Thursday, April 6, 2017

Winning was easy, young man…

A good friend of mine asked me a few days ago if I thought it might have been better for the Republican Party’s long-term prospects if Hillary Clinton had been elected president last year. I was very much surprised to find that my immediate impulse was to pay the expected partisan lip service to the utter irredeemable nature of a Clinton presidency; to deny that anything good could possibly have come of it. My shock was made all the more real by my realization that just about two years ago, I wrote in this blog that it would require not one, but two terms of Clinton in the White House to turn the Republican Party around. What’s craziest of all, though, is that when I examined my feelings on that question further, I became absolutely convinced that I really was wrong those two (long) years ago. Why? Because the Republican majorities in Congress have, in a very short time, demonstrated that no election is going to teach them how to actually govern. And even if they somehow got their act together, the Democrats wouldn’t just decline to help them; they would actively try to stop the GOP in its tracks. (And I don’t necessarily mean that last statement as a condemnation.)

It all started with what I consider to be the GOP’s biggest blunder so far in the Trump Era: the decision by leaders in Congress to make fast-tracking an Obamacare repeal their first order of business in the new session. Never mind that the replacement bill was under-baked, unworkable, unsatisfactory, and wholly despised by everyone everywhere—the real mistake was in lining healthcare up as the first legislative priority and then sprinting toward a vote without so much as a water break. It truly astounds me that a party that had a front-row seat to watch their opponents make the same mistake back in 2009 would turn around and repeat it almost exactly upon returning to power. Let’s face it—the Democrats paid a huge price for their decision to make healthcare reform their first priority after President Obama came into office. They got what they wanted, but successive drubbings in 2010, 2014, and 2016 have reduced their party’s strength at all levels of government to historic lows. On paper, this is both a triumph for Republicans as well as a roadmap for what not to do with their newfound power. But, true to form, they just went ahead and did it anyway. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that not only did they waste a massive amount of political capital, but they didn’t even get what they wanted in the first place. And what’s even more insane is that their response was to float a worse bill that is also in the process of falling apart.

The failure of Paul Ryan’s conference to utilize its robust majority and actually get an Obamacare “repeal and replace” package through the House is a stark illustration of how much more difficult it is to be a governing party than it is to be an opposition one. And the Republicans have never been much of a governing party to begin with. I’ve railed before about their inability to learn from their electoral defeats—hell, it took a phenomenon like Donald Trump to simply begin the process of walking away from the mistakes of the Bush years—and 2016 will go down in history as being no different. After spending eight years clamoring for Obamacare’s demise (the easy part), Republicans fell flat on their faces when they actually tried to come up with a real plan to replace it (the hard part). This isn’t wholly surprising—drafting an actual replacement plan is actively against an opposition party’s interests. But what I can’t forgive is the GOP’s utter unwillingness to get serious about the healthcare debate.

I’d be willing to entertain a fleshed-out “market-based” healthcare reform package, but I have no confidence that Congressional Republicans are up to that task. Their refusal to take their time drafting a bill is indicative of their inability to actually craft a workable one. They were more concerned about escaping the corner they had boxed themselves into for nearly a decade than actually trying to improve people’s lives. And I think this boils down to the fact that the Party, so steeped in the philosophy of austerity, simply can’t accept the fact that comprehensive healthcare reform requires spending a boatload of money. Take Tom Price’s plan: it’s a solid outline for a reform package, but (in my humble opinion) you’d have to shell out as least five times as much money as it allots for tax credits in order for it to be even remotely realizable. That’s just not a conversation the Republicans are willing to have. And it’s a tragedy for me to watch a unified, nominally conservative government stumble into these traps of their own creation.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has killed the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. I’ll just go ahead and say that I think there is plenty of blame to go around on this one—Republicans first cooked up the so-called “nuclear option” because of Democratic obstruction of George W. Bush’s lower court nominees, but it was Republican intransigence that led Harry Reid to ultimately go nuclear on that count. Similarly, although the Democrats’ current partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee is a nearly unprecedented event, they’d be the first to remind you that Republicans refused to even give Merrick Garland a hearing, let alone a vote. These are all valid points, which leads me to conclude that everyone is wrong and both parties are at fault, as usual.

I have very mixed feelings on what now appears to be a party-line confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch. I view Judge Gorsuch (as do most conservatives) as an extremely capable and flawlessly pedigreed candidate for our nation’s highest court. I actually agree with liberals who characterize his views as outside the mainstream, but so were the views of the man he would replace—a man who was himself a brilliant jurist and (in my view, invaluable) conservative bulwark on the Supreme Court. Choosing a man like Judge Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Scalia maintains what I view as a nearly-ideal status quo on the Court: four conservatives, four liberals, and a right-libertarian swing vote. And so obviously part of me is quite pleased to see that Judge Gorsuch’s path to the Supreme Court is assured.

