A Smart, Informed Journalist Interviews Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of Vox, interviewed Hillary Clinton for 51 minutes this week. I thought she avoided answering one question. It was something like, how would you rate American voters in general? Aside from that, I was tremendously impressed. It is a tragedy that she lost.

A few topics discussed:

16:00  How the media handled the presidential campaign

17:45  Healthcare, including the important distinction between universal care, which should be our goal, and single-payer, which is only one way, and probably not the best way, to get universal care

26:30  American politics today

36:00  The 2016 election

42:00  How women voted

44:50   The effect of the Comey letter plus the Electoral College, voter suppression and dangers ahead.

 

How Hillary Could Quickly Replace Donald and Tim Replace Mike

The many, many connections between DT’s campaign and Russia call into question the legitimacy of the 2016 election. Throw in the FBI’s misfeasance and malfeasance with regard to the Clinton email server and Anthony Weiner’s laptop; Clinton’s substantial popular vote margin; and the closeness of the election in three Midwestern states, and some of us can’t help thinking about having a new presidential election. After all, other countries schedule new elections quite often for one reason or another – our government sometimes demands that other countries do it.

Sadly, however, all the U.S. Constitution says is that American presidents are to be elected every four years.

Nevertheless, the Constitution offers a simple way for Hillary Clinton to replace DT and Tim Kaine to replace Mike Pence. All that’s required is a bit of cooperation from a handful of patriotic Republicans.

First, DT needs to leave office. He could resign like Richard Nixon did; he could be removed from office via the 25th Amendment on the grounds that he is clearly unfit to serve; or he could be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate for, say, accumulating wealth from foreign governments and/or collusion with Russia. Take your pick.

With DT having returned to private life, President Mike Pence would then choose Hillary Clinton to be Vice President. Assuming simple majorities in the House and Senate confirmed her appointment, Mrs. Clinton would become Vice President. That’s how Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller got the job, one after the other, in 1974. 

Next, President Pence would resign, automatically elevating Vice President Clinton to the presidency. No explanation would be necessary, although everyone would assume Pence didn’t want to have lunch with Hillary without his wife present.

President Clinton would then appoint Senator Tim Kaine as her Vice President. After majorities in the House and Senate confirmed his appointment, it would be as if the 2016 presidential election didn’t take us into Bizarro World!

Presumably, Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch would finally do the right thing and immediately step down, perhaps with the understanding that he’d be appointed to the Federal bench in a less supreme capacity. President Clinton could then nominate Merrick Garland to fill the seat he didn’t get the first time.

One might object that this sequence of events is so unlikely that it isn’t worth thinking about. As a practical solution to the current crisis, that is undeniably true. However, there are at least two reasons to consider it.

The first is that fiction can be enjoyable. We love stories in which the good guys win and order is restored, however implausible such victories may be.

Second, it’s interesting that, even though the Constitution as currently written doesn’t provide a way to redo a tainted election, a political party with simple majorities in the House and Senate and a President and Vice President willing to leave office can transfer power to whomever they want, without a new election, as long as the new President and Vice President are natural-born citizens, at least 35 years of age, and residents of the United States for at least 14 years. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine both meet those requirements. Unfortunately, so do Ivanka (35) and Jared (36).

Coincidentally, after writing the above, I was catching up on The New York Review of Books and read an April article about a Yale law professor, Akhil Reed Amar, whose specialty is the U.S. Constitution. I’m sorry to say he had my idea before I did, although for a different, much more plausible reason:

At the moment, we have to wait two and a half months after a general election for the victorious presidential candidate to take over—compared to the few minutes it takes in the UK for an electoral transition. Could we change this? It would be easy, says Amar. First of all, once the concession speeches are given, Vice President Biden resigns. President Obama then nominates Donald Trump to be vice-president, under the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Congress confirms him. Then President Obama gracefully steps aside and Vice President Trump becomes commander in chief. All in a matter of days…. Amar’s point is that “if Americans truly want to streamline our transfers of power, the Constitution does not stand in the way.”

If You’re Looking for One Factor That Explains the 2016 Election

The Voter Study Group has been studying the same 8,000 American voters since before the 2012 election. It’s “the nation’s largest, longest political focus group”. They released their findings on the 2016 election last month. 

From The Seattle Times:

The story we’ve told ourselves — that working-class whites flocked to [DT] due to job worries or free trade or economic populism — is basically wrong….

They did flock to [him]. But the reason they did so in enough numbers for [him] to win [the Electoral College] wasn’t anxiety about the economy. It was anxiety about Mexicans, Muslims and blacks.

