Entirely Expected Hopelessness

Alexander Pope was a strange little man, but everyone used to quote him anyway, especially those lines from An Essay on Man – “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed.”

Everyone knew what he was talking about. For Chicago Cubs fans there’s always next year. The words Pope wrote in 1734 capture that irrational optimism that keeps people hoping things will work out as they might work out, one day, as they should, in a just universe. Pope admired that hope – that keeps people going – while noting that it’s pretty much always next year. And this year, 282 years after Pope write those words, again, no one was blessed. No one is going to stop Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders is not going to bring sweet justice to America. No one is going to stop Hillary Clinton. America will have to be blessed at some future date.

That’s what happened with the New York primary:

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton notched huge wins in New York Tuesday night, resoundingly answering questions about their command of the race as the front-runners moved much closer to their nominations.

For Trump, the win means he could sweep the state’s 95 delegates and potentially position himself to win the GOP nomination without going through a contested convention in July. Clinton’s win, meanwhile, could blunt Bernie Sanders’ momentum once and for all.

The biggest question for Trump going into the night was whether his margin of victory would be high enough to clinch most of New York’s 95 delegates. CNN projects Trump will clear the 50% threshold to take all of New York’s 14 statewide delegates. He will need to win majorities in each of the state’s 27 congressional districts to win all of the remaining delegates. …

“We’re going to end at a very high level and get a lot more delegates than anybody projected even in their wildest imaginations,” Trump said in a victory speech from Trump Tower.

He added: “We’re going to go into the convention I think as the winner.”…

“We don’t have much of a race anymore,” Trump said. “Sen. Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated.”

And on the other side:

With 90% of the Democratic vote in at 11 p.m. ET, Clinton was leading Sanders 57.4% to 42.6%.

“We started this race not far from here on Roosevelt Island,” Clinton said in her victory speech. “And tonight, a little less than a year later, the race for the Democratic nomination is in the homestretch and victory is in sight.”

Those are the facts of the matter, although hope springs eternal:

Bernie Sanders’s campaign insists it will spend the summer working to persuade Democratic Party superdelegates to abandon Hillary Clinton – even if the Vermont senator loses to her at the ballot box.

Shortly after Clinton declared victory in the New York primary on Tuesday night, Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver appeared on MSNBC. He was asked if his boss would continue trying to convince party insiders to back him even if he loses both the pledged delegate count and the popular vote to Clinton by the time the primary season wraps up on June 7.

“Are you still going to try to flip superdelegates if you’re not winning one of those?” asked MSNBC analyst Steve Kornacki, who highlighted the contradiction of a people-powered campaign subverting the will of the Democratic electorate, given that Clinton is likely to win many more votes than Sanders.

Weaver said the Sanders campaign would still be within its rights to try to persuade superdelegates – a group of elected officials and party insiders – to switch from Clinton to Sanders regardless of the state of the delegate count at the Democratic convention in July.

“We’re going to go to the convention,” Weaver said.

Yeah, but what’s the point? A people-powered campaign subverting the will of the Democratic electorate is a contradiction in terms, like that Republican favorite the hypothetical unborn child.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie adds this perspective:

This time last year, Bernie Sanders was announcing his campaign for president from the corners of national obscurity – a self-described “democratic socialist” throwing in his lot from one of the most homogenous and idiosyncratic states in the Union. Now, he’s built the gold standard for insurgent campaigns in a Democratic presidential primary, second only to Barack Obama’s effort in 2008. He has an incredible following with young liberals, who are swept away by his optimism, his decency, his seeming authenticity. And incredibly, he’s raised tens of millions of dollars through small donations from millions of people, funding his campaign without recourse to corporate or financial interests, in a way we’ve never seen before.

It feels true that Bernie Sanders has sparked a new movement of the left – a flowering of youthful energy that will transform American politics, or at least pull the Democratic Party to the social democratic left where it belongs.

