Good morning, Quartz readers!
Donald Trump’s election victory has not only terrified liberals, minorities, and much of the planet, but has shaken some people’s faith in democracy itself. That this bigoted, lying, self-contradicting, autocratic, anti-science, tantrum-throwing man-child could become the world’s most powerful leader surely shows the very system for choosing leaders is fatally flawed. That far-right parties, emboldened, may now win several upcoming European elections surely shows voters cannot be trusted. Perhaps democracy has become too democratic. Perhaps we need epistocracy, where only the most knowledgeable can vote.
This is all wrong.
Yes, America’s democracy has many flaws. Yes, the parties and media that once acted as bulwarks against demagogues like Trumphave been weakened. Yes, congressional districts are gerrymandered and the electoral college is a kooky anachronism. But overall, democracy did exactly what it’s meant to do. A lot of Americans, for a lot of reasons, were disgusted with politics-as-usual, and they showed it—by voting for Trump, or not voting at all.
In doing so they definitively marked the death of what Hungary’sViktor Orban called “liberal non-democracy”—a long period in which a pro-globalization consensus ruled the political mainstream, oblivious to growing opposition on the fringes. Populists like Trump and the Brexiteers tapped into that opposition. Now pro- vs. anti-globalizationhas replaced left vs. right as the dividing line of a new political era.
This isn’t to say we should welcome Trump or others of his ilk. He is likely to dangerously weaken America’s civil rights and democratic institutions, not to say wreck the climate and threaten the US and world economy. But the blame lies not with democracy. It lies in the failure of the establishment to realize just how far it had fallen out of touch with people’s anger and just how easy it had become for a highly skilled rabble-rouser, relying on the internet and appeals to emotion rather than on traditional media and fact-based reasoning, to harness that anger.
There is now much soul-searching to be done for those (Quartz among them) who believe in keeping up the case for liberal values and open borders. But the answer is not to alter the nature of democracy. When democracy has picked an autocrat, it’s already too late.—Gideon Lichfield
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
How Hillary Clinton blew it. In a sweeping overview of the history of the campaign, Tim Fernholz takes us back through the steps—and mis-steps—that led to Clinton’s nomination and then defeat. From the outset, she was supremely well qualified, funded, staffed, and equipped, but her campaign couldn’t answer the basic question: “Why her, why now?”
Lessons for America from South Africa. In 2008 South Africa replaced a dignified statesman with an inexperienced populist mired in corruption and sex scandals, and liberals were horrified. Sound familiar? Jackie Bischof and Lynsey Chutel on the warning, and the ray of hope, their country’s experience contains for the US.
China, the new green champion of the world. If he follows through on his stated positions about energy, president Trump could wreck efforts to slow down climate change. But it needn’t happen, says Cassie Werber; China, already making big changes to its own energy sourcing, could also take over the global leadership role that America is relinquishing.
A vision from the future. A mysterious file appeared on Jason Karaian’s computer the morning of the election. It appeared to be a news report of president Donald Trump attending the G8 summit in May 2018. We published it. Just 24 hours later Trump was president-elect. We don’t know what to make of this.
Songs for solace, from Leonard Cohen. Though the bard who died this week was known as the “godfather of gloom,” Georgia Frances King collected a Spotify playlist and lyrics of his most uplifting songs, which seem eerily and soothingly well-suited to the pain and uncertainty of a tumultuous world. And Cassie Werber on the story behind “Anthem,” his song that promises redemption in “the brokenness of things.”
FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
Why liberals were blindsided. From disdain for Trump supporters to confirmation bias to sheer ignorance about the country they were living in, Nathan Robinson at Current Affairs dissects why he and his fellow left-wingers failed to see a Trump win coming (see also: leftist filmmaker Michael Moore’s now-famous warning in July) and advises them on how to avoid a repeat performance.
Where pollsters went wrong. Forget the wonkish disputes you’ve heard about statistical methods, phone polling, or undecided voters; British pollster Ian Warren blogs a simpler theory. Forecasters have relied too much on data (demographic, economic, etc.) and not enough on emotion—on asking people how they feel. Which is precisely what the populists are tapping into, and the liberals aren’t.
How Trump voters felt. We were flooded with earnest journalistic forays into the Trump heartland in the campaign’s final months. Few are as enlightening as this interview, by the Washington Post’s Jeff Guo, with Kathy Cramer, a sociologist who spent years researching rural Wisconsin and explains the roots of (at least some) voters’ deep resentment of the political and urban classes.
What Trump will do. Back before most people were willing to take a Trump presidency seriously, the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos did. Could he deport 11 million people and a build a “big, beautiful wall”? How would he “renegotiate” the Iran deal or put ultra-high tariffs on Chinese imports? Osnos interviewed dozens of experts and Trump advisers to paint a vivid and now highly relevant picture of the president-elect’s first term.
How to survive his term. Some say Trump will be “moderated” by more level-headed advisers. Don’t fool yourself, says Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books. Drawing on her experience of Putin’s Russia, she puts down some ground rules for living in an autocracy and predicts just how Trump will gradually erase freedoms and institutional safeguards.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, opinion polls, and autocracy survival tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.