Who Is to Blame for the 2016 Presidential Election?

At a Women for Women International event this week, Christiane Amanpour asked Hillary Clinton about what happened during the 2016 presidential election. Here are some of Clinton’s responses:

“I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off — and the evidence for that intervening event is, I think, compelling [and] persuasive,” Clinton said…

When Amanpour asked whether Clinton thought misogyny contributed to her loss as the first female presidential nominee, Clinton said, “Yes, I do think it played a role.” She added that sexism “is very much a part of the landscape politically and socially and economically.”

Amanpour tried to draw out self-reflection from Clinton.

“He had one message, your opponent, and it was a successful message: ‘Make America great again,’ ” Amanpour said of Trump. “Where was your message? Do you take any personal responsibility?”

“I take absolute personal responsibility,” Clinton said. “I was the candidate. I was the person who was on the ballot.”…

Clinton added that she would detail her mistakes in her forthcoming book. “You’ll read my confession and my request for absolution,” she said with a touch of sarcasm.

Phillip Rucker, the author of that article, took Clinton to task for not being specific enough about her own shortcomings, as did several others in the media. But her reference to the impact of Comey’s letter has now been vindicated by the likes of Nate Silver.

As someone who was trained in systems theory, my automatic response to questions like this is to reject anyone who attempts to assign blame to a single cause. I’m not sure that is what people like Rucker are aiming for. It feels more like they aren’t seeing the level of contrition they think is appropriate from Clinton. My mind immediately wonders if candidates like Romney, McCain and Kerry were subjected to the same level of scrutiny after their losses. The answer to that question would tell us how much of a role either Clinton-hate and/or misogyny plays in that analysis.

But beyond that, I don’t think Clinton cast a large enough net in suggesting who is to blame for the outcome of the election. She included Comey, Russia, misogyny and herself. To that list, I would add a couple of other very significant groups.

First of all, there was the media that got played over and over again by the circus that was Donald Trump’s campaign. They gave him scores of hours of free media time and too often failed to hold him accountable for his nonsense. At the same time, they became obsessed with things like the Clinton Foundation and her emails.

Then, of course, there is us…the voters. Remember that old saying about how when you point the finger of blame at someone else, there are always three pointing back at yourself? How about that time Jesus suggested that people get the log out of their own eye before they focus on the splinter in someone else’s?

We’ve been told over and over again that we shouldn’t blame the voters. It’s true that “blame” is a loaded word. But in a democracy, who is the group that is most accountable? We give up all of our power the minute we take ourselves out of the equation.

Individuals voters can wrap themselves in the old mantra of “Don’t blame me, I voted for her.” And there is, of course, the issue of voter suppression to contend with. But we don’t elect presidents individually. We do so as a collective. And there are some serious problems infecting that collective voice right now. Each of us needs to take a look at how we either participate in spreading that infection or fight to remove it from the body politic. The latter is how we empower ourselves to be part of a better outcome next time.

All of that is precisely why former President Obama is planning to focus a lot of his attention on the issue of civic engagement. To the extent that our democracy is floundering, it is because we are increasingly losing sight of the central role that plays in our government. Back in 2012 at the Democratic Convention, Obama gave a speech about citizenship that was mostly dismissed by the pundits, but remains one of my favorites precisely because he articulated our responsibilities so well.

We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world’s ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations…

We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.

When we all, as voters, begin to grapple with the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy, we’ll have addressed the one way we’re empowered to prevent people like Donald Trump from winning elections.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.