Lori Lightfoot’s Mandate


Lori Lightfoot has become mayor-elect of Chicago in an election confirming the waning power of the Chicago machine. Newscasters’ muted coverage of Lightfoot’s lopsided victory over her only remaining challenger, the comfortingly familiar Toni Preckwinkle, registered the unexpectedness of Lightfoot’s achievement and what it really portends for this troubled city.  While the scope of the new mayor’s work is gargantuan, her mandate is alarmingly slight.

In a town of some 2,7 million souls, just under 1.6 million of its adults are registered voters, and, on April 2, only 504,123 (31.65%) of them cast a vote for mayor.  Lightfoot received 73.7 percent of these votes to Preckwinkle’s 26.3, but the salient fact is that, given the low turnout, Lightfoot became mayor with just 371,529 votes, representing 23.3 percent of Chicago’s voters and 13.65 percent of its total population.

Most voters did not turn out, presumably out of apathy or because they did not like or approve of either of the two remaining mayoral candidates.  Lightfoot and Preckwinkle beat out all the other candidates who had qualified for the first mayoral election on February 26, 2019, their first- and second-place showings putting them ahead of their thirteen rivals, including all whites and all men of color.  One wonders how many black and Hispanic men stayed home from the polls this week, disdaining to choose between two gifted black women who had risen above the males in a wild competition.  Several black women I spoke with reported meeting with angry silence from men in their workplaces when the subject of the mayoral race came up.

Thus, when, the day after the election, the Chicago Tribune blared, “Lightfoot In a Landslide,” the message it communicated was somewhat misleading.  Support for Lori Lightfoot is intense, but it’s not particularly broad.  The media’s emphasis on identity politics is likewise of little help in understanding what happened in this week’s momentous election.  Voters did not turn out for Lori because of her race or sexual orientation; most turned out for her irregardless of these traits.  She won the liberal white vote everywhere, racking up her biggest margins on the north and northwest sides.

Lightfoot won because she is extremely smart and deadly serious about waging war on corruption and the “Chicago way.”  She won because she’s committed to equal treatment for Chicago’s neighborhoods and peoples.  Yet given the slimness of her mandate and the legions of Chicagoans still loyal to the old patronage system, Lori will be sorely challenged to “Bring In the Light.”

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Recounting Election 2016

Cartoon of Uncle Sam waking up with a surreal hangover

Jill Stein, who ran for president as the Green Party candidate, is demanding a recount of election 2016.   Stein, who garnered some 1.2 million (or roughly one percent) of all votes cast, says her aim isn’t to alter the election’s outcome but to verify its integrity.  She has netted over $6.2 million in online donations, enough to challenge the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swing states that went for Trump narrowly.  Stein claims that vote counts in some areas of these states are anomalous, at odds with exit polling, raising the possibility that the election was hacked.

Stein was a spoiler in the presidential race, in that she and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson drew off votes that might have boosted Clinton to victory over Trump.  Now, though, Stein is receiving a ‘miraculous’ flood of support from disappointed Clinton backers.  Clinton racked up a substantial lead over Trump in the popular vote, winning by over 2.2 million, but her support was too geographically concentrated to translate into an Electoral College victory.  Last week, Michigan was officially declared for Trump, bringing Trump’s electoral-vote tally to 306, versus Clinton’s 232.

Stein’s request for a recount rests primarily on the views of computer-security experts like J. Alex Halderman, who speculates that self-destructing malware could have been deployed to swing the results in a minimal number of counties.  Halderman thinks that electronic-vote records and machinery should be carefully examined and that paper ballots should be manually counted and checked against electronic returns in places where the digital-scanning method is employed.

Unlike in the 2000 election, when specific evidence from a specific locale provided clear evidence of procedural irregularities (the infamous ‘hanging chads’), Stein’s challenge is based mainly on speculation and theory, leaving open the possibility that another embarrassment for the big-data crowd is looming.

Given that Wisconsin’s recent gubernatorial recount of 1.5 million votes took more than a year, a recount of its larger presidential vote will likely be even more timeconsuming.  Meanwhile, though both President Obama and Hillary Clinton declared that Trump’s election represents the will of the people, the Clinton camp has since decided to get involved in the recount, ostensibly to see that the process is fair to all sides.  Earlier, Clinton, in considering whether to mount a challenge, had found no indication of foul play.