Here’s how [the Study Group] put it in academese: “What stands out most, however, is the attitudes that became more strongly related to the vote in 2016: attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people, and feelings toward Muslims,” writes George Washington Univ. professor John Sides. He notes that the media focused on less-educated whites, but negative racial attitudes fueled by Trump were a big motivator for college-educated whites, too.

A substantial share of Trump voters “appeared to embrace a conception of American identity predicated on birthplace and especially Christian faith,” Sides found.

This is the drum [Univ. of Washington professor Christopher Parker] has been banging for years. His 2013 book on the Tea Party, Change They Can’t Believe In … used survey data to show it was not a small government movement as advertised. It was more about America being stolen from “real Americans” — a reaction triggered by the election of President Obama.

“I’ve got three words for you: scared white people,” Parker says. “Every period of racial progress in this country is followed by a period of retrenchment. That’s what the 2016 election was about, and it was plain as it was happening.” [Note: Professor Parker was one of the few who predicted DT would win.]

To be clear: Neither Parker, nor the latest research, is saying that Trump voters are all racists. Most voting is simply party-line no matter who is running. What they’re saying is that worries about the economy, free trade and the rest were no more important in 2016 than in previous elections, but [racial and ethnic] resentment spiked.

This chart from the Voter Study Group tells the story:

figure4_sides_e4aabc39aab12644609701bbacdff252

Hillary Clinton Isn’t Going Away

And that’s a good thing. She was interviewed at a conference in California yesterday. There was also a Q&A session.

She talks about the election and the challenges we face, including what she calls the “weaponization” of social media. She doesn’t mince words. I thought she could have answered one of the questions better, and I disagree with one thing she said, but after listening to her speak for an hour and 17 minutes, I came away feeling better about America and the future. Maybe you will too.

The video and a transcript of the whole conversation are available here at the Recode site.

He Doesn’t Have a Clue. Neither Do They.

This piece by Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine very nicely explains some of the Orange Menace’s appeal. He is the apotheosis of the Low Information Voter, the citizens who are conscientious enough to register and cast a ballot, but who have trouble deciding who to vote for, not so much because they’re “centrists” with “moderate” views, but because they don’t have a fucking clue:

It is widely known that [DT] — whose political profile over the decades has vacillated from liberal to conservative to moderate to populist, and supported and opposed abortion rights, higher taxes on the rich, and universal health care — does not care very much about political ideas. This explanation is true, but incomplete. The president also does not know very much about political ideas. And it is not merely the details of policy that he lacks. Trump has no context for processing ideas. He does not understand which kinds of ideas imply support for which kinds of policies, nor why political figures tend to believe what they do, nor why they agree or disagree with one another. He is capable of forming strongly held beliefs about people in politics, but he does so in entirely personal terms. Trump’s flamboyant, weird ignorance reveals a distinct pattern. He is not so much non-ideological as sub-ideological.

It is common to attribute Trump’s protean identity as simple self-interest: He has aligned himself with whichever party seemed to benefit him at any given moment. And surely calculation plays a role. But it cannot explain all his puzzling statements about politics. Sometimes he expresses openness about unpopular policies his administration and party would never go for (like a higher tax on gasoline). Trump constantly relates questions about politics back to himself and his alleged deal-making genius not only because he’s a narcissist, but because the contest of political debate remains largely mysterious to him.

Many Americans share Trump’s lack of ideological sophistication. High-information voters tend to clump at the ends of the political spectrum. They may not have sophisticated beliefs, but their identification with one of the party coalitions is a tool they use to make sense of individual issues. Low-information voters tend to have a weak understanding of what the political parties stand for and how those positions relate to each other. These voters can be roughly categorized as “centrist” because they don’t line up neatly with one party platform or the other. But, rather than a consistently moderate outlook, they share a mishmash of extreme and frequently uninformed beliefs. Because they don’t understand the philosophical basis for disagreements, they assume the two parties ought to naturally cooperate, and tend to see partisan bickering as a failure and an indication of personal fault by politicians.

Trump thinks about politics like a low-information voter, which enabled him to speak their language naturally. His stated belief during the campaign that he could expertly craft a series of popular deals — “it’s going to be so easy” — appealed to low-information voters because it earnestly described the political world as they see it. Trump’s experience as a developer and professional celebrity have put a narcissistic gloss on Trump’s low-information worldview. He sees politics as a variation of real estate or reality television — a field where the players are sorted not so much as combatants on opposing teams (though they may compete at times) but on a hierarchy of success, with the big stars at the top sharing interests in common. His vague boasts that his presidency would create terrific things that everybody loves and is winning again is a version of how he truly sees the world….

