryan explaining why “Subchapter S corporations” are critical to tax reform.

You don’t have to like Donald Trump to celebrate, and hopefully learn from, the system shock his victory represents. You may yet get your chance to say, “I told you so.” But for now, this is Donald Trump’s world, and you’re just living in it.

– Mr. Stiles is the politics editor of Heat Street.

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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