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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Did the democratic process work this time? Yes / No / Maybe. ...

Argument: The democratic process worked this time.

            Despite the messiness of the political process, this election cycle has done what it is supposed to do. It allowed voters to focus on issues that are at the core of democracy and governance. And it may – just may - have alleviated the biggest problem of our democracy: intransigent polarization that prohibits compromise.

            There will always be a sizeable percentage of the electorate that opposes the other side. There are about 120 million votes likely to be cast this time. (That is about 50-60% of the potential number of voters). Even in the most lopsided elections, a presidential landslide in the popular vote means getting 5% more than your opponent.

            In past wipeouts, the losing side gets 38-40% of the vote — that includes FDR in 1932, LBJ in ’64, Reagan in 1984.
            Since the 1990’s, losers average more than 45% of the vote; the margin of victory averages less than 5%.
            The result has been an electorate divided down the middle on almost every issue. That means gridlock . . . divided government, refusal to compromise, divisive rhetoric. Do nothing Congress . . . high disapproval ratings by everyone on all sides.

Although the media has found some who hate both alternatives, and some who can’t decide, and some who don’t care . . . the truth is that there is a clear choice this time and the choice might make a real difference in our future.

This election may move the needle:

            By his extreme rhetoric, Trump did us a service: he crystalized for many voters where they drew the line in their feelings about core democratic values. And many abandoned him and crossed the line to the other side . . . or at least retreated to the sidelines.
            A few Sanders followers did the same.  

            Trump may lose (and Clinton win) by a landslide. His base of supporters may prove to be smaller than feared. If so, Can this break the deadlock that causes dissatisfaction with government? Here are the reasons why it might.

            Trump’s small cadre of surrogate spinners hope for a revival of the “silent majority” that backed Nixon to victory against the “elite liberal media” and “unwashed protesters” of the time. But their time ended forty years ago. The “majority” is now reduced to a dwindling minority, overwhelmed and enervated by the rapid social changes they couldn’t stop.

            There are far fewer voters who are truly undecided by this time. Our voter turnout is always low compared to other countries. We take our democracy for granted and we fail to educate and inspire vast chunks of the population enough to take the time to pay attention. There is a direct correlation between education and voter turnout (although college students seem to be impervious to any inspiration to vote in numbers comparable to the grandparents).

            But the lengthy and loud process that has seen large vocal crowds at events, and high viewer ratings has been reflected in arguments around water coolers, at parties and family dinners all over the country for many months.

            More people paid attention in this cycle, continuing a trend that began with Obama in 2008. Sanders expanded the base of small donors that Obama had begun. And even Trump benefitted from a base of donors who might have given to evangelists instead.

Clear choices were offered this time. Despite the cries of those who complain that neither candidate deserves their vote, the fact is that a vast majority of people have seen enough differences between them to make up their minds to vote for one of them and against the other.

The primaries did the job, reflecting the mood of the people:

- In the Democratic primary, there were two clear choices. Sanders urged a more radical progressive agenda. Clinton’s program suggested more incremental progress. Generally, the perception of the radical vs. the moderate was correct. Clinton supporters argued that Sanders was proposing unrealistic, unattainable goals. Sanders people distrusted Clinton’s coziness with the established powers that they felt needed to be fought.
         These two visions and notions were rather sharply drawn and gave voters enough information to at least think seriously about their own preferences. They gave Clinton a solid win while forcing her to strongly consider the issues that Sanders raised.
            That is how it is supposed to work.

- The Republican primary exposed the weaknesses of the party’s established leaders. The Tea Party movement that emerged in 2010 to elect a sizeable cadre in Congress and took over 30 state houses showed disillusion with the failure to achieve unrealistic promised goals.

            The frustrated Right appreciated Trump’s snarly ridicule of those elected Republicans who failed to overthrow Obama and his far left agenda: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Mitt Romney – all pitiful compromisers in their view were victims of Trump’s attacks.

            From the perspective of conservative voters, they controlled the Senate and the House, the Supreme Court, and state governments. Yet, they could not prevent socialized medicine (Obamacare), destruction of traditional marriage, and the flow of Hispanics, drugs, and Islamic terrorists. Both Bush presidencies were disappointments: the federal government grew, the economy shrunk, jobs were lost, wars were disastrous, our enemies prospered.  
- A plurality of Republican voters chose a populist, narcissist, chauvinist, authoritarian non-politician billionaire to voice their bitterness at the changes they could not stop.

            The immigration / terrorism issues that Trump made the center of his campaign from his first speech stimulated the portion of my generation that lost every battle of the cultural wars of the last 60 years, particularly equal rights for African Americans, women, and homosexuals.

            Projections are that America in the near future will no longer be mostly white. Diminishing white male Christian dominance is a subject for panic for that demographic.    

            This may be a last stand for that aging bloc.  

- Exposure of Trump’s flaws during the long, long campaign has peeled away huge chunks of Republican voters.