But it’s not. There’s no question the Vermont senator has performed in a way – and at a level – that no one anticipated, giving Hillary Clinton a serious challenge in a primary that was originally billed as a coronation. He has beaten expectations. But far from building a coalition of new voters and expanding left-wing politics to groups who have traditionally eschewed or avoided it, Sanders has simply reconstituted the usual liberal coalition that backs insurgents in a Democratic primary. He has done so with incredible success. But a movement? There never was a Bernie Sanders movement.

That there’s precedent for Bernie Sanders isn’t trivia or a means to dismiss him. Far from it. Instead, it tells us something significant about the roots of Sanders’ support in the Democratic Party, why he’s struggled to break through with certain groups, and about the likely fate of his coalition as constituted, in the unlikely event that he wins the nomination. It’s not hard to list the ways in which Sanders departs from the typical politician, much less the typical presidential candidate. At 74, he’s older than most of the men and women who have run for the Democratic nomination (and president) in the modern era. He’s Jewish, a major change from the cadre of Protestants and Catholics who typically run for president. And he brings a unique persona to national politics: a disheveled, irascible, sometimes grumpy man who carries a trace of Brooklyn in his accent and his blunt habits of communication. There’s also his politics, or rather, his political labeling. He identifies as a “democratic socialist” and has been at an official remove from the Democratic Party for the whole of his congressional career.

But as just a glance at his record shows, this is more cosmetic than anything else. There’s no doubt that in his pre-political career, Sanders was devoted to socialist politics, such as they existed in the United States. But as a legislator, he has caucused with Democrats, voted with Democrats, fundraised for Democrats, and he’s now in line to run a Senate committee under Democrats.

Remove his “socialist” branding, which even he defines as little more than an updated form of New Deal liberalism, and you’re left with a candidate who strongly resembles other insurgent candidates going back to the beginning of the modern primary process, from George McGovern to Jerry Brown to Bill Bradley to Howard Dean. He relies on “authenticity” as contrasted with the “calculated” positioning of mainstream candidates. He stands on the ideological left, a factional figure who seeks to pull the party in his direction, or pry concessions from a reluctant establishment. And his support comes from the usual places: Young people (especially college students), white liberals, and the most ideological actors within the Democratic Party.

That’s just part of a much longer and rather convincing essay that also includes this:

All the enthusiasm is there; it just needs to be cultivated and channeled into something durable. But that requires a sacrifice, of sorts. For as much as Sanders and his most vocal supporters identify themselves as outside the party system, the only way a real Sanders movement can make change is to take an active role within that system. Voting is too imprecise to send a message or make a statement, and withholding a vote does nothing to persuade or build influence. (Who in the Democratic Party solicits Ralph Nader for advice and aid?) Sanders supporters who want to move the Democratic Party to the ideological left need to become Sanders Democrats, political actors who participate in the system as it exists. To win a lasting victory – to define the ideological terms of Democratic Party politics – the people inspired by Sanders need to do more than beat the establishment; they need to become it.

Liberals and leftists will have to work with an eye toward the long-term, operating from the ground up to make ideological liberals a key power-broker in the party. If the Bernie Sanders effort shows anything, it’s that the odds are in their favor. The youngest, most active Democrats are more liberal than their older counterparts, and technology has advanced to the point where they can organize and raise money without relying on established power centers. Even if Bernie Sanders is just the inheritor of friendly demographic and technological trends, his success suggests a real opportunity for the liberals and leftists who back his campaign. They have the chance, if they want it, to channel their energy into a move to make the Democratic Party theirs, in the same way that conservatives – until the rise of Donald Trump, at least – took hold of the Republican Party.

The energy of the Sanders campaign will almost certainly fade away. But if the voters inspired by Sanders can gather their energy and become a part of the Democratic Party, they can win the influence they need to shift its direction in the long-term. And with their youth, they can play the long game, if they choose to. …

This isn’t fun. It’s routine. It’s boring. It requires Sanders and supporters to play a game they’ve decried for the past year. But in the American system – where everyone gets a vote, and the most votes win – you have to pick one party or the other as a vehicle for your views. For liberals, historically, that’s been the Democratic Party.

