Wednesday, November 9, 2016
When in the Course of Human Events...
Steve, in the aftermath, looks back...and looks ahead...
I awoke this morning to a reality that I now know I had simply refused to truly process as even possible when it was merely in its hypothetical form for the last eighteen months. I had been comforted and lulled by statistics which were no doubt mathematically accurate in reporting what people said they would do but flawed in their ability to depict what people would actually do. I was reading and watching the news from sources that reinforced my views. And I was mingling largely with like-minded people in well-to-do enclaves who were appalled by Donald Trump’s candidacy but who felt that October and November surprises had been weathered and that sanity would prevail.
I had even written what I thought was a clever essay that was all ready to post this morning. It was called, “The Party of No vs. The Party of Know.” The thesis was that the Republicans lost because they were only united by what they hated, not a set of principles and actions they believed in. I made the point that for all the shifts in demography, ethnicity, and gender, the biggest change in the Republican Party since Mitt Romney appeared to be in the amount of education. It was a less educated party than four years ago. The Party of No.
In contrast, over the past four years, the Democratic Party has statistically been proven to be more educated. More educated than the Republican Party, and more educated than it had ever been in the past. It was the party of science and globalism, more open and accepting of otherness. The Party of Know.
Instead of happily posting that piece, I am back at the keyboard at square one, and though all the world has been turned on its head, I am certain of one thing.
Being wrong is not the worst thing. Quitting is.
Being on the wrong side of a democratic election is discouraging. Giving up on our democracy is crazy.
When, in the course of human events, democracy screams something at us at the top of its lungs, we’d all be wise to think long and hard and carefully about what it said.
We can whine that a demagogue bullshitted his way to the Presidency, but who, exactly, created the majority voting bloc that didn’t care about truth?
We can express outrage that our new President is a sexual predator, but who created a majority voting bloc that willingly ignored that behavior and elected him?
We can be horrified that our new President lacks a fundamental working knowledge of our Constitution, but who created the majority voting bloc that is ready to make that trade-off?
We did, that’s who. The United States of America.
Some people threaten to flee to Canada or Europe, but if you think that the U.K., France, or Austria is a safe haven, let me remind you that liberals are supposed to be the globalists. The problems France is dealing with and the polarization in their upcoming election are directly in line with Brexit and Trump. Some would argue that it is worse. Fine, go live in Manitoba if you must, but this time fleeing to Canada is not civil disobedience, it is abdication.
The rise of Donald Trump is a multi-faceted phenomenon that deserves close scrutiny. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope on these pages to examine many of the factors that led to his victory, if only to help illuminate the path to a brighter chapter in our nation’s history at some point in the future. Today, I see three essential drivers of Trump’s win.
A huge component of Trump’s victory is unmitigated rage against the establishment, be it found on Wall Street, in Washington, D.C., or in the media. I urge that you all attend a sensational play now at the Public Theater called “Sweat,” which brilliantly and poignantly depicts how the closing of the one factory in a one factory town utterly destroys people, families, friendships, and triggers truly unhinged rage at the establishment powers – the heartless businesses that decamp and head for the border, and the government that serves as an enabler. It is a sympathetic portrayal of the betrayal that anti-Government people feel, and it provides searing and graphic background and context for the seething anger that has been on display for months at your typical Trump stadium shows.
And yet, at the same time, the play also lays bare the sense of unjustified entitlement that these people feel: that a lifetime of work at the factory was their birthright, just as it had been guaranteed to their parents and grandparents before. That the economics of manufacturing changed overnight was not their doing or their fault, and somebody – the south-of-the-border immigrant who crosses the picket line, or the cold hearted company executives who shut out the union – somebody else is to blame. This dimension of the play illuminates how the absence of education and transferable skills creates unemployable fifty-somethings who simply have a different flavor of entitlement, and little left in their lives but anger at what they have lost.
A second theme I intend to explore is the news media, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Trump phenomenon. Just as Dwight Eisenhower once famously warned of the rise of the “military-industrial complex,” it is now time to examine the “news-entertainment” complex. We are a nation that places outsized emphasis on entertainment, celebrity, and our once-independent fourth estate has been co-opted to play by the rules of entertainment. The titans like Cronkite and Bradlee who had the gravitas and influence to take down Presidents have been replaced by weaklings like Brian Williams and Matt Lauer, pretty boy news-readers who have never been real journalists and who wilt in the heat of the kitchen of democracy. Worse, the objectivity that gave Cronkite his power has been replaced by intentionally biased reporting on both sides of the political spectrum that reduces the news industry to propagandists worthy of Pravda. How can we self-righteously condemn the ignorance of a voter who is simply repeating what he or she heard on Fox News?
In my third area of exploration, I will return to the core thesis that informed the essay that I had hoped to publish today: that the biggest bifurcation in our country today is a gaping chasm of educational “haves” and “have-nots.” I shall continue to examine that hypothesis: our two-party system today had degenerated to “The Party of No vs. The Party of Know.”
Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is relatively easy to trace. The stinging defeats of John McCain (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012) fueled the growth of the Party’s Christian Conservative and Tea Party wings. These two “outlier” groups became convinced that the path of Republican centrists was forever doomed to produce milquetoast losers like McCain and Romney. Indeed, what followed was the belief that centrist Republicans were every bit as much a part of the “Washington establishment” as Democrats. Yes, “centrist Republicans” became the sworn enemy of, uh, other Republicans. This blood feud rupture made it increasingly difficult to articulate a unifying philosophy, and Republicans therefore defaulted to a set of common enemies. The schism obliterated any notion of what the party believed in; it merely animated what the party was opposed to. The Republican brand became the party of “shut down the government,” repeal Obamacare, refusal to consider Supreme Court nominees, a publicly stated policy of working to thwart the every move of a Democratic President, and a seeming bottomless well of loathing for Hillary Clinton. A new Republican brand identity was forming in a bitter miasma of negativity: “The Party of No.”
Into this vacuum of positive beliefs strode Donald Trump, who poured a potpourri of angry rants and threats into a vessel emptied of meaning called the Republican Party. His message of rage against the government became the de facto platform of the Republican Party. Pillars of Republicanism -- free trade, religious freedom -- were pilloried.
In a very real sense, the victory of the anti-government faction of the Republican Party has changed the character of the “normative Republican.” Where the face of the Republican Party had once been the conservative, college-educated, white and white collar suburban centrist, the “anti-government” faction has a decidedly different cast. Much has been made of the fact that the Trump base is under-educated aging white males.
Consider this little snippet from a CNN write up of a CNN-ORC poll taken in three swing states shortly after the release of the “Access Hollywood” video.
College educated whites in Nevada and North Carolina break sharply in Clinton's favor, 49% Clinton to 41% Trump in Nevada and 59% Clinton to 37% Trump in North Carolina… in Ohio, 48% Clinton to 44% Trump. In all three states, college-educated whites backed Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012, by wide margins. Those white voters without college degrees remain a core of Trump's support, backing him over Clinton by 48 points in North Carolina, 26 points in Ohio and 25 points in Nevada.
In the span of a single election cycle, Donald Trump and his impassioned anti-government believers changed the face of the Republican Party. The Republican Brand of Donald Trump is, plain and simple, less educated than the Republican Brand of Romney or the Republican Brand of McCain.
I am sure your next questions are these: (1) is the Democratic Party more educated than the Republican Party? and (2) has this changed in recent years? Both, in fact, are true. This quote is from a Pew Center Study of Party Affiliation Trends from 1992 to 2014:
Democrats now hold a 12-point lead (52% to 40%) in leaned party identification among those with at least a college degree, up from just a four point gap seen as recently as 2010 (48% to 44%). Much of this advantage has come among adults with post-graduate experience; currently, 56% lean Democratic while just 36% lean Republican. Among those who have received a college degree but have no post-graduate experience, the gap is much narrower: 48% identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while 43% affiliate with the GOP or lean Republican.