It’s doubtful whether a vote recount in three states could be completed before the Electoral College votes on December 19;  for states to participate, their elections must be certified by December 13.  Which brings us to the upshot of Stein’s undertaking: if recounts in the three states are ongoing, their 46 electors will be sidelined during the Electoral College.

 

Image: “The Morning After,” by Udo Keppler
for Puck magazine, November 6, 1912,
from this source.

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

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 32: The Tribune’s Endorsement

Looking down toward Tribune Tower, © 2016 Susan Barsy
Late last week, the Chicago Tribune endorsed Gary Johnson for president, an action that, while indicative of the uneasy response the leading candidates trigger, also shows a remarkable failure of nerve.

In 2016, a measure of bravery is involved in committing to either of the two top presidential candidates, especially given the invective that they have inspired.  The vituperative nature of the campaign has left mud clinging to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  The shame heaped on Trump, in particular, has had a tendency to slide off and besmirch his followers, whom Clinton contemptuously dismissed as ‘a basket of deplorables.’

One wonders whether this, the risk of guilt by association, will deter voters from voting, or whether it is inhibiting likely voters from honestly declaring their intentions to friends, or to the strangers who call on the telephone, conducting voter surveys.

How many people are ‘shy’ Trump or Clinton supporters, but will not risk saying so out of a dread of conflict or embarrassment?  Will there be many people who lie about their vote, or who will absolve themselves of future responsibility by casting no ballot on Election Day?

How childish it would be to shirk one’s duty.  But then look at the action of the Chicago Tribune‘s editorial board.  If its members intend to follow their own recommendation and vote for Gary Johnson, I will be astonished.  If they are not personally going to vote for Gary Johnson, their recommendation was an act of prevarication.  They deliberately threw away any chance of influencing the outcome of the campaign.

When a group of highly educated, rational, and conscientious journalists cannot bring themselves to declare for one or the other of the candidates who is certain to win the election, it’s likely that something similar is happening in the more obscure corners of our nation, too.

It is very difficult to resolve to vote for a deeply flawed nominee.  It leaves a bad taste, to give power to someone you do not trust, you do not agree with, or you do not admire.   To vote this year is to take a risk.  How many Trump voters will lie about it?  How many ambivalent souls will stay at home?

Image: The Tribune Tower on a good day
© 2016 Susan Barsy

 

The rude power of the vote: Brexit

morning-after-brexit

A popular vote to decide the UK’s place in the world: In retrospect, David Cameron’s idea of putting the question to the people appears more and more extraordinary.  This is not how countries (at least representative democracies) are normally led.  Normally, populations delegate power to political leaders, trusting in their competence and relying on their superior agency and expertise.

The US has never held a national referendum.  Here, referenda are technical measures.  They are used at the state and local level, to amend constitutions or see if a policy innovation is agreeable to the people.  Our national votes are reserved solely for filling the presidency.  The Brexit vote represents a high-water mark of democracy that one hopes the US will never reach.

Presidential elections are often described as referenda, but this is usually hyperbole.  The motives that determine the citizens’ choice between two candidates can seldom be reduced to a vote for or against a single policy.  One exception is the election of 1860, when the ensuing breakdown of the Union justifies our concluding that voters saw Abraham Lincoln’s victory as determining the future of slavery.  They were so sure his election spelled the end of it that they didn’t even wait for him to take power: secession conventions formed and slave-holding states began to leave.  Then, as with Brexit, the losers doubted the outcome’s legitimacy.  A minority with a lot to lose discovered a majority it couldn’t bear.

Inspiration in a deep-dish pizza

Writing in Slate, Osita Nwanevu argues convincingly that Cameron came up with the idea of the EU referendum while eating a Chicago deep-dish pizza at O’Hare.  He was heading back to London from the 2012 NATO summit, which Chicago hosted that year.  While waiting for his flight, he and British foreign secretary William Hague reportedly went into a classic Chicago eatery and came up with the idea of the EU referendum while eating local food and rubbing elbows with a bunch of ‘nobodies.’

The summit itself crystallized globalism’s discontents.  Its massing of elite power drew thousands of ‘pro-democracy’ protesters to Chicago, along with a few would-be terrorist bombers.  While the leaders of the western world met to chart the future of democracy, massive crowds clogged the streets, charging NATO leaders with betrayal and insisting that their governance ignored the people’s urgent needs.  Did Cameron metaphorically ingest some of the democratic forces assailing him from all sides?  Certainly, his belief that the UK’s internal divisions could be reconciled through a popular vote represented a conversion to democratic faith.  He expected, however, that the people would ultimately strengthen the leading class’s hand.

