Was it really four whole years ago that America walked away from the precipice of a Hillary Clinton presidency?
Yes, it was. I recall so vividly, as if it were but days ago, the storms of jubilant relief that swept over the whole United States.
The faces of the anchors of the great American news networks were a tableau of ecstatic release from nightmare anxiety. It is still a strange joy to visit YouTube, where one can relive the very moment when Florida — which had been swaying all evening from Clinton to Donald Trump, Trump to Clinton — finally yielded and placed the Clinton campaign into history’s sad loss file.
Is it possible that I am replaying that immortal scene with a jaundiced eye and a careless laptop?
Yes, it is. It’s early, as I tap the keys, and my morning yogourt sometimes awakens odd strains of irony that not even vats of Nescafe can tame.
One element we may all agree on, however, is that the second-biggest story of Nov. 4, 2016 (Trump’s win being first), was the near total collapse of the American polling industry, and the media outlets that eagerly supported its predictions.
Would it be reasonable for Republicans to take comfort in how badly the polls performed last time? Should the things that went wrong last time be taken as evidence that they are wrong today? Absolutely not. It would be a mistake to take the errors of 2016 as a dry run for the errors of 2020.
However, what I would suggest is that some of the partisan impulses that distorted coverage and polling last time are at play again, and with greater intensity this time. Nowhere is this clearer and more damning than the protection being afforded by the mass media to the allegations of influence peddling currently swirling around Biden, which have been put into lockdown (a term we now know all too well) by so many professed professional journalists.
Those impulses and that distorted coverage really leave most of the public with no reliable compass to ground an opinion on how Tuesday’s vote will go. We’re all in the cheerfully hospitable country of “your guess is as good as mine.”
When news starts to reflect what some reporters wish will happen, or think should happen, or even work to make happen, we’ve lost a lot. And that means we’ll actually have to wait till the day itself to find out what the reality of the situation actually is.
It wasn’t just that the polls were wrong. It was how extravagantly wrong the near totality of them were, and all in the same direction. This I have written about before, but it is so delicious a news morsel, I like to return to it. The New York Times, the ponderous Vatican of American public affairs, had Clinton’s chances — as of half an hour before the results started rolling in — at 92 per cent, and sad-sack Trump barely breathing at eight per cent.
America’s other oracle, the Huffington Post, left Trump with the tiniest breathing hole at two per cent — only, I believe, as a kindness to a candidate who its editors were absolutely certain was fully down for the count.
When, as time and fate unfolded, Trump, to the combined consternation and incredulity of the collective news media of the United States, walked past Clinton, the shock was seismic. Review the footage on YouTube. The faces of the anchors and pundits are a collage of bewilderment and deep woe.
(Just on a personal note, looking, on that night, at such ranks of overpaid dejection, my fruede tank ran out of schaden.)
All this is but reverie, of course, and may suggest that the turbulence of 2016 is a guide to the greater turbulence of the 2020 sweepstakes. For there is one pattern shared by both contests and that is the confidence of pollsters and established media of how dim Trump’s chances are.
For instance, a few days ago, a pollster claimed that Joe Biden was up 17 points in Michigan, a key battleground state. More ominously for Trump, a recent poll by sage psephologist Nate Silver gave Biden an 89 per cent chance of shellacking the incumbent.