The Big Shortening
I was reading this yesterday morning:
In the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, African-American and Latino voters may be on the verge of propelling the first woman to the presidency of the United States, according to real-time analysis of cellphone data of Election Day voter turnout in 13 key battleground states.
According to a “Swing State Turnout Analysis” compiled by the location intelligence firm Cuebiq, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is projected to win Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Colorado, based on location data from millions of cellphone users in these hotly contested swing states.
Cuebiq has rolled out a new projection methodology that measures real-time turnout on Election Day in every polling station in every precinct in 13 selected swing states. Its method relies on more than 150 mobile applications that use a combination of location-based services like GPS and Wi-Fi on 40 million cellphones.
Mobile users who are located at a polling location site for a minimum of 15 minutes are identified as likely voters. Then 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau is cross-referenced with the anonymous geolocations to determine the likely ratios of political party affiliation for voters on Election Day. Cellphone users provide permission to share location data through the apps they use.
As of 4:30 p.m. EST, Cuebiq projected a decisive victory for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over Republican rival Donald Trump, with an estimated total of 341 electoral votes. The data is being updated hourly until polls close.
And several articles at Huffington Post by several different authors about why Nate Silver and 538.com were so wrong.
In the end, the most accurate map of the election was at 538; but that was yesterday and this is today. And while I want to play "Yesterday" by the Beatles and be sadly ironic, I have another pop cultural standard in mind, prompted by the analysis already taking shape this morning. My cultural taproot is not music, but a movie: "The Big Short."
I remember it so vividly because I saw it on Netflix so recently, and I got to watch it several times. This morning I heard the narrative being formed: the disaffected people cast aside by the Great Recession who never really recovered from that economic disaster. I was, and still am, convinced the primary driver of Donald Trump's victory was racism, not economic woes, but then again those two often walk hand in hand, especially when the racism is displayed openly. And as I heard the commentators once again trying to make sense of the country between the New England states that went for Clinton, and the West coast states that went for Clinton, country they really don't know because they don't live in it (especially Cokie Roberts, who likes to tout her New Orleans roots, even though she grew up in, and still lives in, Washington, D.C.), I thought of the characters in "The Big Short."
Which ones do you remember? Brad Pitt in a beard? Steve Carrell in a dramatic role? Ryan Gosling talking to the camera? Christian Bale muttering to his squeeze ball?
Do you remember the guy who lost his home, and had to put his family in his van? You see him when Steve Carrell's co-workers go to his door and tell him the house he's renting has been foreclosed on, that he'll soon be tossed out. They aren't there to ruin his day, they are learning about the housing bubble that's going to take down the economy and render some people unemployable far into the future. We don't even get that guy's name. He's nobody, he's the renter, he's the faceless victim of the shitstorm that is coming down.
Most importantly, he's not rich. He's discardable. He's there to make the stars feel badly for the people like him; he's there for us to have pity for. But he's a kleenex; he's thrown away. When he shows up in the ending montage, packing his kids back in the van at the convenience store, his earthly goods piled in to that overburdened vehicle, we feel for him again. But how is he, and what happens to him? We don't know; we don't care. He's a symbol, a representative. Besides, he lives in flyover country. He's not rich; he doesn't matter.
Brad Pitt's character is rich; so is Steve Carrell's; Christian Bale's character gets richer, and he never have to suffer seeing the face of the people destroyed by what makes him wealthy. Brad Pitt gets a nice speech off about the people who will be damaged by what's making him wealthier; but he doesn't give the money back. We cheer for Brad Pitt because he cares; we feel for Steve Carrell because he feels guilty. But if they'd given the money back, or gone to work in soup kitchens, or retired to devote themselves to Habitat for Humanity, we'd think they were nuts. Or at least that they could afford those decisions because, after all, they're rich.
Even that movie, which made it so clear how perfidious the financial markets were, which make it so easy to understand what happened and who was damaged by it and how BAD the whole system was, even that movie couldn't stop itself from selling us the American truth Randy Newman sang about 2 decades ago: "It's money that matters/In the U.S.A.!" And those who have it deserve our sympathies, especially when they feel bad about how they made it. Those who don't may be pathetic, but who are they, really? Does anybody really care?
The people who felt like that's how they were being treated, are the people who voted for Donald Trump yesterday. That's the narrative being spun, anyway. It's not being cast in those terms, of course. It's already shaping up as city mouse v. country mouse, as rural v. urban, as the revolt of the neglected farmers against the oblivious and supercilious bankers. Thought Criminal has long railed against Obama's elitism: his childhood in expensive private schools, his Harvard Law education, his only contact with real poverty being a few years as a community organizer in Chicago.* Obama took a few lessons from Jeremiah Wright, but not the truly radical lessons of social critique and challenge to the status quo. Donald Trump, the argument goes this morning, promised to take a sledge hammer to the status quo, and the electoral votes of America placed the hammer in his hands.
Interestingly, I went to bed last night with Hillary Clinton trailing in the electoral college and the popular vote. This morning I wake up to find the first was worse than I hoped, but the latter turned in her favor. What that does to the analysis going forward, I don't know. I also know she lost Texas by single digits, in terms of percentage of the vote. That's the greatest victory a Democratic candidate has won since Texas went red (which hasn't been that long). It's a greater victory because I heard a report that the national Democratic party won't put any money into Texas until Democrats start winning. Such money might inspire more Hispanics to vote, but until they do, the national party doesn't see any reason to make the investment. Of course, until the party invests the effort, Hispanics might not see any reason to vote in Texas. It may be Texans have to do it themselves, and it may be they can.
I mention Texas because, despite the media power of the Northeast, and despite the populous state of California and the deep blue states of the West Coast, the middle of the country still aspires to be Texas. God help us all, but it is true. If you want to understand why the country voted for Trump, start with the political culture of Texas and recognize it as the epicenter, with the shock waves riding out and growing weaker as they spread away. And let's face it, this is not a "center-left" country, and it won't be for a very, very long time. Social Security and Medicare are not "liberal" programs anymore; they are givens. Obamacare is "liberal." Immigration is "liberal." It would seem even human decency is "liberal," and it also seems the country wants no part of any of those things. Is this the ultimate protest vote, the ultimate spasm of outrage against a system that left so many people unemployed that there were stories of people not being hired because they'd been unemployed too long? Maybe. E.B. White said democracy is "the dent in the high hat." Is that what this election was? Is it that the people have spoken, the bastards? Was this the rock through the plate glass window, making it the national equivalent of the rioters burning down their own neighborhoods in unleashed rage? It was white men, we are told, which means we have to take is seriously. Had it been blacks and Hispanics and women, we'd have to think about whether this change will hold, which is a way of not quite taking it seriously.
And if we decide it's city v. country, rural v. urban, that's also another way of condescending, of not asking the name of the renter who's about to lose his place, of not telling his story because the story of the rich people is just so much more compelling and besides, they feel bad for how they got rich, and isn't that the most important thing?
The movie was right: the system is clueless.
*Let me, at least in a footnote, give TC his due:
As we try to recover, as we try to rescue democracy or to remake it after the Trump-fascist regime destroys it, no one who could make such appointments and make such policies should be part of the effort. Whatever gratitude Democrats owe Barack Obama, we owe the American People even more, we owe it to them to take their lives entirely more seriously than they have been taken.And let the people say: "Amen!"