The transcendent power of a multi-national economy

In the 1990s, I attended a forward-looking talk given by the late Harold Perkin, a historian who studied long-term class developments in England society.  His subject was the powerlessness of nation-states relative to multinational corporations.  Already, he argued, capital flows and the far-flung operations of such businesses were eroding and transcending the bonds that had previously constrained and united inhabitants of geographically defined countries.  Whereas previously the upper, middle, and lower classes in a country like Britain had been bound together legally and economically, those interdependent ties were weakening.  Increasingly, the economic elite were creating a world with rules that they, as capitalists and corporate titans, were entitled to define.  Since then, the trend that Perkins so presciently defined has grown more pronounced.  Now the professional classes are used to this world, and they don’t think the lower classes should be allowed to curb it, certainly not with the rude club that the right to vote furnishes.

The problem afflicts the US as much as the UK.  In the States, growing economic inequality has gone hand-in-hand with geographic and social changes whose tendency is to limit ordinary connections between Americans of different classes.  Increasingly, well-educated and well-off Americans raise their children within ‘bubble-worlds’ populated with others of their type.  This is very different from the earlier hierarchical class structure of American communities, where the right of an elite to exercise leadership was still connected to their position within a locality.  This vanishing social structure promoted empathy and upward mobility, while rooting elite influence in something like popular sanction.  Whether in religion, neighborhoods, or the economy, there are few traces of these old face-to-face relationships, which fed a spirit of interdependence and reciprocal obligation.

Meanwhile political leaders cede their power to ‘the people.’

Paradoxically, American politics has at the same time become increasingly democratized, with leaders instigating changes designed to give ‘the people’ more sway.   It’s a trend that’s been underway for at least a century, since the Constitution was amended to allow for the direct election of US Senators, giving citizens a power previously seated in state legislatures.   Candidates for national office make their appeals directly to the people, for, with enough popular support, they can thumb their noses at the other pols whose help they once needed.  Likewise, the nominating conventions, where delegates were empowered to attain consensus authentically, are increasingly lifeless affairs, determined solely by rules and by votes the people cast in the primaries.

As the people’s rage rattles the laissez-faire globalism that an elite indifferent to their sufferings universally favors, the elite may well begin to ask, Too much democracy?

Columbia Has Her Eye On You

A modern Columbia reminds American women to vote

A very modern-looking Columbia, dressed in a becoming flapper style, adorns the cover of Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on October 2, 1920.  Her message?  “Don’t Forget!  Columbia has her eye on You and expects You to vote for the Good of the Nation”  (Columbia being the traditional female personification of the United States).

Her message had special meaning, given that women had gained the right to vote just months earlier, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified on August 26.  Women were about to cast ballots in a presidential election for the very first time, the fruit of an epic political struggle that American women began way back in 1848.

Over the decades, myriad arguments had been advanced both for and against women’s suffrage.  Some opponents to suffrage argued that political participation would degrade the female sex; others worried it would quickly lead to a government by females.  And of course it was argued that woman suffrage was contrary to the vision of the Founders, as laid out in the Constitution.  Americans of the Progressive era understood that the female vote would inevitably alter the dynamics of American politics–they just didn’t know how.

Suffragists responded partly by arguing that women would have a civilizing effect on political life, an attitude that Leslie’s get-out-the-vote appeal was eager to prove.  As it turned out, newly enfranchised women voted in far smaller numbers than did men.  Not until 1980 would the size of the female vote exceed that of males.  Even today, it’s unclear how the female vote as such will influence the outcome of the current campaign.

Don’t forget!
  Cast your vote for the good of the nation this Super Tuesday.

Image: Drawing by [William] Haskell Coffin
from this source.

Democracy on the ground

Click on the image to view the New York Times interactive map of House election results.

Click on the image to view the New York Times interactive map of House election results.

This map of House election results from the New York Times dramatically conveys the state of democracy on the ground.  Because the entire House stands for election every two years, the results express the state of local sentiment better than Senate elections can.

