What part of democracy don’t we understand?

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?

Advertisements

This was not 1980

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.

Presidential election deja vu

Despite all the sturm and drang and media frenzy, this general election campaign has been predictable, following the same old patterns as most general campaigns–same states, same demographics, same predictable ebb and flow. Fundamental change occurs slowly, over generations, culminating in one stunning landslide–1932, 1980–though even those elections follow fairly predictable patterns after the conventions. The craziness happens in the primaries–1964, 1972, 1976, 2016– but in the post convention months leading to November, everything falls into the old patterns. You can look back at the final weeks of 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980 and all the way back to 1960, maybe even 1948, and unless there is a major third party–1968, 1992–the pattern is almost narcotically the same. Indeed, once best selling campaign histories have fallen out of fashion because the races are so identical. It’ll remain this way as long as there is the electoral college. You will never see things blown wide open until we finally dump that archaic machinery and replace it with the direct vote. In the meantime the last month of every presidential election will give veteran campaign watchers a stultifying sensation of deja vu. You already know how it will end, you’ve seen it before. It took an electoral vote tie in 2000 (courtesy Ralph Nader’s ideologically nihilistic campaign) to suddenly jar us out of the familiar and into the strange and scary. Now that was different. Too different.

Trumpstock

You’ll notice, incidentally, that most of that crowd is baby boomers. We are the worst generation politically since the 1920’s. We voted Republican in most elections, and if not Republican we came close, even in 1968. It was us who dismantled the New Deal. Reagan and his people began it, but it was the baby boomers who went at it hammer and saw and destroyed it. The Tea Party was the most successful political movement the baby boomers ever came up with, and look what it wrought, the political equivalent of the Mongol invasions. The George W. Bush administration was the ultimate in the baby boomer political philosophy in action, such as it was. Thankfully most of us will be dead in a couple decades and the younger folks can rebuild what our parents built. We may have been lots of fun and made some of the greatest music of all time, but we sure fucked everything up. Not that you can tell us that, though. We have convinced ourselves that it was us and us alone who brought progressive values to America. But think of this. When our parents saw Barry Goldwater running for president, they turned him down in a landslide. They knew dangerous crazies when they saw them. When we saw George W Bush, we elected him.

And Trump? Well, this is who baby boomers vote for when they get old and cranky. He is us. Maybe not me and you, but most of us. Certainly most of us baby boomer men, white and a surprising number Hispanic. And the majority of Trump’s female followers were born between 1946 to 1964, inclusive. There are not only a helluva lot of us–we were the biggest American generation ever since before the First World War, proportionately, there were so many of us and we all had lots of siblings, unlike today–and we live longer and healthier than our parents did, but we vote far, far more conservatively than any other generation in our age group, ever. The Bernie voters never had a chance against our numbers and voting participation rate–and that was against only those of us who voted for Democrats this year. More of us voted for Republicans. And most of them voted for Trump. The only reason that Trump is in this race at all is because so many Baby Boomers love the guy to death. Hey, we are wild and crazy guys. By the time we got to Trumpstock we were half a million strong.

trumpstock

A Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado, 10/3/2016. This shot is by Nate Gowdy, a brilliant photographer you can find on Facebook. His work has the depth of Walker Evans, and each picture tells a story worth far, far more than a thousand words. (Thanks, too, to Michael Rowe, who doesn’t know me from Adam, for the tip.)

 