And now Bernie Sanders is pretty much mathematically eliminated, and on the other side there’s no hope either, as Brian Beutler explains here:

Since March, Donald Trump has been the only candidate with a traditional path to winning an outright majority of 1,237 pledged delegates before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. More recently, it became mathematically impossible for John Kasich to win a delegate majority, and Ted Cruz would now probably have to rely on unpledged delegates to clear the victory threshold. But that already forbidding situation became even more challenging Tuesday night after Donald Trump won the New York primary in dominating fashion.

In the aftermath of Cruz’s victory in the Wisconsin primary, when the Trump campaign seemed to be floundering, it was tempting to imagine that Republicans could keep Trump far enough from 1,237 to justify denying him the nomination: Yes, Trump won vote and delegate pluralities, they could say. But he also has relatively high unfavorables within the GOP, and Republican voters are more supportive, in sum, of a Cruz-Kasich ticket, or a Cruz-Marco Rubio ticket, than they are of Trump winning the nomination.

Now that it looks like he’ll be at least close to an outright delegate majority, it’s difficult to see how anti-Trump conservatives can deny him the nomination and avoid accusations that they have rejected the discernible will of the Republican electorate.

This is over:

No matter how short of 1,237 Trump falls, his argument at the convention will be simple, and completely intuitive: I might not have won in a way that requires the Republican Party to give me the nomination – but I won a moral victory. It’s in your power to deny me the nomination, but woe betide the GOP if you do. This will ring true both to his own supporters, and to GOP voters who perhaps supported a different candidate but are amenable to Trump and believe instinctually that in an election, the person with the most votes should win.

The only response might be this:

At 1,000 delegates or even 1,100 delegates, anti-Trump conservatives would have a not-quite-as-intuitive, but still-easy-to-grasp counterargument: Your plurality is real, but it is small, and we can create a ticket that better reflects the party’s preference than any ticket with you at the top. It would be dangerous and debatable, but not facially illegitimate. And there’s a meaningful distinction between the two.

Forget it:

After New York, anti-Trump conservatives are facing a worst-case scenario in which Trump reaches 1,237 in early June, becoming the nominee in Cleveland by acclamation, and a best-case scenario in which Trump arrives in Cleveland with somewhere near 1,200 delegates, and the Republican Party denies him the nomination solely on the basis of elite disdain.

It’s hard to game this race out with any real precision, in no small part because Kasich’s impact on the race is so nebulous. By staying in, Kasich may have denied Trump some delegates in New York, but were he to drop out he’d free Cruz up to defeat Trump handily in Indiana. Using a conservative simulation, MSNBC’s election savant Steve Kornacki sees Trump entering the convention with 1,199 delegates – nearly 49 percent. Imagine that’s correct, and the dilemmas becomes clear. If unpledged delegates oppose Trump, the question of whether to force a second ballot will be in their hands and #NeverTrump delegates who are pledged to vote Trump on the first ballot will have to ask themselves whether they’re prepared to deny Trump the nomination on the narrowest of technicalities. Anti-Trump conservative pundits will need to weigh the competing imperatives of defeating Trump and running a candidate who enjoys the presumption of legitimacy.

But that’s dangerous:

In a narrow, zero-sum sense, it doesn’t matter if Trump takes five or 15 or 40 percent of the party with him if he bolts the party, since even five percent will probably be too much for the GOP to remain competitive in November. But there’s a real difference between defeating Trump in a way that satisfies the majority of the party, and wresting the nomination from him in a way that strikes a majority of the party as underhanded. That difference will matter when it comes time for Republicans to pick up the pieces after this primary. And what they may have lost tonight is a way to convincingly argue that they beat Trump fair and square.

