Thursday, November 09, 2017

Regarding Wave: It's the Vote, Stupid

The chief reason for the 2016 election outcome wasn't who voted or why they voted as they did.  The overriding problem was who didn't vote.

That's becoming the lesson of the 2017 elections as well.  It appears that Democrats won because their voters were motivated to vote.  And because they are increasing support among new voters, especially women, Latinos and racial minorities.

Ryan Lizza's column in the New Yorker suggests that Homemade Hitler is showing signs of becoming the Prop 187 of today, first of all of Virginia, and perhaps of many states.  Proposition 187 was the California measure that temporarily created lawful discrimination against Mexican immigrants in the early 1990s.  It resulted immediately in sweeping Republican victories, but ultimately in the self-immolation of the R party, which almost doesn't exist in California anymore.

The difference, Lizza writes (and others have made this analysis as well) is that Prop 187 energized Latinos and drove them away from the Rs (towards which they tended) to the Democrats.  It took a little while to develop their own candidates and political infrastructure within the party.  But once it changed, it changed big time. Meanwhile, overt racism became more and more repugnant to other voters, including whites, who responded to these candidates and issues.

Lizza notes that the R candidate in Virginia ran a particularly racist and anti-Latino campaign. It was overwhelmingly rebuked.  Instead:

"In northern Virginia, six older white Republicans in the House of Delegates were swept out of office by a group of candidates that included a transgender woman, two Latinas, an African-American woman, and an Asian immigrant. These victors were part of a wave that, pending recounts, may hand the Virginia House to Democrats. The one white male candidate among the new Democratic winners in the region is a self-described Democratic Socialist (and, as some observers, commenting on the rainbow-like quality of the Democratic candidates, have wryly noted, a redhead)."

Moreover these new candidates ran grassroots, community outreach campaigns.  This is in a sense old fashioned politics, in which local campaigns--inherently more face to face--are more important than top of the ticket races.  But eventually in those races the lower level campaigns matter.

Local races are also harder to analyze except one by one; even statewide races can be determined by factors not apparent outside the state.  But in general: it's the vote, stupid.

A Politico poll out Wednesday finds that 85% of those who voted for the dictator apprentice would do so again.  Their story on Johnstown fleshes this out with notable paradox.  While attention should always be paid to their problems (especially the growing effects of what is inadequately called income inequality,) it's useless to spend too much time or much energy at all trying to convince these voters or change their vote.  Similarly it's going to take organization and mobilization of non-white voters to change the South.  It would be surprising if today's controversy over charges of molestation will derail Roy Moore in Alabama, though it won't do the national Rs any good.

What can and must happen is potential voters voting.  Beyond the strategic and tactical mistakes of the 2016 campaign, Hillary lost because in a few key states people who should have voted for her did not vote at all.  That's the problem (though the potent factor of overwhelmingly favorable polls that turned out to be spectacularly wrong that discouraged lazy voters is unlikely to be repeated.)

Some of that is down to the candidate, who should have been able to motivate women to vote with the sense of history (the first woman) that compelled so many to vote for Barack Obama (the first African American.)  But Obama was a much less divisive and much more compelling candidate.  Plus, the return to familiar white politicians after 8 years of President Obama may have caused some letdown among black voters who stayed home.

It's the vote, stupid, which is why the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering will be important, as are state vote suppression efforts (responsible for losing Wisconsin in 2016.)  But most important will be community-level efforts to deliver votes to candidates who deserve them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Regarding Wave

On the day that marked one year since the notorious election of 2016, results from elections on Tuesday showed impressive gains for Democrats and their issues, from coast to coast.  Some call it a Blue Wave, and why not, we need the rush.

For some, it suggested re-thinking conclusions based on 2016 results.  Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post wrote that pundits, like the DNC, underestimated how unpopular and polarizing a figure Hillary was, which doesn't account for other R victories.  Nevertheless one of her conclusions seems borne out by results Tuesday:

Jennifer Rubin:
"...the mood of the country a year after Trump’s victory may not be as anti-government as some thought. Instead of unrelenting hostility toward government, verging on nihilism, we see voters going for pro-government candidates, even ones seeking to expand health care. You never know what you stand to lose until you look into the abyss and see the loss of a politically sane and functional government."

