Saw a post about how democracy and civil rights have not changed much in the 250 years of American history. That it remains much as it stood when the country began. I replied with this:
If you say the country hasn’t changed very much you’re saying that all the progress thus far has been for naught. It’s changed vastly and for the better, it just can be even better. I remember back when I worked for the UFW we were delivering food to an impoverished farm workers camp on a ranch outside Santa Paula. It wasn’t the worst such camp I’d seen but this one was engaged in a strike and was being threatened with mass evictions. We did a helluva lot of work supporting that cause. A couple years ago I was telling Fyl that story as we drove down the 126 and noticed we’d missed our turn and needed to go back. I pulled into a driveway and I realized that this was the site of that wretched encampment but now I was looking at a rows of clean, modern farm workers housing that I didn’t even know was there. No filthy outhouses. No raw sewage in open ditches. No kids playing in dirt. This was the direct result of the big effort the UFW to get the filthy old camp replaced by decent housing. Don’t tell me a couple centuries of civil rights struggles have gotten us nowhere.
And let me add this now, that I think we get carried away by the unreality of virtual reality into not seeing what has really been done and why we have to keep doing more. We’re all keyboard warriors here and keyboard warriors’ fingers tire quickly. But civil rights and democracy are real world things that impact real people, even us. They require much more than our fired up fingers. They require commitment and not just our opinion. We are winning and have been winning, it’s just that the struggle is a never ending one.
So cheer up and vote.
I don’t understand the objections to celebrities for president. I voted for Johnny Carson for president (twice), then Cher, then Meat Loaf, and finally the entire cast of Hill Street Blues, or would have if they’d fit on the ballot.
Is Miley Cyrus thirty five yet?
My right to speak, worship and defend myself do not come from a piece of paper, as glorious as the Bill of Rights is.
They come from God.
— Kurt Schlichter on Twitter (@KurtSchlichter) March 6, 2017
We’ve got ourselves a genuine constitutional crisis when Trump supporters begin thinking of the Bill of Rights as a mere piece of paper. “Natural rights”, as they call them, trumps the constitution every time, or at least the amendments to. Kirk Schlichter is a senior columnist at Townhall.com and a Trump true believer, every word as gospel. He doesn’t seem the least bit religious in his daily deluge of tweets. Instead it seems an excuse to dispense with constitutional niceties when they conflict with Donald Trump. He’d disagree, I’m sure, quite colorfully, but that must be the impression that all but the true believers get from him. And as the Trump administration descends into chaos, Schlichter’s tweets have taken on a ferocious, humorless intensity, very militant, often offensive, jibing with Breitbart and hinting at the increasingly crazed talk of civil war you see on InfoWars. He’s an impressive writer for what he’s doing, taut and angry, with nearly a hundred thousand followers, old friends of mine among them. He’s a masterful propagandist on Twitter, and Twitter is the social media battlefield now. Trump made it so, and battle lines surge back and forth angrier and angrier by the day, by the hour, in huge numbers. Schlichter is in the thick of it, hurling himself into the breach like John Bell Hood at Antietam, matching every thrust with a counter thrust, every insult with a sharper insult, every attack on Trump with an attack on Obama or Hillary or the press or Sweden or anybody. Just keep attacking. It’s impressive.
But look at the war of words over the long term. This political struggle is turning into a generational battle, Baby Boomers vs Millennials, with GenXers in between. The Boomers have another ten years of dominance in Red States and red counties before age and disease start thinning their ranks. You can do extraordinary damage in a decade. Schlichter and a zillion other Schlichters could be complete Bannon acolytes by then. All those old fashioned Tea Party principles gone the way of Barry Goldwater, replaced with this scary new economic nationalism. Imagine the battle lines then, long since hardened into trenches and barbed wire. A lot can happen in ten years. The country descended from peace into fanaticism and war in the ten year span from 1850 to 1860. You couldn’t have seen 1860 coming in 1850, and could scarcely have remembered 1850 in 1860. And all they had then was telegraphs. But telegraphy had shortened the news cycle from weeks to a couple days in that ten year span. The sheer velocity of news upped the intensity to crackling levels and the killing began. John Brown launched his raid because he knew that telegraphy gave him the possibility of starting a revolution overnight. He didn’t. But he certainly rushed the southern states headlong into secession.