Bitch

I see a lot of people bandying the word bitch around whenever there a famous woman they have issues with. Right now it’s Hillary, for a few years it was Michelle Obama, before then it was Condoleeza Rice and even, ludicrously enough considering how harmless she was, Laura Bush. But bitch fills basically the name nomenclatural role as the N-word or any other racial insult. And it’s essentially the same as calling someone a faggot or calling a disabled person a spazz or retard. It’s harsh and mean and intended, in a political context, to reinforce the fact that a woman is operating in a man’s world. So Hillary is a bitch, but there is no exact male equivalent to apply to Trump. Asshole, maybe, though that is not gender specific. And Condoleeza was a bitch. You could call her that and be a card carrying progressive, but if you called her an N-word bitch you were a racist. Hence Colin Powell never received the same vituperative venom from progressives that Condoleeza did, because the only thing as insulting and dehumanizing as bitch that could be applied to Colin Powell was the N-word, which was off limits, and rightly so. Odd to see this pattern repeated in the Obama years. Michelle could be called a bitch, but the only equivalent for her husband was the N-word, which automatically marked anyone who uttered it as a racist, and probably rightly so. Now with Hillary running, the choruses of bitches has come from both sides. The Left called her bitch all primary long. But reply in kind and call Bernie Sanders a kike, say, labelled the utterer an anti-Semite and very rightly so. Call him a communist and find yourself unfriended by half the people you know. Communist was absolutely off limits, even in jest. But calling Hillary a bitch was OK. Come the general election both candidates on the Left–Hillary and Jill Stein–are women (an extraordinary political watershed remarkably unrecognized by the public and media) and bitch has disappeared from the Left leaning lexicon. On the GOP side, though, it is everywhere. Jail that bitch. Shoot that bitch. Fuck that bitch. Bitch is still OK on the Left and the Right. Bitch is the N-word that you can apply to strong women but it is OK because everyone uses it, on both sides of the political spectrum, and because so many women have no problem with it. Indeed, many women seem to relish using it. Some of the most feminist women I know spat out Hillary is a bitch–or all capped BITCH–right up to the Democratic convention, because bitch is socially acceptable. Indeed, it is more acceptable now than it has been in decades, I think, because progressives and feminists have made it acceptable. Interesting. The last great slur.

Day after the midterms, 2010

(Wednesday, November 3, 2010)

Look at it this way–the combined Democratic increase in the House of Representatives in 2006/2008 was about fifty seats (51, actually). Now the GOP gets them back (they won sixty three). That’s been the trend in bad economic times throughout American history, going back as far as the late 19th century. During downturns, the balance in the house and senate swing dramatically back and forth. Odds are there’s a partial correction  back towards the mean in 2012 (the Democrats gained only eight House seats, actually).

And all the GOP did was take one house. In the process they have driven themselves very far to the right and a lot of the new people will lose their seats in two years, like just happened to us. (They didn’t, actually, and gained another thirteen in 2014.) The GOP will now start tearing itself to shreds and the GOP establishment is on a war footing trying to block a Sarah Palin nomination (hard to believe she was considered the leading GOP contender in 2010). Let them go after the health care plan. People will hate them for it. People hate socialized medicine but they love the various elements of Obamacare. Watch what happens.

One of the great things about having only one house (The Democrats still held the Senate) is that there’s not a chance im hell you can get anything done so you can spend your time yelling and being extreme and posing for pictures and engaging in intra-party struggles and helping people run for president. This is no Newt Gingrich/Tom DeLay thing as in 1994. The Republican House majority will get nothing done. They will be playing to their own, which means playing hard right, and Americans don’t like the hard right. The media, however, loves the hard right. You wanna get on TV, scream you lie (which Senator Jim DeMint yelled at Obama in his 2010 Sate of the Union speech).

And there are a lot of nut cases now in the House and Senate. Rand Paul? And who knows whose in the House now. But think of this–Michelle Bachmann is a major player. I mean, that is a dream come true. And I could go on and on. This election is in many ways the best possible outcome for the Obama administration. The right gets to go nuts. The right gets to have a civil war. The right is threatened with the cataclysmic possibility of a Palin nomination and no way to stop it (and note how the 2012 primary schedule favors Palin…..Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida….then Super Tuesday.) The left can go nuts fulminating over Palin. Centrists and indies can loathe Palin even more.  The House can only make its presence felt by shutting down the government or trying to starve elements of the Health Care Plan and looking like scrooges. The right can try to undermine banking reform. The right can engage in witch hunt investigations over nothing. The right can push the birth certificate issue. The right sat sit there and watch DeMint and Rubio and all the new Tea Party people scream and yell and avoid reality. And people can learn to hate John Boehner, who is uniquely hateable, beginning with his tan.

Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Obama screwing up at the presidential debate in 2012

(An email I wrote about Obama’s performance in the first debate against Romney in 2012. I had forgotten just how catastrophic that performance was. It was a short lived catastrophe, though, as Obama came roaring back in the second and third debates and neutralized the damage he’d done to himself in the first. Interesting, though, how some of my ranted criticisms here apply to Trump’s first performance as well.)

Well, Obama’s fucking up the debate is not only the major event of this campaign…it is also possibly the greatest fuck up in American Presidential campaign history since, well, since I don’t know. I can’t think of a comparison. Maybe Nixon in his debate in 1960…except that was a close race at the time, not a blow out. The Dewey-Truman thing was a Truman surge but also the fact that his voters had been underpolled. Neither of these compare to this one. Obama was way ahead and was beaten decisively and worse yet humiliated on national television. Obama was utterly unprepared.  He figured the race was in the bag and that he was so superior to Romney he could bat him away like a fly, I guess. His debate prep team ought to be banished from politics forever they were so bad. They failed completely, and I mean completely, to ascertain how Romney would debate. I have never seen such a failure. This was like Rick Perry’s performance in the GOP debates. This was horrible. Catastrophic. You have to be blindly partisan not to feel very uneasy about a guy that fucks up that badly when eye to eye with an opponent.

He’ll do better tonite, much better. Might even be declared the winner (in fact, if it’s a draw he probably will be declared the winner.)  The other point is that he does not fuck up on the stump, and hasn’t since the debate, not even the next morning. His campaign has made zero mistakes except for the debate. Romney is far more likely to stumble, and once he stumbles he stumbles again, gets off message, and looks very unpresidential. And Obama’s press team is much better than Romney’s. Romney’s people failed to capitalize on the scope of their debate win and in fact let Obama pick up his momentum the very next morning, as if the debate had never happened. If Romney does stumble again, and he probably will, his team will not react with such efficiency. ANd to be honest, the press doesn’t like him. They’re dying for a chance to go after him again.

One of the things that so astonishes me about Obama and his debate prep team was that the election appeared to be virtually over and the only way Romney could possibly win was if Obama fucked up incredibly bad. They should have made absolutely sure–absolutely sure–that would not happen. If he tried to blow off the prep (which I think he did) they should not have allowed it to happen. This is all inexcusable.

Obama will still win…Romney’s surge will peak and things will lean Obama’s way again. I also suspect that the Obama vote is underrepresented because Obama’s voters are young and are undersampled in the polling because so many young people do not have LAN lines.  This was one of the reasons that Obama’s vote share was underestimated in 2008.  I also suspect that the Right screaming about Obama’s people making up the good job numbers had an effect, because of the paranoia enhancing and conspiracy credibility of the internet. You scream that shit loud enough, people believe it. The Right knew what it was doing. They knew what they were doing when the demonized Joe Biden after the veep debate too. Once that shit goes viral it begins to shift opinion. Remember the reaction to their Obamacare scare. And it took the job numbers conspiracy to get the more demented wing of the GOP fired up in the blogs and social media again, which is where you can shift opinion in days. A lie spread fast enough and some people will believe it. Not many that affect this race, but just enough of the undecided voters. Those cats aren’t the hippest people in America anyway, I mean who hasn’t already made up their minds? That is what the campaigns are working with now, the people who haven’t cared enough to decide already, and might well make their decision on the flakiest factors. Like the guy who wanted a president more like Bruce Lee. I mean what can you say? But you have to take them seriously the last two months of the campaign.

But I have to say again…Obama’s performance in the first debate is probably the  single most catastrophic mistake in modern presidential election history. It was stunning, and it was entirely his own fault. And it’s no wonder that people began looking at Romney anew. Not necessarily because they think he is better, but because Obama looked so bad. You have to wonder about the hubris of a man and a campaign staff that thinks a national television audience can be blown off like that.

(Actually, the single most catastrophic mistake in modern presidential debate history was Jerry Ford emphatically declaring in a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination, nor would it be under a Ford Adminstration. That was weird…and handed Carter the White House.)