One year ago today, an improbable candidate achieved an improbable victory and improbably became the president of the United States of America. The billion dollar question, which the losing side still can't seem to answer: How did a billionaire with a penchant for PR and zero political credentials knock off a near-impenetrable monolith like the Establishment--both Democrats AND Republicans?
Donald Trump was little more than a political oddity. His positions vis-à-vis the GOP seemed dubious at best. His Twitter feed appeared as a Red Bull–fueled stream of consciousness. His rhetoric like gasoline on a still-smoldering fire.
The Establishment never saw it coming. Even as the first election returns were trickling in, they still didn’t know what was hitting them, and couldn’t comprehend the sheer force of the beating.
Ronda Rousey never saw Holly Holm’s foot either in UFC 193, but when it hit her in the face, Rousey landed exactly where the Establishment did on Election Night . . . on the floor in a heap of battered flesh. That’s what happens when the power elite dismisses a perceived lesser adversary. Trump’s foot hit the Establishment in the head, left them beaten and bloodied, and stumbling around wondering just how this political “nobody” could have kicked their butt so soundly. He beat Hillary Clinton, the anointed one, the cornerstone of Establishment liberals, and before that, sixteen other Republicans. Take a breath and let that number digest.
Whether or not his adversaries will admit it, Trump’s victory was quintessentially American. One man, outgunned, outspent, against the odds, and challenging a dominant foe. Remember the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team and the “Miracle on Ice”? Yep, like that. The only thing missing on Election Night was Al Michaels’ play-by-play, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
But that celebrated victory against the Soviet Union was as much about ideology as it was about hockey. Trump’s victory wasn’t all ideological, it was visceral too. A pundit can blather all day about the value of experience inside the Beltway, but at the end of the day, after eight years of divisive rhetoric and even worse policy, sometimes all a voter wanted was an outsider who made them feel good about the future again.
Enter Donald Trump.
Working-class people across the country—in flyover states, in Rust Belt states, and in Bible Belt states—who felt ignored or dismissed and oft-insulted by the Establishment gravitated toward the person who they felt cared about them and the country. Here was a guy who didn’t sound like any other politician they’d ever heard. In fact, he wasn’t a politician. Trump was just a guy who said the things they were thinking. And the things he said, at least for them, proved he listened. Incredibly, the mogul and reality television star became a populist hero.
Then there was the ideology . . .
So deep did this message resonate with millions of people that nine and a half months before the election, Trump could say at a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, “The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like, incredible,” and it be a true statement.
The Establishment hated this guy, and still does. Elites ensconced in urban bastions of Establishment-thinking despised Trump and his supporters, and still do. Hillary Clinton said they belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” Establishment media went after Trump like he was Nixon and G. Gordon Liddy was streaking through the Rose Garden. And still does.
Weeks before the election, they dredged up an eleven-year-old tape from Access Hollywood, a show owned by that paragon of truth, NBC, which painted an unflattering picture of the renegade spoiler poised to deny Hillary the crown. Sexually offensive comments will do that. But Americans saw through the media’s faux outrage. Anyone who voted for Bill Clinton and still revels in his “greatness” forfeits any credibility to claim offense at Trump’s words. Lest we forget, the 42nd president of the United States used a 22-year-old intern as a human humidor for his big Gurkha.
Establishment media unleashed often-baseless attacks disguised as journalism and a new buzz phrase entered the zeitgeist: “fake news.” They conducted stilted polls aimed at demoralizing Trump’s base. If the polls show he has no chance to win, then they won’t vote. But the Establishment media forgot one important thing: the only polls that matter are the ones on Election Day.
On that day, America had two choices. Well, okay, there were four choices, but Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein, really? On November 8, 2016, half the people in this country had a sinking feeling, like Howard Beale, the mad prophet of the airwaves in the Paddy Chayefsky masterpiece film Network, that we knew things were bad, worse than bad—they’re crazy! And on Election Day the only thing left for any of us to do was to get up from our chair, go to the window, open it, stick our head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Or we could go to the polls and vote.
And that is how Donald Trump became president of the United States.
DAVE ERICKSON is the author, with Fox News contributor, Nick Adams, of the book The Case Against the Establishment.