Friday, December 02, 2016

Will Dems Learn the Wrong Lessons?

After any election the losing party has to retrench and figure out how to win the next election. There is always a risk that, in the throes of anguish, they will draw the wrong conclusions. I fear the Democrats are in grave danger of doing that. Let's start with some numbers:
Total votes (through 12/1)
Obama 2012: 65,918,507 (51%)
Clinton 2016: 65,224,847 (48%)

Trump 2016: 62,679,259 (46%)
Romney 2012: 60,934,407 (47%)

Michigan Vote
Trump margin: 10,704; Stein total: 51,463

Trump margin: 46,765; Stein total: 49,678

Trump Margin: 22,177; Stein total: 31,006
By the time all the votes are counted, Hillary will have won roughly the same number of votes Obama did in 2012, somewhere near 3 million more than Trump, and a full two percentage points more votes. She lost because 80,000 people scattered across three states tipped the electoral college in Trump's favor--fewer people than voted for a very marginal third-party candidate. She lost because her voters lived in the wrong state, not because there were fewer of them. (I would feel terrible if I lived in Wisconsin and voted Stein, but I don't think there's any value in saying she "threw" the election.)

In fact, it was Trump who overperformed Romney rather than Hillary underperforming Obama. His rancid, divisive message was squarely in the center of the GOP and fired them up. Remember all these things: he is NOT an outlier among Republicans and Republicans STILL can't appeal to a majority/plurality of Americans. They are a minority group far out of step with the rest of us. This is a hugely important point because reacting to this election as if the voters "rejected" Democratic arguments will lead to solutions to problems that don't exist. 

Nevertheless, Dems did lose the election, and it's worth considering the biggest reasons. We should assume for the moment that 47% of the electorate will never abandon a candidate from the Republican Party in a presidential election. The question is how you win the majority of the gettable voters in states that can throw an election. There were several divides demographically:
  • Race. For decades, the GOP has appealed covertly to white voters, and have slowly eroded their support among nonwhites. Trump was +20% among whites, and Clinton was +53% among nonwhites. This probably understates actual nonwhite totals, which are typically undercounted during exits (in the coming months, better data will emerge). Still, it's revealing enough. Note that this divide was especially exaggerated among the non-college educated. Whites without a college degree favored Trump by 37%; nonwhites favored Hillary by 56%.
  • Rural versus Urban. Voters in rural areas favored Trump by 27%, voters in urban areas favored Hillary by 26%. (They were evenly divided in the suburbs.)
  • Age and Gender. Men were +11% for Trump, women +23% for Hillary. Young people (under 44 years) were +14% for Hillary; oldsters favored Trump by eight.
  • Income. Despite all the hand-wringing about the white working class and Hillary's supposed toxicity because of her connection to Wall Street, she handily won among those earning less than $50k (+12%).
The incessant focus on the white working class conceals several truths here. Those voters are older and whiter than the population as a whole and shrinking as a slice of the electorate. The Democratic base of young, urban, nonwhite voters is growing and must be the center of the party's focus. I know, I know, but some guy who writes for Vox has an uncle in Ohio who voted for Trump and Obama. Please ignore these kinds of stories. They grossly distort who the Dems should actually be paying attention to.

Those numbers tell Dems who their voters are, but not what will appeal to them. Two days after the election, Pew surveyed voters and asked what the "very big problems" our leaders should be addressing. Among Dems, the top four answers were:
  • Gun violence (73% of respondents)
  • Gap between rich and poor (72%)
  • Climate change (66%)
  • Affordability of a college education (66%)
Hillary ran a terrible campaign, no question. (Though to be fair, it wasn't obvious how to run against a candidate like Trump; given a do-over I'm certain she'd make very different decisions.) She basically never mentioned any of these. All of these issues strike at the coalition Hillary should be cultivating of younger urban voters. Moreover, there are certain issues that Trump ran on which are actually central to Democratic policy: job opportunities for working-class Americans (63% of the GOP cited this), drug addiction (62% of the GOP cited it), and even infrastructure, which was an issue favored by Dems, but strongly highlighted by Trump. Antipathy to Wall Street, support for a social safety net (family leave, childcare), marijuana issues--there are a host of important issues that are broadly popular among most voters.

