Everything is fine
And you know the sun will always shine
Two and two always equals four
And life is simple when you’re sure
The world’s on someone else’s shoulders
Leave it there ’til it gets colder
Two and two always equals four
Did you never hope for something more?
Jesus Jones, “Two by Two”
Oddly enough, the election result hasn’t shaken my faith in the US electoral process. However the tidal wave of idiocy it has unleashed is coming perilously close to destroying my faith in democracy in general. What is really dispiriting is not so much what I’m seeing from Trump apologists; their reactions have been entirely predictable. But the cluelessness being demonstrated by some liberals has been jaw-dropping. There are entirely legitimate reasons to be pissed off at this election result. And people should stay pissed. Because there is a lot of stuff being brought out into the open now that has always been there, but to which large sectors of the nation have been blind. It is virtually impossible for you to be a young person growing up today and not know that racism is alive and well in the US or, at the very least, that race is still a primary yardstick by which we measure the success of this perpetually evolving national experiment. It is difficult (although, unfortunately, not impossible) to be growing up today and not realize how misogynist your culture is. Awareness followed by denial is of course always an option. But I’m going to be strongly tempted to slap the next person who says “I’m not a feminist but. . .”
A lot of progressive anger at this result stems from the fact that it all just seems so damn unjust. A temperamentally unstable merchant of hate won. The party that engineered a shut-down of the entire government, took the nation to the brink of a ruinous debt default, and raised childish tantrum politics to an art form, now gets to pretend to be an adult and control all branches of government. That, however, is a hard but useful lesson: there is no necessary connection between democracy and justice. Often you get justice in spite of, not because of democracy.
However, the election aftermath is, sadly, providing ample additional evidence of what I wrote about in “The Trump Card:” the biggest threat to democracy may be Americans’ own piss poor knowledge of how their system of government works.
But I’m the Victim Here!
One of the standard story templates used by the news media during an election cycle is the “why I plan to vote for X/why I voted for X” approach. Here is my advice to the media powers that be.
For the love of God, stop. Just don’t. Every time you publish one of these stories democracy dies a little inside.
The Washington Post has, nevertheless, been inviting Pennywsise the Clown’s supporters to write in and explain their votes and offer their thoughts on the election. Last Sunday they collected some of the responses together for their print edition and it is a piece I want to cut out and frame because the level of lunacy and delusion is beyond belief. There is this, for example:
My entire family–five Muslim immigrants from Turkey–voted for Donald Trump in Florida because of the Democratic Party’s pandering to Islamism. As people who have actually experienced Islamism in its purest form, back in Turkey, we supported the candidate who promised to help us fight that issue, regardless of his other policies [my emphasis].
This in fact is fairly typical of the thinking of conservatives. We all compartmentalize, and there are always things that we overlook in any candidate in order to focus on our preferred issues. But the level of compartmentalization conservatives had to employ in this election, the staggering number of “other policies” that they had to ignore to focus on their one tiny niche issue is breathtaking. Being a muslim immigrant and voting for a man whose policies would have prevented you from coming here to vote in the first place is just. . .that’s it, I got nothing.
This willingness to soft-pedal the nastier aspects of President-elect Pennywise was also on display here:
Donald Trump, despite his imperfections, [my emphasis], will be the most left-leaning Republican president of all time. Hillary Clinton would have steered the country further to the extreme left, while Trump will be a good mix of left and right.
He’s left. . .but you know, not too left, well actually he’s a mix of left and right. . .and he’s a guy with some imperfections. This is like saying the moon has a couple of craters.
But the one that I thought was most representative of some of what I’ve been seeing in my social media feeds was this:
I was part of the silent majority. My friends would bash those who leaned toward Trump and comment on how insane, uneducated, and racist his supporters were. I was afraid to speak my mind because of the possibility that it would hurt my reputation socially and professionally. I respect everyone’s opinion and vote, and it’s wrong to be ridiculed for supporting someone you have a right to support.
Ah yes. The good old “silent majority” argument. A pretty hard one to mobilize when your candidate didn’t win the popular vote. It would be tempting to say that the fact this person is 22 explains why they are such a dipshit, but unfortunately age doesn’t bring wisdom in conservative circles when it comes to this “we are being victimized for our vote” argument which I have seen many, many times. But you know what? If you voted for a racist xenophobic hate-monger, you should expect your social and professional reputation to suffer.
However this last post is also revealing of a trend I pointed to in “The Trump Card:” many conservatives are fundamentally confused about what free speech and democratic participation actually means (and that may be why they are so happy to see those things denied to others). As I previously discussed, the outraged reaction by racist xenophobes to being called racist xenophobes indicates that many conservatives are confusing the real Constitutionally guaranteed right to articulate their opinion with their fantasy version of the Constitution in which it guarantees their opinion will be respected. The above quote is particularly ironic given the number of “participation trophy” memes that have been circulating in order to mock the “whiny liberal elites.” This proud member of the “silent majority” (and given the behavior of Pennywise’s supporters, has there ever been a more inappropriate label?) seems to want a gold star simply for having voted. We respect your right to vote. But there is nothing to say that we need to respect your choice. In the real, adult world, you are judged not by the fact that you took an action, but by the quality of that action.
