What the Hell Just Happened?

Dave Pell
10 min readNov 13, 2016

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of analysis about what happened on election day. Some of it is valid, much of it is absurd. I’m gonna try to make some sense of it here. And yes, that makes me a modern day contrarian.

The Economic Divide: This is one of the biggest stories across the globe and it impacts everything. Including Brexit. Including this election. Including the future. It’s not the same as it was. It’s not business as usual. And it’s really dangerous. Related: No one talks about or does much for the poor in this country. That was always going to catch up with us. I just didn’t think it would do so in the backseat of a billionaire’s limo.

The Ignored Working Class Whites: Globalization and a lack of good policies have left many regions in tatters. While Dems should have done a better job of speaking to it, the plight of the white working class has been anything but ignored. I visit about a hundred news sites a day and drive traffic to thousands of stories a year. And the struggle facing this group has been one of the most-covered stories over the past couple of years. And this coverage has been provided by supposed liberal elitist media outlets. If you want to compare this to a story that was actually ignored, consider the treatment of black people by law enforcement prior to the very recent era when camera phones and the internet finally forced the reality into our thick heads.

The Over Analysis of the Election: We are a split country. The differential in electoral votes in this election came down to a few thousand ballots in a few key areas. A little more Dem turnout, a little better performance by Hillary, or any number of other factors (yeah, I’m talking to you, Comey) could have changed the outcome and the ensuing storyline. America is still what it was last week. (Full disclosure: I’m not sure how it’s gonna look next week.)

The Other Working Class Voters: Update: there are also black and brown working class voters. And they have to deal with the same financial woes, plus racism.

The Hate: For decades, our political parties have been demonizing the other side. To the insiders, media experts, and campaign strategists, this was just a means to an end. But the voters didn’t get that. It became an end unto itself. We hate the other team. And that alone explains at least 80% of the vote. And it’s a problem. Because that hate can’t be controlled by those who fueled it. For evidence, just look at how hard the GOP establishment tried to stop Trump. And they didn’t even make a dent.

Racism: City folk and northerners believe there is more racism and xenophobia among their counterparts. That’s true. But here’s what is also true. Tens of millions of people voted for Donald Trump. So what’s the argument here? You described me as racist and I proved it. So there?

Let me give you an analogy from my own Jewish perspective. Let’s say Donald Trump spent the last six months implying that Jews (many of whom were rapists and murderers) are the reason you lost your jobs, and explaining that he’s planning to build a wall to stop more Jews from coming in (and you know he’d get a kick out of saying “the Jews are gonna pay for it”). Now the election comes and Trump wins. And voters say, “Hey, we didn’t vote for him because of those issues. We just wanted change.”

Trust me, I wouldn’t be cool with that explanation. You may have voted for Trump because of his racism, xenophobia and misogyny or you may have chosen to ignore that part of his pitch. But either way, it’s a devastating message to those on the receiving end of his hate speech.

And it doesn't matter one bit whether Trump really believes what he’s saying. He has emboldened those who do.

Sexism: See Racism.

The Man with the Mirror: What does Trump believe? All we know for sure is that he believes in Trump. He’s the greatest media savant of our lifetimes. He can feel what people want to hear and he vomits it out. This election tells us a lot about what a lot of people wanted to hear. Some of it worth listening to. A lot of it horrific.

Money and The Stock Market: Trump did well among educated men and women as well. Why? Very few pundits want to admit the obvious. But thankfully, the stock market doesn’t lie. Notice how it went up in the days following the election? That’s because the investor class realized their income and capital gains taxes would be the same or lower for the next four years. I am in that class. But my money says people who voted on this basis will be sorry in the very near term. (That said, I can’t predict elections, so I sure as hell can’t predict markets.) The only people in a sure-thing growth market over the next few years are shrinks.

Segregation: This election displayed a remarkable geopolitical split between cities and inner suburbs, and outer suburbs and rural areas. This makes perfect sense. We never interact. Many of us hoped that the internet would increase our interaction with people who didn’t look and think like us. Sadly, it merely offered us the opportunity to create and live in digital silos of homogenization.

This segregation makes us perfect targets for the political messages of those who would choose to divide us. It’s much easier to stereotype the other when you never see the other.

Women: What if the real message of this election is that America will not elect a woman, no matter who she is running against? Think about it. Hillary was villified. Think that vilification would have been as effective against a man? (Hint: Her husband won two terms.)

The Show: Americans don’t care about the issues because they don’t understand the issues. At this point, you don’t need to see any more surveys to convince you that a huge percentage of Americans have no clue when it comes to the issues or even a basic knowledge of how our government works. So it makes perfect sense that our elections would come down to campaign performances. Hillary was like watching re-runs and Trump (whether you love or hate him) is the greatest show on earth.

Hollywood: Our TV shows and movies often depict working class families as a bunch of idiots. It’s a bad trend. It should change.

Shit Magnet: Before we had kids, my wife and I used to joke that we’d be happy no matter which profession they chose, as long as they didn’t decide to be Civil War re-enactors. Now, I’ll be happy whatever path they choose in life, as long as they don’t want to get into politics. Look at the coverage we just witnessed. What kind of a lunatic would want to put themselves or their families through it? That question has answered itself. This is a big problem. We need talented people to improve the system. The system is a magnet for people like Anthony Weiner, who can take endless humiliation and still keep coming back for more. What young person watching the presidential debates at home put an index finger to their chin and said, “Oh yeah. I want some of that.”