What the Dems should not be doing is moving to the right or trying to appease the party in power. Even among the GOP, far-right policies are unpopular. Americans on the left are angry and feel government has failed them because the GOP obstruct things. The GOP are angry and feel government has failed them because their leaders don't do what they say. Addressing the problem from the left should avoid at all costs helping Republicans achieve what they want. That will enervate their own base, empower their opposition--oh, and destroy much of what liberals care about.

Finally, Dems need to recognize that the country has been captured by a minority party. We have a rural, white minority controlling all levers of power in the federal government. That creates a toxic situation in which the majority are ruled against democratic norms by the minority. When you add the racial split into it (along with the country's history of slavery and Jim Crow racism), when the winning (minority) candidate ran on a nakedly nativist platform, the whole thing is an irredeemable, anti-democratic mess. In addressing this situation, Dems absolutely must (for once!) act like they have the winning arguments, even if they lost the election. Because they do.

We'll see what they actually do in the coming weeks.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump Beats Hillary 46 to 48%

There's a lot to say about the election of Donald J. Trump, but maybe less is more. Today I'll constrain myself to a comment on the process, in which a man who got fewer of the votes was selected president--the second time in the last five contests. It's not only at the Presidential level. In the Senate, Dems have won 53% of the votes over the past three elections (since Senators are elected for a six-year cycle, that captures the elections of all current Senators, minus deaths etc), while winning exactly the same number of seats. I haven't seen numbers for the House, but in 2014, they won 57% of the seats but just 53% of the votes. And of course in 2012, House Republicans won a majority of seats but a minority of votes.

The Republican Party now controls both chambers of Congress and the White House despite being a minority party. When Donald Trump said the elections were rigged, he wasn't wrong. They were rigged back in the 18th century, however, to give slave-owning white Southern men disproportionate influence in government. The rigging has been with us a long time.

Update. As of December 2, Hillary is leading by 2,547,490 votes, or 1.9 percentage points. Title updated to reflect this evolution.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The GOP Loses if Trump Wins

Buried beneath all the drama and ugliness of this election is a truth I don't think many people have examined: if Trump wins the election on Tuesday, it's going to be very bad for Republicans' prospects as a viable party long term. Whether they win or lose, fundamental realities of their fractured coalition will call that question eventually, but if Trump loses, the Party will hang together as an oppositional force against Hillary Clinton.

The malignancy of the Trump campaign did not seriously fracture Republican support of the candidate, because with Clinton members all had a common enemy. With a President Clinton, the Party can turn again to a common enemy. We'll see skirmishes for power in the House, but the ultimate endgame--gridlock, endless investigations, a potential impeachment--will paper over divisions. Republicans in the Senate will likely be a minority, and they'll turn to procedural rules to impede the body's function. Nothing rallies the base so fast as the prospect of a good impeachment.

During the Obama era, Republicans honed their skill at outrage and obstruction, the key pillars of any effective opposition party. With none of their actual policy goals at stake, it was easy to stay united. But if Trump wins, the GOP can't stay an oppositional Party. It would, in the event of a Trump win, almost certainly, hold all levers of government. Policy accomplishments now become the prize of power, and realizing them will expose the warring factions' differing goals. Once a strong coalition of a corporate donor class, religious conservatives, and neoconservatives, a post-Trump GOP would be guided by Trumpies (fueled by racial grievance, in favor of social welfare programs, and opposed to trade and foreign adventures). The voter base that supports these positions was drawn from the previous coalitions, leaving them all weaker--and in the case of the donor class and neoconservatives, in direct conflict with the base.

Since the Nixon era, the GOP has managed to use white resentment as a way of cementing power among these groups. Trump's campaign made the implicit explicit, and he ran on a platform of white supremacy. That demon, once loosed to the public, can't be quietly ignored while the GOP's usual business--tax cuts, a war on abortion, deregulation and promotion of corporate rights, war--come back to the fore. People want a wall, they want Muslims out of their communities, they want trade deals nullified, they want "illegals" deported. Most of these things are anathema to standard-issue Republicans.

