Moving on, or, the Republic is still here. #Election2016 Thoughts

[Edited 7:56 p.m., because some passages seem to be sending messages I never meant to send]

Yes, I’m still in a bit of a daze about the election, but these are some thoughts that I needed to get off my chest. To understand where I’m coming from ideologically, please read this and this.]

  1. Unlike in 2000 or 2004, there is zero probability of proving that Democrats lost because of voter fraud.
  2. The narrative is already being prepped that voter suppression was the cause, particularly in states like North Carolina. But, with African American voter turnout down, how do you actually prove that that had an impact? At the very least, it will take months to sort out that data.
  3. Failing that, we’re already hearing that the electoral college is the reason Hillary lost. Naturally. But, aside from the fact that I have no desire to be ruled by millions of Californians, AND that you have decades of 2-party compromise and gerrymandering to thank for a lot of these weird imbalances within states, crying foul reminds me of the outrage over Brexit: it’s not the result we wanted, so it can’t be valid (And Bush in 2000 doesn’t really count as strike 1, because Gore should have actually won Florida, that’s been proven).
  4. Speaking of Bush, another lesson learned might be that we might want to save the “cry wolf” rhetoric for someone who actually fits the bill. The over-hyped rhetoric spilled on Bush (and Romney in 2012) ironically lost some of its potency when applied to Trump.
  5. But does Trump fit the bill? I voted for Hillary, although I wasn’t happy about it, but here’s one interpretation of Trump’s win: it is a rejection of the idea that one’s personal character flaws are integrally tied to one’s ability to the job. It’s an American obsession that’s puzzled our French friends for years, and challenges a core progressive tenet that the personal is political, and vice versa. Personally, I don’t believe that conflating the two is either right or profitable, though of course they influence each other. So, although I’m a bit shocked at how the election broke down, for me Trump doesn’t *necessarily* spell the end of the world. Hey, according to Zizek, he might even help bring on the revolution (I link to this for laughs—expressing my low opinion of Zizek would cost me even more friends than this column already will).
  6. Trump is not Hitler. Yet, anyway. I’ve already seen friends who are German historians invoking the 1933 comparison, that November 9 is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, etc. Well, I’m a German historian as well, and that’s a load of crap. We are nowhere near a Nazi regime, and anyone who tells you so is lying. Now, in the next year or so we could see disturbing signs, IF Congress proposes legislation that would broaden presidential powers beyond their already absurd levels AND IF Republicans fall in line with that proposed legislation. THEN would be a time to actively worry and relentlessly agitate. But those are galactically big “ifs.” One of the great strengths of the American system is that the legislative and executive are hermetically sealed from each other. We would be in much greater danger if, as many have wanted over the years, we had a coalition-based parliamentary system as in Britain and Germany.
  7. Those “ifs” get even bigger if there’s no special prosecutor appointed against Hillary. Which, to my mind, was signaled by his rather gracious (if typically rambling) acceptance speech. And if that never materializes, I think we probably don’t have to worry about a horrible trampling of civil liberties. So, I hear you, friends, when you say, as many of you have, “how else do you evaluate a campaign run on fear and hate?” But you’re confusing campaigning with the actual process of government, and if you know the history of Nazism you know that winning an election didn’t make Hitler a dictator, the Reichstag did.
  8. But what about most of the stuff Trump is supposedly going to do? Most of it he can’t, and likely won’t. Republicans aren’t united behind him, and protest voters aren’t likely to stick with the same candidate four years later. Nor, I would submit, would the military, if ordered to break American and international law. I had an ex-Marine student tell me that if Hillary was elected there would be a problem, as the military didn’t approve of her. I told said student that the military has nothing to say on a civil election, and a more worrisome situation would be if President Trump ordered an illegal action that the military would refuse to carry out.
