A Legitimately Elected President

Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Michele Obama, and Jill Biden among dignitaries on inauguration dias.
The conclusion of the Mueller investigation presents leading Democrats with a fateful choice: whether to continue digging into the past in hopes of hobbling or delegitimizing Trump’s presidency, or to concentrate on the present and the future, when all their ingenuity will be needed to beat Trump and deny him a second term.

Though the latter would be better for the party and nation, turning away from the special investigation requires fortitude.  The Mueller report hasn’t been made public, and the pundits and pols who are against Trump aren’t satisfied with Attorney General William Barr’s disclosures and conclusions.  The Democrats want more information.  This desire, as reasonable as it is, distinguishes them from the mass of American citizens who are really tired of this subtle affair and who are dying for evidence that the government is still capable of . . . . GOVERNING.

If the Democrats want someone new in the White House in 2020, they need to persuade voters that their nominee and their vision will be better for the nation than what Trump offers.  Yet they are so far from presenting this impression that one can scarcely imagine their unifying around a tenable candidate and winning.

Democrats are procrastinating.  They are shirking the hard work that follows from acknowledging that Trump won office legitimately.  He enjoys an authority that is foolish to argue with: In 2016, he understood the rules of the electoral game and exploited them more effectively than did Hillary Clinton.  He won the electoral votes he needed by persuading enough citizens to go to the polls and vote for him in key states.  Two years later, most of the president’s opponents have yet to reckon with this reality, even though any political strategy leading to Trump’s defeat must be designed with this geography in mind.  To defeat Trump, Democrats must peel away moderate and independent voters in states fed up with stale Democratic memes.  The Dems face an uphill battle, even with teamwork, ideological innovation, and the right nominee.

And where is Democratic rage when it comes to the real bogeyman, Russia–the real villain who prejudiced American voters against Hillary by waging a campaign of misinformation, who smeared her and deployed assets to promote Trump, a candidate who, for various reasons, Russia wanted instead?  What is Congress doing to ensure that foreign nations don’t infiltrate and corrupt American political discourse in the future?

While real danger looms over American democracy, one wonders whether the Democrats will ever look up from their game of Clue and do something.

Image: Screen shot of leading Democrats attending Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
© 2019 American Inguiry

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Lori v. Goliath

Black and white photo of City Hall and the Daley Plaza.

CHICAGO.  Yesterday’s mayoral election put Lori Lightfoot in position to prevail against the entrenched interests that have long determined how things go down in Chicago, interests that in the next phase of the mayoral race will likely back her remaining opponent, Cook County Board president, Toni Preckwinkle.

In yesterday’s election, Lightfoot emerged as the top vote getter, far eclipsing many other of the fourteen candidates who received more media attention and were thought more likely to win.  Lightfoot received some 90,000 votes (17.48 percent), far outstripping Bill Daley (whom the Chicago Tribune endorsed) and state comptroller Susana Mendoza, whose relationship with the corrupt Ed Burke, 14th ward alderman, is such that her wedding was held in his house.  Daley and Mendoza received roughly 76,000 (14.78%) and 47,000 votes (9.09%), respectively.  The second-highest vote getter was Preckwinkle, who received some 82,000 votes (just under 16%), out of a total of 515,771 votes cast.  (Totals are current as of this writing, with the official count still ongoing.)

Because no candidate received a majority, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle will face one another in a run-off election on April 2.

Ironically, Lori and Toni have some similarities. Both are brainy and have roots in Hyde Park. Both have little Afro halos of hair. Both are competent, ambitious, and palpably serious. Lightfoot, in particular, rarely smiles. Both were visibly delighted last night, however, emerging victorious from one of the most unpredictable contests Chicagoans have seen.

Now their contest will get more interesting.  The votes scattered across yesterday’s large field will now be gathered behind the two remaining candidates.  Today will see the Lightfoot and Preckwinkle camps bidding to secure endorsements and support from the candidates who lost.  Who will Willie Wilson, Amara Enyia, Bill Daley, Garry McCarthy, and Gery Chico, throw their weight behind?  How many anti-establishment forces will mobilize behind Lori, and will they end up prevailing over the old interests (including journalistic ones) that favor the incumbents and the status quo?

