Dealing With the Done Deal

Schoolkids who hate Mondays have it wrong. Teachers don’t like showing up in that classroom Monday morning either – but it has to be done. That’s the job – and those schoolkids, as much as they’d like to resist it, will be adults one day. They need to know things – so everyone shows up grumpy on Monday morning. It’s the same in every workplace in America. No one likes Mondays – but Monday, December 19, 2016, is a special Monday. The Electoral College will meet and vote. Donald Trump will become the next president.

There’s no getting around that – so Sunday night was the eve of destruction for the majority of voters, who voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump will be a disaster. Monday morning will the dawn of a new age for the minority. Trump won the electoral vote. America will be great again.

Yes, this is an odd way to run a modern democracy – no one else does this – but this is how we run our democracy. It’s embedded in the Constitution, and there have been endless arguments about why it was and why we might want to do something about that. Those arguments go nowhere. Those arguments sound like sour grapes from the losers. The winners want to keep the Electoral College each time they win – and each side wins some and loses some. That’s not going to change.

Things just seem worse this time, and Jane Timm at NBC News covers how that’s working out:

In the aftermath of a wild, norm-busting 2016 campaign, it’s only fitting that Monday’s Electoral College vote – the next step in formalizing Donald Trump’s election to the presidency – has generated frenzied, star-studded arguments to somehow change the results.

But regardless of whether you view these efforts as proper and legitimate uses of Constitutional authority, sour grapes or just democracy’s version of primal scream therapy, don’t expect any reversal of November’s overall result.

The weeks since the election have seen an unprecedented number of headlines teasing various scenarios about changing the results in the Electoral College – whose 538 members meet Monday in the 50 state capitals to cast their official votes. Trump won the Electoral College, 306 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 232, but lost the popular vote by over 2.5 million votes, the third worst margin since 1824.

Yes, Trump’s loss was almost epic, and also doesn’t matter, but there are those who will resist a done deal:

A handful of Democrats and even a few Republican electors have embarked on an unusual effort to deny Trump the victory – or at the very least, raise the specter of changing the election.

Electors in three states have gone to court seeking the chance to vote their mind; another resigned to avoid the vote altogether. One Republican elector in Texas has publicly said he will not vote for Trump, although his state voted overwhelmingly for the GOP candidate.

And a group of about 80 electors (including one Republican) signed on to a letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper asking for a briefing on the role Russian hacks may have played in the election before the vote. (That request, supported by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta, will not be granted, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said.)

Activists, meanwhile, have taken up the cause. A petition aimed at “conscientious electors” has garnered nearly 5 million signatures. The West Wing’s fictitious president, Martin Sheen, and a slew of actors released a YouTube appeal pleading with electors to give the election to Clinton, or anyone other than Trump.

And none of it matters, even if they get what they want:

Constitutionalists argue that the electors are free to vote however they please, although 29 states have Supreme Court-upheld laws requiring them to vote as their state did. The constitutionality of enforcing those laws, however, has never been tested.

But even if these efforts worked to deny Trump the 270 votes, they are not aimed at boosting Clinton. The election would be sent to the House of Representatives where Republicans have a large advantage, meaning Trump would still almost certainly still be president.

Get over it. Some won’t. American Muslims are worried. Hispanic Americans are worried. Blacks are worried. Gays are worried. Scientists and diplomats are worried. Perhaps that was the idea all along. Doors are closing, as many think they should.

America may be shutting down operations. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” – those words from Dante’s Inferno could easily replace those other words on the base of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Will there be no more of that? There will certainly be less of that. That’s what’s in the air, but at least a slim majority of Americans don’t want America to be Russia:

A majority of American voters favor delaying the Electoral College vote scheduled for Monday until electors can be fully briefed on Russian interference in the election, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov.

The survey, sponsored by the progressive advocacy group Avaaz, found 52 percent of people supportive of stalling the vote.

A surprisingly high number of people – 46 percent – were also willing to support so-called “faithless electors,” the name given to members of the Electoral College who spurn the vote of their home state and vote for a different candidate instead.

That’s one poll, sponsored by a progressive advocacy group, showing that people want this process to slow down, if they really do want that. Other polls might show that a slim majority of Americans accept the inevitable. Obamacare is gone – or maybe not. Immediate repeal would leave eight or ten million without the health insurance they just gained, and immediate repeal of it all would leave the insurance industry in shambles. That may not be inevitable, nor the Paul Ryan plan, that Trump now likes, to turn Medicare into a system where those over sixty-five get a discount coupon to buy private insurance from any commercial insurance company foolish enough to offer coverage for old sick people. It’s the same with cutting Social Security benefits to next to nothing. People will howl, and people vote.

None of that is inevitable. As for leaving NATO and forcing its collapse, and joining Russia and Syria in a grand alliance against ISIS as our main effort in the world, and abandoning Japan and South Korea, because they don’t pay us enough for our defense of them, and threatening war with China day after day unless they change their trade policies – well, all that is likely, but not inevitable. Talk of The Wall disappeared. So did talk of mass deportations. So did talk of a Muslim Registry. That was just Trump adding a little drama to broader arguments about who is worthy and who is not. And Donald Trump cannot shut down Saturday Night Live by executive order, or the Washington Post and New York Times for that matter – yet. Nothing is inevitable, except a Trump Presidency.

How did that happen? Democrats are asking that question, and they know it wasn’t the Electoral College thing. It was them. Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns cover their agony:

Sounding like a frustrated Cassandra, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. lamented last week that Hillary Clinton had not done enough to reach white working-class voters in the presidential campaign. Even more egregious to Mr. Biden, some fellow Democrats had concluded that blue-collar whites were not even worth pursuing.

“I mean these are good people, man!” Mr. Biden exclaimed in an interview on CNN. “These aren’t racists. These aren’t sexists.”

Biden thinks that easy answers aren’t answers at all, even if others do:

With his typically unambiguous assessment, the vice president thrust himself into a heated debate that has shaped the Democrats’ self-diagnosis since Donald J. Trump won the presidency: Should the party continue tailoring its message to the fast-growing young and nonwhite constituencies that propelled President Obama, or make a more concerted effort to win over the white voters who have drifted away?

For Democrats, the election last month has become a Rorschach test. Some see Mrs. Clinton’s loss as a result of an unfortunate series of flukes – Russian tampering, a late intervention by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director and a poor allocation of resources – but little more than a speed bump on the road to a demographic majority. Others believe the results reflect a more worrisome trend that could doom the party.

They do need to get those white votes back, somehow, but they need the non-white votes too, so they have a problem:

Few leading Democrats are arguing for a large-scale reconsideration of the party’s core liberal agenda. After all, history is a game of inches, and Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, but lost the presidency by 77,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – less than the capacity crowd at Lambeau Field on any given Sunday.

“Demographically, the Electoral College is heading in the right direction” for Democrats, Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to Mr. Obama, said. What Mr. Trump pulled off, he added, “would be hard to replicate.”

Even those who believe the party has become too fixated on identity politics do not think it should reverse course on such issues as immigration, criminal justice and legal protections for gay and transgender Americans.

Yet as a matter of politics, those in Mr. Biden’s camp believe the party’s ethos of inclusion may add up to less than the sum of its parts.

In the minds of those Democrats, they will not be a majority party again in Washington or across much of the country without winning back white voters of modest means.

“You don’t need those people?” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, asked. “You’re going to wait how many decades before this other strategy works?”

That sums things up nicely:

Mr. Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, had tried to push Mrs. Clinton, a longtime ally, toward focusing more on rural America, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He was just as exasperated over what he described as his party’s decades-long pattern of neglect of many of the voters he spent eight years working with in his cabinet post.

“Rural America is 15 percent of America’s population,” Mr. Vilsack said. “It’s the same percentage as African-Americans; it’s the same percentage as Hispanics. We spend a lot of time thinking about that 15 percent – and we should, God bless them, we should. But not to the exclusion of the other 15 percent.”

That’s the problem that they couldn’t solve:

In their zeal for pursuing clearly defined constituencies, some Democrats now worry they missed the bigger picture: failing to deliver a message that would cut across all constituencies, and ceding too much territory to Republicans in whiter, more conservative areas that Mr. Trump won by wider margins than other recent Republican nominees.

Entering the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Thursday, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez summed up this view in blunt terms.

“We got our ass kicked in a lot of these rural pockets because we weren’t there in sufficient force,” Mr. Perez said.

Representative Gwen Graham, Democrat of Florida and a likely candidate for governor in 2018, called her party’s message “too funneled.” It needed to be more open to pursuing moderate and conservative voters, she said.

Right, and all you have to sell them on is the party’s core liberal agenda, which may be a fool’s errand:

Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, said it was folly to continue developing a message for and devoting considerable resources to “a shrinking, increasingly resistant market.”

Mr. Belcher recalled focus groups in North Carolina this year in which nonwhite voters who had come out for Mr. Obama’s two elections could not name the party’s Senate candidate in the state. (It was Deborah Ross; she lost.)

“We’re spending all of our resources on broadcast television chasing this mythical unicorn white swing voter,” he said.

Mr. Belcher, who has published a new book about race and the Obama presidency, “A Black Man in the White House,” said the party should not ignore white voters. But he said Democrats also should not react to this election by refashioning their appeal as if the country were just as white as it was when Bill Clinton and other centrists began the Democratic Leadership Council 30 years ago.

“Why would we go back to running campaigns as though it’s the 1980s?” Mr. Belcher asked.

This is not then, of course, but there is the party’s core liberal agenda:

Even Democrats in solidly blue states, who can in theory win elections without a single conservative vote, said the party’s identity-heavy message was lacking.

Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles said Democrats had not explained to many voters how tolerant social values translated into government action.

“Of course we are for a tolerant, diverse, inclusive, cooperative future,” he said. “It isn’t enough.”

Mr. Garcetti likened the party’s message to the gestures of conciliation proposed by civic leaders in Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots in the 1990s – well-intentioned but insufficient.

“If the starting point is: ‘Hey, we are a party and we are a country that stands for blacks and Koreans and people of all stripes liking each other,’ that’s not an agenda,” Mr. Garcetti said. “These values aren’t just about social inclusion. They’re about getting things done.”

Hillary Clinton certainly didn’t emphasize that enough, as Lis Smith notes here:

It’s inarguable that Hillary Clinton put together some of the most detailed progressive policy positions of any Democratic nominee in history – whether on climate change, immigration, or the economy. Yet after the Democratic Convention, this affirmative platform was subverted to an almost one-note, anti-Trump message.

She and her Democratic allies ran ads accusing him of being reckless on foreign policy, casting him – accurately – as a crude misogynist, and highlighting his mocking of a disabled reporter.

While these ads helped drive Donald Trump’s numbers to historically low levels, what they didn’t do was provide voters with any rationale for why Hillary Clinton should be president.

In short, she was right about all of it, but what was she actually going to do about any of it? No one knew. She lost. Racism and sexism and Trump’s recklessness had nothing to do with that.

David Atkins puts that a different way:

Let’s consider the narrative of the Clinton defenders for a moment. The argument goes something like this: Clinton was a stellar candidate whose reputation was tarnished by a nasty primary campaign led by the malign character of Bernie Sanders – not even a real Democrat – who harmed her reputation with young progressive voters. But Clinton would have won the general election, anyway, if it hadn’t been for the leaks of campaign emails, a press that painted a false equivalence between her and Donald Trump, the backstabbing of FBI director Comey in releasing a nothingburger letter against her at the last minute, and the perfidy of Green and Libertarian candidates Stein and Johnson who siphoned off her voters. And she still would have won, except that Donald Trump managed to activate the latent racism and sexism of the white middle American electorate–a racist ideological powerhouse against whom no amount of love, compassion or populism could have held sway, because for most American whites, bigotry overwhelms all other electoral impulses.

Atkins calls that silly and misleading:

Primaries are healthy things – the Obama/Clinton primary didn’t hurt Obama in 2008 and the vicious GOP primary in 2016 didn’t hurt them, either. Opposition to Clintonian politics has raged on the left for decades now – Howard Dean’s candidacy in 2004 was a rebuke to Clintonism, and it was anti-Clinton progressives who led the way to Obama’s 2008 primary win. No matter how hard the establishment tried, Clinton was always going to face a challenge from the left because someone was going to do it, and she was frankly lucky that her most credible opposition came from a cranky 73-year-old socialist from Vermont…

Similarly, in an election where both the major party candidates had low approval ratings, Democrats should count themselves lucky that the Greens and Libertarians offered candidates as feckless as Stein and Johnson – but the Green and Libertarian parties were certainly going to field candidates regardless. It’s not entirely clear how much Comey’s letters actually hurt Clinton. Media false equivalence was certainly a problem, but good luck changing that in the future. And as for racism, well, a Trump victory based on a racist “whitelash” against Obama seems a bit silly given that Obama’s own approval rating was at 59% and many people who voted for Obama twice switched to Trump.

It’s also ridiculous to think that Republicans could always have won based on racism alone and just never figured out – until Trump – that they could dispense with the dogwhistles altogether. That’s simply not true. Trump would have lost to Obama in 2012, and David Duke would have lost badly in 2016. And sexism? Well, that’s certainly possible, but the fact that Trump didn’t lose ground versus Romney among women suggests either a 100% incidence of internalized sexism among Republican women, or that other issues were vastly more important to them.

That seems to be the case, and Atkins sees trouble here:

If Clinton’s defenders are right about the narrative, and that Clinton either made no mistakes or only made tactical ones (like targeting Arizona instead of Wisconsin, for instance), then there’s no hope.

If overt appeals to racism are so powerful with rural whites in the Rust Belt that economic populism can’t defeat them, then Democrats have lost most of the Rust Belt for the next decade at least. That in turn means eight more years of Trump, and it means GOP gerrymandering for the next decade and a half.

If anything less than an uncontested coronation of the center-left, Wall Street-friendly Center for American Progress-backed candidate is so damaging to Democratic chances in November that it guarantees a GOP win, then throw in the towel now, because Cory Booker is not going to waltz uncontested to the 2020 nomination. There is going to be a fight, and it’s going to be big.

If media false equivalence means that Democrats can’t compete on equal footing, then they might as well give up. Because the media depends on clicks and eyeballs for its economic survival, and attracting viewers and readers depends on having a contest to report.

In short, if Clinton’s defenders are right, we’re all doomed.

But doom is not inevitable:

The alternative is that blaming Wall Street and the plutocracy for the declining fortunes of the white working class can help them listen to the class solidarity angel on their left shoulders, rather than to the prejudiced demon on their right.

The alternative is that openly racist appeals are not the magic key to unlocking a new Republican electorate, but a sign of apartheid-style desperation just waiting for a party that is both class- and identity-conscious to blow apart.

The alternative is that a country that didn’t truly believe that America was already great and stronger together, could be convinced that America was never as great as it could be and that a rising tide hadn’t lifted all boats, but that it might be made great and more equal given the right set of policies that would redound to the benefit of nearly all, rather than just the very rich and the very poor.

The alternative is that a purely identity-focused campaign left many young people of all colors, genders and creeds cold and lacking enthusiasm, while an economically populist campaign that preaches universal benefits and the power of the 99% (especially under the banner of a Kamala Harris, Sherrod Brown or Elizabeth Warren) could reignite the feelings of hope and change that lit a fire under the Obama coalition.

It might not work. But why not give it a try? The alternative is hopelessness, despair and a decade of Trump.

Wait! The done deal is for only four years – not a decade – but Democrats do have to ask one basic question. Who speaks for their side? Where is their champion? They need a hero – Joe Biden thirty years younger – the final version of Bobby Kennedy but not dead. Who? Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren don’t seem heroic, although Warren is working on that. It’s just that the Republicans found their hero, flawed as he is. His presidency, as of one more miserable Monday in America, is now a done deal. Dealing with that won’t be easy.

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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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2 Responses to Dealing With the Done Deal

  1. I happen to be one of those who will be wandering over to our state capitol this morning, mostly to be a witness to the tragedy which today will affirm: the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America. It’s cold here, and we’re a blue state. I’d be surprised to see a lot of folks joining us there (or anywhere for that matter).
    It is a given that the loss was “Hillary’s fault”; as it is that “Barack Obama didn’t do enough”. Or “the Democrats should have done ______” (fill in the blank).
    It occurs to me this morning that maybe the solution is being found within the problem. We in the western world are, really, multi-cultural societies. A large part of this is the function of colonialism: slaves, the Indian subcontinent, etc., etc., etc.
    Let’s go to Putin’s Russia…which is Russian, largely.
    I saw this pretty dramatically the first time I visited Poland, and all I saw were Poles, except for we tourists.
    We will always be racist to some degree – you can’t get over a history which began as a slave state. On the other hand, we’re a long ways along the road to figuring out how to get along. Now, if only we can get over refusing personal accountability for our imperfections.
    Have a good day.
    I’ll blog, later, about what I felt over there in St. Paul.