  9. But what about all the people who endorsed him? It is worth noting that the Trump campaign quickly and unequivocally rejected the KKK endorsement from last week (we’ll leave aside claims of deliberate Democratic targeting of fringe individuals who could showcase what all Trumpists were supposedly like). I’m going with wait-and-see. If we see a huge uptick in white supremacist attacks and assaults on non-white people, as happened after Brexit, then we’ll need to worry, and we absolutely need to take action at an individual, state, and federal level to stop that. American citizens should not walk down the streets in fear from fellow citizens, period. But so far, riots that have taken place are anti-Trump (including burning the American flag, fwiw). From my own experience, I know that people will claim your work or writing or speech if they can extract things to suit their own ends. For example, the book I contributed to last year, Seven Myths of the Crusades, is apparently fairly well liked by the alt-right and conservatives in general. There’s nothing I can do about that, and it doesn’t make alt-right folks my friends or my kind of people. But that’s a point that can’t be pushed too far, because we can just go to Trump’s own speeches for a lot of blatant and appallingly racist or incendiary statements. As Sarah Kendzior wrote in August, the list of bizarrely offensive pronouncements from the man himself can fill a book. We must be vigilant.
  10. Speaking of vigilance, a friend posted a link to a list of liberal/progressive organizations that will likely need our support in the next four years. And another friend just wrote a heartfelt, moving column on the urgency of determined, well-organized advocacy for minorities and the disadvantaged who could well be overrun by the forces unleashed by Trump’s campaign. I believe these are absolutely necessary, both as a way of not losing ground but as a way of keeping compassion at the forefront of our society. But, as I said, the apocalypse may well not materialize.
  11. In fact, my prediction is that Trump will be a very Reagan-like president. He’s not going to suddenly dive into the inner workings of policy, so the country will be run by his cabinet, Melania, Ivanka, and Pence. A lot will depend on who is in his cabinet. Giuliani is certain to be there, which is disturbing, but we’ll have to wait and see.
  12. Yes, the Supreme Court is almost certainly going to go conservative, but, I’m sorry to break it to my progressive friends, I don’t think that’s a bad thing—that’s the one front on which I’m actually quite conservative. The court needs to get back to interpreting law rather than making it. For example, gay marriage is a great cause, but Kennedy’s opinion was legal sawdust. Dredd Scott in reverse, so to speak. Maybe we’ll see a refocusing of legal energies now, and a refocusing of political energies on winning local and state contests to get laws passed.
  13. Because that’s the other story here. The Democrats have been losing seats for a while, and this election continued the rot. Focus on what matters here, folks: your message is either not being heard or found convincing.
  14. And this gets to something that no one wants to admit (except maybe The Nation magazine): Bernie Sanders was right. White voters and the white working class matter, and, well, economics matter, in a very fundamental way. This may be unwelcome news, but socio-economics trumped (no pun intended) racial identity and identity politics in general. The fact of the matter is that “white people,” who make up 77% of the country, have been told for years, by (mostly white) intellectuals, that they are congenital racists and also that “race” is a construct they’ve invented. Then, the intellectuals’ party campaigns to other ethnic groups on the basis of racial identity politics. Without thinking that maybe, just maybe, they should pay attention to the (mostly economic) concerns of that voting group whom they’ve thereby (re-)constituted as real—the white voters. Sanders was right. This needs to be masticated and slowly digested…
  15. And the story of these white voters is much more complex than my progressive friends would believe. There is a lot of analysis out there to show that people supported Trump for a number of reasons. Now, racism and misogyny played a part, and in some areas a big part. Racists seem to be scattered across the entire geographic reach of Trump supporters; Michael Kazin’s FA article from today explores this very well. But I am convinced that this was not nearly as large a part as many people believe, and fixating on this as a THE sole cause of Trump’s victory is not only dangerously simplistic but also guaranteed to secure more electoral defeats in the future, because it does not fully understand the problem (my experience in studying the German Wehrmacht in World War 2 is what makes me cautious here). And please, let’s just bury that ridiculous, childish charge that you couldn’t vote against Hillary and not be a misogynist, or criticize her without using a double-standard. Rather, people rejected Hillary because they didn’t believe she was competent, honest, or likely to bring significant change, just more of the same (Personally, I think she is competent, more honest than Trump, and would have been more of the same economics, which wasn’t working well). And, we have had warnings that the “smug white liberal” stereotype was going to bite Democrats sooner or later, and motivate people to vote. Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” talk stung just as much as Trump’s “nasty woman” talk did.
