Election Night

For this writer, Saturday Night Live’s stature as the comedic mouthpiece of the left has slowly dissolved from a reliable barrel of hilarity (viewings tend to elicit a veritable quest for a hearty laugh) into a mere auscultation of the proverbial pulse of the country. Each topical performance follows the trends and currents of where our nation has placed itself, good in the sense that it solidifies an understanding of the culture; bad in the sense of validating through publicity just how insipid that exhausted culture has become. The episode following the election featured the sketch “Election Night”, likely standing as one such representation of the center left’s mood on the election – a milieu that has perpetuated a misunderstanding about Trump’s supporters and canalized the victory of one Mr. Donald Trump. My discovery was founded in part to a late-night conversation with my father over the phone traversing that oh so wide spectrum from blue to red, back east to out west. Knowing my father as the inveterate Hilary hater I wanted to hear his take on how a man could vote for someone he quoted as “racist, sexist, [and] disgusting”. To not further degrade my father’s name, it’s important to state that he (an avowed Republican since Nixon, Regan, and Bush) did not vote for Donald Trump but nevertheless supports the man over the more reviled Hilary Clinton.

I recommend you watch the skit to get a sense of this essay. The sketch derives much of its humor in either reminding the liberal audience of an election night that appears disturbingly familiar to any Democrat slowly dragged into a four-year nightmare over a few rapid-fire hours. The jokes all seem to say the same thing, that Democrats have been disillusioned and trapped in an eight-year bell-jar of shattered liberal comfort, and that white liberals in all their Hilary touting fail to support or acknowledge wide-spread racism. The only merit that the skit abounds in are the deliveries of Dave Chapelle’s more politically tragic than comical rejoinders to his fellow Caucasian party guests. Only it’s hard to discern whether Chapelle’s quips lack the audience’s laughter through the unpalatable apercus or just a poor script. Nonetheless, hearing a black man declare racial realities while a mostly white audience refrains from meekly laughing to is a welcome sound. It’s unfortunate that most of Chapelle’s delivery misses the mark. You can tell his comedic prowess has rusted a bit in his off years, getting the best reactions with Chapelle’s Bush-era intonations with lines like, “Ah snap! Vermont! Three electoral votes!” that embody his lasting ability to convey the absurd element of the bombastic ‘black guy’ and a thin frustration with the white American system that uses comedy to penetrate the surface of a quelled African-American voice. This is the same voice that has almost no amplification on any influential media program that speaks to your average American household. On a side note, this selection of laughter imputes itself to caricatures of black identity that relates comedy to these gestures related to “blackness”. Sad that it takes even this liberal audience a wild signal like this to find the humor buried in the situation. Imagine the crickets if the vitriol was any more harsh in critiquing white people’s disconnect with black oppression.

The remainder of the jokes jump through memorable stages, confident that its audience remembers (and we do) every stage of the election. Florida’s up in the air position, Michigan’s capitulation to rustbelt realities and the dilatory realization that Pennsylvania state seems to care more about jobs than sexist remarks. After a Chris Rock cameo which suddenly makes the whole skit seem like a dated sketch from the ‘80s (Hey guys, what did I miss?!”) the band of viewers finally realizes that Trump will win the election and the best joke of the whole skit comes out along with a political truth that never became evident (myself included) until election night: that the American people didn’t vote Democrat for the last three elections because of an infallible democratic agenda, but because Barrack Obama was one hell of an orator and as charismatic as an A-list movie star. The American people won’t just vote for anyone who’s a democrat and the Democratic Party made this assumption. They made it because they knew they were right. So if they were right, how could they ever lose?

As baffling as it may sound that a president who is explicitly racist, a sexist, a birther, a climate change denier, and a veteran basher could win the election, it doesn’t take into account that what people seem to care about the most is themselves and more precisely their wallet. The message of Hilary Clinton has often been “We’re Great, Let’s Keep it Up!” while Trump declares “Things are Garbage but I’ll Make it Great!” What Clinton never seemed to understand was that most vocal democrats and some independents were content with the way things had been for the last eight years and all that it entailed: a military slowdown, economic stability, the Golden age of Television. What she failed to see is that people in general (no matter how well-off they may be) don’t see things as ok. To most, things are straight bad because, let’s face it, they always are to the individual. And if things are straight bad, who’s going to use their day-off to vote, the content liberal who knows Hilary is going to win anyway? Or the down-and-out white conservative (or even apolitical Hispanic or Asian) who continues to have mounting debt and wages he finds to be incommensurate with his labors? The conversation I had with my father was exasperating and enlightening but it reminded me of what unites everybody more than identity politics, the economy. In other words, we have here a return to the Marxist undercurrents that rule all things: the economy, or more specific the modes of production. In a strange twist of fate, my father’s emphasis on money reminded me that yes, it is about money, it’s about how the base of capitalism is to blame for this garbled superstructure of rampant racism, the oppression of women, and the efficiency of the media in disseminating a meretricious portrait of bourgeois normalcy. He may deplore socialism, but I had my Eureka moment.

