Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

What Just Happened?

Note well: I don’t talk about politics on Contra very much. When I do, I impose what I call heroic courtesy on myself. I suggest that you do the same in the comments. Furthermore, I demand civility. (This is not the same thing as courtesy, and not as good, but with some individuals it may have to do.) There will be no hate words like libtards, republithugs, deniers, or anything stupid of that sort that wasn’t even funny the first time. If you use playground logic like tu quoque, I will allow it, but I will call you on it. If you’re a purely emotional thinker who simply wants to vent, there are other, better places for that. Go find them.

I boggle. I was ready to admit that this was a disturbingly weird election, and beats the runnerup, 1872 (go look it up) hands-down. I took notes over the past six months and privately predicted a number of things, including a clear Clinton victory (if not a landslide) and either a tied Senate or Democrats by one or at best two seats. Didn’t happen, and what was disturbingly weird now takes its place as the weirdest single event that I have ever witnessed. So, indeed, what happened? I took some notes last night. Let me share them with you.

  • Hate loses. Yes, it does. I now understand the psychological purpose of online hate, though it took a few years to figure it out: In counseling circles it’s called journaling, which is a mechanism for the release of tension and frustration. Venting or griping are other common names for the process. People who have no way to journal often die young, like my grandfather Harry Duntemann. So it can be a useful, nay, lifesaving mechanism. However, it has to be done in private. Either do it with your likeminded friends over a few beers, or in the private online echo chamber of your choice. Just don’t do it where the larger world can see it. You will be silently tagged as a hater and marked down. You will persuade no one. In fact, a growing number of people look at online hate and say, This smells of fear. Fear implies a force worth understanding, and sometimes that understanding changes minds in a direction away from the fear behind the hate. By hating, you may be persuading others that your side is either a lost cause or bogus to begin with. Do you really want to do that?

    My analysis suggests that three words cost Hilary Clinton the Presidency: “basket of deplorables.” It’s one thing to use verbalized hate as a means of dissipating tribal fears and frustrations, directed at an opposition candidate. It’s quite another to explicitly express hate and (especially) contempt for millions of voters, right there in front of every TV camera in the nation. The right took the phrase and turned it into a badge of pride. “I’m deplorable and I’m OK. I sleep all night and I work all day.” Etc. Like nobody on the campaign could have seen that coming? I’ve never entirely understood this business of “energizing your base” by calling the other guys names. You already own your base. Why drive away people who might give you a hearing if you just. remained. civil? Why? Why? Why?

    There are admittedly other issues at play too complex to go into here, like Ms. Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified information, or this general demonization of whites and the working class by the fringes of the progressive left. Ms. Clinton did not reach out to working-class whites. She bowed to her fringes by insulting and marginalizing them, and did not take up the issues that concern them. This was entirely avoidable. Her base would have voted for her anyway, apart from a handful of Jill Stein fans and Berniebros. (BTW, I was much impressed with the campaign of Jill Stein, and of the candidate herself. I offer her as an example to progressives trying to win future elections.)