Politics is a strange institution that forces committed professionals who have coherent philosophical beliefs to persuade voters who mostly do not. Barack Obama accomplished this in highbrow fashion. His characteristic political style was to incorporate the values of both left and right and try to … synthesize the perspectives together. (“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”) Trump accomplishes it in lowbrow style, by literally not understanding the source of the disagreement.

On that note, perhaps a bit of humor will help. Here’s Tom Tomorrow of This Modern World from back in 2004. That was the election that pitted the dim-witted, semi-competent incumbent, President George W. Bush, who had already screwed up one way and another for four years, against John Kerry, the respected but boring Senator and future Secretary of State who had married an heiress and wasn’t a “regular guy”:

themodernworld-theundecidedvoter

The Feel Good Phenomenon Known as DT

Jennifer Rubin graduated first in her class at U.C. Berkeley’s law school. After working as a lawyer for 20 years, she began writing political commentary for well-known right-wing magazines. Now she writes The Washington Post‘s “Right Turn” blog.

The good news is that she thinks DT is a disaster.

Yesterday, she published two pieces that especially impressed me. The first, “This Is Not a Normal President”, reviews the ways in which DT seriously screwed up. It concludes:

During the first 100 days [of DT’s administration], the Republic has survived, but the GOP [i.e. the Republican Party], permanently we think, has been morally compromised and intellectually corrupted, just as many of us warned. “Everything Trump touches dies,” GOP consultant Rick Wilson is fond of saying. Trump’s victims now include a respectable Republican Party.

The second was “[DT] Suspends Disbelief – On Most Everything” . It’s one of the best explanations I’ve read of why many supposedly competent voters voted for the Orange Menace:

The country is … divided … between those who want politics to tend to their emotional needs (pride, recognition, resentment) and those who want politics to solve problems while they take care of their self-esteem and emotional well-being in other ways. Ironically, Republicans who for decades accused the left of playing to emotions rather than dealing with cold, hard facts now eschew objective reality in favor of feelings….

Trump fans think he is winning because he yells at the press, vilifies cities run by Democrats, denies climate change and demonizes immigrants. He talks and acts like they wish they could — demeaning women, stereotyping minorities, telling off experts…. It does not matter to Trump fans if the executive orders are struck down or are mere window dressing (authorizing an agency to study something it already has the power to study). He makes them feel as if they’re winning, as if they are now more important than the experts with the facts and the courts with the laws on their side. Trump fans, the quintessential Fox News viewers, revel in the know-nothingism of a hero who reflects their anger, grievances, frustration and, yes, prejudice.

It will only take a few minutes to read the whole thing. I highly recommend reading it if you still occasionally ask yourself “who the hell are these people?”

On a related topic, I had one of those thoughts today that feel like an important insight even though they’re blindingly obvious. It came to me after watching today’s Hillary Clinton interview. At one point, she referred to some of the promises DT made during the campaign. And it occurred to me that all politicians make promises, but most voters are relatively cynical about those promises being kept. We’ve heard their promises before and we know it’s hard for politicians to get anything important done. Presidents, for example, aren’t dictators who can simply issue commands (“Make it so”). 

But DT wasn’t (and isn’t) anywhere near being a typical politician. He could make a ton of big promises, one after the other, and lots of voters thought, well, he’s not a politician, he’s different, maybe he really can do these big things he’s promising. I mean, maybe he can renegotiate all these treaties and make health insurance cheaper and bring back coal mining. He says only he can fix it! If a regular politician said that, it would sound ridiculous. But this guy is so strange, maybe he really can do what he says. Let’s give him a chance!

Of course, most of us saw through him. It was easy. But enough hopeful people in a few Midwestern states were willing to give him a chance. Now we’re paying the price for their ignorance and blinkered optimism.

The Woman Who Should Be President Is Now Part of the Resistance

Hillary Clinton was interviewed today at a “Women for Women” town hall. The story making news is that, after admitting she made many mistakes in the 2016 campaign, she repeated what the statisticians who have studied the election say: if the election had been held ten days earlier, before the Comey letter was leaked, she would be President. That’s true, but apparently she’s not supposed to bring it up, according to some observers. Those observers can go to hell.

When you lose the Electoral College by 80,000 votes in three states, there are lots of reasons why. But we should never forget that interference by Russia and the FBI, along with the bizarre attention paid to Clinton’s emails by the corporate media, were major factors in putting a buffoonish but dangerous con man in the White House.

Here is the interview: