Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Republic, if You Can Keep It

We are witnessing a complete rout of the American establishment. The politicians were outfought by an outrageous reality TV host, the intellectuals and moralists were ignored, the press was outmaneuvered by Breitbart, Infowars and a bunch of teenagers in Macedonia, the pollsters and statisticians were humiliated by deskewers from the dark corners of the internet.

I don't find it hard to explain how Trump won. He fired up rural voters and working-class whites, and most other Republicans decided that in the end they preferred an unpleasant Republican to any Democrat. Hillary showed in the debates how much more knowledgeable and capable she was, but rather than see her use her experience fighting for Democratic priorities they chose to roll the dice on a Republican with no experience at all. Identity and partisanship trumped reason and experience.

The underlying story is that change makes people nervous. Every time liberals get an hour in the sun to push for their priorities, there is a backlash. The 60s gave us Nixon and then Reagan. The Obama years, and the huge progress for minorities and gay people, gave us Trump. It's maddening but it is reality, the cycle repeating again and again across the whole modern era.

Where does this leave us? First, there is the ugly issue of economic stagnation and the decline of rural and small town life. Since Trump and Paul Ryan have no clue what to do about this, the problem will certainly not go away. The sense among millions of people that the dream of a better life is over for them and their children will linger, and these people will remain fertile soil for future demagogues. We badly need new economic thinking, but I doubt we will get it.

Second, the influence of the elite has evaporated. Hillary got the endorsement of more than 100 major newspapers, which had no effect. One of the few big city papers to endorse Trump was in Nevada, a state he lost. I would have said before Trump that a Republican could only win with the unified support of the business and religious elite, but he proved me wrong. American voters are in no mood to take advice from their supposed betters.

Which is why I wonder if the complete failure of polling and punditry may have bigger effects in the long term than anything Trump can cook up in office. My greatest fear for the future is a world in which we all pick our news from sources that flatter our beliefs and any notion of reality gets cast aside. The next time the experts in the big papers claim that something is true, why should people believe them? The elite's ability to guide the government in areas like foreign diplomacy, science policy, and protecting the environment has drastically shrunk. The only way to fight for those things now is in the electoral trenches.

I am depressed, although not as depressed as I was during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. At least this time the mass of the elite shares my worries about Trump, and I hope that will limit the damage he can do. Unified Republican control will be plenty bad, but we had it 2002 to 2006 and the Republic endured. How bad Trump will end up being? I don't know. But I believe in the future of democracy, and I don't believe that Americans are ready to throw our political heritage away.


G. Verloren said...

In a twisted way, this might potentially bring Democrats and Republicans together.

It's hardly a secret that much of the GOP leadership loathes Trump. But now that they've secured a majority in Congress and guaranteed a Republican in the White House, what reason do they have to continue to back him? I've already heard serious sentiments froms staunch conservatives that they think they should work with the Democrats to impeach Trump at the first opportunity so they can have Pence instead.

And while Pence has his own monstrous "moral" agenda to push, he's at least an experienced politician, with the added benefit of not being either a moron or a psychopath like Trump. As the old saying goes, "Rogues are preferable to imbeciles, because they sometimes take a rest."

It's not often I feel this way, but for once I'm glad that our Congress can be such a complicated, obstructing apparatus. Trump can try all he wants to build a wall with Mexico, undo the Iran Nuclear Deal, tear up NAFTA, and deport entire ethnicities and religions, but without the tacit approval of Congress, he's not getting very far. He can order the Army to nuke ISIL all he wants, but the Pentagon will never even remotely consider it. We may have shamefully elected a madman to lead us, but the keys to the kingdom lie safely in other, saner hands.

Shadow said...

Interesting, G.

I would have thought Republican Elites would be hiding in their rooms behind a large and heavy piece of furniture, but you seem to think they are powerful enough to impeach Trump. I wonder how long Ryan will last as Speaker, he and Trump being as incompatible on a personal and policy level as they appear to be? And don't forget, much of that obstructing apparatus you look to for comfort is the result of senate parliamentary procedures and not laws. I believe the new senate can rid themselves of such procedures as Filibuster and Cloture with a simple majority vote, and democrats would have given them the justification to do so by eliminating the 60-vote requirement on all federal judge appointments (except Supreme Court Justices) several years back. And then there is the increasing breadth and scope of Executive Orders. How does that feel now that things are reversed?

It remains to be seen just how ugly (or nice) people play.

G. Verloren said...

Why would Ryan lose his position? Why does it matter that Congress is obstructionist out of practice rather than requirement? What relevance to executive orders have to anything?

Trump isn't a politician. He has no experience in dealing with Congress. He may have made all sorts of campaign promises to win votes from the masses, but in order to make good on those promises he needs the approval of Congress. And the sorts of things he promised simply aren't very likely to get that approval, even from the Republican majority.

And yes, the President can exercise executive orders to bypass Congress - but only to a point. If he tries to push Congress beyond that point, they're not going to tolerate it, and they will take action to stop him.

Obama got away with using a lot of executive orders because he didn't push his luck and knew the boundaries of what he could force through. It also helped his cause that obstruction through filibuster is considered a dirty tactic, and anyone using such a tactic against him would have a difficult time garnering sympathy and public support in the face of the president bypassing them via executive order.

Trump won't have those benefits. If he wants to try to build his insane wall with Mexico, and Congress flatly refuses, he can't just fire off an executive order and make it happen. No one is going to stand around and let him get away with an act that would cost the country a ridiculous amount of money, devastate our international relations, and foment severe unrest and disorder domestically.

I don't believe Congress - even the Republican majority - is remotely inclined to let Trump have his way on most of these issues. They were shrewd enough to throw support behind him help secure seats and keep the Democrats away from a majority and the presidency, but now they don't really have much reason to go along with his madness, and he doesn't have the political chops to give them a reason.

Unknown said...

I see not the slightest reason for confidence or complacency.

Shadow said...

Nor I.

Shadow said...

But my goodness, what a rejection of Clinton his election is. I thought Gore and Kerry were lousy candidates. Whew!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute SF, she won the popular vote and it wasn't an electoral landslide. That she was rejected even by a little is a punch in the gut, but the only lousy thing is the brainpower of half of the country.


G. Verloren said...


If our electoral system wasn't based in most states on a nonsensical "winner take all" system, but rather divided electoral college votes up based on the distributions of population which actually EARN a state those votes in the first place, the outcome would have been the opposite.

A nearly even split should result in each candidate getting nearly equal electoral votes - not 100% of the votes going to whomever barely edges out the higher total. A 25% to 75% split should likewise produce similar results. If a metropolitan center votes overwhelmingly liberal, their votes shouldn't be nullified just because the state's rural areas voted conservative and had a slightly larger total number of citizens - nor vice versa.

Of course, it'd be a stupendously easy fix. Our current system has no real legal basis, and essentially only operates the way it does because the states choose to operate that way. If we wanted to abolish the "winner take all" system, there's really nothing stopping us. And yet, we prefer to leave things as they are, despite the obvious flaws and injustices such a method can, and routinely does, produce.

Shadow said...

Hey, Anonymous!

She won the popular vote because of CA. The wealth wasn't spread around, and campaign strategists run to win the college not the popular vote. If the popular vote was what mattered, we may have seen very different campaign strategies. But my reason for saying what I said is who she ran against and her weak performance in some key democratic counties in key states. I think losing to an unstable, undisciplined, inexperienced candidate who for days at a time went off message to attack people says a lot about the loser. Maybe, just maybe, she was never the star democrats pretended her to be.