  • The mainstream media lit a funeral pyre and jumped gleefully into the flames. The media has always leaned left; it leaned left when I was in college 45 years ago, and we all understood how journalism selects for a certain idealistic and largely emotional mindset. What happened this time is that the media abandoned all pretense of objectivity and went full-in for the Democrats. I knew about push-polling (publishing deliberately skewed polls to demoralize your opposition) but have never seen it mounted as broadly as it was. Worse, a lot of journalists let their inner haters leak out on social media, and whether they were merely venting or not, those who saw their posts took it as naked, hateful bias of the media as a whole. Never forget, anybody: What you say online reflects on your industry, whether you issue disclaimers or not. Better to just shut up and do your job.
  • Media analysts lost the ability to question their own assumptions. How could the pollsters get it all so wrong? I’m a journalist, and I learned from the best. Fortunately, it was not political journalism, so emotional thinking and tribalism didn’t really come into play. I learned the importance of checking facts, evaluating sources, and looking for different ways to come at any given topic. Most important, I was taught to leave my preconceptions at the door. In political journalism, preconceptions generally come in the form of tribal narratives, and questioning tribal narratives can have awful consequences for tribal operatives. So journalists and pollsters kept repeating their narrative-respecting explanations until those explanations became indistinguishable from reality. Then real reality intruded, and made them all look like incompetent goofs.
  • Alternate news sources are now ubiquitous, and mature. Nearly all of these are online, and even those supposedly stupid deplorables out in farm country now have broadband. So people did not have to rely on mainstream news sources that made no secret of their biases. The Wikileaks drama was surreal, especially FBI Director Comey’s flip-flop-flip on whether or not Ms. Clinton performed actions that broke the law. Other details that I have not yet verified (like whether Chelsea Clinton used Clinton Foundation funds to pay for her wedding) would not have been covered on mainstream outlets at all, but the alts put it up in lights. Ditto evidence of vote fraud in many places around the country. I’m a Chicago boy, and we saw it happening on a large scale fifty years ago and ever since. Denying that it happens is simply a lie; the big questions are where, how much, and how to stop it. Without the alt media, those questions would never have seen the light of day.
  • Nobody wants to be a lightning rod. The mainstream media and most people on the left have made their hatred of Mr. Trump clearly known ever since he turned up on the scene. If somebody like a pollster asks you whom you support, are you necessarily going to say the guy that everybody on the news clearly loathes? To some people, politics is like life itself. To many people (myself included) politics is a disease that robs people of their humanity and turns them into killer apes. Dealing with combative political people is not fun, so the best strategy is to avoid the topic entirely. This is the great magic of secret ballots: You can lie or make excuses when asked about your preferences, and then vote your private position in private, with no one the wiser, and nobody to roll their eyes and write you down. I always lie to pollsters because I hate the very idea of polling and want it to go away. Stick a pitchfork in polling; it’s done. Post-2016, polling will be seen as either worthless twaddle or backchannel campaigning. The delicious irony is that the pollsters did it to themselves, by forcing ordinary, non-political people to hide or mis-state their true but private positions on things.

That’s my note pile, scribbled after a long, bleary night reading and viewing election analysis and trying to cut through the blather and outright nonsense that passes for political insight these days. Take from it what you will. Note that none of this is to suggest an endorsement of any candidate, party, or position. I’m a contrarian, so I take pride in pushing back at the pushers, even if I have sympathy for the pushers. I do not like to be pushed. After almost twenty years of Contra, you all should understand that by now. Nor do I ever talk about the specifics of how I voted. It’s a secret ballot. Can you keep a secret?

I can.


  1. One obvious weakness of the Clinton campaign was no attempt to reach out to the moderate conservatives. There was a whole cohort of conservatives who couldn’t stand the Republican nominee, and Hillary did little or nothing to reach them. If anything, she distanced herself from them. This is related to your point about reaching out to the white working class voters.

  2. Edward Hanley says:

    Excellent analysis! Spot on! More thought out and accurate than anything I’ve read or heard from the mainstream media today. (They’re still marinating in their preconceptions.) I made observations similar to yours through the campaign and, not to pat myself on the back too hard, I fully expected the result we got, for the reasons you stated. No one likes to be pushed, without the urge to push back in the silent privacy of a voting booth. Sadly, we have a new phenomenon I’ve not seen before, to this degree – anger, fear, hatred and incivility from people who were surprised by the result; people I know are actually very good and kind. I really don’t understand it, but it saddens me deeply.

  3. Erbo says:

    The allegations that the Democratic primary was rigged may also be relevant here. Given an honest primary, Bernie Sanders might have won, and might have gone on to beat Trump. But the skids were greased for Hillary, because it was “her turn” and because she was bound and determined to be The First Woman President(R)(C)(tm). The Democrats wound up paying the price for her hubris.

  4. Jim Mischel says:

    Although I agree that Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment was a mistake, in comparison it had nothing on the Trump campaign’s use of hate over the last 16 months or so. His campaign was all about hate: hate for Hispanics, Muslims, the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, and whoever else caught his attention. I’ll admit that I didn’t see a whole lot of Trump (I don’t watch TV, and don’t often watch videos of campaign speeches), but it seemed that every time I *did* see him, he was red-faced spewing hate at somebody. So, whereas it might very well be true that “hate loses,” there’s more to it than that. I think your point about energizing the opponent is the key here. Trump supporters adopted the “deplorables” line and wore it with pride, much as the gay community embraced the word “queer” as part of their identity, depriving others of a favorite epithet. It really is surprising that Clinton would make that mistake.

    1. great unknown says:

      You might consider that the “hate” you saw spewed was carefully selected snippets taken out of context by people with an obvious agenda.