While not wishing to marginalize race, gender, or sexuality, I also don’t want to take from the forefront the basic tenants of economics, capital, and from a Marxist lens, class. For too long the democrats have emphasized above all else advancements in the last eight years in the form of protecting the rights of minorities, women, and LGBTQ communities, using this impetus and justification for continuing the agenda of the left. What this makes easy is to deny the slow transition to a more and more neoliberal pull to the right as progressive ideals are pressed on people (and why wouldn’t they it makes it easier to get more minorities, women, and LGBTQ communities to become enveloped and coopted within the system) as the most important factor of change. If anything, Democrats are just better capitalists for distracting many voters and elevating policies that won’t have any effect on neoliberal ideology. Left in the lurch, Keynesian economics and socialism have no mouthpiece, sans the closest embodiment of rationality Bernie Sanders.

What I heard from my father’s perspective was that white demographics (and I would even say minorities) wanted something different because the world had yet to give them what they wanted. He painted a portrait of the Midwest as a place where white people were willing to take a chance on something they had never had before because they needed a savior, a messiah figure who said they would make things different, ironically the very same platform that got Barrack Obama elected eight years ago. Hillary Clinton touted Barrack Obama, relying on his popularity as sufficient fuel to get her through the stratosphere (or glass ceiling) and into presidential orbit. But as the SNL skit makes known, “[y]ou’re replacing a charismatic 40-year old black guy with a 70 year old white woman. That’s like the Knicks replacing Patrick Ewing with Neil Patrick Harris.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s supporters won’t ever get what they want through pet remedies that candidates {ahem}, - president’s - promise. The demands they have of the state are unrealistic as they expect swift solutions coupled with a blunt force sentiment that Donald Trump has promised. Unlike candidates like Sanders, Trump’s Delphic prospectus for making America great again doesn’t have any basis. It’s as if some guy at the bar has some idea of how to improve the nation but gets his analysis from secondhand news articles and after-work Fox News reports. His remarks about “draining the swamp” of Washington may serve in getting a fella into office, but the resulting selection of an irresponsible man who quite likely never considered being the leader of the free world will have disastrous repercussions. I can only hope that next election the left will be adventurous enough to follow a similar path and abandon centrist policies for worker related ones – and to understand this time that yes, it is about the economy stupid.

A final point: after heeding the everyman’s perspective on the right the disconnect becomes clear. Our ears rarely register these pleas, legitimate frustrations fathered by a lack of returns stolen by profiteering. Living on one of the blue rimmed cities of our coasts hearing the resounding boom of the left which is all I hear nowadays. And these insular pockets develop ideas of the country just as close-minded as a factory worker in Michigan or a construction worker in Arizona. As difficult as it may be to swallow: people really don’t care about race or gender, including woman and even minorities. I think this is a privileged status and one worn on the sleeves of white liberals as a sign of their moral elitism. Identity politics do matter and I would hate to see the strides made lost, but for the democratic party to eschew their affiliation with protecting a hundred-year legacy of protecting the rights of workers, and instead exploit LGBTQ and social justice as a bargaining chip is downright deplorable.  If you can’t put food on the table it’s easier to see a solution in a demagogue’s new economic plans than by a grandma who touts normalcy as sufficient proof of well-being. And it’s when you see 53% of white women and 29% of Hispanics (more so than Romney who won 27% and one less record of Mexican deriding) that change Trump's progress.

What the SNL sketch fails to attribute to Trump’s victory is not that America is racist (which of course it is) or that people voted for Trump because they want minorities to suffer, but because they want their own lives to improve. It’s disheartening that this conservative logic will not only leave the rest of the country by the wayside but that a bloated tirade from a man with an expensive microphone will abandon social programs, unfetter what little restrictions we have on polluting and forego developments with health care. Next election leftists, let’s not forget the progress for race and gender, but let’s not forget to put economics at the forefront of our mind, lest we abandon what little progress we’ve made at all for an ailing population of the disenfranchised.