There might be a few issues they could come together on, like guns, abortion, and coal, but these are mostly not the groups' top issues. Worse, issues like nullifying Obamacare are riven with danger, since the GOP's misinformation campaign has obscured all the benefits people have under its provisions. But it's more likely that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will push the issues they always have--massive tax cuts for the wealthy, new trade deals (it's high on the party platform), re-deregulate Wall Street, cutting future benefits to Social Security and Medicare, and radically slashing social programs. None of these things will be popular with the Trumpie base, and where will all that white resentment go if the GOP don't immediately pander to it?

Then there's the issue of Trump as president. It is frankly inconceivable to think of a non-catastrophic Trump administration. The best-case scenario is a shadow government headed by traditional GOP elites, perhaps lead by Mike Pence. Even in that scenario, it's impossible to imagine President Trump not saying things that embarrass the party and enrage allies. There are many scenarios of disaster--too many to speculate on.

After a year of in-fighting and bad leadership, the midterm elections would force the divisions wide open. Primary challengers will emerge both for and against the Trump loyalists. If Trump loses, the Party can forestall the reckoning. (Maybe.) But if he wins, the reckoning begins in a few weeks' time, as the coalitions gear up to seize power. No one is thinking about this now, but I don't see how any other outcome is possible. The Republican Party might survive a Trump candidacy; surviving a Trump presidency will be much, much harder.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Peaceful Transition of Power

Al Gore, December 13, 2000:
Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, "Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you." Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country. Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.

Over the library of one of our great law schools is inscribed the motto, "Not under man but under God and law." That's the ruling principle of American freedom, the source of our democratic liberties. I've tried to make it my guide throughout this contest, as it has guided America's deliberations of all the complex issues of the past five weeks. 

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new President-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.
Donald J. Trump, last night at the third Presidential debate:
 I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I'll look at it at the time. What I've seen, what I’ve seen, is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt and the pile on is so amazing. "The New York Times" actually wrote an article about it, but they don't even care. It is so dishonest, and they have poisoned the minds of the voters. But unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it. I think they’re going to see through it, we’ll find out on November 8th, but I think they’re going to see through it.

If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote. Millions. This isn't coming from me. This is coming from Pew report and other places. Millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote. So let me just give you one other thing. I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people. I'll tell you one other thing. She shouldn't be allowed to run. It’s -- She's guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run, and just in that respect I say it's rigged because she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.

Wallace (moderator): But, sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and no matter how hard fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying you're necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle? 

Trump: What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?
One of these figures is a patriot who puts the country first, and one is a dangerous narcissist who would be willing to create a constitutional crisis because of wounded vanity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Invisible Hand of Normative Culture

Below is an email response to a friend about the role of sexism in this particular campaign, which I expanded to address racism and homophobia as well. In the exchange, my friend wrote: "If I didn't know you better, Jeff, it would be easy to assume that your entire political philosophy revolves around marginalizing white males." Rather than rewrite this as a more general post, I'm leaving it as it is--so please forgive the moments when I allude to that discussion.  I don't think they're too hard to follow.


I have no idea why any individual dislikes Hillary, and there are a nearly infinite number of reasons to dislike her that don't have to do with sexism. This obviously has nothing to do with sexism--people generally hate politicians. But in the aggregate, Hillary is subjected to an absolute shit ton of sexism and misogyny. I'd refer you to that podcast with Rebecca Traister I sent out earlier for an incredibly trenchant discussion of the particulars for the best case I've heard made on the subject.

Speaking more generally, I'd say you're fairly close to the mark when you say "your entire political philosophy revolves around marginalizing white males." The distinction is that it's not actually marginalizing white males, it's trying to create an environment in which the white male perspective is not normative. The distinction is sort of like Truman's quote, "I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." When the normative white male world is fractured, it feels like marginalization to white males.

Culture is built on normative behavior. It's invisible to those who exist within and are reflected by cultural norms. Little boys who see depictions of men driving trucks, men playing sports, men serving as president are unaware of the cultural bias here. Little girls who want to be president will see it immediately. (Same can be said for members of different races, sexuality, and religions.) Any time a culture changes, it causes enormous pain for those who once saw it as a culture-free, "normal" situation. Some white men will naturally feel attacked when they don't see their world reflected back--when they see depictions of black or female or gay presidents or whatever.

