Not for the first time this year I find myself wishing I had a punter’s instincts. I put a paltry $30 on Brexit a few weeks before the vote and ended up making a few hundred dollars. Given the nerve and the capital, I could have acquired a small fortune.
From the 2016 US presidential election I should have come away with my own media company, the way Nate Silver did after correctly predicting 2008 – though I would have settled for a week in Martha’s Vineyard, a dozen cartons of cigarettes, and a pristine vinyl copy of The Best of Percy Sledge. Instead, I was praised on Twitter by a few knowing friends, and a Manhattan bartender who supported the Green Party candidate, Dr Jill Stein, bought me two beers. An abiding concern for charity prevents me from collecting on the one real bet I made for a bottle of Dom Perignon with a friend who was given the sack a few weeks before election day. I wish him the best of luck in his search for a position with the Donald Trump administration.
I have been saying since last December that if Trump could somehow angle his way to his party’s nomination he would win the White House. One of the mainstays of my prediction was that he would triumph in my home state of Michigan, which has not gone for a Republican in my lifetime, along with the rest of the so-called Rust Belt: those grim – and to my mind hauntingly beautiful – former manufacturing cities that rise out of the weeds and decaying roads of the Midwest like sets from an uncompleted Mad Max film.
Virtually no one else – not even the most slavish Trump toadies – thought this was possible. When I started owning up to my opinion last year I was laughed out of rooms by my fellow journalists, who insisted that Hillary Clinton’s vast Wall Street-financed digital turnout operation was well-nigh insurmountable. I felt like Darth Vader telling off that green-hatted bureaucrat who insisted that the Death Star could never be destroyed.
I should point out that I am not a numbers man. My contention that Trump had a lock on 2016 was grounded not in some arcane mathematical model but in a handful of barely effable observations gleaned from my time on the campaign trail over the last year or so, and from my own biography. I am the scion of a long line of Democrats, farmers and factory workers who think that free trade has destroyed the working class in this country. That they might be wrong and Milton Friedman right has never occurred to me—but it’s also irrelevant because millions of people believe it to be the case. When a man who enthusiastically voted for President Obama twice tells you that he would rather move to Mexico than live in an America in which Hillary Clinton is commander-in-chief, you know where things stand.
But Clinton’s problems, as I saw them, went much further than her inability to convince my fellow proles that she wanted to help them. She struggled even more with her party’s left-wing activist base, all of which was for the far more radical – and genial – Senator Bernie Sanders almost from the first. From Des Moines, Iowa, where I saw Susan Sarandon – more beautiful in her autumnal years than she has ever been – wow a roomful of kind-hearted middle-aged pro-Sanders ladies at a luncheon and drank with the socialist ice-cream magnates Ben and Jerry, to Philadelphia, where I defied taste and convention by wearing Bernie buttons with my press badge on the floor of the Democratic Convention, I went a whole year without meeting a Democrat who changed his allegiance from the Vermont senator to Clinton. That some of them would stay home or vote third party was to be expected – only I insisted that some, who cared more about shoring up manufacturing than about guaranteeing legal infanticide, would throw in their lot with Trump.
I have my fair share of problems with liberal democracy – a confessional monarchy with a generous welfare state and no elections would be so much simpler – but one of the things that it has going for it is that the candidate who wins tends to be the one who best articulates a vision, however murky and incomplete, of justice and the common good: FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ against dotty old Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan and the younger Bush against wimpy, clueless liberals, Bill Clinton against out-of-touch Bush Senior, Barack Obama against McCain and Romney. Trump accomplished this by persuading half the country that his flying circus of a campaign was about poor Americans and their wellbeing rather than himself.
As a Catholic who believes in universal healthcare and reversing the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, I am not very optimistic about the future. Whatever happens, I will try to make sure that I bet more.