This really is over, but the New York Times’ Frank Bruni argues that this is no way to elect a president:

With Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s victories in New York, we’re one furious contest closer to the end of this spectacle. But we’ve known for a while now where we’re headed, and it isn’t anyplace good.

American voters are displeased with the candidates they’ve been given. They’re disengaged from the process that winnows the field.

And that process disregards the political center, erodes common ground and leaves us with a government that can’t build the necessary consensus for, let alone implement, sensible action in regard to taxes, to infrastructure, to immigration, to guns, to just about anything.

Make America great again? We need to start by making it functional.

Here’s the problem:

A poll released by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal on Sunday showed that 68 percent of American voters couldn’t imagine themselves casting a vote in the general election for Trump, while 61 percent said the same about Ted Cruz and 58 percent about Clinton.

A much, much higher percentage of voters viewed each of these three unfavorably than favorably. “Unpopularity Contest” was the headline on the story on the NBC News website, which rightly asked how well any president of such polarizing effect would be able to govern.

Ah, but we set ourselves up for this:

To prevail, a candidate doesn’t even have to persuade an especially large share of the electorate, given how splintered and detached voters are. In an important commentary published in The Hill on Monday, the Democratic pollster and strategist Mark Penn extrapolated from Trump’s and Clinton’s vote tallies to note that, in his estimation, “We now have a system in which it takes just 10 million votes out of 321 million people to seize one of the two coveted nominations.”

“The result,” he wrote, “is a democracy that is veering off course, increasingly reflecting the will of powerful activist groups and the political extremes.” Would-be nominees needn’t worry much about the roughly 40 percent of Americans who at least technically consider themselves independents – a group that’s grown over the last decade – or the 60 percent who say that a third political party is needed.

No, these candidates “can just double down on elements of their base,” Penn observed. “Rather than bring the country together, they demonize their opponents to hype turnout among select groups, targeted by race, religion or ethnicity.”

Penn suggested several smart reforms to increase voters’ participation and sense of investment, including the abolition of caucuses and a rotation of the order in which states vote, so that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina don’t always get such outsize sway.

Ah, hope springs eternal, doesn’t it? Things will work out as they might work out, one day, as they should, in a just universe – next time – but the only hope floating around right now might be this:

Donald Trump isn’t even the Republican nominee yet. But his incendiary rhetoric, most notably about killing the families of terrorists and bringing back torture, has critics on the right and the left discussing the most extreme of countermeasures at an unusually early point in the race.

“Impeachment” is already on the lips of pundits, newspaper editorials, constitutional scholars, and even a few members of Congress. From the right, Washington attorney Bruce Fein puts the odds at 50/50 that a President Trump commits impeachable offenses as president. Liberal Florida Rep. Alan Grayson says Trump’s insistence on building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, if concrete was poured despite Congress’s opposition, could lead down a path toward impeachment. Even the mainstream Republican head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently tossed out the I-word when discussing the civilian backlash if Trump’s trade war with China led to higher prices on everyday items sold at WalMart and Target. On his radio show last month, Rush Limbaugh even put a very brisk timeline on it: “They’ll be talking impeachment on day two, after the first Trump executive order,” he said.

Hey, it could happen:

Constitutional experts of all political stripes say it’s surprising for impeachment talk to bubble up this early – but then Trump has been throwing around some surprising ideas for a leading candidate, calling the Geneva Conventions a “problem” and pitching policies that many see as violating international law. “What he’s stated in my judgment would be clearly impeachable offenses,” said Fein, a former Reagan-era Justice Department official who worked on the Bill Clinton impeachment effort. Likewise, Yale Law School lecturer and military justice expert Eugene Fidell offered a similar prediction for Trump from the left. “He’s certainly said things, which if followed through on, would constitute high crimes and misdemeanors,” Fidell said. And doubtless many of Trump’s foes would like to see him impeached just on principle – the quickest way to broom out a leader who horrifies the inclusive sensibilities of Democrats, and has blown apart the Republican Party he’s nominally part of.

