But as the night went on, strange and unexpected numbers flashed across the television screens of America. Early returns put Trump ahead by 3 points in Florida, 10 in Ohio and North Carolina. Virginia was not supposed to be competitive, but Trump had an early lead there, too.
“There isn’t panic,” a Clinton aide said around 8 p.m. Then it was 9, and 10, and the numbers held in Florida and Ohio, and now Trump was leading in Michigan and Wisconsin. Could he crack the Democrats’ so-called Blue Wall in the industrial Midwest? Clinton’s aides doubted it. They thought he’d missed his chance in Michigan by not campaigning much there until the end. Clinton was so confident about Wisconsin that she never campaigned there at all. She was not so sure about Pennsylvania, which is why she’d hit Philadelphia three times in three days and visited Pittsburgh the previous morning. But now, even in Pennsylvania, her lead narrowed as the night went on. Five points, 4, 3. Something was happening out there, a seismic disruption whose foreshocks nearly all the experts had ignored. By 10:04 p.m., Dow futures had plunged by nearly 500 points. And the wildest campaign in modern history appeared to have one more astonishing twist.
As it turned out, the experts’ combined wisdom was no match for that of Dave Calabro, also known as Jersey Dave, a 57-year-old South Philadelphian and Trump supporter who thought America had lost its way. He’d acquired his nickname by selling Eagles jerseys in sports bars to provide for his family. He did not always drink beer, but when he did, he usually drank Coors Light. He yelled BLUE LIVES MATTER to cops on Broad Street. He used to love Bruce Springsteen, but now he thought the Boss had disgraced himself by supporting Clinton. Jersey Dave Calabro said it that summer, and kept saying it until Election Day: Trump would carry Pennsylvania, which no Republican had done since 1988, and he would be the next American president.
“The guy never loses,” Calabro said.
There were two Americas in 2016. One had been advancing for a long time. One had been retreating. And on November 8, Trump and his army of Jersey Dave Calabros found a way to reverse the trend.
The two Americas were nearly a century in the making. They resulted from women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement and a Hispanic population that increased by roughly 50 million in the last fifty years. These changes had two things in common: They gave power to those who previously had little or none. And they diminished the supremacy of straight white men.
Clinton’s America was a coalition of these historically disadvantaged groups, along with their white male allies. Year by year, it seemed to align more closely with large corporations and the global elite. It was urban, ascendant, seemingly unstoppable.
Its inhabitants saw the last hundred years as a good start, an unfinished march of societal progress. Yes, the nation had same-sex marriage, an African-American president and a number of female chief executives, but this America still felt itself chafing against systemic inequality. Did racism, sexism and homophobia still exist? Of course they did. Clinton’s America wanted them eradicated.
Trump’s America drew in some women and minorities. But much of its energy came from white male grievance. Factories had been closing for decades. Many manufacturing jobs had moved overseas or given way to automation. As wages stagnated, more and more blue-collar men felt themselves working hard and going nowhere. They felt abandoned by the new information economy, swindled by Washington politicians, stifled by the new cultural orthodoxy. Certain men of Trump’s America were thrilled when he said, “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” These men were tired of being blamed for the sins of their fathers, sick of hearing the phrase white guy thrown around like an insult. Wasn’t that racism, too? Couldn’t there be sexism against men? They felt as if the people of Clinton’s America had overtaken them somehow, probably by cheating.
“I know I’m the projection for many of those wounded men,” Clinton once said, as quoted in “Hillary’s Choice,” a 1999 book by Gail Sheehy. “I’m the boss they never wanted to have. I’m the wife they neverthe wife who went back to school and got an extra degree and a job as good as theirs….It’s not me, personally, they hateit’s the changes I represent.”
A year before Clinton’s campaign officially began, two allies were emailing about strategy. “In fact, I think running on her gender would be the SAME mistake as 2008, ie having a message at odds with what voters ultimately want,” Robby Mook, her eventual campaign manager, wrote in a message later hacked and released by WikiLeaks. “She ran on experience when voters wanted change….It’s also risky because injecting gender makes her candidacy about HER and not the voters and making their lives better.”
But Clinton’s America wanted to rally behind the woman who could bring societal progress to its next logical step. If she won, they would all win, at least symbolically, and so the campaign adopted the slogan I’m With Her. On the day she testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in October 2015, online appeals using this slogan helped her raise $133,000 in a single hour.
“I don’t want you to vote for me because I’m a woman; I want you to vote for me on the merits,” she said that year. “But one of my merits is that I’m a woman.”
Early in 2016, her campaign chairman, John Podesta, received an email that was later released by WikiLeaks. “I’m a dinosaur to the Democratic Party…white, southern, veteran, male senior,” wrote Dana Folsom of Augusta, Georgia. “…I would like to have my ilk shown a tiny bit of respect by the leaders of the Hillary campaign.”
“You’ve earned that respect and we’ll try to show it,” Podesta replied.
Was Clinton’s America big enough for men like Dana Folsom? He did vote for her in the Georgia primary. She added other slogans, such as Fighting for Us and Stronger Together. Still, many blue-collar men were suspicious. Fighting for Us sounded like fighting for the people who were not them, rallying those people against them, and Stronger Together still evoked the progressive union against the way things used to be.
“I’m with you,” Trump said, and they liked that more than I’m With Her. Her aides marveled at the reams of negative stories about Trump that had no effect. Decorated generals and establishment Republicans joined forces with Clinton to tell the men of Trump’s America they were making a huge mistake. But the men ignored the message, because they distrusted the messengers, and because, like Trump, they hated being told no. These rugged individualists who felt their country being stolen were not about to “listen to reason” from those they suspected of committing the theft. No, you can’t elect someone like Trump? Their campaign slogan might as well have been Yes I Can.
You can’t vote for a man who insults women and immigrants and Muslims and people with disabilities.
Yes I can.
You can’t vote for a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women.
Yes I can.
You can’t give the nuclear codes to a man who might blow up the world because someone looked at him sideways.
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