So do I see a civil war happening again? No, I adamantly do not. It’s a comparison you hear more and more, however, and will hear even more so as the politics gets fiercer. But the differences in 1860 were much more stark, two civilizations existing under one constitution, each hating the other. We are nowhere near that now. We never will be. That was decided for us way back in 1865. Nor will we have revolution, that possibility ended with the election of FDR back in 1932. Besides, as Trump’s boomers fade from the scene everything will mellow out nicely. This is a scarily intense interregnum, the most conservative generation since the 1920’s–the baby boomers–wielding their maximum ballot box power just as their economic security plunges to an all time low. Thus the stark differences that have sundered the county now, these two huge camps of Americans who can’t agree on almost anything, even besmirching the Super Bowl with crazy political talk, and people talking idiotically of guns and revolution and civil war. All the time technology changes the news in minutes. Our never ending, never even slowing down news cycle, frantic as the electrons its made from, gushing with updates and breaking stories arriving by the second. The potential for vast and sudden change seems in there. It’s a perfect medium for extremism. I read David Duke’s vicious screes supporting Trump and hating Jews and realize that thirty three thousand people see those every time he pushes the enter button. For a second I get nearly metaphysical, wondering what all this means.
Well, it mean this is going to be a helluva fight, for one thing, and that 2018 is all important. So vote. If you love your Bill of Rights and constitution, you must vote. Resisting is all well and good, but voting wins.
I keep hearing that less than 50% of Americans voted in 2016. Untrue. 55% of the voting age population (VAP) voted, or 137 million out of 251 million. When you include only the voting eligible population (VEP), which excludes non-citizens, mostly, and felons in some states, that total drops to 231 million meaning that 60% of all the population eligible to vote did vote. That’s not a bad number.
The number you commonly see, though, is the voting age population (VAP) number, which comes to 55% this year. That is actually a higher than normal number. It’s lower than 2008, but higher than 2012. In fact, since 1972 only five elections have had more voters. The 60% turnout hasn’t been reached since 1968, the last of five times since 1932 it went above 60, though it never got hit 63% (and it hasn’t been above 70% since 1900). On the other hand, it has only dropped below 50% three times: 1920, 1924 and 1996.
The highest turnout streak was from 1952 to 1968. Only one of those five elections dropped below 60%. The New Deal-WW2 generation (dubbed The Greatest Generation) voted in very high numbers. And the kids who were born in the low birth rate 1932-45 years (labeled, sadly, The Silent Generation) voted in high numbers too. Together they made the Ike-JFK-LBJ years the high point in voter turnout. Goldwater was buried in 1964 in a turnout of nearly 62%. Indeed, it was only when the FDR voters began dying off that the Reagan Revolution’s assault on FDR’s social programs (as dreamed of by Goldwater’s followers twenty years earlier) went into high gear, as they were its most fervent supporters. Their kids, not so much.
You can see when you look at the numbers that when the vote was lowered to 18 from 21, in the 1972 election, the turn out plunged a few points (the 18-20 years olds that year voted for Nixon, too.) Not many of those enfranchised kids bothered to vote. And turn out remained low as baby boomers flooded the electorate, bringing down the average in presidential elections to 52%. It wasn’t until Gen X and Millennials came flooding in that the numbers began to rise into the mid 50 percentiles again. They vote more than Boomers did at their age. But unfortunately for them, Boomers have finally hit that 55 and up age where we vote like crazy.
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.
(Another odd election year Facebook post.)
