Wednesday, June 07, 2017

In Plain Sight

I think the narrative about the 2016 election is simplifying:

Several months after Election Day, I met up with a good friend whom I had not seen in person for several years. Through hard work, intelligence and good fortune he rose from his middle-class origins to become a member of the American upper class. He is a liberal voter in a very conservative part of the country. We talked about Donald Trump’s victory. He explained to me that his peers and colleagues voted for Trump because of either a single-minded obsession with taking away women’s reproductive rights or a desire to pay even lower taxes than they did already. Several of his peers are Republicans who would vote for anyone the party nominated, regardless of how incompetent and awful that candidate may be. My friend happens to be white. I am black. His colleagues and peers would likely tell him things they would never personally admit to me.
If you hearken back to the Ezra Klein article I linked to, and the book he based his discussion on, politics comes down to matters of identity.  I know I would be hard pressed not to vote for a Democrat, even a complete boob.  At worst I would probably not vote for the office at all, rather than vote for a Republican.  I like to think I'm not that hide-bound, but I proudly proclaim myself a "yellow dog Democrat," an old Southern phrase meaning I'd vote for a yellow dog if he was running as a Democrat.  Truth is, I probably would.

Or, as I say, not vote at all; no way I'm voting for a Republican.  And I know a lot of people, reasonable rational people whom I love and admire, who would never vote for a Democrat, with much the same rationale as I employ.

So did Trump win because he won the hearts and minds of the disaffected working-class voters?  That narrative has been in tatters since Election Day (I'm pretty sure Nate Silver drove a stake through the heart of that zombie early on.  Funny how it won't die.  But then, easier to blame the other than to say people pundits know could vote for Trump.).  Seems to me the more correct explanation is that Democrats simply didn't get their voters out.

The African-American vote declined by nearly 10 points, IIRC (over 2012).  The fight with Sanders voters left many Democratic voters bitter and angry; no blame there, politics is a contact sport.  A lot of people, including Donald Trump by many accounts, didn't think Trump could win; very likely many of those people were Democratic voters who couldn't vote for Hillary (a Clinton, not Sanders, a woman; whatever the reason) and figured staying home wouldn't make a difference.  And but for the electoral college and a few percentage points in a few states, it wouldn't have made a difference.

So maybe it happened because it happened, and not because there is some political equivalent of global warming going on in politics (the success of Trump seems to have shocked democracies in Europe, not encouraged the most right wing forces, as was predicted late last year), not some shifting of American political tectonic plates (Trump's approval ratings have been underwater since he took office, and town hall meetings almost universally bristle with anger at what the voters have done.  There's little doubt they expected the divided government they prefer, and when they didn't get it, they are outraged to find the people they elected intend to do what they said they would do.).  Maybe, in the phrase of the '80's, this is just proof that "Shit Happens," and it happened in the election of the President this time.

Cold comfort, actually; but it puts the blame squarely on the voters and the non-voters, and not on some group we can vilify and thereby hold ourselves harmless.  Because, really, you can never slice the baloney so thin it only has one side.

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