On Tuesday, four years ago this week, I finished a column for that week's paper and settled in to watch the election results. By 10:15 p.m. I was doing a rewrite with a wine glass at my elbow.
This might surprise many readers but my original column was not a happy dance about Hillary's victory. (Think of it, our first female president!) No, It was a lament about how very narrow I expected her victory would be and speculation as to why.
That October, prior to the election, I attended a publishers' retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. My husband and I decided to drive. We left early and took our time wandering through northeast California, southeast Oregon, down into Nevada and on through Idaho and Montana before heading south to Jackson Hole, taking a different loop back home. "Six western states, 2,500 miles of stunningly beautiful country and friendly coffee shops — and most all of it Trump country," I noted with trepidation.
How could this be? The most qualified person to ever run for president against possibly the most unqualified — a thrice-married carnival barker completely devoid of morals? And the polls were tied? Surely it wasn't just a Y chromosome thing?
I took a stab at further analysis: We've been a divided nation at election time as far back as I can remember — 1960 Nixon vs. Kennedy when I was in high school. In 2016, Trump successfully tapped into a fair amount of Bernie Sanders' discontent. The economic divide between wealthy and poor keeps growing obscenely. Add a layer of racial tension to gender — and voilá. All Trump had to say is, "If you are unhappy, Americans, turn over the entire apple cart and vote for me. What have you got to lose?"
I didn't have to rewrite very much in that gloomy column besides the results: Noting the magnitude of discontent and anger of the "white working class" in 2016, I added this postscript:
"I'm sure the sun will rise tomorrow, but we will wake up to a very different country, a country I don't recognize. Tonight I just sit here stunned, saddened and fearful. I'm an optimist by nature, but I can't think of a single good thing that can come from the outcome of this presidential election."
We have had almost four years of Trump as our president and we know him well. So does the rest of the world. He breaks treaties, plays footsie with dictators, berates the military and intelligence communities, treats allies with contempt, does not believe in science, lies and/or changes his mind nearly every day. And now, instead of taking control as the nation's leader during a pandemic, he personally makes it far more deadly by holding super-spreading campaign events to stroke his ego, killing hundreds of his own supporters, according to a recent Stanford University study.
So how is it possible that he was still even in contention as went to press Tuesday? When I re-read my 2016 analysis, unfortunately most of it is still valid. But I left out one
significant factor back then, and I greatly underestimated another: race.
How was race such a huge factor last time? I am halfway through the new book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. (Note the plural of "discontent.") Who were Trump's most ardent supporters? White working class, non-college-educated men and the women who still think they need to elect strong, authoritarian male figures to keep society orderly (suburban women). Wilkerson explains how America invented its own insidious caste system 244 years ago with white males at the top, Black people at the bottom and all other marginalized and categorized people in between (women, among others). "America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings," reads the book jacket. In 2016 Trump, born into the highest caste and from a wealthy family to boot, was running against not only an uppity woman but an uppity, successful, two-term Black president.
The most significant factor I omitted? Fox News. I'm a daily PBS fan, but I've been watching a fair amount of Fox lately, sometimes flipping from CNN on the same day to see how each media reports and comments on the day's news. It's pretty enlightening. And it explains one elderly woman's very strong opinion when she was interviewed last week. She was all excited and absolutely glowing about the possibility of Trump getting re-elected this week. In her nursing home they only watch Fox.
What's terribly wrong with the media and how we get our news will have to be a topic for another day. This election, I hope, is going for Biden for all the reasons above. America has not lost its moral compass. We're choosing between two very different elderly white men and one of them is not crazy. (Even my friend Ray, the best man at our wedding in 1966 and a diehard Republican, told me if the Dems chose Biden, he'd vote for him.) According to polls, which we hoped had improved since last time, suburban women have wised up to Trump and so have most voters my age, over 65. First-time voters, as well as Black and Hispanic voters, are energized with good reason.
It's been four long years. We're going to press with the outcome unknown. I hope I wake up Wednesday morning with a new president-elect and, if so, we all have a lot of work to do, including rebuilding our country.
About that caste system? Maybe Wilkerson has some ideas in the second half of the book. I'll let you know.
Judy Hodgson (she/her) is the publisher and co-owner of the Journal. Reach her at email@example.com.