The map does not correct for population density, so one must bear in mind that some of the vast red areas represent relatively few people.  Still, it’s sobering to contemplate the restricted appeal of a Democratic ethos.  Just think of all the Americans, living in all the varied settings pictured on this map, to whom Democratic party principles no longer appeal.  Democratic strength is extremely limited geographically, whereas, as David Brooks points out, it’s hard to deny that Republican conservatism represents the mainstream.  It’s ironic, because red regions contain many people who use and benefit from the sorts of programs and services that Democrats perennially champion and defend.  Well-being is not all that drives people to the polls.

The Democratic Party’s ethos no longer resonates with such voters culturally.  Instead, the party has become identified mainly with the coastal and urban regions where more educated people tend to gather.  Looking at this map, it’s easy to understand why ‘mainstream’ Americans resent the undue influence that urban elites exercise through the media.

Many Democrats I know, convinced of the morality and truth of their views, do not see a need to proselytize.  I once asked a liberal friend why she didn’t volunteer to canvas in Democratic campaigns, and she said, “I guess it’s because I’m right—and I think that, if other people can’t see that, there’s nothing I can do.”  It’s a shame, because the Democratic Party is becoming irrelevant to a huge natural constituency of small-town and working-class Americans who are just getting by.  In those broad regions where Democratic leaders are giving up, an important strain of political culture may one day die.

RELATED ARTICLES:
The Enduring Republican Grip on the House (NYT)

The Incredible Shrinking GOP

Cartagram by Mark Newman showing the relative strength of the Democratic and Republican vote.

The results of Tuesday’s election, in which Republicans failed of their two principal goals, and indeed lost ground even in the House, indicate that the GOP is in danger of becoming a minority party.

The cartogram above, one of a series of maps created by Mark Newman of the University of Michigan to show the real strength and distribution of the popular vote, depicts the limits of the GOP’s popular appeal.

While the Republican party continues to command the allegiance of bands of Americans in southern and land-locked western states, these states are not particularly populous.  In the more heavily populated and cosmopolitan areas of the United States, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama is consolidating its hold.

Voting strength of Democrats and Republicans by county, with purple showing county-level mix

Moreover, many of the counties that the Republicans managed to win Tuesday are actually divided and could readily swing back the other way.  In the county-level map above, only the streaks that are pure red and reddish can be regarded as Republican strongholds.

The Republicans in denial

Interestingly, the Republican leadership seems incapable of grasping the fact that its positions and values are increasingly out of step with those of the nation.  John Dickerson of Slate, appearing on Washington Week on Friday, described the Romney-Ryan campaign’s illusory anticipation of victory: it simply couldn’t imagine there being enough Americans to support the President, though numerous polls had shown that support for him was holding and building.  A contempt for the whole of the electorate, and an inability to embrace its diversity, spelled doom for Republicans in the 2012 campaign.

Look for Republicans to continue to grasp at procedural, legal, monetized, and PR-based tactics to sustain the illusion that they remain a formidable party.  In fact, unless the Republican Party dramatically transforms itself, renounces extremism, and embraces diversity and moderation, its showing will be even weaker next time.

Click here to view all of Mark Newman’s maps and learn more about what they mean.

MORE ON MY TAKE ON THE GOP:
What If They Can’t Take the Capital? September 2012.
A Great White Nation of Self-Made Men, September 2012.
Moment of Truth for the GOP’s Conservative Wing, August 2012.
Should Leaders Who Can’t Govern Their Party Govern the Country? June 2012.
Is the Republican Party Dying? March 2012.
2008: The Critical Election That Wasn’t (Part II), January 2012.
Parties Made New: Our Critical Elections February 2012.

The Good News? A Dollar Can’t Vote

LBJ signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr and others look on (Courtesy of the Library of Congress via the Commons on Flickr)

As Election Day dawns, final tallies of money spent on the 2012 campaign are appearing.  In a country where a dollar is sometimes taken as a measure of all things, it’s worth remembering that these billions have been expended in the hope of bending the great will that collectively lies with the American people.

That’s right, fellow citizens: at the end of the campaign, it all comes down to you.  The special interests, the media, the national parties, the consultants: in the end they’re all equally powerless.  It’s up to you to get out and vote today.  Ignore the cynics: your action—no matter where you live—is an expression of power that remains awesome and singular.  No matter who has the money or how it’s spent, the voter’s mind and heart are where power lives.

So get out and exercise your power today: vote for the best men and women, and may the best of them win!

Image: Lyndon Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and others look on, from this source.