Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Trump: Now What?

So Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Imagine that. I didn't think he would pull it off but he did just that. To the extent that you are worried about what a Trump Presidency could accomplish in a wholly negative sense I share those concerns. But I would also question then why should any President have that much power. Since at least WW2 there has been an accelerating bipartisan tendency to concentrate power in the Presidency. People only seem to care about this when it's not their guy in the Big Chair. That is unfortunately just human nature. If people thought about this some more they then might discover that that is one of the exact reasons why the Founders created a form of government where power was split between several competing and independent branches. From my perspective the silver lining in an otherwise gloomy prospect of a Trump Presidency is that perhaps some people on the left will rediscover a fierce commitment to separation of powers, federalism, a Senate filibuster and states rights. It's surreal that before the election people in the media and on the left were warning Trump supporters that they needed to accept the results. Now some Clinton supporters are writing about the need to secede from the nation. This is real. Papers have been filed.

Before the election people in favor of "immigration reform" were smugly reminding opponents that states and municipalities didn't get to make their own immigration law. Only the Federal government could create and enforce immigration law. And if the Federal government didn't want to enforce a particular immigration law there wasn't anything a state or city could do about it. Immigration was Federal policy. We couldn't have fifty states and thousands of cities creating immigration policy. But now some people who said that have seamlessly switched their view and are stating flatly that federal law or not, their particular city or state will resist any enforcement of immigration law that leads to deportation of illegal immigrants. So much for that whole federal supremacy idea, eh? We have people on the left endorsing what amounts to nullification! Apparently people, despite their partisan divides, aren't quite as different as they may think. It's ironic that it took Trump's election to bring that out.

I do believe that Trump is a racist and a bigot. I don't think that everyone who voted for him is one. A vote is a summation of many different values and concerns. Some people argue that all Trump voters are racist and that the Electoral College is racist. In this telling it was the racism of the American voter that cost Clinton the election. Trump certainly used dog whistles and even bullhorns to get the white racist vote. There's no doubt about that. The modern neo-Nazis are excited about Trump's election. Trump is taking advice from Steve Bannon, a man who has made selling racism a successful business model. Post election, we've seen a number of racist incidents. So I definitely understand the concerns. The problem with the "It's all racism!" explanation about Trump's victory is that it overlooks the fact that Trump won over over Midwestern and Pennsylvania white voters who had previously voted for Obama, in some cases twice. I'm not saying that just because you voted for Obama that means you're not racist. But I also doubt that Obama ever won over the hardcore explicitly racist voter. It's a safe bet that the people who were sharing monkey memes, joking about assassination and trading conspiracy theories about Obama's birth probably weren't voting for him. But many other working class and middle class white voters did vote for Obama. Clinton should have done better with those voters.

So in an election where Obama wasn't on the ballot, to blame the Democratic loss on racist white voters seems to violate Occam's Razor. If race is the sole or even primary voter motivation for everyone Obama never would have won relatively non-diverse states like Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. This leads to the next point. The world is full of racists. I have worked with some in the past. I currently work with some. I have worked for some. You likely have as well. Usually I can't point and shriek "RACIST!!!" until that person either does what I want or stops being racist. That method only works where I have absolute control over that person. This is not the case with political parties. Political parties need voter support. This means that occasionally parties will have to appeal to white voters who are either racist or racist sympathizers. The Democratic party can not allow white people in regions like the Midwest and South to write off the Democrats. Some of those people heard, or were told by Fox News and talk radio, that Democrats don't care about people like you. If Democrats don't consistently challenge that misconception or worse, appear to confirm it, well then they're going to continue to have problems. And Democrats even saw turnout fall among their base.

The Democrats need to face that, President Obama, aside, large portions of their message are simply not resonating with the American electorate. There has been an over emphasis on cultural/social issues at the expense of class/economic ones. The Democrats lost the Presidency and with it the ability to name at least one and perhaps as many as two or three Supreme Court Justices over the next four years. The Republicans hold the Senate and the House. The Republicans hold the majority of state legislatures. The Republicans are the majority of state Governors and Attorneys General. In short at both the state and federal legislative and executive branches the Republicans are ascendant. This dominance is not just a matter of voter suppression or gerrymandering. The idea that changing demographics (the browning of America) would lead to a permanent Democratic majority turned out not to be true--at least in the short run. I think the Democrats forgot that. I think they got too comfortable with the (to them) self-evident horror of a Trump administration and decided that they didn't have to engage certain voters. 

It is tempting (and occasionally even accurate) to chide some white voters as racist and dismiss them as people who simply need to evolve. But if you are trying to win someone's political support, then insulting them or continually telling them that they're yesterday's news is a losing strategy. The Democrats have become too over identified with the coasts and with the cities. When the Democrats ran a lackluster candidate with limited personal charisma and high negatives they got rolled. But all is not lost. The election was very close. Since Truman it has been very unusual for one political party to win three Presidential elections in a row. George Bush last accomplished it in the 1988 election. It's difficult to run as a change candidate after eight years of your party holding the Presidency. That in and of itself was probably enough to make Clinton's campaign challenging, even before all of the noise about emails and deplorables.

The Democrats are not dead. They just smell that way. What they really are is mostly dead. And as Miracle Max would tell you there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. The Democrats need to regroup and rethink both their approach and policy emphasis. What seems eminently reasonable on the coasts may be a harder sell in the Midwest or South. As Senator Sanders is pointing out it's not enough to emphasize sex or racial status as change agents in and of themselves. Those things must be integrated with class and cultural components. This Democratic regrouping is not going to be easy. But it must start with Democrats listening to people they may disagree with or even despise and explaining to them why voting Democratic makes sense. "Racist/Sexist/Homophobic" can't be shorthand for "you're an evil irredeemable person who is not worth engaging". The Democratic regrouping has to include the realization that demographic change won't necessarily be the party salvation. Despite taking a hard line on illegal immigration and insulting Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, the largest Hispanic group in America, Trump got 30% of the Hispanic vote. Romney got 27%. Trump also received a higher level of Black support (8%) than Romney did (6%) despite a long history littered with allegations of housing discrimination and racially tone deaf statements. So the Democrats can't just assume that not being as bad as the Republicans will bring their base out to vote for them. It's time for some soul searching on what it means to be a Democrat. I think the Democratic next moves should include getting rid of the current House leadership and cleaning house at the DNC. Trump can do a lot of short term damage. Trump will be President with all of the power that our constitution and his predecessors have given that position. But the Republicans have only the slimmest Senate majority. This can easily change in 2018. And if Trump is as malevolent and incompetent as advertised he could be a one term President. But first the Democrats have to understand why they've lost so much and change tactics accordingly. 
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