Tag Archives: 2016 Election

That Was the Year That Was

The title of Michelle Goldberg’s overview of the past year in The New York Times is “The Anniversary of the Apocalypse”. I thought “apocalypse” was too much, but Merriam-Webster says it means “a great disaster”. That’s fair. In what follows, I’ve removed all descriptions of particular offenses:

In the terror-struck and vertiginous days after [the] election a year ago, as I tried to make sense of America’s new reality, I called people who lived, or had lived, under authoritarianism to ask what to expect. I wasn’t looking for concrete predictions — one of the disorienting things about that moment was that no one, no matter how learned, had any idea what was happening — but for insights into how the texture of life changes when an autocratic demagogue is in charge.

A secular Turkish journalist told me, her voice sad and weary, that while people might at first pour into the streets to oppose [him], eventually the protests would probably die out as a sense of stunned emergency gave way to the slog of sustained opposition. The Russian dissident writer Masha Gessen warned that there’s no way, with a leader who lays siege to the fabric of reality, to fully hold on to a sense of what’s normal. “You drift, and you get warped,” she told me.

They were both right. The country has changed in the past year, and many of us have grown numb after unrelenting shocks. What now passes for ordinary would have once been inconceivable….

… this nightmare year has upended assumptions about the durability of the rules, formal and informal, governing our politics. There’s a metaphysical whiplash in how quickly alarm turns into acceptance and then into forgetfulness….

Hannah Arendt once wrote of the role vulgarity played in undermining liberalism in pre-totalitarian societies: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability”…. In this administration, crassness has become a weapon, annihilating social codes that once restrained political behavior, signaling that old standards no longer apply.

Lately, the pace of shocks has picked up, even if our capacity to process them has not….In another administration this [take your pick] would have been a major scandal. In this one it barely registers.

How can America ever return from this level of systematic derangement and corruption? I wish there was someone I could ask, but we know more about how countries slide into autocracy than how they might climb out of it. It’s been a year, and sometimes I’m still poleaxed by grief at the destruction of our civic inheritance.

In moments of optimism I think that this is just a hideous interregnum….

Hey, all we have to do is win more elections, like we did tonight in Virginia and New Jersey. Or we could get the opposition to develop a sense of shame. One of those should be manageable.

Vote As If You Are On a Mission from God

Most people thought Hillary Clinton was going to win last year. Most people thought the Orange Menace was unqualified to be President. Since they wanted to hold the next president to a high standard, media people gave inordinate attention to Clinton’s email server management, the Goldman Sachs speeches and the Clinton Foundation. FBI Director James Comey probably assumed Clinton would win so maybe he figured it would be okay to give the Republican a boost. I’m convinced lots of people voted for her main opponent or didn’t vote at all because they were sure he would never be president.

Imagine, however, that everyone registered to vote in the United States received a very special message before the election:

Hello, [your name here], this is the Voice of God. I have decided that your individual vote will determine who will be the next president. Forget the polls. Forget the other voters. Forget whether you live in a swing state. Forget the Electoral College. You and you alone will choose the next president. You are the only person receiving this message. You must think very carefully and then go vote. You must choose one of the candidates and whoever you choose will win the election. I will make it happen. It is a sure thing. Keep in mind that your decision will affect people throughout the world, so choose wisely. I am counting on you, [your name here], to choose the best person for the job. Perhaps I should add that you do not want to disappoint Us. Thank you and have a nice day.

And everyone who got the message believed they heard the Voice of God, thought about their decision (and a few other things) very seriously and then cast their vote.

Who would have won the election? Would Clinton have received the additional 78,000 votes out of the 14 million cast in three states she needed to win the Electoral College?

I believe she would have, although that may be wishful thinking. The point I’m trying to make is that we should all take voting very seriously. It makes a big difference who is elected, especially since the Republican Party has moved further and further to the right.

One problem, of course, is that the Republicans have successfully manipulated our electoral system in ways that stop or discourage people from voting (voter suppression) or dilute the impact of their votes (gerrymandering). But the other big problem is that too many people simply don’t bother to vote. Unfortunately, the mystery isn’t why they don’t bother. The mystery is why anyone does.

That’s because, given the size of our electorate and the arcane rules we follow, nobody should think their individual vote will matter. In anything but the smallest local elections, the chances of one person’s vote making a difference are infinitesimal. Understanding that, most voters see voting as consequence-free. That partly explains why so few of us bother. It also partly explains who won in November. Why not vote for a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning if it won’t make any difference who you vote for?

Philosophers and social scientists call this problem the “paradox of voting” (or the “Downs paradox” in honor of an economist who studied it):

The paradox of voting … is that for a rational, self-interested voter, the costs of voting will normally exceed the expected benefits. Because the chance of exercising the pivotal vote (i.e., in an otherwise tied election) is minuscule, … the expected benefits of voting are less than the costs.

The issue was noted by Nicolas de Condorcet in 1793 when he stated, “In single-stage elections, where there are a great many voters, each voter’s influence is very small. It is therefore possible that the citizens will not be sufficiently interested [to vote]” and “… we know that this interest [which voters have in an election] must decrease with each individual’s [i.e. voter’s] influence on the election and as the number of voters increases.” In 1821, Hegel made a similar observation: “As for popular suffrage, it may be further remarked that especially in large states it leads inevitably to electoral indifference, since the casting of a single vote is of no significance where there is a multitude of electors.”  [Wikipedia]

There are ways to get people to vote even though their individual votes won’t matter. You can make voting mandatory (like in Australia). You can try to make voting fun (how about a free doughnut or one of those “I VOTED” stickers?). Or you could pay people to vote. 

That last option might be considered bribery, but it has been considered as government policy. The city of Los Angeles and the state of Arizona have both looked at turning elections into lotteries. One lucky voter would win a million dollars! I don’t know if anyone has thought about simply giving cash to each voter, but that would work too.

One problem with these approaches, however, is that it would encourage voting by “low information” voters, people who don’t know much about the issues or the candidates. They would only bother to vote because they were afraid of being punished or interested in a possible reward. That could be a problem, but it would be a problem worth having, since getting everyone to vote would have the biggest effect on young people and poor people. Those are the two groups least likely to vote today. Getting more of them to vote would have a big effect and a positive one.

Of course, we could simply appeal to everyone’s sense of civic duty. As citizens of a representative democracy, we are supposed to learn about the candidates and issues and then make a responsible choice. That’s how I think of voting. It’s a ritual I perform because I live in a democracy. In other words, I know my vote won’t have an effect but I do it anyway, because it feels like it’s the right thing to do. It makes me feel good to cast a ballot.

It’s clear that I don’t know how to solve this problem. I don’t know how to make our democracy more representative by getting more people to vote. I suppose it’s (very remotely) possible that God will trick everyone into voting next time by sending each of us a personal message like the one above. What I do know is that our upcoming elections are extremely important, given the lopsided amount of power the Republicans now have. Maybe the best thing to do, therefore, is to encourage everyone you know, especially the sane ones, to register and vote every chance they get. Sure, as individuals, it will be a waste of time. But as a group it will be one of the best things we can do. Let’s all pay attention and vote, and encourage others to do the same, as if we’re all on a mission from God. Need I add that it’s a mission to elect more Democrats?

For further encouragement, here’s yesterday’s column by Colbert King in The Washington Post. His conclusion:

The midterm 2018 elections can be Judgment Day for Trump. And dress rehearsal for 2020. Fume and fuss, talk back to the television, kick the can, call Trump names, vent to your heart’s content. All that changes nothing. Also probably ruins your health. What can make a difference? The ballot. Vote, vote, vote.

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.