Since that's all vague and general, I'll give you an example. Patrick and I just posted a podcast we did with women in the beer industry, and it was fascinating to hear their stories. One example from a female brewer was how she gets shit about the names she gives her beer. Male colleagues warn her that some sound "too girly." This gendered critique is something none of them have ever experienced. To say, "that beer name sounds too manly" seems absurd because we take two things as normative: 1) that a non-girly beer name is "normal," and 2) that masculine names, because they are normative, will not raise any hackles among customers the way "girly" beer names might, and 3) that it is okay to considering men who would be offended by girly names, but never consider women who might be offended by manly (or sexist) names. Those are overt and subtle examples of the way sexism plays out.

To go back to your original "marginalization" comment, the way I'd reframe this discussion is to say that I'd like to see a politics in which the default position of the white man's viewpoint as "normal" was transcended for one in which the views of women, nonwhites, nonstraights, non-Christians, etc had become normative themselves.

This has happened many times in the past. Each wave of new immigrants, from the Irish to Italians to Poles, were all considered "other"--and in many cases, shockingly, not considered "white." Eventually the protestant English culture expanded to include these new groups into what we considered "normal." Recall that it was only 56 years ago that a Catholic candidate had to declare he didn't take marching orders from the Pope to be considered legitimate as a presidential candidate. Now we have no Protestants on the Supreme Court--only Catholic and Jewish justices. This would have been unthinkable fifty years ago, and now it's normative. We've made some wonderful strides on the race and gender fronts, thanks to people like Barack and Hillary who have begun that "normalization" process, but there's obviously miles yet to go.

And it's why when, given the choice of being led by a white, heterosexual man or someone who has any other life experience, I favor the latter. We will not get to this new place if we keep relying on white men to get us there. I know many people see this as an attack on "meritocracy," or the sense that somehow men have to take a back seat. They don't. But they now feel entitled to the front seat, and being told that their status as a male makes them less desirable is an unforgivable slight.

Of course, that's exactly the slight every nonwhite nonmale lives with every day--the presumption of being less desirable. And indeed, people who feel that the meritocracy is threatened by the inclusion of nonwhite nonmales reveal their total commitment to that normative world they don't realize even exists. Because to suggest that someone who is nonwhite or nonmale couldn't possibly warrant inclusion on merit alone is the definition of bigotry. (As if this group really represents our best and brightest.)

There's a ton to be said about power, access, education, and money, and how they affect the stations of nonwhite nonmen but these are fundamentally different and less challenging questions. They let us off the hook. They say there's a reason beyond cultural norms to explain why some people are poorer or have worse jobs or less education. The possibility that it's because the culture keeps them down because they're nonwhite and nonmale is so ugly we don't want to entertain it. But that's the main driver, and has been for centuries, and the way to fix it is to put power in the hands of the very people who can begin to transform society, not leaving it in the hands of the men who once excluded nonwhite nonmen from even participating in the democracy.

So yeah, white men need to sit down and let someone else run the show for awhile. Our voices have been well represented in the halls of power and I see no danger of them falling out of proportion with our actual population any time soon.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Donald Trump Was So Much Worse in the Second Debate Than You Imagined

I was so staggered by what I saw in the second presidential debate that it's taken me nearly 24 hours to process it. Even now, I've probably failed to absorb the true meaning of what transpired. What we saw was a man on the edge of a mental health collapse, someone who could not contain his rage and who babbled incoherently when he wasn't trying to purely menace Hillary Clinton. It was a town hall-style debate, and (bizarre) form has it that the candidates are expected to wander the stage. At one point, Hillary passed close enough to Trump that I though he was going to physically attack her.

But the psychometrics of the debate were actually the secondary concern. Rather, what really stunned were the two most disqualifying statements ever made by a presidential candidate. It's important to separate these various strands out. Trump is creepy, by his own account a sexual predator, and a racist of the first order. But we've had slave-owners as presidents, war criminals, and almost certainly sexual predators. This makes them moral monsters, but it didn't threaten the republic. Trump's most shocking moments last night were not his defense of bragging about sexual assault--it was these three answers, which demonstrate how dangerously incurious and ignorant he is. He probably shouldn't even be allowed to tour the White House, much less reside there.