There’s always hope. Alexander Pope said so.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Entirely Expected Hopelessness

  1. Rick says:

    According to Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn, it’s probably not too early to be talking about this:

    “Impeachment” is already on the lips of pundits, newspaper editorials, constitutional scholars, and even a few members of Congress. From the right, Washington attorney Bruce Fein puts the odds at 50/50 that a President Trump commits impeachable offenses as president.

    Maybe this means it’s about the right time to unveil the bumper sticker I’ve been thinking of marketing:

    MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
    Impeach President Trump!

    The cool part is, I could post ads for it on both conservative and liberal websites!

    But back to that assault on political law and order by plain old-fashioned down-home horse sense that’s going on over on the Republican side — here described by Brian Beutler in the New Republic:

    No matter how short of 1,237 Trump falls, his argument at the convention will be simple, and completely intuitive: I might not have won in a way that requires the Republican Party to give me the nomination – but I won a moral victory. It’s in your power to deny me the nomination, but woe betide the GOP if you do.

    This will ring true both to his own supporters, and to GOP voters who perhaps supported a different candidate but are amenable to Trump and believe instinctually that in an election, the person with the most votes should win.

    Yes but, in the same way a drunk might celebrate his staying sober for a month by spending the week on a binge, abandoning the principle of majority rule is just another symptom that the Republican Party has completely collapsed and has lost control over itself. Still, I suppose if you’re a political party on the verge of giving your nomination to Bozo the Clown, there’s no additional harm in abandoning all pretense of decorum.

    The truth is, the presidential nominating process of both political parties was intentionally designed to emulate the general election process itself, as we all know. But what most of us may not realize is, never in the 226-year history of the American Republic has any of its presidents been elected by a plurality of the vote. Not a one!

    And before you give me that business of, for just one example, Abraham Lincoln winning with only 39.9% of the vote in 1860, we shouldn’t forget that that was the popular vote, whereas in the Electoral College, which is where we find the votes that actually elect presidents, Lincoln scored 180 out of 303 — or a 59.4% majority.

    But yes, there were presidential elections in which no candidate received more than 50% of the Electoral College vote, a good example being 1824, an election very similar to what the Republicans are going through right now in their primary season.

    Andrew Jackson had the most electoral votes — 99 of them, a 37.9% plurality — with John Quincy Adams coming in second with 84 electors (32.2%). William Crawford had 41 electors (15.7%) and Henry Clay had 37 (14.2%).

    So had the Trump rule (“He with the most votes, even if not a majority, wins”) prevailed, Andrew Jackson would have won the presidency that year. That may sound fair, except when you figure that maybe all those who voted for the other three really didn’t like Jackson, in which case, a “minority candidate” would have won the day, and the principle of “majority rule” would have been negated.

    In that case, the U.S. Constitution allowed for (and still does) a do-over by throwing the election into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams won, probably by bribing Henry Clay for his votes in exchange for being named Secretary of State.

    That outcome, by the way, pissed off somebody no end, that person being Andrew Jackson (a man who might remind us today of Donald Trump), who came back four years later to blow Adams away, 178 electors (68.2%) to 83 (31.8%).

    Yeah, there’s this complicated bureaucratic mechanism, found in both the Constitution and Republican rules, that strikes people who don’t think about it as more than a little undemocratic, but to those who do think about it, they realize that, even with all that horse trading, it is designed to better approximate democracy’s majority rule that can be found anywhere in your so-called “horse sense”.

    And so, if the people who don’t give any of this much thought get their way, convincing the rest of the Republicans to just abandon the rules that were designed to govern this sort of thing, it may not really matter — especially if the Republican nominee, after all the showy political folderol of the past several years, ends up getting shot down in flames — since it’s been pretty evident that that party is falling apart anyway.

    But if you think this has been one of the most interesting presidential elections in American history, you’re probably right, but just wait until after the Republicans are gone, in 2020!

    Rick

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