Toni Preckwinkle was all smiles last night, knowing that party regulars will rally around her.  She will get the money that would have gone to Vallas, Chico, and Daley.  She will get support from all the predictable places: the unions, old party hacks like Berrios and Dorothy Brown, the developers who like aldermanic privilege and want the basics of city government to remain what they are.  Preckwinkle opened her campaign against Lightfoot last night, shrewdly timing her “victory speech” to correspond with the 10 o’clock news.  She received several minutes of free political advertising, broadcast live.  She will position herself as the more experienced executive, with a clearer economic vision and a more palatable tonic for the fiscal ills that have poisoned Chicago.

Lori Lightfoot will run on a platform of fairness, public safety, and equal investment.  She is explicitly anti-establishment but not necessarily “progressive,” as dismantling “the Chicago way” will entail taking on the public unions.  She will get the vote of the poor and the ordinary, the dispossessed and struggling folk of the city.  She will get a lot of the liberal vote–and the vote of the cynics and those seasoned enough to see through Preckwinkle.  She will get the “roulette” voters, who after a lifetime of being betrayed by Chicago’s power elite, will look at little Lori Lightfoot and say “What the hell.”

Image: 1981 view of Chicago’s City Hall and Daley Plaza,
 from this source.

Ralph Northam’s Virginia

The national flap over Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook page demonstrates how the affairs of states and localities are subject to external pressures that they were more free from formerly.  There is something to be said for the “nationalization” of political sentiment, in that it tends to make the states more like one another–something that the United States resists but needs.  Yet citizens can only be citizens of a particular place, and they above all others are entitled to decide who their leaders should be.  That Democrats outside Virginia have opined so freely on how Ralph Northam should behave at this point betrays an uneasiness about self-government that should be anathema in US society.

It’s doubly ironic that the Democratic Party, which is banking on its “zero tolerance” policy to distinguish it from the dog-whistle variety of Republicanism, should have gone so quickly for the bait that a right-wing website, Big League Politics, dangled.  According to Mother Jones, Big League Politics is “a young media outlet best known for defending white nationalists.”  The site is run by disgruntled Breitbart News staffers who view Breitbart as having gotten “too moderate.”  BLP represents an element of Virginia’s electorate that lost out when Republican Ed Gillespie beat their favored candidate, Trump enthusiast Corey Stewart, in the gubernatorial primary.

In publicizing an old photo from Northam’s yearbook, BLP  bet that Democrats would immediately throw Northam under the bus, no questions asked.  How right they were.  Many influential Democrats, responding almost viscerally to the “evidence” of a single old photograph (in which the governor is not identifiable), immediately called on Northam to resign.  Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, DNC chair Tom Perez, and presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Julian Castro all fell into the trap, needing no further information to declare Northam suddenly and completely disqualified.  The absolutism and self-righteousness of “zero tolerance” bid fair to destroy Northam, who gained office with the support of the more moderate and forward-looking part of Virginia’s population.

The Democratic vote in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial primary by county. Northam (blue) v. Perriello (green). Source: Wikipedia.

Though a distant observer, I followed Northam’s run for governor rather closely.  A relative who lives in Virginia decided early on to canvass for Northam, as a way to work for positive politics in the wake of Trump’s election.  Through her letters, I followed Northam through his primary battle with the Sanders-backed insurgent Tom Perriello, whose effort was seen as a bellwether for progressive Democrats nationally.  Despite Perriello’s losing, The Nation declared that Northam had “moved left in the course of the primary and is likely the most progressive Democratic nominee in the history of Virginia.”  Northam repeatedly denounced President Trump on the campaign trail, declaring that “we’re not letting him bring his hate into Virginia.”

The Republican vote in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial primary by county. Gillespie the victor (red) v. Stewart (gold).  Source: Wikipedia.

Was it, in fact, because of Trump that Virginia’s own home-grown strain of hate flared so dangerously in the middle of the gubernatorial campaign?  In the Republican primary, George Zornick writes, “Corey Stewart ran an offensive campaign based heavily on Confederate nostalgia and almost knocked off former RNC chair Ed Gillespie for the nomination.”  Gillespie staved off Stewart by less than 45,000 votes.  Various publications report that Stewart’s campaign consultants, Reilly O’Neal and Noel Fritsch, became the owners of BLP soon afterward.   Both men had also worked on Alabaman Roy Moore‘s US Senate campaign, which failed amid allegations that he stalked and molested underage girls.  Fritsch and O’Neal are wide-ranging political troublemakers, who help the alt-right by casting aspersions on liberals and other proponents of racial and sexual equality.

The dangers of inflaming such divisions became clear at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, when a mêlée broke out between white-supremacist groups and their opponents, culminating in an act of domestic terrorism in which at least forty people were wounded and one person was killed.  (See this Wikipedia page for details and videos of the event.)  The assembly of so many extremists, armed and rallying around a symbol of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, left many Virginians (and the nation) painfully uneasy about the extent of militant intolerance in the state.  Where was Virginia heading?

The vote in Virginia’s November 2017 gubernatorial election by county. Northam (the victor) in blue; Gillespie in red. Source: Wikipedia.

Northam’s solid victory in November 2017 represented a general rebuke to factions stoking divisiveness and hatred.  On Election Day, Democrats and others opposed to Trump and alt-right extremism went to the polls in remarkably high numbers.  Turnout was the highest it had been in twenty years.  Nonetheless, the campaign exposed a thick sediment of bitterness over race and emancipation that had lain unresolved for many years, arguably since the time of the Civil War.

As Donald Trump joined with leading Democrats in condemning Northam as a racist, the alt-right nearly succeeded in making Northam indistinguishable from the very extremists he battled and triumphed over in the campaign.  When politics makes such strange bedfellows, be wary indeed.

From a Person without a Party

Dawn under a cloud in Minneapolis.

I find it lonely, not being able to identify with either the Republican or the Democratic party.  I regret that they have left me behind.  Each is hurtling forward along on an increasingly weird and alienating rhetorical arc, becoming ever more oriented toward the constituencies who still find the establishment line urgent and interesting.  Both parties are curiously bereft of talent, of true leadership and direction.  I see no one I want to follow.  For the first time in my life, I feel that there is no one out ahead of the rest of us, articulating what we need to be doing, where we should be going now.  I look at the strange pass that the two parties have come to, at their increasingly desperate struggle for supremacy, and I wonder how much more time will pass before they collapse and fail.

What do I mean by a “weird and alienating rhetorical arc”?  In the case of the Republicans, I mean an opportunism and a style of revenge politics that is ignoble, unchristian, unpatriotic, and downright damaging to the nation.  Trump is too small a man to leave the sound policies of his predecessor in place, while Republicans in Congress, determined to destroy the Affordable Care Act, have shown a callousness toward ordinary citizens that few initiatives in American politics can match.  (Remember the heat Reagan took when he went after school lunches?)  In Alabama, voters for Roy Moore showed the same willingness to throw moral scruples aside for the sake of partisan advantage.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, doubling down on the very points that doomed them in 2016, are blazing a weirdly alienating arc of their own.  Democratic-leaning commentators are back to reading poll-numbers like tea-leaves.  They have not gone out to get to know the “fly-over zone.”  They are back in their privileged haunts, pontificating.  In the face of Trump’s victory, and given the many heinous aspects of the President’s behavior, the Democrats have found an excuse to ignore the legitimate frustrations of Trump’s voter base.  That Democrats need to win over some of these voters hasn’t kept them from behaving like patronizing snobs.  Democrats who believe they can write off the white vote, or the rural vote, or the vote of people who are working-class and uneducated, are as callous and provincial as their Republican foes.  Circumstances have thrust Democrats in a defensive posture.  If they can’t break out of it and review what America needs, they’ll be in big trouble in 2018.

Personally, I expect to remain ambivalent about the parties until I hear someone articulating a politics that is plausible, efficient, and broadly humane.  I want to hear from candidates whose interests are truly national: who have fresh ideas about wringing prosperity from our own resources while mitigating the degradation of the natural world.  I want to hear from candidates who want to beautify and uplift local economies, who care about bridging the urban-rural divide.  I want to hear from candidates about bringing immigrants out of the shadows, giving every inhabitant of our country a legal status, and controlling our borders in ways that are smart and modern.  I want to hear from candidates with new ideas about public schooling and work, who believe the US can become a new kind of “maker nation,” one whose future is more creditable and peaceable than its past.  Bring on a capacious and inclusive vision, and save us from the desiccated remnants ruling the republic now.

A Stress Test for the Constitution

Soon after the election, a friend envisioned Trump’s presidency as “a stress test for the Constitution and all of its institutions.”  This is proving to be the case, for reasons that are both collective and peculiar to Trump and his administration.

Collectively, his presidency has halted, and aspires to reverse, the direction American government took under President Obama, a direction decried in some quarters but one charted in careful accordance with the law.  The Affordable Care Act, which some Republicans so revile, was nonetheless “ratified” after a protracted but open struggle by both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.

In other areas, President Obama’s use of executive power, though politically unwise, was legally defensible.  His approach to reducing carbon emissions, so hated and feared in some quarters, took shape only after a long period of public comment and after his legal team was certain the new guidelines could withstand a Constitutional challenge.  President Obama exercised discretion in whether and how to enforce immigration laws, but, as Richard Lugar, a former US Senator from Indiana, has observed, every president has done the same, since all have lacked the means to see that the laws on the books were fully enforced.  Lugar, a moderate who was one of Capitol Hill’s most influential Republicans before a member of his own party “primaried” him from the right, driving him from office, wrote in the New York Times that, given the howls of outrage over Obama’s immigration policies, one would never guess that his administration had “vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush,” just as Bush’s had vastly exceeded those of President Clinton.

President Obama sought to move the nation and the Democratic Party in a new direction, but he was not a party leader, and he did not wait for a bipartisan consensus that he knew was never coming to emerge.  In his second term, he focused increasingly on what he could do without Congress–but to the extent that his victories lacked Congress’s active assent they were unsustainable.  They were simply too far ahead of the collective political will.  In the meantime, Obama’s dogged pursuit of his own grand vision hid the senescence of the Democratic Party.

As the first person of color to occupy the presidency, Barack Obama symbolized the America we are fitfully becoming–a nation that is truly inclusive and color-blind.  As a symbol and agent of that change, he aroused a lot of resentment and fear, emotions that candidate Trump and some other Republicans inflamed to their benefit in the campaign.

The stunning political triumph of a charismatic outsider, the shattered GOP’s success at hanging on to power, and the dangerous eclipse of the Democratic party: these are the three huge interrelated events whose consequences are shaking the political community, from the nation’s most powerful institutions to its polarized citizenry, united only in its demand for responsible governance.

Image: “Save yourself”
@2017 Susan Barsy

The Face of Power

Western home in junk-strewn landscape.
Election 2016 delivered a shock to conventional wisdom, to liberals and conservatives, to the political establishment, and to people like me who write or talk about politics professionally.  Even though I correctly predicted a Trump victory, still when it came to pass, I was shocked.  Now, when I wake up in the morning, I sometimes feel a sense of foreboding.  At other times, though, I feel guardedly optimistic—about the body politic, if not about Trump.

Because conventional wisdom, the professional politicians, and the party establishment, all needed to be shocked.  For at least five years, I have been writing about the stale condition of the parties and their ideologies.  I have been writing about how the parties need to reorganize themselves around new ideas, about how the nation needs to get organized around a new constellation of goals appropriate for our times.  Nothing less than the victory of a Donald Trump was required to shake the political parties and all their personnel out of a state of perpetual complacency.  Both GOP and Democratic leaders must wake up: they are under much greater pressure now to use what power they have responsibly and constructively.  If they do not deliver better government for the electorate, their parties are going down.  I firmly expect that the next two to four years will be a time of constructive ideological ferment in the United States–and that politics will attract a new generation of leaders committed to reform and a renewed focus on commonly shared ideals, like a generally enjoyed prosperity and peace.

Like most intellectuals, I enjoy a life of privilege.  I live in a city.  My circumstances set me off from the rest of the population who are not part of ‘the creative economy,’ a term used to describe the formation of elites who make things and make things happen–who enjoy a sense of influence and autonomy.  This election has rudely reminded all of us to broaden our vision and consider what is really happening in our country: how a system that used to work for most Americans, providing sound education, civic consciousness, and secure livelihoods for breadwinners–has been gradually slipping away.  Great swathes of the nation are cut off from the expansive prospects that cosmopolitan Americans find so exciting.  The election has forcefully re-directed our gaze–back to the ordinary places where democratic power dwells.

Donald Trump’s Win

A man making a flag, Bain collection (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Donald Trump’s win was largely strategic.  He understood what states and voters he needed for a victory and he found them.  The mainstream media (which now has an acronym, MSM), though devoting an inordinate amount of air-time and column-inches to Trump’s campaign, seldom looked beyond its trashy surface to report on its nuts and bolts.  As a result, the public was largely unprepared when Trump pulled off a solid victory, securing well over the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next president of the United States.

An exceptional report that Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg prepared for Bloomberg Businessweek, however, documented the approach the Trump campaign employed.  Trump spent little on political ads and claimed not to believe in polling.  Instead he poured money ($100,000 a week) into private surveys and used the data to run election simulations.  In mid-October, though running badly behind, Trump’s team was focused on “13.5 million voters in 16 battleground states whom it consider[ed] persuadable.”  The campaign had prioritized the states—Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia—that were essential to Trump’s winning.  In addition, the campaign orchestrated its messaging to demoralize three key groups of likely Clinton voters—idealistic young people, African-Americans, and women—in hopes that they would not vote at all.

In the weeks before the election, the electoral map at Real Clear Politics showed a tightening race, with more and more states in the toss-up column.  On the eve of the election, Secretary Clinton’s lead consisted of just over 200 electoral votes that were considered certain; 170 electoral votes were in the toss-up column.  In the campaign’s final days, Trump visited New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada, realizing that wins in these states could compensate for losses in others.

On Election Night, the vote came in along the lines that the Trump campaign envisioned.  He secured victories in all the swing states he had prioritized, also winning in Michigan and Wisconsin, which Democrats had carried in every presidential election since 1992.  The final vote counts are still being arrived at, but recent reports state that Trump’s edge over Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin totaled just 112,000, a tiny number in an election in which an estimated 132 million votes were cast.

Secretary Clinton won the popular vote, but her support was not widely enough distributed.  While her campaign was wildly successful in some populous states, notably California (where millions more votes have yet to be counted), her support was soft throughout most of the country.  The strength of Clinton’s campaign was symbolic messaging: its tone was confident, inclusive, and comforting.  Yet the very constituencies her campaign was designed to appeal to didn’t turn out for her in sufficient numbers.  The Democratic vote in many urban areas declined, and African-Americans who turned out for Obama didn’t turn out for Clinton.  CNN has concluded that “While she won the key demographic groups her campaign targeted, she underperformed President Obama across the board, even among women, according to exit poll data.”

One wonders what the energetic crowds who are protesting the outcome of the election were doing during the seemingly interminable campaign: did they vote and campaign for Clinton?  What it will take for the Democratic establishment to shake off its complacency and recognize that, aside from President Obama’s star power, its operations have not been working so well?  After an election in which Donald Trump won 37 percent of the Latino vote, will Democrats come to grips with the fact that banking on identity politics is unwise?  Since the year 2000, the Democrats have suffered defeat in three presidential elections (Gore, Kerry, and now Clinton), while the GOP, though perennially wracked by internal divisions, has gradually increased its hold on state and federal power.

Image: “Flag making—man cutting out stars with machine”
from this source

Day 7: Yes, It’s Scary, But Is It a Critical Election?

stereopticon image of a crowd gathered around a train to hear Roosevelt speak.

For all its drama and dismay, the election of 2016 might not end up being a ‘critical election,’ in the sense of marking a permanent change in the makeup or ideology of one or both of the parties. Whether the election ends up producing such change depends on which presidential candidate wins and how his or her party establishment behaves afterward.

If Hillary Clinton wins, her victory will mainly mark a continuation of the Obama years and of the centrism that has prevailed among Democrats since Bill Clinton’s presidency.  Secretary Clinton adopted a progressive platform at the time of the 2016 Democratic convention to placate Sanders’ supporters, but the Democratic establishment in general has given few signs of having adopted a dramatically new constellation of ideas. Instead, the tenor of the campaign on the Democratic side has been defensive, couched in terms of defending past accomplishments and promising to advance along the established lines.

If Donald Trump wins, it remains to be seen whether his victory translates into a broad and permanent change in the philosophy and direction of the GOP.  There is no question of 2016 being a critical election if Trump succeeds in getting his party to move in the direction he is charting: if he succeeds in associating Republicanism with a more inward-looking, pro-citizen, and anti-global ideology. In order to do this, Republicans would have to renounce their history of support for big business, which is now typically a transnational enterprise. Republicans would have to take the lead on reforming trade, recasting themselves as protectors of American workers and American industry. Hawkish Republicans would have to get in touch with their isolationist side. And the issues dear to the hearts of social conservatives would likely take a back seat to those having to do with the economy.

In most cases, a critical election is the culmination of broad and concerted changes already occurring within a political party, often in connection with the emergence of a charismatic standard-bearer. In 1860, for instance, Abraham Lincoln’s election was merely the capstone of a decades-long effort to incorporate anti-slavery into a broader platform of economic empowerment that would appeal to mainstream voters (who were white).  In 1828, Andrew Jackson’s election signaled the emergence of a new kind of party that combined a desire for retrenchment and austerity with an unwavering democratic appeal.  And, in 1980, Ronald Reagan’s election signified the arrival of a new kind of economic philosophy (henceforth known as ‘Reaganomics’), along with a newly potent faith-based conservatism intent on bucking certain types of modern secular change.

Trump is an outsider whose ideas the GOP mainstream has not embraced.  If he is elected, it’s unclear whether, or to what extent, other leading Republicans would feel pressed take up his agenda and ideas. Republicans in the House and Senate could act in contradistinction to him.  Were this to happen, the GOP as a whole would continue in a state of fragmentation and confusion.  Governmental paralysis, rather than lasting partisan transformation, would be the result.

Image: From this source

Political change

Walk the walk (DNC 2016) screenshot by Susan Barsy
A return to ‘normalcy’ after the US presidential election is unlikely.  Many of us are tired of the campaign, tired of the endless opining, poll numbers, and tweets.  Tired of the candidates and the unpleasant prospects they embody, we long for the closure of election day.  Election Day!  What then?

Underneath the candidates is an undeniable weakness in both parties.  Over a hundred GOP leaders have said they will not support their party’s nominee.  Yet Mr Trump was chosen through a much-contested primary, in which voters failed to coalesce around any of Mr Trump’s numerous challengers, rejecting both moderates and conservatives.  Moreover, disgruntled Republicans subsequently failed to rally around an alternative, despite a protracted explicit attempt that Mitt Romney led.  Leading Republicans know what they’re against.  But what are they for?

The Republican problem isn’t a lack of talent.  It is a lack of a unifying, majoritarian ideology.  This is why disaffected Republicans have proved unable to bolt (as they did, for example, in 1912, when the Progressives, disaffected with President Taft, broke away to support Teddy Roosevelt’s effort to retake the presidency).  Republicans as a group don’t agree on what they stand for, having honed their identity as the party of ‘no.’  Should leaders who can’t govern their party govern the country?  I don’t think so.

Less remarked on is the disturbing weakness of the Democratic party.  In an election cycle playing out as an epic battle of personality, the idea that the Democrats are just as beleaguered as the Republicans is inadmissible.  Yet the Democrats are arguably as benighted.  They bank too much on identity politics, while relying on a concept of the role of government that has scarcely been updated since the 1960s.

Besides the staleness of their ideology, Democrats are turning people off with their record of poor governance in some cities and states.  Here in Chicago, corruption and egregious mismanagement are synonymous with Democratic rule.  I personally have grown disaffected with the state’s Democrats, who as a group have not come out in favor of reform and government efficiency.

At the national level, Democratic leaders like Donna Brazile want citizens to think that the practices of the DNC and the Clinton Foundation are nothing to be concerned about; yet this is the very attitude that voters find unacceptable and disillusioning.  Who believes that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would ‘run a tight ship’?  The Obama Administration has been a model of probity; but a Hillary Clinton White House?  Hardly.

Besides winking at corruption and coasting along on a raft of outdated and expensive ideas, the Democrats suffer from a striking dearth of junior leadership and grass-roots organization.  When will their next generation of leaders appear?  It’s appalling to consider that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rahm Emanuel were, until lately, their brightest stars.  The most admirable and powerful figures in the party are all senior citizens, which augurs well from the point of view of experience but augurs a bumpy leaderless period ahead.

Thus, despite the all-but-extinguished condition of the Republican party, it is doubtful whether the Democrats will win control of the Senate, let alone the House.

The systematic weaknesses plaguing both major parties indicate that the nation is heading into, but scarcely concluding, a period of partisan re-alignment.  The ugly factionalism that is so distressing for citizens to witness and that poses a grave threat to stable federal governance is likely to continue for some time.  When major parties die, it can take a while.  In the short-term, the parties’ problems will cause widespread anxiety and confusion.  Ultimately, reorganization awaits the emergence of clean new leaders with viable modern ideas.

Image: “Walk the Walk” (DNC 2016).
Screenshot by Susan Barsy.

Note: this post has been modified from its original version.

Bernie Sanders: Not Leading But Misleading

A dwarfed candidate slinks off as the world smirks at a campaign poster declaring him 'the people's choice.'

Yesterday, some two million Americans cast their votes for Bernie Sanders, in addition to the 10.5 million who had voted for him in earlier Democratic primaries.  But Hillary Clinton has simply out-polled him, garnering an estimated 13.5 million votes even prior to yesterday’s final set of state contests, the most populous of which (CA, NJ, and NM) she easily won.  In terms of  pledged delegates awarded on the basis of the primaries, Clinton won a total of 2,203 delegates, while Sanders racked up just 1,828.  Yet Sanders cannot bring himself to concede defeat: to acknowledge that she, rather than he, is ‘the people’s choice.’

All along, Hilary has had an advantage stemming from the fact that she enjoys the favor of many Democratic super-delegates, who do indeed wield an out-sized influence when it comes to determining the party’s presidential nominee.  The super-delegate system is a holdover from the days when party officials were entirely free to select at the convention any candidate on whom a majority of them could manage to agree.  Senator Sanders claims that this is undemocratic and unfair; but he would not make this claim if more of the party officials were inclined to favor him.

He is, in fact, exactly the kind of interloper whose self-interest is at odds with the communitarian nature of a political party, which requires internal discipline, compromise, and self-sacrifice, to remain ideologically coherent and unified.  Whereas Hillary Clinton has spent her entire career working within the network of the Democracy, Senator Sanders joined it only when he declared his candidacy, no doubt realizing that it would benefit him structurally.  But, having never given anything of himself to the party per se, he can hardly be surprised that its most influential members don’t feel they owe much consideration to him.

Sanders has little in common with his arch-rival, Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee.  Yet the two men are the same in failing to grasp the huge role that manners play in the presidency.  The president is the face of the nation, and sometimes that face is obliged to wear a gracious smile despite inward longings to sport a frown.  When, many months ago, I asked a friend her impressions of Sanders, she replied that he behaved as though he were still in college.  He does indeed resemble those intense young disciples we knew back then, with their no-frills backpacks and doctrinaire ideals.  Now in his 70s, Sanders has gained a fervent following, by feeding voters a vision that, without the support of a party, he would have no means of realizing, even if he were to rise to the presidency.

Ultimately, Sanders has deceived his followers, both by professing an imagined injury at the hands of Democracy and by perpetuating a fantastically exaggerated conception of presidential power.

Image:
‘The Day After: Licked, and the World Laughs at You’
(Puck Magazine),
from this source.