Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Some Afterthoughts

Postmortems are inevitable after an election. The shocking result of this race brought out more should-haves than most: the Clinton campaign didn’t devote enough time and energy to the white working class, especially in the Midwest; the Comey letter was a killer; etc. I’d like to add my two cents — no, three cents.

One: Why did 43 percent of eligible voters stay home? The outcome was decided by only a little more than half of the electorate. Since voting in the U.S. is voluntary, there are always stay-at-homes. But 43 percent is staggering. Some eligible voters were probably turned off by a seemingly endless and brutal campaign. Others didn’t care for either candidate. Then there are the endless efforts by Republicans to reduce the turnout by fraudulently claiming that they’re trying to combat fraud at the ballot box. Not coincidentally, their targets were predominantly Democratic-leaning, mostly minority, areas.

The U.S. ranks 31st of the 35 countries in the Organization for Cooperation and Development, most of whose members are developed democracies. Belgium ranks first, with 87.2 percent having voted in its 2014 election. It is one of several countries in which voting is mandatory. It wouldn’t be easy getting mandatory voting through Congress, but there’s no good reason we can’t change elections to the weekend, as is the case in many countries. This won’t get us up to Belgium’s standard, but making voting more convenient will certainly increase turnout.

Two: Why Trump? Whatever shortcomings there were in the Clinton campaign, they don’t compare with Donald Trump’s outrageous campaign. Not since George Wallace has there been a candidate more blatantly racist, sexist and xenophobic. He went from lie to lie, insult to insult, and outrageous promise to outrageous promise. Yet he garnered some 60 million votes.

Yes, there were a “basket of deplorables” supporting him: white nationalists, Nazis, anti-immigrationists. But the vast majority were expressing discontent with “the system.” The improving economy and decreasing unemployment somehow didn’t reach them. The brash “outsider,” Donald J. Trump, would turn it all around. They felt so strongly about it that they were willing to overlook his sickening bigoted behavior. So what if Hillary Clinton made more sense and had the qualifications to be president? She was part of the “establishment” — political jargon that has no meaning, but which has been hammered home to the populace as a pejorative — and consequently she is for the elites and not for “us.” And no doubt some men were simply not ready to vote for a woman to be president.

Three: Democracies are defined by the proud standard, one person, one vote. But the Electoral College undermines that standard; it should be laid to rest. Twice in 16 years, and five times since the 1830s, a candidate lost the election despite having a majority of the vote. It’s time we told our Founding Fathers that we have more faith in the people than they did when they conceived that elitist idea.

Would I still feel as I do if a Republican candidate got more votes than the Democrat but lost due to the Electoral College? Yes, I would. As long as the popular vote is fair I’m bound to accept the result. Would Donald Trump feel the same way? Hmmm.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Shapes of Discontent


There’s a word for the ages. Who has never been discontented at one time or another? In fact, it’s what makes the world go ’round. If not for discontent there’d be inventions, no explorations, no revolutions — in short, no progress. And election time is a bellwether for discontent.

Throughout this campaign for president we’ve heard that word a thousand times: The Sanders supporters are discontented; the Trump supporters are discontented. True enough, but the reasons for discontent go from A to Z. There are laudable reasons to be discontented: unemployment, low wages, housing shortages, racist oppression, inadequate health care, etc. And there are bad reasons — which include hatred and fear: racism and xenophobia to name two.

Based upon Trump’s campaign — which was a mishmash of populist proposals as well as insults, bigotry, and obviously crazy ideas like building that wall on the Mexican border — I must conclude that those who voted for him either overlooked or agreed with his outrageous statements and behavior. That is very troubling.

It is one thing to be understandably discontented, but quite another to be indifferent to or in favor of hateful ideas that create division, not unity; that augur chaos, not progress.

We will be making a big mistake if we overlook the evil aspects of Trump’s drumbeats, which made hatred an integral part of his campaign. We must take seriously the embrace of Trump by David Duke and his racist ilk, by the so-called “alt-right,” a neo-fascist crop from which Trump appointed Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, to be his campaign manager.

I could not agree more with the following excerpt from a post-election statement issued by Elizabeth Warren:

“The Democrats’ first job in this new era: We will stand up to bigotry. There is no compromise here. In all its forms, we will fight back against attacks on Latinos, African Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants, disabled Americans – on anyone. Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever.”

We are stuck with four years of Donald J. Trump as president. How those years play out must not be left to him. There's no question in my mind that there will be much disillusionment among many, if not most, of those who voted for him. It's up to all of us to channel that discontent and move the country forward, despite the man with the funny hair.