I remember that some college towns in Idaho and Montana were part of that Natural Law Party continuum that stretched from health food stores near college campuses from Santa Cruz into the Rockies. Seen on a map it arced from northern California through the Pacific Northwest and Idaho and back down in Colorado before stopping at New Mexico because the Natural Law dudes were too weird for Hispanics and Indians. I remember it looked like a map of the fertile crescent in ancient times, where civilization began, but with hacky sack.
The electoral college is all about congressional representation. Every state has a base of three–for the two senators and minimum one congressional seat. By themselves a small state–there are seven states with one district–have little electoral influence. But as a bloc they have electoral clout. Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas have 12 electoral votes between them that go GOP almost without fail, as many electoral votes as Washington state yet with less than half the population. But this isn’t as important as it used to be…there are two 3 vote states–Delaware and Vermont–that are solidly Democrat. And when you add up the populations of the GOP’s 4 electoral vote states in the Rockies and Plains, they equal in electoral votes states and population states like Pennsylvania. And a lot of states in the west–Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado–have begun turning regularly blue.
It’s in the bigger states that the Democrats get burned. Were California’s electoral votes allocated on the same population basis as Wyoming’s (plus two for the senators), we would have 202 instead of 55. Texas would have 142. Florida would have 105. New York would have 103. Illinois 68. The problem is that urban and suburban congressional districts tend to be more densely populated than rural districts. The more urban the state, the less the congressional representation. There are thirteen states with an average district size of over 600K people (California’s is over 700K) and only three of those have been reliably red in presidential elections (though at least two of those states, Texas and Georgia, will be purple battleground states within ten years, and probably blue in twenty). And of the 13 states with average congressional delegation size of less than 400K, eight have been reliably red. Democrats as a rule have the underrepresented districts, Republicans the overrepresented. To make things worse, the GOP has gerrymandered a lot of Democrats in some states into huge districts, and themselves into many smaller districts. Ohio’s majority Republican congressional delegation in a majority Democratic state is the most flagrant example….and though it has nothing to do with the electoral college, all those Republican congressmen running for office in their tidy white districts is one of the reasons Trump captured the state this year.
This disparity in congressional district population has been the only thing that has kept the GOP in the presidential game at all. Without it the Democrats would have an overwhelming electoral college majority. Even Trump flipping four reliably blue states this goofy year stills leaves him down by well over a million, maybe even two, in the popular vote. Were congressional districts allocated fairly, the Democrats would gain dramatically in the House of Representatives, and in the electoral college, and the GOP would shrink. Shrink a whole lot. Even so, inevitably, the tide is turning, as rural populations thin out and urban populations expand with kids moving in from the country and immigrants arriving and having 3 to 4 kids instead of the white’s 1 or 2 (or none at all). The white population of conservative suburban districts is aging and dying out (and will be leaving ghostly tracts of four and five bedroom houses too big for modern families) and is not being replaced by equal numbers of their own–indeed replaced by immigrants (think Orange County). The GOP has been overwhelmingly a baby boomer party–we have been the most conservative generation, by far, since the 1920’s–but we boomers failed to have enough kids to keep the ratio going. In another decade or so the GOP will cave in and become strictly regional, much as the original conservatives, the Federalists did. They elected the first two presidents but were gone by the 1820’s, swamped by the immigrants they hated. The GOP too is pretending that only their demographic truly deserve to vote, deserve even to be here. Alas, there are only so many white people born between 1946 and 1964, and the GOP has adamantly refused to expand beyond them. And their kids and grandkids don’t vote like they do at all. The electoral college will turn blue, even if we don’t ever change it.