But an equally significant part of me is terrified for what this could mean in the future. What will happen when the Democrats find themselves in power again? How many Supreme Court seats will be up for grabs when that time comes? What exactly will Supreme Court nominees look like in a world where only 51 (or even 50) Senators need to support him or her? And the Democrats should be afraid, too—their unwillingness to make a deal this time around has robbed them of their ability to even consider one next time. They had better pray “next time” isn’t in the next four years.


And so, in what I’ve already said should be a triumphant moment of unified Republican control of government, I find myself discouraged and unengaged. I’m watching a party that can’t get its House conference in order and has to make Faustian bargains in the Senate even when their members are united. Add in a partisan environment that has done nothing but grow more rancorous for the past decade, and the only thing I know for sure is that the Republican Party has learned nothing from winning and would have learned even less from losing. Ditto the Democrats, for whom the reality of their own vulnerability clearly hasn’t sunk in yet. And all of this, of course, is to say nothing of the creature in the White House. The Trump years are, I think, predestined to be a train wreck. Sure, we got the “conservative” majorities that we always wanted and the Supreme Court nominee of our dreams. But, I can’t help but ask, at what cost? 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Goodbye to the Right, but good riddance to the Left

I have spent ample time on this blog in the past going after the Republican Party for its complicity in creating the monster that is Donald Trump’s ascendancy. In fact, that is just one of many things I have lambasted the GOP for over the better part of the last two years. They are a party that has no idea how to set an agenda, how to govern, how to come up with new and useful ideas, and (most importantly) how to win elections—the results from earlier this month notwithstanding. Going into this fall, I firmly believed that once the Republicans lost the presidential election (and with it their control of the Senate and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court), they would learn absolutely nothing from their defeat and move toward nominating yet another empty suit in 2020 whose policy positions would be virtually indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush.

Well, I was wrong on one rather large count. The Republican Party did not do poorly at all at the polls on November 8th. But I remain steadfast in by belief that the party will never own up to its all too real shortcomings and its undeniably disastrous mistakes. If anything, their victories all over the country on Election Day will give the bumbling idiots in charge of the GOP all the cover they need to ignore their many deficiencies and deny that a reality television star ever managed to successfully complete a hostile takeover of their party. And let’s not forget—as someone who, on about 75% of the issues, can find a lot of common ground with Republicans, I don’t say any of this with relish. I think it’s a tragedy of epic proportions that only a party as uniquely inept as this one could even pull off.

But wait. I’m forgetting about the Democrats, aren’t I? I had spent so much time criticizing the people on my side of the aisle as Trump obliterated them that I, defeated, had checked out of this presidential race completely by July and went blind to the (now stunningly obvious) fact that there was still one more dumb, arrogant party left for Trump to lay waste to. The Democratic Party exploded when Trump won two and a half weeks ago. Their fall has been as swift as it has been stunning to watch. Trump exposed the Democrats as a party out of touch not only with their base but with working class voters all over the country whom they had taken for granted. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? The Democratic establishment may have been able (with great effort) to turn back the populist tide of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, but his swift rise and strong challenge to Hillary Clinton should have shown us all then and there that anti-establishment revolts do not happen solely on the right. The Republican Party as we know it might have died on Election Day without anyone noticing, but the gutting of the Democratic Party has been laid bare for everyone to see.

And this dismantling is arguably far worse than anything that has happened to the GOP. The Democrats now control the governorship and both houses of the legislature (“trifecta” control) in just five states after only managing to flip three state chambers this month. In contrast, Republicans managed to flip three chambers of their own while also holding onto the Senate, the House, and increasing their already dominant number of governorships to 33, leaving them with trifecta control in 25 states. The Republican Party may have some serious troubles at the top, but in terms of down ballot success, they are nearing historic highs. The Democrats, meanwhile, are a party without either a standard bearer or a bench from which to cultivate future leaders.

And the Left’s reaction to the Democratic massacre of 2016 has really been something to behold. In the wake of Trump’s ground-shifting victory, progressives seem frantically eager to abandon their principles and point their fingers at nameless “deplorables” rather than take a look in the mirror and have an honest discussion about how they helped get us here. And make no mistake about it—the Left in general, and the Democratic Party in particular, share culpability in creating the Trump monster. The Republicans may have incubated this movement, but once it hatched the Democrats were all too happy to fatten it into a size capable of toppling the entire American political establishment. The Left’s distressing habit of stifling debate, smugly asserting their own moral superiority on every issue, and decrying anyone who disagrees with them as hateful bigots, misogynists, and racists didn’t exactly mollify the angry, economically devastated Americans who were flocking behind a candidate who defied “political correctness” and smug coastal elites.

