Albright: Checking Out

Nov 9, 2016

It was 1972, the summer after my college graduation. I was a teaching fellow at Phillips Andover Academy, an ivy-covered liberal stronghold in deep blue Massachusetts. I was gregarious, but I didn’t know anyone – literally not one person - who wanted Richard Nixon to be president. George McGovern was the obvious choice, especially for young people like me who had taken to the streets to protest the Vietnam war.

Of course back then we didn't have a 24/7 news cycle churning out endless polls and pundits, so we weren't necessarily cocky or overconfident about our guy, but when it became clear McGovern would carry only one state – Massachusetts - we went into shock.

Until I left reporting this year, I spent most election nights at campaign headquarters, doing interviews and writing stories for early morning news programs. But this Tuesday, I watched the returns at home, as stunned television hosts, reporters, and analysts admitted their failure to predict this outcome.

Whatever factors were in play were not captured by the pollsters, and in the future that'll be a huge problem for the media to address. What America did learn from the number crunchers is that men don't agree with women and that there's a deep, dangerous chasm between white and minority voters, and between rural and urban dwellers. That's as disturbing to me as the realization that this election will shape the future of my grand-children.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders must be feeling especially gloomy about this election. If Donald Trump won by promising, without many specifics, to up-end the status quo, Sanders, too, drew huge crowds, and conveyed a message of change. But he had a wealth of legislative experience behind him and chose to take the political high road. Republicans have been criticized for letting their party be hi-jacked it seems clear to me that Democrats also have some soul searching to do.

After Nixon's landslide 44 years ago, some of my most despondent friends checked out. Many retreated into communes and in some ways created their own alternative, self-sufficient worlds.

But we can't afford to do that in today’s global society. We're going to have to stay engaged and work even harder on a grassroots level to keep our world moving forward - toward solutions to problems that otherwise threaten to overwhelm us – like climate change, racial equality and social justice.