By George Melloan
Some pundits are rating the Donald Trump victory as the “greatest upset” in presidential election history. One suspects that it was only an “upset” to an establishment that thought the boorish hotel magnate was “unfit” to be president. Voters, particularly the wage-earners and small business owners in flyover country, thought otherwise. To them the election was a choice between two flawed candidates, and they picked the one they regarded as the less flawed or could at least offer the better prospect of change from the policies of the last eight years.
George Melloan is a former deputy editor and columnist at The Wall Street Journal.
Yet perhaps the 2016 election could be properly called “historic” in that it was a year when the culture wars finally came to a head. One suspects that a lot of Americans were simply tired of being talked down to by the people in the media, academia or government who imagined themselves to be their cultural betters. Working people were fed up with being scolded for incorrect speech, possession of firearms, burning fossil fuels, worshipping a deity or whatever misdemeanor next dreamed up by the cultural elite. Donald Trump’s oratory, though often crude, awakened those resentments. There also was an element of a battle of the sexes. Hillary, with the help of some of the presidential debate moderators, tried to scuttle Trump by tarring him as abusive in his relationships with women. There was an element of truth in that. But was that the only thing the election of a president was supposed to be about? What of all the other problems a president will have to face? For instance, should calling an errant beauty queen Miss Piggy be more important than getting the federal budget under better control after a decade of massive deficits and a doubling of the national debt? Apparently, the voters thought not.
As to Mrs. Clinton’s flaws, why should anyone be surprised that they were sufficient to cripple her chances? Were the voters supposed to turn a blind eye to the pay-for-play connection between the Clinton State Department and the Clinton Foundation. Weren’t they allowed to suspect that President Obama and Attorney General Lynch deliberately derailed the FBI investigation into the Clinton e-mail abuses, which had brought criminal penalties for lesser figures? Were they supposed to ignore the persuasive evidence that Clinton and the administration deliberately lied when they claimed that the Benghazi attack that killed our ambassador was some sort of spontaneous uprising, when they knew it was conducted by an organized terrorist group?
Indeed, a good argument can be made that the Trump victory was in fact a voter rejection not of just Mrs. Clinton but of the administration in which she played a key role. Obamacare didn’t bring lower health insurance costs as billed, but sharply higher ones for many middle-class voters. Monetary policies that have brought low returns on investment have put pension plans in jeopardy. The “reset” of relations with Russia only emboldened Vladimir Putin to test us still more with his Ukraine invasion, threats to the Baltic nations and Mideast adventures. The Iran deal was one-sided in Iran’s favor. The prospect of a Hillary appointing Supreme Court justices that would allow the executive to continue trampling the rights of Congress was appalling to many voters.
In short, voters were tired of it all. Was the Trump election such an “upset?” Or should a Hillary win have been more of a surprise?
George Melloan is a former Wall Street Journal editor. His new book, just out from Simon & Schuster, is about how the people of Whiteland, Indiana, fared during the Great Depression. The title is “When the New Deal Came to Town.”