Random Reflections on Our Elections

If you’re looking for a coherent narrative to explain what happened on Tuesday, I got nuthin’. The best I can do is refer you to the Robert Reich essay I posted about yesterday. Beyond that, I’ll just share a series of tentative reflections and observations that are disconnected and, at times, contradictory. After being wrong so often throughout this election cycle, I’m reluctant to opine at all. In reality, my objective here is not so much to create some insight for you as it is to provide a bit of catharsis for me.

  • What happened on Tuesday was a tragic event for this country, more tragic in some ways, than Pearl Harbor or 9/11. The election obviously didn’t entail an immediate loss of American lives as those two events did but its long term implications could prove to be far more devastating. One thing is certain: Neither Pearl Harbor nor 9/11 threatened our most cherished civic values or the American way of life. The same cannot be said for a Trump presidency combined with a unified and radicalized GOP Congress. On social media the morning after the election, one well-meaning commentator after another posted a variation of the message, “We’ll get through this.” Perhaps we will but saying so right now is pure assertion. There’s no reason to believe that a worst case scenario is not possible while there are plenty of indications that one is, in fact, quite likely. (The best early indicator of how much danger we’re in will be whether or not the GOP kills the filibuster in January. If they do—and I believe they will—then we are well and truly fucked.)
  • In the past, I’ve criticized the Democrats for their lack of resolve in opposing the Republican agenda. The horrifying reality we now face is that the GOP controls all three branches of government and there is no way to for Democrats to put the brakes on their opponents’ agenda no matter how much resolve they have. And, by the way, this is happening precisely as Republicans are radicalizing themselves to an unprecedented degree. This is not your father’s GOP.
  • Hillary Clinton proved to be a flawed candidate in precisely the ways that Bernie Sanders and his supporters predicted she would during the primaries. It was obvious from the beginning that voters of both parties were hungry for change a candidate and that Clinton could never be that candidate. (The GOP faced a similar dynamic in its own contest but no single establishment candidate had been able to preempt the field the way Clinton had on the Democratic side.) It was also obvious from the beginning that Clinton’s 20 years of controversy and distrust were going to be difficult to overcome. (Yes, almost all of Clinton’s baggage was the result of GOP propaganda but that’s irrelevant in terms of the electoral calculus.) Progressives’ analysis of today’s electoral environment and the dangers of embracing corporatism were exactly correct, something the Democratic Party must acknowledge and internalize if it’s going to ever dig out of the enormous hole in which it finds itself.
  • Bernie Sanders was my choice during the primaries and I sincerely believe that he could have and would have won the election. But I have no illusions about the fact that he would have had his own challenges as a candidate and a Sanders nomination would have posed its own risks for the party. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine on the phone yesterday, he made the observation that Joe Biden could have won this election in a landslide, undermining Trump in his core constituency of blue collar white workers. I think that’s exactly correct.
  • Representative Keith Ellison has declared himself as a candidate to head of the DNC. If there’s a single thing the party can do to set itself on a path to recovery, electing him to that position is probably it. He saw Trump coming two years ago when no one else took the idea seriously (see below). His vision and commitment to the party’s historically progressive ideals is precisely what the Democratic Party needs today if it hopes to move forward.
  • Election night made it blindingly obvious that our entire political commentariat has nothing to offer and has been a complete waste of my time. They create lots of heat but very little light, lots of friction but almost no real insight. Reading or listening to them doesn’t make us smarter, it merely makes us more stressed. Five random people out of the phone book would be more insightful about the real world that a typical Sunday morning panel on any of the network news shows. (There will never be a better example of the commentariat’s cluelessness than this panel discussion from This Week with George Stephanopoulos in 2015 that featured an amazingly prescient Congressman Keith Ellison being ridiculed for his suggestion that Donald Trump could become the Republican nominee.) It would be unrealistic to think I’ll be able to avoid commentary entirely but I can promise you that I’ll be make a concerted effort to spend the majority of my time on news sources that reflect Sergeant Joe Friday’s ethos: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
  • Our obsession with polls and the horse race aspect of elections has certainly been discussed before but its damage to our political dialog has reached alarming levels and need to be curtailed. My own favored solution is pretty simple (though I freely acknowledge that it’s drastic): I think we need to dramatically regulate or even eliminate pre-election polls. Obviously, this would be a difficult approach to implement (though I don’t think it’s impossible) but I don’t want to get into that discussion right now. Instead, I’m imagining what campaigns and campaign coverage would be like if day by day polling results weren’t distracting us. (How many times did you click on FiveThirtyEight.com over the last sixty days or so? I’d be embarrassed to tell you how often I did.)
  • Is there any dount at all that the GOP’s deliberate voter supression strategies tipped this election? Of course, Trump was correct that this election was rigged. He and his party were the ones doing the rigging. (This isn’t speculative. They bragged about it in North Carolina, for example.) Also,consider the fact that, since the Clinton administration, two out of five presidential elections (i.e. 40 percent!) have seen the winner of the popular vote lose the election. And in both cases it was the Democrat. That’s not a coincidence.
  • It’s fascinating to consider that Clinton’s campaign might take on the dimensions of a classic Greek tragedy if we learn that she was kept out of office because her husband’s policies disenfranchised voters who could have saved her candidacy.
  • We must never forget this statement by CBS executive chairmen Les Moonves concerning the massive uncritical media coverage his company gave to Donald Trump during the primaries: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” I have no doubt that our corporate Masters of the Universe make statements like this among themselves all the time but it’s shocking that Moonves felt he could say something like that out loud in public. It will always remain one of the most shameful moments of the entire election, a stark and irrefutable illustration of how thoroughly broken our system has become.

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