In Denzel Washington’s Fences, there is an unusual supporting character. The film features a baseball hanging by a thin rope in the back garden of the house shared by Washington’s Troy, his wife Rose (played by Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). Though inanimate, this ball serves as a witness to all the tribulations of this black family in post-war US. Hit every which way by Troy and his son Cory, this baseball is also a metaphor for how we shape our lives and how far we can go in determining our own destiny.
To me this baseball also reminded me of the US election two years ago. I am fully aware that we are all now pretty Trumped-out. The dust has now settled. To quote Leonard Cohen: “Everybody knows the good guys lost/Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich”. Except that it was not a good guy who lost but a woman.
It would be arrogant of me to attempt to figure out why Hillary Clinton lost to a misogynist, racist, sexist and xenophobe. Plenty of opinion pieces have been churned out since that day in November. But what I cannot stop thinking about is the reasons why her manifesto might not have struck a chord with most voters. To recap, Clinton lost the election, but won the popular vote. You could say that electoral changes are needed urgently in the US and you would be right. Yet, that would be like trying to hit that ball in Troy’s garden out of the park. That ball ain’t going nowhere. It’s still hanging on a rope.
Team Clinton bashed out a series of proposals and ideas that they thought would capture the public’s imagination. Overall, I thought, sitting comfortably on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, that they banked more on the Trump’s machine imploding than they themselves causing their explosion. Wrong. When your opponent realises that the ball you’re hitting is not moving, they grow stronger, not weaker. In order to get at Trump team Clinton had to untie that baseball and play real ball with it.
That would have meant casting your net much wider, beyond identity politics. The truth is, however, that Clinton got caught up in a feminist/multicultural/gay-friendly agenda. Nothing wrong with that. But what is eating most Americans right now is where the next dime is going to come from.
When Barack Obama entered office in 2009, one of his first actions was to summon the top banking executives. Remember that this was post-2008-crisis and Wall Street was on its knees. The usual villains, politicians, had been given a short-lived respite, to be replaced by bankers. At that point president Obama could have asked for the moon to be delivered on a silver plate and every single person in the room would have coughed up enough money for a space expedition leaving the next day. But Barack dithered and bankers smelled blood. Instead of the far-reaching economic reforms that were needed then, all bankers got was a slap on the wrist and, guess what, within a couple of years, the multi-million-pound bonuses made a comeback.
This was the financial situation Clinton inherited as the Democrat front-runner. Never mind the fact that under Obama more jobs were created than during Bush’s eight-year reign. Never mind that Obamacare became an immediate safeguard for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of families. The crux of the matter was still, a lot of rich people were getting richer and poor people poorer. Obama, for all his credentials as a liberal and the hope he represented, explicitly stated in that strikingly beautiful poster (remember?) was seen as part of the same machinery that had ceded ground to China and had allowed Putin’s Russia to start calling the shots on the international stage.
By the time Clinton entered the frame, the electorate was jaded. Cynical voters are the toughest to turn around, especially if one of the candidates comes from what could be assumed to be a dynasty (Bill Clinton served two terms as president. Chelsea Clinton has already been discussed as a possible candidate for 2024 or 2028). It was not Clinton’s fault that the election went to Donald. It was, as I said at the start, a combination of factors. One of them was the Democrats focusing on policies that might have gone down well with the already-converted but did very little to enthuse the fence-sitters, the refuseniks, the hard-to-reach.
Donald Trump is not infallible and he definitely is not unbeatable. I seriously doubt he will be re-elected in 2020. But, and this is an important “but”, for the Democrats to win the White House again, they will have to untie that baseball and take it to places where they are rarely seen, engaging voters whom they barely know or whose views they disparage. Clinton got the vote of mainly poor, young, Latin and black women (four different categories in themselves). Trump’s camp was the beneficiary of chiefly white women from a working-class background and rural areas.
An average baseball game lasts nine innings. We are barely in the bottom of the first. Hitting a baseball on a string makes good practice but it is not the real game. The real game is won by the team with most runs. Already team Trump has committed a few errors. What Democrats need to do now is to capitalise on those players who have reached base. What’s the next step: steal or sacrifice bunt, or both? How about going for the big swing? Whatever happens, it is about putting runs on that scoreboard. Untie that baseball and hit it hard. Just hit it as hard as you can.