But rather than engage in some much needed introspection, the Democrats have apparently decided to keep engaging in the exact behavior that created this mess in the first place. After years of wielding identity politics as both a rallying cry to unite disparate pockets of voters and as a cudgel to demonize conservatives, their own methods came back to haunt them in a big way when Donald Trump came up with the rather radical idea of playing the white identity politics game. Turns out that heaping scorn on a diverse group of people whose only commonality is the color of their skin does quite a lot to inspire them to start voting against you as a monolith. And following up an electoral loss with what Eric Sasson at The New Republic refers to as “outrage porn” certainly doesn’t constitute a constructive path forward.

And it doesn’t end with just the screeching cries of “RACIST! MISOGYNIST! XENOPHOBE!” that have been directed at anyone who voted for Trump for any reason at all. No, the Left has decided to go one step further and refuse outright to accept the election results. A group of computer scientists is calling on the Clinton campaign to audit the vote in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, where they claim there are odd discrepancies between her vote totals on paper and electronic ballots. The Left has seized on this completely spurious claim (Nate Silver says so!) and have decided that what really happened was the Russians hacked into those electronic voting machines and swung the election to their comrade Trump. Even Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate and shameless Democratic windbag, took to Twitter to say that “given the role of Russian hackers in the campaign,”—they were the ones who hacked John Podesta’s emails—“it’s all too plausible.” Seriously, this would make Alex Jones blush. And all this coming from the people who railed against Trump time and time again for implying that he might not accept the election results if he lost, calling such a thing a fundamental threat to democracy. It sure didn’t take long for them to throw that deeply held principle right out the window.

The Left is notorious for shifting their beliefs on the proper use of power once they no longer wield it, but this post-election conspiracy theory hogwash is really beyond the pale. And that would be the case even if they hadn’t spent the past eight years (rightly) mocking their opponents on the Right who invented far-flung fantasies about President Obama’s birthplace, religion, and the legitimacy of his two elections. Really, I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself by waiting for the Democrats to stop spewing vitriol and figure out where to go from here. First, they’ll have to actually accept that they lost. The same goes for their allies in the mainstream media. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Chris Cuomo of CNN proudly assert that “the media cannot yield” in the face of a Trump presidency. I think he fails to realize that as an anchor for CNN, he and his colleagues on all of the major cable news networks fed the Trump juggernaut all the attention and free airtime they needed to climb all the way to the White House. Don’t expect those fools to learn their lesson either.


I’ll take a moment right now to admit that I’m being a hypocrite by writing an entire post that glosses over Republican misdeeds while simultaneously taking pot shots at the Democrats while they’re down. But you know what? This was a long time coming. Years of smugness and condescension from the Left, as well as their utter lack of any magnanimity as they racked up huge victories in the culture wars, has finally come back to bite them in the rear. And now, they’re doing what they do best: blaming their losses on hordes of bigoted phantasms that are angry not because they’ve been mistreated and left behind by both parties, but simply because they are racists, even if they don’t realize it. Don’t get me wrong—I’m deeply troubled by the impending Trump presidency. I fear what it means for our democracy, our institutions, and for marginalized people everywhere (including the rural whites who see Trump as their salvation). But I’m also not too proud admit that a sizeable part of me relishes watching the Left self-destruct as they are finally forced to reckon with the fact that their methods are not infallible, that their smugness is not always justified, and that their ideas are not always winners. It’s about goddamn time. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

What now?

No one was prepared for this. No one outside of Michael Moore and my friend CJ Bergin at The Devil’s Advocate even considered it a serious possibility. Half of our nation—as well as most of the world—watched in shock and disbelief on Tuesday night as Donald J. Trump, the single most unqualified person ever given a major party’s nomination for president, was elected to be our next chief executive.

I had started my evening all but assured of a Clinton victory. As the returns started trickling in, I noticed that the count was considerably closer than I anticipated, but I held firm in my belief that the eventual outcome would be the same. About two hours later, I began to entertain the notion of an upset. And about half an hour after that, it hit me. I had been been spending the entire evening telling myself that there was no way Trump could possibly win, even as his electoral vote count grew ever higher. I was so convinced it wasn’t possible that I was ignoring what was right in front of me, just as every pundit had done since he declared his candidacy last year. After each poll that was published and each primary won, they continued to deny reality because a Trump win just didn’t seem possible. I had prided myself on seeing through their arrogance and predicting a Trump win after South Carolina. But there I was on election night making the exact same mistake. I was experiencing this entire insane election season in microcosm over the course of one night. I should have seen it coming. We all should have seen this coming.

