A week ago I was sick of the presidential campaign. Now I’m sick of the post-election analysis.
Or maybe just sick.
I’ve been through some painful elections. My first vote came in 1972, when George McGovern’s young army of peaceniks was crushed by Nixon’s wave of angry Middle Americans. In 2000, election night went on for weeks, leaving cracks in the foundation of American democracy and emotional scars some still carry. I have relatives in Florida who forgot to vote that year and still feel bad about it, as they should.
But this year feels worst of all, and I know I’m not alone. Parents have had difficult conversations with their children. Politically diverse families are worried about Thanksgiving dinner. As blue states started turning red, people in recovery started coaching each other on social media. Don’t let this be a trigger, they wrote. Don’t get drunk. Call your sponsor.
Like the rest of us, I started getting frantic calls and texts on election night from family members and friends looking for explanations and comfort. My favorite was a simple “Wtf, America?!”
I haven’t been good at providing comfort. I did manage to help calm the fears of one of my granddaughters, who heard a rumor at school that President Donald Trump would stop kids from adopting cute puppies. With the authority of a grandfather and a journalist, I assured her puppies would still find loving homes.
But explanations are tougher to come by. Try explaining to a 7-year-old why Hillary Clinton lost even though she got 600,000 more votes than Trump.
The pollsters and pundits don’t help. Last week’s narrative of Trump being washed out by a demographic wave enhanced by the furtive votes of disgusted Republican women didn’t exactly pan out. So they’ve gone back to the narrative about angry, laid-off white men determining the nation’s future. We pundits got it wrong, they dolefully concede, promising to spend more time in “Trump Country” feeling the pain of the Real Americans.
Their condescension knows no bounds.
Here’s the problem: After every election, we pundits pompously pronounce that “the American people said …” this or that. In fact, half the American people said this, and half said that.
Or, to be even more accurate, the American people didn’t say anything. They chose between the available candidates for president. More than any campaign I can remember, this was less a contest of ideas and governing philosophy — mostly because Trump doesn’t have any — and more about the personalities of the candidates. Most voters didn’t care much for either, and a lot of them stayed home. Trump got fewer votes than Mitt Romney received four years ago.
Then there’s the Electoral College, in which what matters most is where the votes were cast. If 120,000 more Floridians and 68,000 more Pennsylvanians had voted for Clinton, she’d be Madam President-Elect now, winner of the Electoral College as well as the popular vote.
Would pundits then be condescendingly telling Trump voters they must pay more attention to the dreams and grievances of urban and suburban voters in “Clinton Country?” I doubt it. The myth that people who live in or near coastal cities aren’t “real Americans” has been promoted by cynical polls from Richard Nixon to Sarah Palin, and it’s not going away.
Still, it would help everyone if we stopped using terms like “Trump’s America” and “Clinton Country.” There’s not a city, town, county or state where the vote was unanimous. There are no blue states and red states, just varying shades of purple.
But because of the Electoral College, we have 48 winner-take-all state elections instead of one national election (Nebraska and Maine apportion electoral votes according to congressional district). We have a handful of battleground states that get all the attention, while the others watch from the sidelines. Because of the Electoral College, the country’s fate landed in the hands of a few thousand late-deciders in the upper Midwest.
America will survive, and we’ll get over these post-election blues. It would help if we stopped pretending America speaks with one voice. We’re a 50-50 country, and have been for at least 25 years. And maybe we should stop asking what this election means. There’s no real meaning in this election, but there will be real consequences.
Rick Holmes writes for GateHouse Media and the MetroWest. He can be reached at email@example.com. Like him on Facebook at Holmes & Co, and follow him @HolmesAndCo.