      You did not, on the other hand, see the many episodes of hate spewed by Clinton in more personal contexts, how she mistreated her staff and workers, and how her Secret Service detail abhorred her for how she treated them. I also did not see those episodes personally, but the were out there in the alt-media, which are generally at least as reliable as MSM.

      Note, e.g., that a book by a Secret Service agent presenting his experiences as a guard for Clinton, and many negative aspects about her personality, temper, and violence, was suppressed and ignored by MSM. I wonder if you are even aware that it exists.

      It is rather like the Couric interview of Palin, wherein Palin allegedly said she could see Russia from her house and thus exposing herself to mockery as being ignorant and stupid. It turns out that this was a misrepresentation and dishonest editing: what Palin actually said was that was an Alaskan island from which you can see Russian land.

      This kind of behavior, BTW, by Couric was confirmed when she was threatened with a lawsuit by a gun club for making them look stupid in a documentary – again by misleading editing.

      If you only use television or any MSM as your information source, you are stumbling around in the dark with very little idea of the truth. Which is what MSM is trying to accomplish.

  5. Tom says:

    I don’t know how you feel about links to other blogs but I wrote this last December and followed up with two more posts several months latter. It echos some of what you said but for other issues and reasons but predicted the same results. If it is out of place delete it, but what happened was not too surprising to me.

    1. Not out of place at all; it was interesting and civil, two things I like and two things I don’t such much in political discussions these days. My first reaction was that you must be borderline psychic, but in truth I just think you’re a good analyst and not blinded by tribal narratives.

      Ms. Clinton ran a reasonable campaign, but she always looked weary and physically uncomfortable, and that came across. Enthusiasm is a proxy for health, and I think that people preconsciously prefer healthy leaders to unhealthy ones.

      I don’t want to talk about divisive issues here, but that has nothing to do with your post and I’m very glad you stopped by.

  6. Neil Rest says:

    I don’t think you have it quite right on Big Media. Trump played them brilliantly, racking up 2 billion dollars worth of free publicity. They are so locked into their formulas that they were ripe for pwning: say something preposterous every 48 hours and you are always at the top of the 24 hour news cycle.
    Meanwhile, I don’t know how he was seen by the owners, or even if they were paying attention to anything but ratings.

    1. Well, look at it this way: I’ve been played here and there in my life, and in every case it was because I wasn’t paying attention or was simply being a dumbass. If Trump actually played the media, it was because the media were being dumbasses, and lord knows, this has happened before.

      I have a completely insane and unsubstantiated theory that the press gave Trump all that free publicity because they wanted him to get the nomination and then be an easy candidate for Hillary to beat. I don’t think they understood why he got the nomination (did they assume it was because they gave him all that attention?) and certainly didn’t understand why he got so much support from ordinary people.

      Here’s my summary response: Dumb people get played. Smart people see it coming.

      Alternatively: Smart people deliberately allow themselves to get played in order to gain some non-obvious benefit. The downside to getting played is that you don’t always gain the benefit you thought you’d get.

      Methinks the media outsmarted itself. Let me be a little cynical and add: Not that that would be difficult.

      1. Rich Rostrom says:

        Nothing insane about it. The liberals in the media love to give maximum publicity to the most embarrassing conservatives, Republicans, Christians, etc, that they can find.

        There is material in the leaked Democrat e-mails showing that Clinton clearly wanted Trump as the opponent, and the rest agreed with her.

        And IMO, they were right. If the Republican candidate had been Rick Perry, or Scott Walker, or Marco Rubio, this election would have been a Republican landslide. I myself was horrified by Trump’s nomination. He was the one candidate I thought would lose to Clinton. (And he nearly did.)

        I don’t know that the media liberals were consciously thinking in those terms, but I do think that at that time, they didn’t take Trump seriously as a candidate. And they saw that he was opposed by most of the Republican party organization and by the conservative media (except Breitbart), and they were happy to cause them grief.

  7. David Mann says:

    Cogent analysis. I think everyone needs to calm down. I feel that the tone set by President Obama yesterday in his speech regarding the peaceful transition of power is an example of the civility (and indeed courtesy) that has been sorely lacking on both sides.

  8. Larry Nelson says:

    Back in September you wrote a good piece on wasted votes for third parties.

    There is room for a PhD dissertation putting forth the case that Trump is the first successful third party candidate in generations. Trump has never been a committed Democrat or Republican. He simply repeated his life-long pattern of seeking the expedient path toward the next deal.