Health care was the top issue in Virginia, guns was second.  These victories in Tuesday's elections aren't the only evidence on healthcare.  Despite the worst efforts of this administration to incrementally destroy Obamacare and discourage participation, new sign-ups are surging.

Analysts also pointed to the educated white vote, which flipped from R to D in Virginia.  More broadly:

New York Times:

The American suburbs appear to be in revolt against President Trump after a muscular coalition of college-educated voters and racial and ethnic minorities dealt the Republican Party a thumping rejection on Tuesday and propelled a diverse class of Democrats into office. From the tax-obsessed suburbs of New York City to high-tech neighborhoods outside Seattle to the sprawling, polyglot developments of Fairfax and Prince William County, Va., voters shunned Republicans up and down the ballot in off-year elections."

At Slate, the emphasis was on the importance of women, as candidates as well as voters.

In Washington, an ebullient E. J. Dionne saw a sea-change:

Forget those repetitious tales about some piece of President Trump’s base still sticking with him. It’s now clear, from Virginia and New Jersey to Washington state, Georgia, New York, Connecticut and Maine, that the energy Trump has unleashed among those who loathe him has the potential to realign the country.

In droves, voters rebuked his leadership, his party and the divisive white-nationalist politics that was supposed to save Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race, the centerpiece of the GOP catastrophe...

The gun issue was supposed to hurt Democrats whenever it was salient. It was the No. 2 issue in Virginia, after health care. But in a historic rebuke to the National Rifle Association, voters who said they cast ballots on gun policy split narrowly. Sane gun policies are no longer a political third rail. It’s time for fearless opposition to the NRA’s extremism...

Republicans take note: You can demean yourselves all you want by trumpeting Trumpian themes. It won’t buy you gratitude, and — except in the most deeply red parts of the nation — it won’t buy you victory. The leader of your party is a boor, an ingrate and, as Northam declared in his effective Democratic primary advertising, a “narcissistic maniac.”

Dionne wasn't alone, though John Cassidy's  analysis was more tempered.  The most salient observation to me in terms of electoral futures was the impression that since 2016 Democrats recruited good candidates for the kind of offices up for election in a non-presidential, non-congressional year.  This has been a longstanding problem, and is reflected in the apparent dearth of clearly superior candidates for higher offices, including president.  That a not great candidate like Northam could win such a convincing victory in Virginia is fine in the short term, but for years Ds have not matched Rs in creating infrastructure for identifying and supporting candidates.

Another measure of the D wave is that the current internal strife over the 2016 campaign, especially related to Donna Brazile and her book, didn't deter voters.  Her own analysis of the results was: Tactically, Tuesday was nothing short of a blue wave, which proved that grassroots campaigns are the key to the Democratic Party’s success next year. Democrats must no longer cherry pick which states and which dates to invest in the grassroots. We must go everywhere. And we plan on doing that."

This was President Obama's veiled critique of 2016 and advice going forward, which he made shortly after that election.  It seems key to future elections.

Though D leaders anticipate 2018, at least one analyst says prospects are still difficult.  Of course as this tragic anniversary suggests, the damage to the country and the world at a very delicate time will continue and could very well get worse, because Homemade Hitler is still in the White House, and even if it does nothing else, Congress enables the destruction to continue through policy reversals and appointments of the profoundly ignorant, rigidly ideological and thoroughly corrupt.

Monday, November 06, 2017

What's New?

What's New?  The inevitable answer is: not very much.

As human beings we're alert to the new: the new threat, the new opportunity, as we have been for thousands of years.  But we have huge enterprises dependent on the illusion of the new, and the news media aren't even the largest.  "New" is the hue and cry of advertising, for instance.

What makes the news is often comparative, a new notch on the scale.  The church shooting with the highest number of casualties is a particularly noxious and ultimately absurd example, a measurement of our failure as a society when none is needed.  But each of the deaths we read about is a real person really dead, leaving behind a hole in families and family members, and in communities.  We bow our heads in mourning and our own common shame.