As for Trump (I’m writing this the Friday after his election, as my fellow liberals still stumble about shocked and weeping, as I would be, if not for all the Prozac), he is the ultimate Baby Boomer candidate, if not a Boomer himself–he’s one of he Silent Generation, believe it or not–and Boomers are at their peak electoral power now. He may be incoherent half the time, but then wasn’t Bob Dylan? And Trump may come off like a loutish New York version of George Wallace, but then a helluva lot of us voted for George Wallace (a shocking number of the Gene McCarthy voters in 1968 voted for Wallace that November, and voted for Wallace in even bigger numbers in the 1972 primaries, especially in Michigan and Wisconsin.) Trump didn’t win many big states in a big way last Tuesday–Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin combined gave him a razor thin 107,000 vote margin, once all mail in ballots were counted (Hillary stomped all over Trump among those who vote by mail). Still, that was just enough to put all those upper midwest minorities and Gen Xers and Millennials with all their college degrees (far fewer Boomers went to college than did) in their place. You betcha.
There are still loads of us Boomers alive (I was born right smack in the middle of the boom, 1957), and we are at our peak voting years, our 50’s and 60’s. People vote with astonishing regularity at our age (you value regularity at our age) and this year we just happened to be angry and in the right combination of states to give Donald Trump an electoral vote majority with the worst disparity of popular votes ever. Hillary had a higher popular vote margin than not only Al Gore, but more than JFK (1960), Nixon (1968) and maybe even Carter (1976.) It’s like if you don’t win the Super Bowl by more than two touchdowns they give the trophy to the losing team. A constitutional shenanigan, really. As Hillary’s numbers are finally officially tallied–which could take weeks in California, where there is a mountain of mail in ballots, millions of them, being counted by hand–the scale of this shenanigan will dawn on everybody, and the notion of Donald Trump having a mandate for revolution will disappear into thin air. You need to win votes to launch a revolution. FDR did. Reagan did. George W. Bush didn’t. Bush is so now loathed by most Republicans it’s hard to believe he was one of their own, with a GOP approval rate above 90%. There’s not much love in the long run for those who win the electoral college but lose the popular vote–when was the last time you heard nice things about Rutherford B. Hayes or Benjamin Harrison?–and in the 2000 election Bush was down only half a million votes. Trump is down by much more. A popular vote deficit of historic proportions. Huge, even. Big league.
Oh well, all us Boomers will start dying off soon enough–the eldest if us are 70 now, and we used to smoke like chimneys–and Gen Xers and Millennials will finally outvote us in, oh, two election cycles. We’ll still vote plenty, of course, all crotchety and conservative, but we’ll at last be outnumbered by all those rotten kids. And you know how they vote, those rotten kids, overwhelmingly blue, in ratios not seen since FDR’s day. Even as they get grumpy and old themselves they will vote probably twice as Democrat as we do now. Certainly twice as liberal. They are the most liberal bunch since the New Deal. The Reagan Revolution was made possible because those original New Dealers were dying off (about three or four years earlier than we will, a whole election cycle). But the Reagan Revolution will fade the same way, as we Boomers die off. We are witnessing its final thrashings now. The New Deal lasted for 48 years, 1932-1980. The Reagan Revolution might last 40 years, 1980-2020. Apparently Reaganomics contained faster acting seeds of its own destruction. But I digress.
There are likely to be none of these absurd vote winner losing the presidency travesties once we are gone, taking the GOP with us. Once the whites only GOP disappears, there will be no need for imbalanced congressional districts. There will be no advantage of farmers having two or three or times as much political pull as city dwellers, or a rancher in Wyoming having 67 times as much electoral vote representation as a writer in Los Angeles. The electoral college will again be reduced to an archaic afterthought, and not a threat to democracy itself. Or so I hope.
I hear a helluva lotta people who ought to know better defending the electoral college. It was designed to keep democracy in check. To make sure the people didn’t elect anyone dangerous. That was the theory. It was used that way just once, in 1824. In 1828 the people who used it that way were swept away in a landslide by a very angry, vengeful electorate. Then in 1876 it was used to break a tie that threatened a renewed civil war, cash switched hands, electors switched votes, and the losing candidate won. Sleazy, sure, but better than another war, they said. In 1888 it just so happened that Benjamin Harrison won sixty five more electoral votes than his counterpart despite losing the popular vote. (Ballot box stuffing in the right states helped Harrison’s cause considerably, it was said.) From 1892 to 1996 the electoral college played no role whatsoever, as the winner always had more popular votes than the loser, so the electoral college was merely a vaguely ridiculous formality performed pretty much unnoticed. It seemed harmless enough.