Education may be just one part of the broad equation, but its implications for the Republican brand going forward are significant. It is the less educated voter who tends to dismiss climate science. It is the less educated voter who is less equipped to discern whether a news report on a biased news network (take your pick, MSNBC or Fox) is hopelessly misleading. It is the less educated voter who is less equipped to discern whether or not his or her own candidate is telling the truth. It is the less educated citizen who falls more easily under the spell of a supremely confident demagogue.
Yes, it would have been a wonderful essay explaining why the “Party of No” lost.
However, the problem is that the “The Party of Know” lost.
Let’s start by joining hands and acknowledging that maybe – just maybe – the Party of Know needs to know more.
For starters, perhaps it is time to finally stare at the nomination of Hillary Clinton and ask whether it was such a great idea after all. Many ardent Hillary supporters simply refused to acknowledge any basis for her high negativity ratings, so they plowed forward in the belief that such unsubstantiated loathing should not be factored into the nominating process. Seeing no justification for her appalling low ratings on likeability and trust, they ignored the warning signals. Whether you think those awful ratings for trust or likeability were merited, they were real.
Here is a fact about yesterday’s vote that should be examined. Hillary Clinton’s loss was attributable to losses in in Rust Belt states... the very states in which Bernie Sanders ran his strongest primary races against her. Those were the states that heard and responded to messages about bad trade deals and income inequality. For sake of argument, one could hypothesize that Sanders would have won all the liberal "gimmes" that Hillary won, and he would have been far more competitive in the Rust Belt. Yes, it is entirely possible that Bernie Sanders might have beaten Donald Trump.
And, just to round out the critique, we need to remind the Democrats in 2020 that every time they run a dry, odorless, colorless, policy wonk whose platform is experience and competence (Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, Hillary Clinton) they lose, and that every time they run a brilliant charismatic (John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) they win.
Maybe “The Party of Know” needs to know a great deal more. Maybe we all do.
I, for one, need to spend less time with MSNBC and more time with original source material.
Perhaps liberals need to spend less time explaining why we are right and more time actually being smart about what voters really feel, and more time finding solutions that they believe will truly address their concerns.
The Party of Know needs to know one thing: in a democracy, truth is not subject to a vote, but leadership of the country is. You’ll recall that old Daniel Patrick Moynihan quote -- that people are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Votes, my friend, are an opinion. Everyone can have one, and nobody has to justify it.
Here’s a radical thought: perhaps in the next four years, The Party of Know may want to actually try to collaborate with Republicans to get things done. Sure the Republicans tried to obstruct Obama’s every move, but what was it that Michelle said? “When they go low, we go high.”
But for now, the Party of Know has to know one thing.
Are you ready, everyone?
Repeat after me:
“Donald Trump is the President of my country. I am a patriot. Donald Trump is my President.”
In fact, Mr. Trump, you needn’t be concerned about my loyalty.
If I were you, however, I’d be more than a bit concerned about that spigot of rage you opened when it is turned back on you. I think that will happen when the zealots you’ve unleashed discover that you’ve actually been lying to them all along… that you can’t build the wall, you can’t ban Muslims, you can’t bring manufacturing jobs back, you can’t lower taxes, you can’t bomb the shit out of ISIS, and you can’t replace Obamacare. And, oh by the way, the mid-terms are just two years away.
In the coming years, we risk the continued downward drift to a society driven by our most base fears rather than fueled by our aspirations. I do not see easy or quick solutions. But more than anything else, we need to repair vital societal institutions that have been degraded by decades of neglect. Our educational system is in need of desperate repair, particularly in underfunded, underprivileged areas in the K-12 years. In truth, the best way to defeat the Donald Trumps of the world is with educated voters who can discern fact from fiction.
For that to happen, we can't have out idealists quit and run away to some version of imaginary Canada, be it in the form of apathy, abdication, or accommodation.
Get out of bed, lefty. Stop your whining and your denial.
You lost the battle, but the war rages on.
Yesterday, in the long course of human events, democracy screamed at us.
If you chose to ignore that scream, perhaps you belong in the Party of No.