For years I have been harping on the dangers of the electoral college, on how small states and rural populations are over represented in the Senate and House, and how we baby boomers are the most conservative generation since the 1920’s. I could be pretty shrill and annoying about it. Earlier this year it dawned on me that despite all the attention on Millennials, that it is Boomers who are at the apex of political power in 2016. Trying to be more wryly ironic than shrill and annoying, I wrote that we’d have to wait eight or even sixteen years before things really swung against the GOP and conservatism. Which is probably a safe bet. It’s going to be a long, long fight. Just before the recent debacle, when everyone knew it was to be a Democratic landslide and crushing defeat of conservatism, I was wondering how the New Deal had remained the ideology of the land and core of the government for 48 years (1932-1980) but Reaganism had lasted only 36 years (1980-2016). I was wondering what accounted for those 12 extra years that the Left had managed over the Right.
Oops. Turns out it was not twelve less years of Reaganism (or the mutated variants thereof) at all. Conservatives could keep trashing the country for twelve more years…even though they get less votes every election cycle. Democratic candidates at every level get more actual votes, when you meaninglessly add all of them up together, than Republican candidates. There are more voters in the United States who are not conservative than there are conservatives. Yet look who’s running the show. Turns out liberals are over represented in bigger states and in urban areas which means we wind up with less representation per vote. And then there’s the fact that baby boomers vote conservative (despite all their Woodstock Generation pretensions), and they vote more, much more, than people younger than them. That’s true of generations in general, voters over fifty vote at a higher rate than those under fifty, the further you go down in age the less the voting percentage. You bitch about kids too lazy to vote now as people bitched about you all not voting enough then. Indeed, turnout in 2000 was much lower than turnout in 2016….you might blame those lazy Gen Xers for eight years of Bush/Cheney….
It’s just a political fact of life–old people vote more. Old people tend to be more conservative. And this bunch are especially conservative. I’ve always been struck by how the generations preceding the Boomers–the Greatest and Silent generations (who comes up with these names?)–dumped Goldwater in a landslide. They knew crazy when they saw it. But Boomers saw George W. Bush and voted for him. And now there’s Donald Trump, the Boomer president. I had thought George W. Bush was the quintessential boomer president but Trump takes that cake now. Most Boomers seem to embrace crazy. And when America’s older people (the ones below 70, anyway) are from the largest baby boom in US history, while Millennials were spawned in the lowest (and still declining) birthrate in US history, those older voters will be a powerful presence on election day. It doesn’t help that people live longer now than they did in 1980–about four years longer for males, an entire presidential election cycle, meaning your crazy grandpa gets to vote for a president at an age when his own crazy grandpa was long buried. And it certainly doesn’t help that the part of the Democratic coalition that Democrats have such high hopes for–Hispanics–are still voting well below the rate of Whites (and below the rate of Blacks, too). And that so many of the states where Trump did so well this year–and districts where GOP congressional candidates did well–are 80% and more (many much, much more) Caucasian. Even worse that so many of those districts are experiencing a drain of their younger, college educated population–the ones who rejected Trump out of hand–to the coasts, where they pile into larger, urban areas with less congressional representation per capita than their folks have at home. Not to mention those two senate seats no matter how small (or large) the state. Half the United States legislature is based on the notion that the number of voters is irrelevant. The slave south held a headlock on federal policy for sixty years using that two senators per state power. And then in the 20th century the South was able to maintain its ideology of white superiority through that same senatorial power. Eventually the south took over the GOP and with that same small state power has dominated US policy making and resisted the policies of a black president with all the furor and machiavellian genius of John C. Calhoun. That same senatorial dominance means electoral votes out of synch with popular vote. Hence, Trump.
This will not change much in the next four or eight years. The average baby boomer is my age, just coming on sixty, with another twenty years of voting (that is, five presidential elections, ten congressional elections, and about six senatorial elections) left in the average one of us. As boomers get older their voting rate just keeps rising, and it’ll take a decade before attrition–Boomers will die, eventually–surpasses that increasing voting rate and finally drops their numbers beneath those of Gen Xers and Millennials, who will have gotten older and grumpier and more prone to voting by then. Like I said, that is ten years off.. And by then the Hispanic baby boom that accompanied the explosion of Hispanic immigration in the 1980’s-90’s (immigrants always have lots of kids, their kids slow down and grandkids sometimes have no kids at all) will have gotten old enough to finally start voting at a rate approximating whites. Unfortunately they will mostly be in bigger states–California, New York, Florida, Texas–the way the Irish were once mostly in big urban areas that limited their political impact, but nonetheless, it will help to chip away at the white GOP majority. The GOP is at peak strength now, unless, somehow, they suddenly appeal to blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and people under 40. Which is probably unlikely. Hell, just the opposite.
So what am I getting at? Just hold on, this crazy Trumpist GOP surge cannot last. You will not see a series of Trumpoid presidents. Or an endless GOP majority in congress. But it won’t end right away either. They have a solid eight years ahead of them. Unless, of course, there is some sort of Watergate-scale catastrophe. But I’m not getting my hopes up. I am just waiting for the slow change of generations. That is generally what has flipped the political course of history in this country. We boomers are in our last spasm of power now. Sure we didn’t actually win the popular vote in the presidential race. And for sure more people voted for Democratic candidates than voted for Republicans, again. But just enough older white people are in just the right places. Watch how we 52-70 years olds muck it up for the rest of you. Then again, our parents were gung ho for the Cold War and Viet Nam and nearly blew the world up once or twice. Their parents somehow combined Jim Crow and the New Deal. Every age has its issues. We are yours.