What do you mean you have to pay attention?
In most election cycles it is usually the day after the election that people, many of them of the liberal persuasion, apparently discover that there is this thing called the Electoral College. They also discover that the Electoral College doesn’t always follow the popular vote. They are shocked by both of these things. They then complain bitterly about a) the existence of the electoral college, b) the fact that it doesn’t reflect the popular vote. There are three kinds of stupidity at play here:
- I’m no fan of the electoral college concept. It is a residue of the original slavery compromises that were put in place to ensure southern states actually voted for the Constitution. I have grave doubts that it isn’t redundant at this point. But if you also are not a fan of the electoral college and want to see it abolished, maybe, just maybe, the time to begin working on that would have been, oh, any time since the last time this popular/electoral mis-match happened back in 2000? Yes, it would have meant having to take time away from taking endless selfies and binge-watching Mad Men and shopping at Zappos. But if you really think this mechanism sucks, then don’t whine about it: work to change it. Preferably prior to a high stakes election.
- Some of the outrage I’m seeing about the EC is due to a much more fundamental mis-conception. People seem to have shut-down their brains in high school after the phrase “everyone gets to vote” went in. As long as the US has been the US it has never been a direct democracy. It is instead a representative democracy and the difference is vast and crucial. The president has never been elected by the popular vote. Ever. If you are only just now finding out that we don’t live in a direct democracy, you deserve to have your voter registration cancelled.
- Much of the whining at this point has been simple hypocrisy. When people are writing anguished letters to electors encouraging them to vote against their state’s preference that may well be cathartic. But were the shoe on the other foot, and Clinton had secured an electoral college win against the popular vote, I seriously doubt any of those people currently getting their knickers in a twist over the EC would be complaining. In fact, in that scenario, when conservatives began to complain about the EC liberals would be decrying attempts to “steal” the election.
Not that conservatives are immune to electoral college stupidity. I’ve seen more than a few people flashing up the mostly red electoral map of the states with its blue coasts and saying things like “this is why we have the EC, to represent all of America.” Lesson: elections are about people, not geography. Last time I checked, a crested butte couldn’t vote, although given that we have a Supreme Court that declared corporations to be people anything is possible, I suppose. A substantial portion of our landmass is empty. And representation follows population; that is why the coastal areas have such a large electoral clout. No one wants to live in the Dakotas or Montana, or Wyoming, which is why they only have the absolute minimum 3 votes apiece; more people want to live in other places, including–an enduring mystery–in New Jersey. Could it be a coincidence that so many of the red states are the ones where no one wants to live?
But that is also why the EC is not likely to be abolished any time soon. For a major change like this, both parties would need to suffer equally at the hands of the system. And so far, it is only Democrats that have been on the short end of the stick. That, my friends, is your conservative hypocrisy right there: they are all about “giving the people a voice” unless the people would return a result they didn’t like.
Where have all the voters gone?
Also around this time, every election, people start discovering the sad fact that a substantial portion of their fellow Americans did not vote in the election. This time around, about 42% of the Voting Eligible Population (see “A Better Future” for an explanation of that concept) did not show up at the polls. Or to put it another way, barely half of the eligible population bothered to cast a vote.
Again, if you find this fact shocking, you might consider surrendering your citizenship. One of the quintessential ironies of this great democratic experiment has always been that a substantial portion of US citizen don’t see much value in voting. Not since the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, when your eligible voters were limited to a bunch of old guys sitting around the town well spitting tobacco and reminiscing about how they had to knock the ice off their peckers at Murfreesboro, has voter percentage approached a respectable level (in the 80% range).
Is this shameful? Yes. Should we do something about it if we aren’t to be mocked for trying to tell other nations how awesome democracy is? Probably. But if you have not realized that this is one of the most fundamental aspects of voting behavior in the US, this might be yet more evidence that you may, just possibly, want to think about paying attention to politics slightly more often than once every four years.
But I got a degree from Phoenix University
One of the core beliefs of many conservatives is, unfortunately, about to be put to the test. Conservatives in particular (but also not a few liberals, as Sanders’ campaign demonstrated) love to decry the corruption of Washington and the “professional politicians.” As a counter to this, they cling desperately to the brain-meltingly stupid idea that anyone can be president. The leader of the most powerful nation in the world is apparently something that you are qualified to do if you can manage to open a fortune cookie successfully.
In no other walk of life would a conservative accept such bizarre reasoning. Say that you are a farmer in the mid-West. I bring in someone to run your farm who has no previous farming experience at all; their last job, in fact, was as a dental hygienist. But hey, how hard can farming be, right? Now I tell you that you have absolutely no say in what they do with your farm until four years have passed. Meanwhile, your livelihood and wellbeing are dependent upon the decisions that they will be making. You would tell me to take a hike, right? Would you want a surgeon with no experience operating on you? A barista building your 8-lane bridge?
It isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that the head of a very large business enterprise could make a good President, even though it is unlikely because the skillsets (and the insulation from real world consequences; think “golden parachutes”) are different. But even given that, I’m sure that if they had their druthers most conservatives would probably not want to test out this Supreme Business Leader hypothesis using a businessman with a string of failed businesses and angry creditors behind him, and a pending fraud trial.
Love Trumps Hate
And this is why liberals fail. The forces of evil give their supporters powerful slogans (Drill Baby Drill, Lock Her Up, etc.). Liberals give their supporters lines straight from the Hallmark schlockfactory. It is the kind of thinking embodied in this slogan that helped to get us where we are today. We thought we were trumping hate. That same sex marriage becoming legal was trumping hate. That a woman (finally!) running for president was trumping hate.
You can’t trump hate.
Hate is. And always will be. It is one of the elemental forces of the moral universe. You can contain it. You can quarantine it. You can inoculate some people (a precious few) against it. But you will never beat it. You will never make it disappear. So put away the patchouli.
But. . .But. . .Well it’s just different!
The whole “Not my president” thing. Maybe this is the club for people in stage one of grieving, and if that were as far as it went, that would be fine. But trying to start a movement to deny that Pennywise is actually president elect? Because, well, he is the president-elect. Does that mean that you have to like him? Of course not. Does that mean that you shouldn’t oppose everything he tries to do (cuddle up with Putin, install a white supremacist as his advisor)? Hell no!
But remember back to that time when liberals were morally outraged (at least they claimed that it was real outrage) when Pennywise indicated that he wouldn’t accept the results of the election? And y’all thought that was scandalous and an assault on the very tenets of democracy and everything that bound us together as a nation?
Any of that sound familiar?
In the wake of the election there were the predictable calls from both conservatives and liberals (and even from President-elect Pennywise) for us all to come together and put aside our differences and work together for a better tomorrow, and. . . .
To which my response was, and still is: Bite Me.
Just prior to the election, I posted this:
Unfortunately one likely outcome of this election is already apparent. Op-ed pages are already filled with people wittering on about “healing a divided nation” and “coming together.” This is the typical response of squishy liberalism when it encounters an existential threat to its values. If I were looking to make a quick buck out of the post-election season I would be investing in percussion instruments because it appears as if there will be a whole lot of people looking to form a drum circle and engage in some pointless chanting.
And the gods help me if we didn’t have a drum circle on the National Mall in the wake of the election. This was part of an event called Catharsis on the Mall which was designed to heal the “trauma” of the election by engaging in drumming and, confoundingly, burning some kind of temple structure as part of a healing ritual (because, you know, when you think about great moments of healing in history you automatically think of burning buildings. The Alexandrian library, the Reichstag, all good times). Ironically this “healing” event devolved into threats to sue the National Park Service when they denied a permit to set something ablaze next to the National Monument. Jesus Wept. This is why liberals lose elections.
I couldn’t watch Clinton’s concession speech. Not live anyway. Never a huge fan of hers, the idea of having a woman president nevertheless meant a lot to me, for all kinds of reasons. I was already feeling, well, delicate. But when I did see it, I was disappointed. It was a gracious concession speech, and the gracious concession speech is a tradition. I vividly remember how much I admired McCain for not just his concession speech in 2008, but the manner in which he delivered it. He knew that he was part of a history-making event; and even though the man has his unhinged moments, he is no fool. He clearly knew what that night meant in the vast scheme of a US history riven by racism. He knew that he had been beaten by a man with whom he had major ideological differences but whom he understood to be a fundamentally decent man. And that is typically the way it goes in elections.
Lest it need to be pointed out once again, however, the 2016 election was anything but typical. Clinton didn’t lose to a decent human being. She lost to Pennywise the Clown. We needed gracious with an edge of steel. We needed “We lost, but keep fighting for what was at stake in this election.” We didn’t need the “Give peace. . .er. . .Pennywise a chance” schtick. This also is why liberals lose elections.
When the forces of darkness lost in 2008 those people did not work on “coming together” with those they had opposed. They did not “give Obama a chance.” They went home and quietly nursed their resentments, cultivated their conspiracy theories, repeated their mantras of racial hatred until they sounded normal in their ears and the ears of their children. And they waited for the right man to come along.
This “coming together” is squishy liberalism at its best, and it fundamentally mistakes its enemy in this case. There is no common ground between someone who says illegal immigrants need to be rounded up and deported and someone who says the opposite. There is no common ground between someone who thinks that bragging about sexual assault is just “locker room talk” and someone who thinks that is grounds for prosecution. We live in a divided America and need to face that fact. And when a soul blighted by hate is matched to a mind that embraces ignorance as a virtue, no kind of persuasive dialog is possible.
We need to eschew the politics of hate. Because that makes us basically Pennywise and his traveling circus of evil.
But anger? That we cannot afford to lose. Anger we can use.