A Guide to the Top 15 Fake Storylines About the 2016 Election
The story of the most consequential election in modern history is being (re)written by Hillary Clinton’s detractors, so it is no wonder they are trying to cover their tracks with false narratives and rationalizations. Among them, that Clinton is solely to blame for Donald Trump’s presidency; that no one else bears any responsibility; that she was a “flawed” candidate running against the weakest candidate in history; and that the race was run on a level playing field. In each of these cases, the opposite is true.
Following are 15 fake narratives about 2016 that dominate U.S. political discourse. One of Verrit’s central objectives is to debunk these myths and provide an accurate version of events. We must get 2016 right if we care about the future of our democracy. We can only avoid repeating the same terrible mistakes by learning the correct lessons, not by lying to ourselves and to future generations about what really happened.
FAKE: Speaking the truth about 2016 is “relitigating the past.”
FACT: Somehow this rule only applies to Hillary Clinton and her supporters. Anyone else is free to speak about the 2016 election, but pro-Clinton takes are dismissed as “relitigating the past” or “avoiding blame.” The reality is that those who are most desperate to cement a false 2016 narrative and to avoid any conversation about what happened are themselves guilty of aiding and abetting Trump’s campaign by vilifying Clinton. “Stop relitigating the past” is their shorthand for stop telling the truth about what they did.
Many of these revisionist historians are establishment reporters, columnists, editors, and pundits, who have the platform to shape conventional wisdom. Their attempts to conceal their misdeeds by assigning all blame to Clinton is a transparent and cynical ploy which should be rejected in the interest of truth.
FAKE: Hillary Clinton is the only person at fault.
FACT: Presidential elections are incredibly complex undertakings in which millions of participants (candidates, campaigns, surrogates, voters, media outlets, pundits, politicians, donors, organizations, etc.) play critical roles. The outcome of an election is a result of myriad personal decisions and judgments. To blame one candidate for everything is to shirk responsibility as a citizen.
In 2016, the playing field was severely tilted against Hillary Clinton. She faced a perfect storm that would sink the strongest candidate, from Russian intervention to gender bias to a primary opponent who amplified GOP attacks to media malfeasance to unprecedented public statements from an FBI director. The fact that Clinton won the popular vote is a testament to her resilience and the dedication of her voters.
FAKE: Russia had no impact on the outcome.
FACT: Russia waged an incredibly sophisticated and effective propaganda campaign to damage Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible, with disturbing new details emerging by the week. The scale and scope of Russia’s efforts is staggering: Social media ads, thousands of professional trolls, email hacking, weaponizing WikiLeaks, highly suspicious contact with the Trump campaign, and much more.
In the words of a computer security expert quoted by McClatchy, Russia conducted a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” To suggest that no votes were impacted by Russian intrusion is to defy common sense. If one mind was changed, if one voter was turned against Clinton, Russia had a tangible impact on the outcome.
FAKE: Voting systems weren’t tampered with.
FACT: To date, there is no definitive proof that actual votes were changed through the hacking of voting machines. But evidence continues to emerge of systematic efforts to do just that. A final judgment must be suspended until we know more.
According to the New York Times: “After a presidential campaign scarred by Russian meddling, local, state and federal agencies have conducted little of the type of digital forensic investigation required to assess the impact, if any, on voting in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers, according to interviews with nearly two dozen national security and state officials and election technology specialists.”
FAKE: The DNC “rigged” the primary.
FACT: Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary by getting millions more votes than Bernie Sanders. The oft-repeated accusation that the DNC “rigged” the primary is an unfounded excuse repeated by Sanders diehards to rationalize his loss. It denigrates everyone who voted in the primaries to falsely attribute Clinton’s victory to cheating.
Ari Berman took to the Nation to debunk the claims of a rigged primary. His entire piece is worth a read, but here is the nugget: “These claims, which have circulated widely online, are false.” Joshua Holland adds the key point: “There’s a fundamental problem for those spinning the [DNC email] leak as proof that the primaries were rigged: The e-mails that have caused so much outrage were all written after late April.” Clinton had essentially clinched the nomination by then.
FAKE: Email coverage was Hillary Clinton’s fault.
FACT: With a few exceptions, mainstream media coverage of Hillary Clinton was disdainful and hostile. A recent Harvard study concludes: “Coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton. Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, while Trump’s coverage focused on his core issues.”
The Washington Post adds: “Nearly 70,000 sentences were written about Clinton’s emails. In contrast, fewer than 50,000 sentences were written about Trump’s various scandals. About twice as much attention was paid to Clinton’s emails in total than to Trump’s scandals.” Yes, Clinton made a mistake using a private email server. But she apologized for it numerous times. There was absolutely no excuse for the national press to give it 600 consecutive days of breathless coverage.
FAKE: Clinton voters were unenthusiastic.
FACT: One of the most pervasive – and insulting – myths about 2016 was that Clinton voters were dispassionate and unenthusiastic. It was a storyline pushed relentlessly by the mainstream media, and, lamentably, by Bernie Sanders. And it was demonstrably false.
A March Gallup poll was conclusive: “On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s supporters are more enthusiastic than Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters, 54% vs. 44%.” The shunning and demeaning of Clinton voters was a hallmark of the 2016 election, an egregious attempt to marginalize millions of Americans that continues to this day. It is one of the reasons Verrit was created.
FAKE: Sexism and misogyny weren’t factors.