Let's consider these in ascending order of outrageousness. 

1. Ignorance of basic government functions
 The following exchange, which I'll edit for brevity, went like this:
Trump: Hillary Clinton has friends that want all of these provisions, including, they want the carried interest provision, which is very important to Wall Street people, but they really want the carried interest provision, which I believe Hillary is leaving, and it's very interesting why she is leaving carried interest

Clinton: Well, here we go again. I have been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years starting when I was a senator from New York. But that's not the point here.
Trump: Why didn't you do it? Why didn’t you do it?

Clinton: Because I was a senator with a Republican president.

Trump: You could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.

Clinton: You know, under our constitution, presidents have something called veto power.
The man who would become President hasn't the vaguest idea of how government functions. The exchange above would be barely forgivable if you overheard it over the Thanksgiving turkey, but it's inexcusable in a presidential nominee. Making laws in the US is a bastard because there are dozens of squeeze points from the moment a bill is introduced to committee until it survives a veto from a president. It's far harder in the US than nearly any other modern democracy, and negotiating this minefield means, at the barest minimum, understanding how it functions. This is like hiring an illiterate to be editor of the New Yorker.

2. Jailing your political opponents
The second disqualifying moment, and surely the most shocking moment in politics in my lifetime, was when Trump casually ad-libbed a threat to jail Clinton.
But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation. Because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it. And we’re gonna have a special prosecutor. When I speak, I go out and speak, the people of this country are furious. In my opinion, the people that have been long time workers at the FBI are furious. There has never been anything like this where e-mails, and you get a subpoena. You get a subpoena, and after getting the subpoena you delete 33,000 e-mails and then you acid wash them or bleach them, as you would say. Very expensive process. So we’re gonna get a special prosecutor and we’re gonna look into it. Because you know what, people have been -- their lives have been destroyed for doing 1/5 of what you have done. And it’s a disgrace, and honestly, you oughta be ashamed of yourself. 
Following the GOP convention in July, I wrote about the danger of transgressing norms in a democracy, arguing that these norms, far more than written law, are what keep a democracy intact.
No, what's remarkable is that he has shattered the norms that govern politics. Societies function not because of formal laws, but because of unwritten agreements. It's the way civilized people navigate the world. These unwritten agreements undergird government function, and critically. In 2000, Al Gore acceded to the nakedly political (and internally inconsistent) fiat by the Supreme Court that installed Bush as president. In functioning governments, the judiciary's rule is sacrosanct--if it is nothing but a rubber stamp to the party in office, then there's really no law. Once one branch defies another, things fall apart. And there's no law that says they can't defy each other. Had Gore said, "Nah, I don't accept it. Democrats, stand with me as we continue to fight this battle," things could have gone sideways very fast.
 Since that convention, the calls of "lock her up" have become a common feature of Trump rallies, and he has in the past few weeks spoken darkly of how he might contest a loss because of the "rigged" election he anticipated. This is all no doubt a function of his mental health problems; his narcissism is so profound he cannot think in terms beyond his own personal good. Even as he began crashing in the polls following the first debate and provoked dozens of elected Republicans to forsake him after the sexual assault video, he has never considered the Republican Party. Now individual Republicans are stuck with a doomed choice--stick with Trump and lose all independents and swing voters, or abandon him and lose the base. It is now hard to see how the election doesn't turn into a massive electoral debacle for the Party.

We should have no sympathy for them, though, because they courted this obviously deranged, racist incompetent because they mistakenly thought it would be good for their prospects. Trump, flailing last night, was ugly and incoherent as usual, and the reviews this morning are catastrophic. The fear that he might actually win are diminishing very fast. That should not assuage our anxiety about how fragile our democracy is, nor make us feel any more sanguine about the Republicans who nearly elevated him to the presidency (by which I mean nearly every Republican, since only a handful opposed him from the start). Things in the body politic are not healthy, and though we survived this scare, we shouldn't be feeling too relieved yet.