  2. Rick says:

    About that electoral college:

    If Donald Trump really wanted to make America great, he’d work to get rid of it. But he won’t, maybe because he really doesn’t. It’s not likely to happen soon anyway, simply because too many people — specifically, Republicans — don’t want to get rid of it.

    Why Republicans? Because especially lately, they are the party most likely to win the electoral college without winning the popular vote, since about the only way a party can do that is to win more of the low-population states than the other major party, and those states tend to be more conservative than high-population states, maybe because they have fewer big cities, which tend to be more liberal and Democratic.

    The major argument often given against doing away with the electoral college has to do with protecting small states, an argument that was refuted quite nicely by The Washington Post back in 2012, in an article that addresses myths about the electoral college, the first of which was, “The framers created the electoral college to protect small states”:

    The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had a variety of reasons for settling on the electoral college format, but protecting smaller states was not among them. Some delegates feared direct democracy, but that was only one factor in the debate.

    Remember what the country looked like in 1787: The important division was between states that relied on slavery and those that didn’t, not between large and small states. A direct election for president did not sit well with most delegates from the slave states, which had large populations but far fewer eligible voters. They gravitated toward the electoral college as a compromise because it was based on population. The convention had agreed to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating each state’s allotment of seats in Congress. For Virginia, which had the largest population among the original 13 states, that meant more clout in choosing the president.

    In other words, that “a-slave-is-three-fifths-of-a-person” bit of trickery that slave states settled on to artificially inflate their populations for the purpose of deciding how many representatives they’d send to the House threatened to come back and bite them in the ass when it came to voting for president, since they themselves would not allow much of their so-called “population” to actually vote. To remedy that, they favored giving the states, with their make-believe “populations”, the power to choose the president over allowing actual people to do it.

    The electoral college distorts the political process by providing a huge incentive [for candidates] to visit competitive states, especially large ones with hefty numbers of electoral votes. That’s why Obama and Romney have spent so much time this year in states like Ohio and Florida. In the 2008 general election, Obama and John McCain personally campaigned in only five of the 29 smallest states.

    The framers protected the interests of smaller states by creating the Senate, which gives each state two votes regardless of population. There is no need for additional protection.

    Another way of putting that, especially in a day and age when we no longer have to pander to the duplicitous chicanery of slave states, is that the choice is between having the American people choose the president and vice-president, or having that decision be made by the states. And if we decide that the people, not the states, should decide, then it will no longer be relevant what this does to any particular state.

    Many present convoluted arguments that, as much as we call ourselves a “democracy”, technically we’re merely a “republic”, maybe partly because the citizens don’t actually elect their president. In fact, I would argue we’re really a “democratic republic”, but all silly technicalities aside, there ought to be at least one part of our nation’s management that we, the people, choose directly (given that senators and representatives are chosen only by people who live in those states) and that is the executive branch. If only we could do that directly, then few could deny that we’re a democracy.

    Another beneficial result of a popular vote would be increasing turnout, which has averaged about 63% of eligible voters since 1828 when we started paying attention to the popular vote, although it’s down in the low to mid 50s in recent elections. As it is, many people say their vote doesn’t really count, and that happens to be true, especially for anyone not living in a battleground state.

    With direct elections, every vote would count, no matter what state the voter lived in, which means candidates who campaign only in big population centers, which might be overlooked and excused by Idaho voters under the present electoral system, would find themselves punished by Idaho voters under the popular vote system.

    “Hey, wait a minute!”, you say, “Aren’t you a Democrat? No wonder you want the popular vote! Democrats win when the people vote directly!’

    True enough, but believe it or not, I’ve always believed in the popular vote, even before I realized that the electoral college is probably biased toward Republicans. Not only is the electoral college an archaic vestige of an age when ordinary Americans weren’t considered as smart as the elite few who would be chosen to be electors, it’s clumsy and unnecessary and, it turns out, it also gives unwarranted power to the low-population state voter over the one from the populous state.

    But just becoming a true democracy should be good for the country as a whole — although we’re not likely to get there in the present day America, in which those few with power, understandably, pretty much don’t believe in democracy and majority rule anyway.

    Rick

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