  16. So, no, Hillary’s defeat doesn’t “prove” that we are misogynist at heart. There will be other women candidates in the future, including some who win. This was an establishment-anti-establishment election. Because, another thing I hate to say, but it’s true: it wasn’t “just emails.” It’s what the emails demonstrated to a huge number of voters who had basically been ignored. Sanders was robbed of the nomination. The Clinton Foundation was directly connected to influence peddling while she was SoS. And let’s face it, there’s no positive way to spin Bill’s visit to the AG the day before it’s announced that Hillary wouldn’t be indicted. Small potatoes compared to pending anti-Trump litigation and the Trump Foundation, one could argue, but this is actually the narrative that hurt Hillary more than anything (and just about kept me from voting for her). The FBI flap from last week certainly didn’t help, but as James Carville said last night, it likely didn’t change anyone’s minds. It just rejuvenated the Republicans. Polling data indicate that 85% of voters had decided whom to vote for before last week.
  17. Exit polls are interesting. Trump got more support from white women than Hillary did, ditto white men. Trump, it seems, even got 1/3 of the Latino vote, which is something Democrats are really going to have to ponder. And although Hillary got about 88% of the African American vote, the fact is voter turnout was down, with or without fewer polling stations. As for the other factors at play there, I would suggest reading some Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell and pondering whether those authors are right.
  18. As for age groups, I’ve seen friends posting maps of how, if only we had 18-40 year olds vote, we would be living in a Hillary presidency. Well yes that’s true. But that means little, overall. Young people don’t always make the right decisions, the 1960s to the contrary. Nor is this supposed young majority solid by any means. 56% of 18-24 yr olds, and 53% of 25-29 yr olds, voted for Hillary. But in my generation, the late GenX-ers and young Millenials, it was 51%-40%. I would guess partly because we actually remember a time before the Clintons burst on to the national scene, and most crucially because we remember the 1990s. And among white voters, that crucial demographic, the numbers actually don’t support my friends’ story: Trump outscored Hillary in white 18-29 yr olds, 48% to 43%, and among white 30-44 yr olds it was even worse, 55% to 37%. These two age groups accounted for about 29% of last night’s vote. Add in white 45-65 age group, which was 30%, and you have the explanation for the higher medium income of Trump supporters, and a good explanation of why Trump won.
  19. The future is not female. Nor is it male. Or whatever part of the scale on which you land. The future is for people of good will and generous hearts. That means everyone. My wife, one of the most amazing people I know, put it this way: “Hillary’s words give me the only path that I can see forward for the next four years: ‘If you see bigotry, you should oppose it. If you see violence, you should condemn it. If you see a bully, you should stand up to him.’” Amen. Focus on your own behavior, your own ethics, your own community, your own state, and devote your time to doing good.
  20. Finally, for all of you white people who’ve been doing this, just stop about moving to Canada. Aside from being insulting and derogatory to Canada and Canadians, it marks you as the worst kind of progressive sell-out. Remember in the ‘60s, when conservatives said that if you didn’t like it, move to Canada? Yeah. So much for the spirit of the ‘60s. If our African American brothers and sisters are talking about leaving, that’s a signal that we need to sit up and work on getting society back to where minorities aren’t afraid to walk the streets. Not carry on about how we can’t wait to get some of that socialized medicine, while sipping Tim Hortons and nibbling on timbits.

And here’s the good news. The American Republic is still standing. It isn’t going anywhere. And everyone, Republicans and Democrats, has a stake in it. So get to work.

 

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