“How on Earth did this happen?” you are all no doubt asking yourselves. Well, the answer is really quite simple. Almost everyone on my Facebook news feed who is asking this question is much like me: middle or upper middle class millennials who grew up with hard working parents, were raised in cities or suburbs, went to good public schools, attended a 4-year college or university, and now have some form of steady employment. Even though we don’t think of ourselves this way, we are part of what is called the “educated elite.” We view and think about the world in a very particular way that is shaped by our background and education. But, as it turns out, not everyone in America sees things the way we do. Not all of us have grown up in a diverse, cosmopolitan environment where service jobs are abundant and college degrees are ubiquitous. Some Americans live in impoverished rural areas where all the good jobs have been shipped overseas, where the most common causes of death are drug overdoses and suicides, and where their cries for help are dismissed by people like you and me as the incoherent ramblings of uncultured hillbillies. David Wong at Cracked.com (of all places) wrote a piece back in October that describes the plight of the Trump voter better than any other piece of journalism I’ve read on the subject. He paints this bleak picture:
“In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may only be two doctors in town -- aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The "downtown" is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in Walmart's blast crater, the "suburbs" are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic. I'm telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive. And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege.”

These rural, uneducated, white Americans are angry, folks. And on Tuesday, they made their voices heard loud and clear. Let’s take just a moment to look at the numbers (for those of you who aren’t polling junkies like me, feel free to skip the next paragraph or two). Exit polling from 2016 tells us a few key things: Trump trounced Clinton among white men, performed notably better than Mitt Romney did among minorities in 2012, and managed to win in spite of a less white electorate than what we had four years ago. In 2012, the electorate was 72% white. In 2016, that number had dropped to 70%. Overall, Trump’s margin among whites was almost exactly the same as Romney’s was in 2012—Romney won the white vote by 20 points (59%-39%), while Trump won it by 21 (58%-37%). Trump did improve upon Romney’s performance among white men, winning their vote by a stunning 32 points (63%-31%). This was offset, however, by a slightly poorer performance among white women, although the fact that he won that particular cohort by 10 points (53%-43%) is still rather incredible given his past comments and behavior.

But it wasn’t Trump’s margin among white voters that swung the election in his favor. Rather, it was more a matter of which white voters he was able to bring to the polls, combined with his ability to win over a few more minority voters than his Republican predecessors (or, perhaps more likely, Hillary Clinton’s inability to replicate President Obama’s successes among those groups).

Trump won six states that President Obama won four years ago: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Florida. With the exception of Florida, all of these states have one thing in common—they are all very white and very blue collar. Sean Trende, perhaps my favorite political analyst, wrote a brilliant piece in the wake of the 2012 election called “The Case of the Missing White Voters.” In it, he hypothesized that a key factor in Mitt Romney’s defeat was the low turnout among white voters in rural areas who felt that an elitist plutocrat like Governor Romney didn’t speak for them. These hypothetical voters were described as blue collar, non-college-educated populists who had more in common with Ross Perot than George W. Bush. These voters are neither ideological nor particularly conservative. They distrust both big business and big government and they fear for their economic well-being. They are the people from David Wong’s article. Trende’s hypothesis was widely mocked four years ago, but I think (as does he) that the 2016 election seems to have vindicated him. Those missing white voters turned out in force this year and flipped every “blue” state in the Rust Belt, breaking the Democrats’ vaunted “Blue Wall” in the process.

Of course, increased rural turnout can’t entirely explain Trump’s margin in these states. I’d be remiss to give him all the credit; we mustn’t forget that Hillary Clinton lost these states just as much as he won them. Although I don’t have data to flesh this out, it certainly seems that there were plenty of white voters in states like Iowa and Wisconsin that were content to pull the lever for our nation’s first black president in 2008 and 2012 but were not similarly inspired by the prospect of electing the first woman. Is this just sexism rearing its ugly head? In some cases, maybe. But I think the real problem for Democrats this year was that they nominated a candidate who lacked President Obama’s charisma and oration as well as his ability to excite, inspire, and relate to everyday Americans. Secretary Clinton’s numbers among minority voters seem to reflect her inability to get out the vote. She won the African American vote 88%-8%, which seems absolutely dominant until you consider that it is actually a 7-point swing away from Obama’s margin of 93%-6% in 2012. That’s significant, especially when you consider that black voter turnout (at 12% of the electorate) was down one point from 2012, when that same figure was 13%. Astoundingly, Trump even performed better among Hispanic voters than Romney, losing them 65%-29% rather than 71%-27%. That’s an 8-point swing, which is—again—significant.