            First, his vicious attacks on primary opponents eliminated Bush supporters, Kasich backers, even Cruz followers. Koch Brothers and other traditional GOP deep pockets backed off. Of course, he negated any possible inroads into the Democratic hold of any minority voters.

            He lost support from GOP security / military experts with his fixation about Putin, his impulsive shrugs about nuclear proliferation, and his rash discounting of NATO as if it was a losing business. His cruel sniping at “loser” McCain as a captive, and at a Muslim father and mother of an American war hero offended many patriotic veterans who should have been his most loyal backers.

            Of course, his biggest loss is among almost all women: whatever age, ethnic identity, working or not, educated or not, Christian or not.

            He couldn’t hide his blatant sexism.
            It undermined any claim he might have made of moral superiority over the Clintons.   
        It exposed his outdated notion of manhood, one that even conservative women with hard drinking dirty joking husbands could not abide.

The choice between Trump and Clinton becomes very clear.
 The debates produced a clear result. All polls showed that voters favored Clinton by about 2 to 1. That is an enormous margin, especially in a country that has been so divided for so long.

The debates received record viewing on all media sources for all age and gender groups. In a campaign where fears of enthusiasm gaps and voter suppression are rampant, this fact is encouraging.

Of course, Trump is the main reason for the heightened public fascination with the election news and entertainment. He is his own reality show, soap opera, talk show, stand-up comedy act. He moves the ratings needle for cable infotainment like no one. He has received billions in free airtime from them, and they probably think it was well spent.

The possible outcome:

- Trump may lose the popular vote and electoral college vote by a landslide.
- If Clinton wins big, she may assume she has a mandate for her program.
             BUT: Bill Clinton thought he had a mandate for change in 1992. He had urged universal health care in the campaign and when he won, he thought it was what the voters wanted. He spent precious political capital losing that fight that was led by Hillary.

- Democrats may win control of the Senate, and reduce the GOP House majority.

            BUT: The seats Republicans lose in Congress will probably be those of former “moderate” or at least less extreme conservatives (like Ayotte of N.H.). This could stiffen the intransigence against any compromise.

The optimistic view:

Proof that the Tea Party core is not as potent as it was thought to be (just as the past movements like Christian Coalition showed weakness) may embolden Paul Ryan to compromise on some issues.

Clinton’s centrism (given a mandate) may permit her to deal with Ryan, McCain, Graham, Flake, and a few other rational members of the loyal opposition. The first and most doable issue might be immigration reform. Borders and a path to citizenship can be worked out in a comprehensive form without frittering all her capital.

            The advantages to both sides of settling this issue once and for all are so obvious that it seems that it should be one issue that could be decided, once Trump’s extreme rhetoric is relegated to an impotent minority on the extreme right.

            Whether Ryan has the courage to risk alienation of even this diminishing constituency is an open question.

Once having compromised on this issue, he will have to appear tougher on others, but he can argue a net gain by re-claiming a portion of the growing Hispanic vote for the party.

Another area ripe for compromise is criminal justice reform. There is a consensus for change from the Draconian sentences and prison overpopulation, a return to the emphasis on rehabilitation, and drug programs. Legalization of marijuana is on the table – if the state experiments in Colorado and California prove regulation and taxation to be feasible

Clinton will face a challenge from her left on important economic issues: Taxes, corporate regulation, trade. The wish list includes college financial relief.

            Republicans will fight these changes, but probably with more traditional arguments. The Tea Party intransigence that forced government closures proved to lose votes for the party and the election gives rational leaders the stronger argument.

            Ryan, the self-proclaimed Budget maven is going to want to fight for balanced budget, reduced debt, and the other traditional GOP issues. Warren and Sanders are going to fight the good fight in Congress over this and Clinton is going to have to figure what she can get away with.
            It will be a stern test of Clinton’s claimed negotiation skills and experience.

Foreign Policy

In foreign policy, Trump’s contribution has been to crystalize the public’s recognition of Putin as a real threat to American interests in the middle east and eastern Europe.
            The cyber war with Russia will heat up and a consensus will emerge to seal the leaks for security reasons.

            Clinton will have trouble with her left on foreign trade treaties and humanitarian efforts in the Middle East and Africa.

            By inauguration day, the Mosul offensive may have progressed well, pushing ISIS out of power in the city and reducing the “caliphate” to a shell of its former pretensions. Syria will be the next battleground and provide the biggest foreign policy challenge to the new administration.

            The foundation laid by Obama: Shiites, Kurds, Syrian rebels, Turks, and US technology, air power, advice, coaching, intel, rangers . . . rather than massive US ground forces . . . should allow Clinton some leverage against Assad & Putin in negotiations for an end to the crisis.

            Clinton will have to deal with North Korea, Israel, and unforeseen crises. Whether she will prove to be the hawk / interventionist that liberals and libertarians fear or whether she will be a wise consensus builder, we can’t tell.

            The point is that the voters this season were presented with clear choices and enough evidence to decide their future. 

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