Then came 2000, and the most conservative presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater (who was probably the most conservative nominee ever) was elected by the electoral college even though he was down half a million votes. I remember railing against that and getting fierce opposition from people defending the vaunted institution. What good is it? What is its point. It’s in the constitution I was told. That, apparently was enough, despite the horrendous damage inflicted upon the people, the body politic, the economy and foreign policy by the Bush/Cheney administration who most people had voted against. There’s a reactionary streak deep in even progressive bones. They like things, some things, left the same way. Me, I was left so bitter I nearly gave up on voting itself. I hated the fact that an archaic machination tucked into the Constitution centuries before invalidated the vote of the majority. Undermined the whole concept of democracy. I dreaded the next time it happened.
Well, it has happened. And only sixteen years later. By the time all the absentee and provisional ballots are counted in California–and there are about six million left to go through–Hillary will rack up a huge popular vote margin. She’s winning those ballots 2 to 1. If there are six million votes remaining, that means she’ll wind up with two million more votes than Donald Trump. That is more than the margin that JFK had in 1960 and Nixon had in 1968 combined, and more than Carter had in 1976. More too than Trump had in Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa combined, and maybe more than he had in all the battleground states combined. Yet by the rules of the electoral college, Donald Trump wins. The damage he will do the country is so far unimaginable. This is a moral and political catastrophe the likes of which this country has never faced. And it would not be happening at all if we had direct elections. It has been made possible by the electoral college.
We have direct elections for governor in California, a state of 40 million people. It never even occurs to us that electing a governor that way is somehow dangerous. And it’s not. The notion seems completely absurd. Imagine our own state electoral college, divided by counties, with a minimum three electors from each county (as in the real electoral college) plus amounts based on population. One could win by winning small counties entirely. Imagine that. Imagine how different government in California would be if our governors were elected by residents of small counties up north, in the Sierra and through the length of the Central Valley. Imagine what they would do to the rest of us in the Bay Area and southern California. Imagine the dysfunction. Its sounds absurd, impossible.
Yet somehow electing Donald J. Trump, who may have lost the popular vote by two million, doesn’t seem odd at all to those devoted to the electoral college. It seems perfectly natural, as if that is what the Founding Fathers intended, that we elect extremist right wing politicians. Twice.
What part of democracy don’t we understand?
This was not 1980. There was not a landslide. Indeed, when the votes are finally tallied in a couple weeks, Clinton will have a margin in the popular vote that could reach two million votes. Most people did not vote for Trump. But enough did in the right states that enabled Trump to win the electoral college. But American did not change like it did in 1980. There is no national mandate for Trump’s vicious, racist ideology. This was the electoral college equivalent of a coup d’etat. So what do you do? You resist. You resist in every way possible, you fight him at every step, until the next election. Remember, this scumbag declared war on the rest of us. He and his followers treated it like war. They screamed bloody threats, waved guns, and promised to put us in jail. His movement–and he loves calling it that, his movement–is probably the most fascist thing we have seen in this country since the nazi-infiltrated German-American Bund in the 1930’s. Trump and his movement have some really freaky tie ins to the far right movements in Europe, to the creepy insane Alt Right in this country, and most bizarrely of all is affiliated with the kleptocratic regime of Vladimir Putin. The most dangerous right wing ideologues in this country will be working in his Administration. There has never been such a threat to American democracy as the presidency of Donald Trump. We can’t afford to lighten up on them for a minute. We are like the French when they suddenly found themselves conquered by the Nazis in 1940. Some collaborated. Some hid and pretended it wasn’t happening. And some joined with others and resisted. It’s your choice.