Short Relief: Trump won because he knew better

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As I have for many years, I worked the polls on Munjoy Hill in Portland on Election Day. In general, the electorate there is more diverse, less affluent, and more transient than the rest of Portland, and 14 percent of it is currently enrolled in college.

Typically, it turns out to support liberal, Democratic candidates. So much so that the superintendent of schools cancelled classes at the East End School on Nov. 8 because of the expectation that long lines would stretch into student areas and disrupt school activities.

We were extremely busy from opening at 8 a.m. until about 10 a.m. From then until the end of my shift at 2 p.m., the lines were shorter than I can ever remember them being in a presidential election year.

I discussed the situation with my fellow election clerks. Theories varied. I wondered whether people weren’t enthused enough to turn out for Hillary Clinton. Others thought that many people had voted early.

In the end, election results showed that about 5,300 people voted in the district, compared with about 4,600 in 2012. I guess that makes me just another know-it-all who was wrong about this election.

Political pollsters were most spectacularly wrong of all.

No matter how much they defend their polls with margins of error and levels of confidence, almost without exception, they predicted a decisive Clinton victory in terms of both the popular vote and the Electoral College. As of Dec. 2, the numbers were that Clinton won the popular vote by 1.9 percent, 65,259,681 to 62,692,056) and Trump won the Electoral College by 74 votes (306-232).

Polls that are that far off aren’t much good.

The pundits weren’t much better. On Nov. 7 they were confident Trump had no path to victory and the Republican Party was doomed by demographics to the ash heap of history. On Nov. 9, it was the Democratic Party that was in need of a post-mortem because of its misplaced emphasis on identity politics and neglect of working-class rural voters in favor of urban elites.

Those errors reinforced the sense that we are in the midst of a crisis of legitimacy, in which the experts are out of touch and at best not performing well, and at worst, corrupt.

Trump won because he had a visceral understanding of that feeling. He used celebrity, charisma, showmanship, crude language, the Internet and social media to connect with an electorate that had grown weary of smooth talk and not enough hopeful change.

He also connected, albeit contrariwise, through the legacy press. It could not have been more antagonistic to him. All but a handful of newspapers in the country opposed him. Down the home stretch of the campaign, the Washington Post and New York Times carried four or five anti-Trump op-eds a day.

It backfired because the press has lost credibility to the point that a substantial number of people respond to what it reports and opines by believing the opposite.

Now, in the wake of the election, the Clinton team, some of her supporters, pundits and reporters are promoting the idea that Trump won because of racism, sexism, xenophobia, fake news, FBI impropriety, Russian hacking, and dog whistles.

The implication, at least, is that Trump supporters are ignorant, impressionable bigots. I know some of them. They are not. Insisting otherwise further alienates and unnecessarily divides us. My hope is that we find a way to get past this, to come together and restore faith in each other, in our experts, and our systems.

Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.

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