Hillary underperformed Obama among these voters because she was, by any measure, an abysmal candidate. The Democratic National Committee has to be seriously second-guessing themselves about now. They threw all of their weight behind a nominee who was unpopular, distrusted, unappealing, out of touch, and the ultimate Washington insider. I cannot imagine a worse candidate for the times (and before you say what you’re thinking, readers, remember: Trump was perfect for this environment. That’s why he won.) She felt the same populist backlash as the GOP in her own primary race, when Bernie Sanders nearly derailed her decades-long quest for the presidency. Her surprise loss in the Michigan primary, in hindsight, seems like it should have been a stark warning of what was to come.

So what does all of this mean? Where do we go from here? These are good questions that don’t have simple answers. First and foremost, I think this election signals a victory not for the Republican Party, but for Donald Trump. His brand of populism and nationalism seems to have resonated with voters far more effectively than the GOP’s traditional limited-government shtick. As a small-government libertarian, this both frightens and deflates me. But this election is also a stunning rebuke to President Obama’s legacy in particular and to the Democratic Party in general. Just a few short years after boasting of an “Emerging Democratic Majority” and continually mocking Republicans for their continued reliance on white voters, the Blue Wall is shattered, everything President Obama achieved over two terms as president is threatened to be erased, and the Grand Old Party has more power at its fingertips than at any time since Herbert Hoover was in the Oval Office. And I can’t even gloat about it, because it’s all owed to one particularly reprehensible man who got us here by taking all the wrong roads.

And therein lies the central problem. Donald Trump didn’t just sashay his way into the White House by stoking the fires of racial discord and nationalism, although you’d never guess that by looking at my Facebook news feed. As I scroll up and down, I see nothing but rampant accusations of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and misogyny. My liberal friends are ashamed to be white, ashamed to live in an America that hates women and minorities this much, or ashamed to know anyone who voted for Trump. They are angry, livid—people who were preaching and hashtagging about the importance of unity just four days ago are now spewing vitriol and hate like nothing I’ve ever seen from them. “God, I hope Trump dies alone & angry.” Hashtag strongertogether. “America, you disgust me. Every. Single. One. Of. You.” Hashtag lovetrumpshate. Come on, guys, do you really think this is the best way to move forward?

Look, I understand that many of my friends are feeling lost, hopeless, and scared. My heart particularly goes out to my friends who are people of color, members of the LGBT community, who are Muslims, who are immigrants. They can and should be frightened; Trump’s election elevates along with him all of the sordid elements he used and abused on his way to the top. His ascendancy emboldens all of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who endorsed him. I’m not sure what this all means for our nation’s disadvantaged people, and that frightens me too. I worry for my sister and her partner, who is a woman of color. I know none of you want to hear another white, straight, cis male tell you that everything is going to be okay, but hear me—we can get through this, but only if we do it right. Mourn, grieve, cry, do whatever you have to do but please, please don’t panic. Don’t lash out. Don’t respond to hate with more hate. If we’re going to press forward, we have to do it together.

In closing, I will ironically turn you to the words of Hillary Clinton herself. In a series of comments that were much maligned afterward, Secretary Clinton on September 9th described half of Trump’s supporters as belonging in a “basket of deplorables… the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it.” As is often the case with controversial political statements, she was mostly just telling the truth. As Jamelle Bouie at Slate writes, poll numbers generally back up the idea that about half of Trump supporters are actually racist. But what I want to turn your attention to is the rest of Hillary’s quote, where she hit the nail on the head even more cogently in discussing the “other basket”:
“…but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”


Of course, the media paid no attention to that half of her remarks whatsoever. This makes total sense really, because the media is comfortably part of the coastal elite that wants nothing to do with these people. And these people that Hillary was talking about are real. They’re the ones David Wong was talking about. They are Sean Trende’s missing white voters. They are the hopeless, downtrodden rural Americans who propelled Trump to victory. He couldn’t have done it without them—there aren’t enough neo-Nazis and Klansmen to elect someone president on their own. And if we want to move forward and avoid another disaster like what happened on Tuesday—if we want to prevent these blue collar voters from being swindled by a con man who will satisfy his own ego by promising to hurt one group of people while offering another a hollow promise of hope they’ll never see—we need to do what Hillary said and make an effort to understand and empathize with these people. Because we already know what happens when we just yell at them and call them bigots. We end up with President Trump. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?