Everyone Was Wrong Except Trump
A friend of mine put together a Twitter list of Trump supporters last night, a truly gruesome allotment of white nationalists, anime Nazis, and speculative fiction polling fantasists that we had expected to follow with spiteful delight as their expectations for a Trump victory crumbled in real time. What fun, we thought. Somewhere toward the sagging denouement of a sour evening, we realized it was actually our own timelines where the meltdowns could be found. We got it wrong. The schadenfreude was coming from inside the house.
We got a lot wrong this election cycle. All of us. The media, in whatever specific form you take that continuously nebulous term to mean, the pollsters, the pundits, and prognosticators, the campaigns themselves. President Obama, as ever a font of enthusiasm for and trust in the good will of the American people? Wrong. Hillary Clinton, perhaps, yet again this time out, overconfident that it was her turn? Hoo boy, wrong. Everyone from seat-of-the-pants hot-takesmen to the dispassionate data wonks got it wrong. All of us except for Donald Trump, the smartest guy in the room all along. He knew something we didn't. Even now, wallowing in my wrongness, I don't understand it. Wrongness, when it gets to this level, has a way of obscuring your ability to see where it came from.
For a candidate who never seemed to be able to get anything right—from details of foreign policy, to his own previously stated, then retracted, positions, to how to behave like a professional candidate, never mind a professional human being—he was right about the one thing that mattered: he was going to win.
"Brexit times five," he called it. "There's going to be a lot of Brexit happening in about two weeks," he said. "A lot of Brexit."
He was right. There is a lot of Brexit going on right now.
Tuesday morning, The New York Times' Upshot blog had the chances of a Clinton victory at 85 percent. The Huffington Post had her at 98.2 percent, with 323 electoral votes. Even poll-whisperer Nate Silver seemed confounded by this election, with his models fluctuating wildly, leading him to predict both Clinton and Trump victories at once in a sort of Schrödinger's electoral map.
As the results poured in on Tuesday night, you could sense the palpable shift in expectations across all of the networks, as panels of commentators and touch-screen poking personalities transitioned into a collection of grimacing Gob Bluths letting forth a collective groan of "I've made a huge mistake." Even Fox News seemed to be taken aback. "He is still in this, and I'm not sure a lot of us thought he would be at this hour," Chris Wallace said at one point, as the tide began to turn.
"I've believed in data for 30 years in politics and data died tonight," tweeted GOP strategist Mike Murphy toward midnight last night. "I could not have been more wrong about this election."
"All of tonight's exit polls were wrong, and I was wrong for citing them," Frank Luntz echoed.
There's a lot of that going around today. "My mea culpa," tweeted the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "I thought liberals had won the argument over racism and cultural change. I was so wrong."
Wrongness, when it gets to this level, has a way of obscuring your ability to see where it came from.
"I admit I was totally wrong about this election," said Lawrence Krauss. And he's a theoretical physicist, someone you might imagine is accustomed to imagining the unimaginable. "I assumed American public could tell the difference between reality and a reality tv show."
It's hard not to hear echoes of Dana Carvey's John McLaughlin in the fallout. "Wrong!" "Wrong!" "Wrong!"
Paul Ryan, who just now found it in himself to be able to speak Trump's name, got it wrong. His Republican comrades in opposition to Trump, from John Kasich to Mitt Romney and the Bushes, got it wrong. They didn't think he could win and so found cause for violating Reagan's 11th commandment, in spirit, if not always in word.
Even in recent weeks, as L'affaire de Comey resurfaced, and the expected gap between Trump and Clinton narrowed, many of us took solace in our magical thinking, inventing hypothetical bulwarks of decency. There is no way he can win, we thought. The American people simply will not elect a man who's bragged openly about his ability to commit sexual assault, who's villainized and alienated entire demographics of the population from Hispanics to Muslims to African Americans, who's threatened to curtail the press and arrest his opponent. Surely things can't go this badly, we thought, in the way people in apocalyptic films often console themselves, assured in the knowledge that the authorities are on their way presently to put things back in order.
There was no such help forthcoming. We were wrong.
Many of us took solace in our magical thinking, inventing hypothetical bulwarks of decency.
Oh, but Trump knew. He knew. "We're going to start winning again, and we're going to win big league," he assured us. We didn't listen, even as crowds in the tens of thousands flocked to hear him assert his righteousness in victory. How did the polls miss them in the head count? Was it a so-called silent majority? Was there a Bradley effect at work, as some speculated, with likely Trump voters unwilling to share their preferences for fear of consequences? Surely someone, anyone but us, deserves a portion of the blame here, right? Third-party voters? They certainly don't seem to have helped! Abstainers, perhaps. Clinton underperformed Obama in 2012 by some six million votes. Why didn't we see that coming? Alas, we were wrong in assuming she could maintain his coalition. We were wrong in putting her forth in the first place. We were wrong to ignore the enthusiasm swelling up around Bernie Sanders, who seems to know that the only antidote to rightward populism is leftward populism.
We were wrong. But not Trump. He knew. He knew something the rest of us didn't. He knew that people were angry. He knew it should've been Bernie. He knew, after he got away with it a few times, and kept failing upwards, that there would be no consequences for his unprecedented odiousness. He knew that there was a strong undercurrent of racism in the country, and that voters are always looking for someone to blame their problems on. We were wrong because we didn't want to believe it about ourselves. We were covering an election transpiring in an entirely different level of reality from Trump, the man who knew. We always knew that this was an election born in another dimension, we just wrongly assumed ours was the universe prime. The reflection the fun-house mirror was looking back at us.
"The press takes him literally, but not seriously," Salena Zito wrote in The Atlantic, in one of the only correct appraisals of the situation on record. "His supporters take him seriously, but not literally."
Most importantly, Trump knew that people didn't trust the media. And maybe they shouldn't have.
Many of us are busy trying to figure out just what happened, piecing through the crime scene with a coroner's eye as a rookie cop pukes at the bloodshed in the background. But one wonders why anyone should listen to us trying to figure it out when we had no idea what we were talking about all along the way. The only thing we're right about at this point is how wrong we were.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.