FACT: No woman in American history has been president, and until Hillary Clinton in 2016, no woman in American history had ever been a presidential nominee of a major party. Why is that? Is it that there are no qualified women? Of course not. It is because there is an institutional gender barrier in U.S. politics.
To claim sexism and misogyny played no role in 2016 is to brazenly deny reality. From a PBS article: “Female candidates have long faced more resistance, and received less support from men and women alike.” It is willful ignorance to argue that sexism didn’t play a role in an election where the female candidate had dollar bills thrown at her in the street, was called a “corporate whore,” and faced chants of “lock her up” and “Trump that B**ch.”
FAKE: “Bernie would have won.”
FACT: There is absolutely no way to predict the outcome of a general election, and certainly not through hypothetical polling matchups conducted months before the party conventions. The most obvious retort to “Bernie would have won” is that he didn’t. He lost the primary to Clinton by a wide margin. Winning candidates win. Sanders lost.
This HuffPost article uses an instructive sports analogy: “Big time college players are often surrounded by an aura, which pushes many casual observers to believe their college skills will translate to success on the next level. But professional teams have to evaluate the performance of these amateur players to determine if they can have success as professionals.” Sanders was never exposed to the wrath of the rightwing attack machine. He was spared for one reason: He and his surrogates were maligning Clinton’s character, thereby doing the GOP’s dirty work.
FAKE: Hillary Clinton was a “flawed” candidate.
FACT: Hillary Clinton is the first woman in history to become the presidential nominee of a major party. Would anyone characterize that as a “flaw?” Singling out Hillary Clinton as “flawed” when all humans are flawed has a decidedly sexist tinge. There is nothing particularly flawed about working to become one of the most accomplished women in political history.
Furthermore, the incessant “flawed’ narrative is wrong on its face. Hillary Clinton’s approval rating after she left the State Department was a stunning 69% in a WSJ poll. She entered the 2016 race in a very strong position and was immediately met with a character assassination campaign unseen in U.S. politics. This Gallup chart illustrates the effect of the systematic demonization of Clinton:
FAKE: Donald Trump was a weak candidate.
FACT: Donald Trump eviscerated an entire field of well-funded Republicans, often dispatching his opponents with nothing more than a derogatory nickname and a tweet. Studies show that Trump received billions worth of free airtime, with cable networks often showing live shots of empty podiums waiting for him to arrive. He stoked the rage of the righting electorate with a skill that few have matched, sparking a white nationalist uprising that we’re fighting to this day. The Washington Post reported that Trump “got more more votes in a Republican nominating contest than anyone on record.”
No, Donald Trump was not a weak candidate. He may be widely disliked, but with the help of people who should have known better, he rode a wave of Clinton-bashing directly into the Oval Office.
FAKE: The 2016 election was about “economic anxiety.”
FACT: One of the most intractable myths about 2016 is that it was about white working class “economic anxiety.” A Washington Post headline puts that to rest: “Two new studies find racial anxiety is the biggest driver of support for Trump.” In the words of the New Republic, “To say that Trump won because of economic outrage is to misunderstand today’s working class and to erase a huge portion of it entirely.” The Atlantic elaborates: “Evidence suggests financially troubled voters in the white working class were more likely to prefer Clinton over Trump.”
Part of the “economic anxiety” myth is fueled by the oft-repeated talking point that Hillary Clinton ignored Wisconsin and other swing states. Fact: In Wisconsin and other key swing states, Hillary Clinton won the majority of voters who said the economy was their top concern. Not to mention that Bernie Sanders campaigned for her there.
FAKE: Bernie Sanders ran a purely positive campaign.
FACT: If Bernie Sanders’s 2015 campaign was about something, his 2016 campaign was against someone. He pivoted from a laudable focus on progressive issues to an all-out assault on Clinton’s character. Sanders ran a brutally efficient attack against her, with surrogates assailing her integrity and accusing her of being corrupt. His senior aides fanned out across cable to hammer her on her Wall Street speeches, a strategy Sanders himself had previously rejected as “a character assault he had long opposed,” according to the New York Times.
As it became clearer she would win the nomination, he riled up his supporters further instead of dialing back the negativity. His reluctant endorsement was too little too late. The damage was done. It is only because the mainstream media refused to hold him accountable that many people are unaware of the ferocity and fundamental unfairness of his attacks on Clinton.
FAKE: Hillary Clinton is “unlikable.”
FACT: Anyone who knows Hillary Clinton personally knows she is a compassionate, smart, funny and eminently likable person. She is widely admired. She is respected by some of the most accomplished people on the planet. She won the popular vote.
A vicious assault on her character distorted perceptions of who she really is, causing people to despise her and to spew venom at her with no regard for the truth. Rejecting the injustice of a grotesque caricature of a dedicated public servant should be a mission for any American who cares about the future.
FAKE: Hillary Clinton didn’t have a message.
FACT: Hillary Clinton had a compelling message about being “stronger together,” as a nation, but her message was processed through the media’s relentless vilification filter. An Atlantic article written during the Democratic convention explained her message best: “I don’t need to be the center of your world. I’ll do my job, intelligently and doggedly. And I’ll help you be the heroes of your own lives.”
Clinton proposed good, pragmatic policies; she put forth workable solutions to difficult problems. But thanks to the mainstream media and her detractors on right and left, all the public heard was “EMAIL.”
13. 600 consecutive days of email coverage was NOT JUSTIFIED. It was a travesty. Hillary’s policies and positions were ignored by the press. pic.twitter.com/LYkYtO49f3
— Peter Daou (@peterdaou) July 5, 2017