    Arguments in my proposed thesis would include the broad swaths of the GOP that could not endorse, vote for or even be seen with Mr. Trump. Paul Ryan would not say his name in the days before the election. Trump routinely denounced GOP people and mechanisms that did not support his candidacy. NPR reported that winning Trump received fewer popular votes than losing Romney did in the 2012 election. This was not a “Republican” victory.

  9. Bob says:

    I am curious what you found good about Jill Stein’s campaign. I have to confess that I have never seen any videos of her on the stump. I live in the far-Left Frisco bay area (I say that to annoy the locals) and during my daily walks through the neighborhood I saw many of the Bernie yard signs replaced by Stein-Baraka signs after the Democrat convention. They have a slogan on the top that I found interesting: “People, Planet and Peace over Profit” It’s an interesting juxtaposition but I guess you have to be a “progressive” to understand it. Nice alliteration though.

  10. Tony Kyle says:

    Only 1 nit really. We no longer have secret ballots. In TN, you are assigned a number. That number gets you a value to enter into the electronic voting machine and there is a record of that.

    Because this information is stored it could be possible to issue a query against the storage tables and match a person to their vote.

    In OK, when it first went electronic, there were still paper ballots but they were like scantrons. You black out your desired vote and submit it to a machine that then tabulates it. Your name does not appear on the ballot, there is no assigned number and the secret ballot remained.

    But we lost the secret vote the moment we went digital with network connectivity with assigned numbers.

    1. TRX says:

      In Arkansas, each of the 75 counties has its own voting system. In mine, we went to a Diebold electronic system a few elections back.

      While it’s not specifically acknowledged, I doubt we have a secret ballot here, either.

      You go to your assigned polling station – you can only vote there – wait in line for an election worker and present your ID. She compares it the fanfold printout (up to 2012) or looks it up on a laptop (this time), then does some keyboard stuff. Then unplugs an 8-track-sized box from the laptop and hands it to another election worker, who plugs it into the Diebold machine and watches over your shoulder to “help” you. When you’re done, the second worker takes the box back to the first, who plugs it back into the laptop and does some more pecking at the keyboard before she waits on the next voter.

  11. jimf says:

    When I see a negative ad attacking a candidate, it tends to move me to vote for the candidate being attacked. I figure if they are so afraid of the candidate to stoop to attack ads rather than campaigning on their own merits, they have no merits and I will vote for their opponent.

  12. You’ve pretty much said in a paragraph what it took me a page to say on my blog: mainstream media mistook their narrative for reality. You’d think after watching Fox News do it four years ago they might have realized their error, but apparently not.

    Amen also on polling. Even if it’s not deliberately skewed, when you have to call 20,000 random numbers to get a sample of a thousand, you no longer have a random sample.

  13. George Tirebiter says:

    Hate didn’t lose this election – it won it, and is currently heading to the White House. Trump’s tirades, from his Twitter account, from his public appearances and political rallies, and from the debates, are all in the public record and as a whole are not taken out of context by someone with an agenda. To suggest Trump did not win this election on hate, intolerance, and xenophobia is a textbook example of cognitive dissonance.

  14. TRX says:

    I think the Party system had a lot to do with it this time. The party candidate selection process was seriously out of alignment with that of the general population; nobody I personally know wanted either one of the party candidates, so they held their noses and voted against the ones they disliked the most.

    There was also a lot of tribalism involved. Many voters vote for/against entire parties. Down here we call them “yellow dog” elections. (“I’d vote got a yellow dog if he was on our ticket!”)

    Finally, the media narrative/echo chamber was, as usual, fixed on the semi-mythical “undecided voter.” I’ve never knowingly met one, but in medialand they’re a huge and important part of the voting population.

  15. Van Nilla says:

    You take excellent notes. There are quite a few elephants in the room that have not been mentioned yet. For one, the authoritarian propaganda campaign, and the media failure to cover the real victims:

  16. Bob says:

    I don’t know how you define tribalism but what about Jill Stein raising millions from the Left to pay for recounts in the Blue Wall states. The Greens have been joined by Hillary’s campaign. Hillary famously tweeted:
    “Donald Trump refused to say that he’d respect the results of this election. That’s a direct threat to our democracy.”

    How about your alma mater DePaul University threatening to have a conservative speaker arrested if he set foot on their campus:
    Chicago Trib: Editorial: How DePaul students missed out on a timely lesson about Trump

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *