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

Advertisements

On the verge (Election Day)

The shadow of a man and woman standing under a tree in autumn along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Today is Election Day, and we are each and all on the verge of something new.  Something unknown.  The campaign has been a time of trial—a time of bad dreams, friction, and more than a few out-and-out breakdowns.  Charisma, in the form of Donald Trump, has ruptured fault lines in the Republican Party and the nation that existed already.  Because of his candidacy, we as a nation and as individuals have gained some self-knowledge the hard way, which is how self-knowledge is always gained.  He has tested us, exposing our weaknesses, our normally veiled resentments, our various gnawing dissatisfactions.

Americans need.  Some truly live in a state of want, but others are fearful of the future, sensing decline and the increasing challenge of securing work and access to opportunity.  Others, not in need, want something other and better than what they already have, and, for that, they’re ready to trade something away.  Certainly, this is true of Republicans who have enjoyed considerable political power but insist the political order should be delivering something better than what it has managed to create so far.

Twitter sometimes delivers thought-provoking jewels, such as a tweet this morning quoting Gerald Ford: “Truth is the glue that holds governments together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go.”

Hillary is not an innocent, but someone who has winked at the order herself and at acts within her province that are immoral or unseemly.  She is a tarnished political heroine, this ‘First Woman’—the other choice that all our earlier choices have made.  Many will vote for Hillary as a symbol of something she doesn’t really stand for, then expect her to wring something better from federal government and the political establishment.  She is the good-enough candidate, particularly in the eyes of those who feel no urgency about political change, whose hearts may have stopped bleeding some time ago.

 Whatever we stand on the verge of, it is best to acknowledge our complicity.  Whichever future we’re on the verge of, it will feature a world of political work that the republican model calls on ordinary people to perform.  My hope is that the election will usher in a period of broad ideological ferment and political reorganization, necessary precursors to restoring what is unifying and wholesome in American culture.

One Day More: The Ground

Washington DC (Low aerial), © 2016 Susan Barsy

We set back our clocks, adding an extra hour to an already interminable election cycle, suspending for just a few more minutes the climactic process that will end tomorrow.  At last, there will be an end to a certain kind of theorizing.  Election Day will produce a snapshot of national sentiment.  A new political adventure will begin.

The presidential race has generated abundant evidence pointing to the topsy-turvy condition of the country, its leadership and parties.  On the PBS NewsHour, Mark Shields noted the strange inversion that’s occurring: whereas ordinary blue-collar Americans used to tip the scale Democratic in national elections, the Democratic Party has become the ‘upscale’ party, while blue-collar America is flocking to Trump.  David Brooks noted that the nation was already divided at the outset, but that those divisions have become more calcified in the campaign.  He went so far as to say that ‘people are just going with their gene pool,‘ an unfortunate measure of how ‘identity politics’ and a growing reliance on demographic categories (common in the social sciences) are encouraging evenly highly intelligent people to adopt an essentialized and racist view of American voters.

Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, captured the incipient re-alignment that appears to be happening.  She argues eloquently that the people Trump represents are not a ‘wing’ of the Republican Party, but a huge constituency that has broken off from the Republican Party already.  The Republican Party was living on borrowed time even before Trump came along, with events of the past fifteen years rupturing the identity of belief that used to unite the party’s base with its leaders.  The party will either have to reunite around a new constellation of ideas or end up in pieces.  Meanwhile, the Democracy, formerly the party of change, is now the party of cozy continuity.  While Sanders’ challenge to Clinton should have been a wake-up call to the party, it’s difficult to imagine its ideology changing much under a Clinton presidency.

Whether Trump wins or not, his candidacy has established that voters who want to stick it to the establishment and ‘the system’ are nearly a national majority.  As my husband put it, a ‘Republican revolution’ is happening.  Whatever Trump’s personal destiny, his views on trade, immigration, terrorism, and the need to push back against an overreaching government will likely be taken up and refined—in fact, if Politico is to be believed, they already are.  Ideologues who have the patience to tune ideas to the times should be listening to the electorate, which is clamoring for a form of small-state protectionism that neither the Republican nor the Democratic party currently affords.

Image: Aerial of Washington DC in November
by Susan Barsy

Day 16: Revamping Presidential Selection

Up in the air, © 2016 Susan Barsy
How can the US improve on the way it selects a president?  What process could the nation use to move toward a system that is more efficient, less disruptive, and that produces presidents of the highest caliber?

Personally, I would be in favor moving away from our current system, which essentially abdicates most of the decision-making to extra-constitutional bodies, a. k. a. the political parties.   I would love to see a movement to increase our reliance on the electoral college.  That is, let political delegates selected at the state level get together in the electoral college, consider a range of their favored candidates, and vote until one attains the Constitutionally mandated number of votes.

Over the centuries, Americans have moved farther and farther away from the nation’s original method of presidential selection.  We have moved toward an ever greater reliance on the two major parties and on the results of direct votes in the primaries.  The results on the Democratic and Republican side this time around have hardly been satisfactory.  On the Republican side, the winner is a figure who has never held public office and will not command much influence with other national politicians.  On the Democratic side, we have a more seasoned candidate who might well have been supplanted were it not for the machinations of the national party committee, which makes direct voting seem like a sham.

If the states’ citizens delegated this power to electors, could they not perform the work well on the public’s behalf, perhaps producing a better and more efficacious result?

Day 23: ‘The Best People’

Winding up (western aerial), © 2016 Susan Barsy

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has often promised that, if elected, he will recruit the very ‘best people’ to improve the federal government. To those who favor a smaller, smarter federal government, it’s an appealing idea.  It also appeals because our need for ‘the best people’ to run the republic is old and enduring.  Representative government is only as good as the people in it: if people of low character become prevalent, the quality of representation suffers and the power delegated to officials ends up being misused.

Yet Trump is in a poor position, politically and morally, to bring the best people to government.  Politically, he has set himself up as an antagonist of the establishment.  For more than a year, he has railed against the political class, not limiting his attacks to issues of policy, but assailing the character and achievements of many people who have painstakingly built up a reputation for public service. Remarkably, Trump has not confined his attacks to members of the opposite party.  He has also insulted many within the GOP, his own adopted party, which could normally be expected to supply talent for a Republican administration.  Serving in a Trump administration would be politically risky.  Many leading Republicans, in and out of government, have openly repudiated him, leaving one to imagine a Cabinet populated by hangers-on like Chris Christie, Trump’s own children, or his loyal lieutenant Kellyanne Conway.

It’s difficult to recruit ‘the best people’ without belonging to the best class oneself.  Here Trump’s cratering social reputation will be felt.  Last week, the media’s focus shifted from the implications of Trump’s political positions to his personal conduct and mores.  Allegations of his sexual misconduct are multiplying, sparked by a leaked tape in which Trump boasted of his indecent behavior toward women in lewd and contemptuous terms.  Whatever claim Trump had to personal decency has been destroyed.  Respectable people are censuring him loudly.

The issue of social integrity is distinct from the issue of Trump’s politics.  Who would care to sit next to him at a dinner party?  Who would feel honored to shake his hand?  Until lately a popular celebrity, Trump’s own words have supplied grounds for branding him a pariah.  Were he to win in November, he would make a poor figurehead for a country whose creed is the equal enjoyment of inalienable rights.

To summarize: Trump arouses political and moral aversion in people who might otherwise be his supporters and colleagues.  The aversion is not just to Trump’s views but to his very personality.  Yes, Trump’s tactics and policies arouse aversion, but so do Ted Cruz’s.  Cruz, though, combines political iconoclasm with some personal probity.  In this, he resembles the antebellum radical John Calhoun, whose ultra pro-slavery views combined with a cold rectitude and formality that impressed even his political enemies.  How different is Donald J. Trump, whose claims to social respectability are evaporating.

Were voters to catapult Trump to the top of the government, it’s difficult to imagine his improving on the caliber of the talent it attracts.  How many able, forward-looking people of good character would decide that serving Trump is something worth doing?  Shunned by the ‘best people,’ President Trump could find it tough to deliver on the promise of better government.

Image: Aerial of a winding mountain road,
© 2016 Susan Barsy

Day 31: Republican Party Chaos

A serious fissure (Hawaii), © 2016 Susan Barsy
Today the signs of institutional chaos within the Republican Party are growing.  The fragmentation of the party is more open and unscripted.  The party is being called on to dump its nominee, which would be unprecedented.  It appears more certain that Trump will lose the election.  Afterward, the GOP itself is more likely to break apart than to survive.

The immediate precipitant is an ‘October surprise’: nasty footage capturing Trump boasting of his crude sexual behavior back in 2005.  The tape is causing a flap, outraging a whole new constituency of people who were not openly speaking out against Trump before.  Many GOP candidates and voters are suddenly loudly denouncing Trump, demanding that he quit the race or be forced out by the RNC.

Moreover, I agree with this darkly compelling article by Rick Wilson that the troubles of Republicans in Congress are just beginning.  The constituency that catapulted Trump to the nomination and continues to back him in the general campaign is fundamentally anti-establishment and will not mesh with either the Party’s conservative or moderate wing.  The support flowing into the GOP presidential race is thus a force antithetical to the success and cohesion of the GOP in Congress.

Leading Republicans, whether moderates like the Bushes or conservatives like Ben Sasse, know they cannot cooperate with Trump without his damaging them.  Were Trump to be elected, the ideological divisions among Republicans in Washington would be unlike anything modern Americans have ever seen.  (The closest parallel might be the ‘accidental presidency’ of Tyler back in the 1840s, or the dark-horse ascendancy of his successor James Polk.)

Given that figures like Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz have been badly damaged by attempting to work with their party’s ostensible standard-bearer, other GOP leaders are bound to begin strategizing about how to keep their distance and distinguish their branch of Republicanism from Trump’s.  I would not be surprised to see the party break into three.

Image: A serious fissure (Hawaii),
© 2016 Susan Barsy

Day 35: Political Intelligence

After the rain, before the fall, © 2016 Susan Barsy

Five weeks to go before Election Day.  The dearth of certainty about voter sentiment is excruciating.  I check for new polling information on the presidential race several times a day, knowing it’s pointless yet hungering for some bit of  ‘intelligence’ with conclusive authority.

This, in the face of a media blitz whose narrative is Clinton’s brightening prospects in the wake of her first presidential debate ‘win.’  (If only the election were more like a World Series.)  Judging from the New York Times and some other northern urban news outlets, Trump’s negatives are destroying him and his campaign is in a near-fatal decline.  Editorial boards and leading figures from the President on down are insisting to the electorate that ‘nobody’ wants Trump.  His election would spell disaster: a message that will heighten the nation’s problems should the unthinkable come to pass.

Day 39: The Campaign Will End

Great Lake Campaign, © 2016 Susan Barsy
On Wednesday I came out to Michigan, and this afternoon I went to the dunes.  I’m happy to report that, while visiting the lakeshore, I was oblivious of politics.  The beach was notably empty of anything newsworthy.  I was beyond the reach of the candidates and their endless campaign.  The water of Lake Michigan thudded and surged against the sand, seeped in instantly, and roiled itself all over again, rather like a lung or a heart, the vital system of our country, deeper than the body politic.

For many months, the campaign has engaged and fascinated me; yes, sometimes I felt anxiety, but only this week did I begin to see the end of it, the certainty of a result, and with that vision came disillusionment.  Yes, in a little more than four weeks, the election will end, and even if it is so close the victor has to be decided by some unusual process, either Hillary Clinton or Donald J. Trump will become the next American president.  And there was something so disappointing about this to me that for a moment I lost all interest, and wished desperately to be somewhere else, somewhere untouched by the colossal sprawl of American politics.

Day 46: Hillary’s Views, In a Nutshell?

Florida aerial, © 2016 Susan Barsy
It’s an asymmetry that may determine the election: in contradistinction to the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump has hammered away at the electorate with a few controversial ideas.  These ideas have been castigated, ridiculed, and discussed so much that the main 3 or 4 of them are easy to reel off.  Trump has a gimme cap that says ‘Make America Great Again.’  He ‘wants to build a wall.’  He favors: 1) establishing inviolable national borders and radically altering US immigration policies; 2) ending ‘unfair’ trade deals; and 3) radically reducing US commitments overseas.

Trump has been careful never to disavow these ‘unpopular’ ideas.  He has articulated them with intense discipline for more than a year, through countless interviews, debates, speeches, and rallies.  No matter how odious, these are the main ideas he stands for.  To the mainstream of both parties, any one of these goals is anathema.  So, American politics has been furiously warring over Donald Trump’s ideas for almost two years.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has run a far more sophisticated and decorous campaign.  Suddenly, though, commentators and allies are noting that her campaign is singularly empty of goals and ideas.  The bland sameness she offers is meant to be reassuring, premised on the assumption that most of the country ‘feels okay.’  But what does Clinton stand for?   Where would she lead?  What, in a nutshell, is her vision of our future?

Public intellectuals friendly to Clinton are prodding her to zero in on something.  But the asymmetry already established may continue to weigh heavily on her campaign.

Image: Aerial of Florida,
© 2016 Susan Barsy


RELATED:
Albert R. Hunt, ‘Hillary Needs a Better Slogan’ (Bloomberg View)

Day 53: ‘Economic Patriotism’

Day 53 (aerial of riverside town), © 2016 Susan Barsy
I’m interested in the phrase ‘economic patriotism,’ which Zephyr Teachout of New York has made central to her congressional campaign.  Ideologically, its appearance is significant as a harbinger of the ‘thought revolution‘ destined to shake up both political parties.  As a phrase linking domestic and green production with political empowerment and civic responsibility, ‘economic patriotism’ is smart and historically resonant.  Without pointing fingers, it suggests that economic actors could be encouraged to behave in ways that will promote the good of the country, thus harkening back to a traditional concept of ‘political economy.’

Anti-globalism and a demand for policies that protect citizens’ prosperity have defined the 2016 election cycle.  The popularity of these ideas, which both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have variously articulated, signals Americans’ weariness with the pro-corporate globalism central to the political establishment (and much of the intellectual establishment, too).  Popular anxieties about immigration, out-sourcing, and unfair trade deals all spring from uncertainty as to what will prevent many forms of work from disappearing.  Experts tell Americans that globalism is good, but it’s hard to deny that it undermines national and personal autonomy.  Which lessens American power and independence, right?

Despite eliciting the scorn of experts who point to statistics suggesting otherwise, such ideas, mocked as parochial or alarmingly nationalistic, formerly propelled the US economy to might.  The ideal economy is one that promotes an egalitarian prosperity: this notion has been central to American political development, accounting for such diverse initiatives as protectionism, abolitionism, and the massive sale of public land into private hands, which gave millions of Americans a foothold in the nineteenth century.  A desire to ensure that Americans have the autonomy and cultivation needed to be active and informed citizens of the republic has accounted for many features of the US economy.  It bears considering what ‘economic patriotism’ should look like now.