Electoral college

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.

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?

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.