A different case: Washington Post columnists measure the latest poll: the current US chief executive "has an approval rating demonstrably lower than any previous chief executive at this point in his presidency over seven decades of polling. Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans — 37 percent — say they approve of the way he is handling his job."  Insofar as this is at all meaningful, it's scary on several levels; perhaps the scariest is that it bears no immediate relationship to limiting what this presidency is doing or abetting, like withdrawing from essential international agreements and otherwise risking the future, dismantling healthcare and enabling the imminent threat to totally dismantle the Endangered Species Act.

Other comparatives do seem to leap from differences in degree to differences in kind.  For example, the openness of widespread corruption in the current administration.  On the other hand, the Paradise Papers may "only" be temporary revelations of entrenched practices by the world's wealthiest.

In the larger sense, the passions (for evil and for good) that rule headlines and Internet memes have been described in texts from the beginning of writing, a body of literature all too easily and much too stupidly ignored in the daily astonishment, as well as by self-styled experts who should know better, like the "psychologists" who grab their own headlines with their ill-conceived or perennially known findings.

But on a more historical scale, we can see today's developments in context and as interweaving patterns, instead of headlines so repeatable they could exist as already set type off the shelf, if anybody set type these days.

I am prompted to this thought by the experience this past weekend of finally attacking my old file cabinets.  In them are files of laboriously selected, cut, dated and categorized newspaper clippings and magazine articles, as well as sheets of my own notes and prose on the subject.

Apart from evidence of the jobs I did for the past ten years, the files I went through and largely discarded were mostly from the 1990s and early 2000s.  These bulging folders had subject categories like "income inequality,"  the privatizing of public functions, the heathcare wreckage and various references to political polarization and the onrushing darkness.

There were lots of clippings chronicling the largely forgotten role of Newt Gingrich in representing the kind of politics with which we are now familiar.   There are articles explaining the rise of the new conservatism, the religious Right, and residual racism.  

My own notes were in support of my thesis of a public/private reversal going on, which included sending the unmediated, uncontrolled unconscious outside to work in the public realm.  I collected a lot, and wrote about the enveloping darkness.

Relegating these clippings to the recycling bin is not a rueful recognition of the Internet's transcendence, for retrieving and organizing these clips would still involve serious library time.  (And one set of articles I wish I'd saved are all the paeans to the emerging Internet Utopia by Kevin Kelly and other Wired folk, before international hacker armies, trolls, bots, phishing, viruses, disruptive advertising and widespread identity theft etc. turned the Internet into the Inferno.)  It is rather a recognition that I will not be writing this particular history.

Some of these clippings support another unexpected (or largely unanticipated) consequence of the internet.  In 1995 (which was largely pre-internet) Anthony Lewis wrote a NYTimes column called "An Atomized America."  The idea expressed there and elsewhere, clustering around Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, was that America was becoming a nation of loners.

 In the 1850s the then-journalist Frederick Law Olmstead wrote rapturously about all the associations Americans in cities and towns belonged to, that performed useful services like planting trees, building bridges, creating libraries, starting volunteer civic organizations and debate clubs, as well as engaging in organized recreation such as ball teams and boat clubs, glee clubs and theatricals --all elements helping to build what he called "commonplace civilization."  (All this is from a 1997 New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik.)

Later as a park-builder, Olmstead designed New York's Central Park to accommodate many different kinds of people engaged in many different pursuits. Often they would find themselves playing ball or ice skating or otherwise pursuing recreation in their own group but face to face with people in other groups.  They wouldn't see each other whole, necessarily, but they would see each other, and they had something in common.

This sort of thing still goes on, though it is not so fashionable.  Insofar as Americans are more often bowling alone--and not at a bowling alley but at home on a device--they are less frequently eye to eye.  Though some engage in what seems like overexposure on social media, the medium favors creating a persona, which favors one dimensional interchange, especially in politics.  Atomized becomes polarized.  People become icons and one dimensional stereotypes.  They are their politics.  But you know, actually they aren't.  What they share, what they have in common, gets lost.  And that makes commonplace civilization much more difficult.

These clips in general do support the impression that we are approaching the apotheosis of these patterns, along with other more elongated trends.  But I'm not sure that's new either.