Through most of Election Day, I was very optimistic that Hillary Clinton would win, if not by a wide margin, at least convincingly. All the evidence — polls, Donald Trump’s behavior, his shrinking crowds, the settlement (if late) of the FBI intrusion — seemed to point that way.
Then the worrying results began to trickle in. Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, all of which were supposed to be tilting Clinton or neck and neck, all fell into Trump’s column by the late evening.
None of the normally red states which Democrats thought they had a fair chance to pick off (Georgia, Arizona) proved to be so. So many states that were expected to go easily for Clinton were declared too close to call, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all considered part of Clinton’s firewall.
One by one, the wall collapsed and the unthinkable became sickening reality.
Barring Russian espionage, one is left with the terrible conclusion that a critical mass of the American electorate has lost its mind, as well as its soul.
I think a great deal of the intellectual and moral poisoning is due to so many people immersing themselves in the nihilistic toxics of the radical right media: Fox News, Clear Channel Radio, Breibart, etc. which has, for two decades, been relentlessly demonizing Democrats, none more so than Clinton, and conditioning their listeners to accept lies, distortion, slander and all other kinds of misinformation as the way things are.
Trump just happened to be the candidate most willing to adopt their hateful, divisive, fear-mongering messages.
To my mind, economic grievance was a very distant second to the racial/cultural grievance epitomized by the Trump slogan: “Make America Great Again” in energizing voters.
On Election Day it was as though some kind of madness swept across Middle America trampling under reason and decency and any kind of moral or intellectual discernment.
The closest parallel to this craziness that comes to mind is the South in 1860-1861, where the fire-eaters and demagogues of that era stoked the hysteria for secession as the only defense against an incoming Lincoln administration bent on destroying their way of life (slavery).
And so the southern states, lemming-like, voted in overwhelming numbers to withdraw from the Union. We all know how that worked out.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that a republic needs an educated citizenry in order to survive, since only voters with knowledge and discernment can make the choices for the public good that a vibrant republic demands.
It is palpably clear that such citizens are in very short supply in America today. Their absence has enabled a moribund Republican Party to elect the most unqualified candidate in American history to the White House and to gain control of all three branches of government.
The alarming truth is that Lincoln’s last, best hope of mankind is on life support in the wake of the 2016 election, its survival very much in question.
Robert Emmett Curran of Richmond is Georgetown University’s professor emeritus of history.