The Backlash: Progressive values have been winning the day at remarkable speeds. A backlash was inevitable. Whether that backlash is a speedbump or Everest is the key question of the next four years.

Political Correctness: It’s awesome that we’re more sensitive about the way we talk to one another. But we still need to be able to take a joke or let some things slide. Billy Bush was on the receiving end of some inappropriate Trump comments a decade ago, and we called for his head. What was he supposed to do in that situation, make a citizen’s arrest? (More on this item below in the response section.)

The End of Privacy: We value information equally whether it was voluntarily shared, or stolen by hackers and distributed by Wikileaks. The acceptance of this trend will have a dramatic impact on speech, commerce, and politics for much longer than anything else that happened in this election. (Except maybe our national embarrassment.)

Media: Forget all the bias bullshit. To the extent it exists, it’s secondary. What really matters is that politics is covered almost exclusively as a sport. We don’t analyze policies. We analyze campaign strategies. When you treat it like a horse race, you can end up with a horse’s ass in the winner’s circle.

Social Media: Since being elected, Trump has said something I agree with: “I think that social media has more power than the money they spent, and I think maybe to a certain extent, I proved that.” Twitter and Facebook are the new ground game. And that’s not going to change.

The Elite: The liberal elite. The academics. The left-wing media. We’ve heard it all before, because many on the Right have made a decades-long effort to win votes at the expense of the belief in our institutions. Think about it: They try to convince voters that science is wrong; that intelligence is a flaw. Trump didn’t start this fire. The messaging has been so honed that we recently had a Yale graduate, son of a president run against the elite … and win. The plot to celebrate stupidity has been playing out for a long time. Trump merely capitalized on it. Not having a higher-ed degree is not a crime. But being really smart is helpful when you’re applying for a job like, say, the president of the free world. Do we really want a country where reading a book and thinking critically are considered forms of dissent and resistance?

The Electoral College Thing: If you want to get rid of the electoral college and the way we do voting, then focus on the next election, not the last one. Trump came to power by attacking the core institutions of our republic, from the courts, to the FBI, to the media. We need to rebuild the trust in these important institutions, not set a match to another one of them.

The Addiction: Most of us are addicted to social media. On social media, there is an incredible amount of hate thrown back and forth. If you’re online, it’s unavoidable. So maybe we need to take a break from the cesspool once in a while. Trump promised to drain the swamp. As one of the most prolific Tweeters ever, he is the swamp. And so are we…

The Protests: Want to protest? Go for it (although it would have been a hell of lot better timed if you did so before the election instead of after). But don’t get violent and don’t riot. We’ve revered Obama’s grace for eight years. We should emulate it now.

The Flip Flop: In less than a generation, the GOP has gone from the party of personal responsibility to the party of the system is rigged against you. Remarkable. The only thing that changed faster was the shift from Family Values to Donald.

The Tech Community: In 1849, when people struck gold, they yelled Eureka and celebrated. In 2016, when people strike Internet gold, they act like they deserve it. You know who deserves to earn a few billion dollars for a couple years of work? No one.

The tech community (and that’s my community) needs to be more humble and not pretend that launching a popular photo app qualifies us to solve all the world’s problems. And when advances are made, we need to be sensitive to the fact that those advances can damage the financial lives of others, and be respectful of that reality.

Canaries in the Coal Mine: Some people have watched their fellow Americans on the coasts ride a tech, finance and real estate rocketship, while their mortgages are underwater, their jobs have gone overseas or been automated, and the awareness of their critical value to the country has been systematically diminished. Consider a coal miner from Wyoming or West Virginia. For generations, his family has been powering America; literally providing the fuel that drove ecomomic revolutions. And now, not only is his business shrinking, he’s being told by all the environmentalists, billionaires, and Hollywood types that his industry has been poisoning the world. That his sacrifices, hard work, and health risks (and those of his father and his father) are all part of some historic wrongdoing. You’re worried about climate change? He’s worried about dinner. Does that mean alternative energy is bad? No, it’s the future. But you don’t have to be a complete dick about it.

The Person: Regardless of your gripe, the lasting issue of 2016 is that we came up with this terrible person as a solution to anything. That’s true for his detractors. And it’s even more true for his supporters.

Letting Go: During a week like this, the stream of news can consume your life. You’re allowed to take a break. Are the issues of the day important? Of course. But so are other things. Yesterday, I got remarkably uplifting reports from my kids’ incredibly supportive and caring teachers. Yet, I still found myself unable to loosen the vise that has gripped my head for the last few days. I’ve often allowed myself to be absorbed by the news as a means of avoiding the stresses presented by real life. After getting into that habit, I’m finding it hard to do the opposite — to free myself of the all these open browser tabs and get back where I belong. On Thursday, Hillary Clinton was seen taking a hike near her house. A woman in the middle of it all, who just suffered the worst loss of her career, can get out and let it go for a few minutes. So can you.

The Next Few Months: There can be no tolerance of acts of hate perpetrated by those who feel emboldened by this slim victory. But it doesn’t mean shit if I say it or if Obama says it. Trump has to say it. (And sadly, as history has shown, that might not work either.)

What’s next? Read Dave Pell’s NextDraft to Keep Up.



Dave Pell

I write NextDraft, a quick and entertaining look at the day’s most fascinating news.