Why Was Someone Like Donald Trump Even Elected?

Spencer Critchley


This is an excerpt from Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next (McDavid Media) by Spencer Critchley, a former adviser to President Obama. Printed with permission.


Election Night (2016)


On Nov. 8, 2016, I was at a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, at a party I had helped organize for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Like everyone else there and at similar gatherings across the country, I assumed we were about to celebrate Hillary’s election as the next President of the United States.


It wasn’t that Hillary had run a great campaign — far from it. That’s why I was there. I had flown to Phoenix just eight days before to help with media relations, social media, photography, and anything else I could contribute, including setting up the stage and wrangling reporters at this party.


Like many people who had worked on previous Democratic presidential campaigns, I had planned to sit this one out, figuring I wouldn’t be needed. On paper if not on the stump, Hillary was one of the most qualified candidates in history. Her opponent looked to us like one of the least qualified in history — and he himself seemed to assume Hillary would win.


Donald Trump was a real estate promoter and TV personality with a bad reputation in his home city of New York and no experience in government. He had built his political profile by exploiting a racist conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He had campaigned on xenophobia and an evident contempt for democratic norms and institutions. He had invested little money or effort in his run and appeared to see it as a brand-building exercise.


But as Election Day had approached, I had started to get nervous, and so had others like me. We called up friends on the campaign, asking, “Can I help?”


The answer should have been, “Nah, we got this.” It wasn’t.


“Yes, can you come now?”


And so here I was, volunteering alongside veterans with experience going back to Bill Clinton’s campaigns.



Still, she had to win, right? How could she not? That didn’t make any sense.


And then Ohio was called for Trump. And then Florida. And then the world turned upside down.


On Election Night 2008, at an Obama campaign party, I had cried tears of joy. It wasn’t just because my side had won. It was because I believed the whole country had won, no matter how they had voted, because of the inspiring values Obama stood for and — as his campaign staff knew well — lived by.


I cried in 2016 too, for very different reasons. But across the street, the Arizona Republicans were holding their election night party. From there, I heard a rising roar of exultation.


On my side of the street, it was close to silent. Almost no one felt up to talking to the media. I happened to take a call from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I couldn’t begin to explain what had just happened — how had the same country that had elected an Obama now elected a demagogue?


A few days later, I tried again, by writing a piece for the Huffington Post (now HuffPost) called “A Letter to a Friend Who Voted for Trump.” In it, I addressed, anonymously, a person I knew to be good, honest, and patriotic, asking him to help me understand what could lead him, like millions of others, to make this choice.


I’ve been working on understanding that every day, ever since. Along the way I’ve studied not just where we are now, but how we got here, going back to the founding of the United States.


This book is the result.


I believe I now do understand what happened. What led us to 2016 was bigger, and had deeper roots, than any of us realized, or than has been reported elsewhere.


The election of Donald Trump should not have been a shock. Whether he came along in 2016 or a little later, Trump, or someone like him, was inevitable.


And yet most of us were blindsided by his victory, and few yet see the full scope of what it means. Understanding how and why Trump won — including how all of us helped make it happen — is critical to our future as a democracy.


This is an excerpt from Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next (McDavid Media) by Spencer Critchley, a former adviser to President Obama. Printed with permission.


Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:

--McDavid Media

--Gage Skidmore (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

--Donald Trump illustration by Michael Bechetti


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