Sunday, December 18, 2016

Looking backward at the election, looking forward at 'the defining challenge of our time'

Scriber promises to not spend a lot of time/space on retrospection about the horrendous election. (Yes - it was and we are yet to discover the true magnitude of the shop of horrors coming our way.) But I found the essay by Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo resonant. My own take is that Dems have not done enough to address the creeping economic blight on our country called income inequality - more generally, economic injustice. The rich/poor gap has widened for decades and it did not make a damn bit of difference who dominated the Congress and who was in the White House. That failure of the modern party of FDR and LBJ combined with the various events Marshall discusses to tilt the outcome of the election.

Recall this lead from my post on the 14th.

On Monday, members of the Electoral College will vote in Donald J. Trump as president. Though he lost the election by nearly three million votes and almost daily generates headlines about new scandals, the Democratic Party is doing little to stop him. If you’ve been asking yourself “Where are the Democrats?” you’re not alone.

Since the election, top Democrats have been almost absent on the national stage. Rather, they have been involved largely in internecine warfare about how much to work with Mr. Trump. …

Enough from me. Here are snippets from Marshall’s essay aimed at that “internecine warfare”, Phony Oppositions and Score Settling.

Just to put my cards on the table, I believe there is a good likelihood, probably even a probability, that if the Russian subversion campaign had never happened and James Comey had never released his letter, Hillary Clinton would be prepping to become our new President. My own guess is that Comey’s letter had the bigger impact. These were both profoundly damaging events in the race and Clinton lost by very tight margins in most of the newly (hopefully temporarily) red states. I see little way to challenge this assertion.

But the tiny margins are only one side of the story. Let’s take Wisconsin. The final tally puts Trump ahead by 0.8%, or 22,748 votes. That’s a tiny margin. Any number of things could have shifted the balance. Spending the final week of the campaign talking about a new investigation of Clinton’s emails was more than enough to tip the balance. Spending not just a single trip but more concerted time in the state could have too. But now look at the shift from 2012. The shift in the direction of the GOP was 7.7%. That is a huge shift over four years. Huge. There’s no getting around that. If you step back from Wisconsin to the larger Upper Midwest region and indeed the United States you see something more fundamental. Donald Trump did what we all remember Barack Obama doing in 2008: He changed the shape of the electorate.

What all of this comes down to is that something very big happened in this election that was quite separate from Comey and Putin. Let’s put a pin in that for a moment before we discuss what that ‘something’ was. These outside interventions (obviously of very different kinds) were something like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think it’s quite likely that without them Clinton would have held on in a tight race. Perhaps the shift in Wisconsin would have been 6% or 6.5% rather than 7.7% The consequences of this defeat, which are frankly massive, would be vastly different. But the shifting politico-demographic shift would be only slightly less steep.

What is the ‘something’? I don’t pretend to have the entire answer or even a particularly original one. Some part of it is the underestimated, inherent difficulty of winning a third presidential term. But that’s not all of it. While I believe Democrats have many good economic policies, I don’t believe they have an adequate and overarching theory of the problem of wage stagnation or ever-increasing economic insecurity (a interlocked series of economic and political problems) or a set of policies and a politics to address it. That doesn’t mean they’re ignoring it. That doesn’t mean anyone else has a better set. But what Democrats have is not enough. Holding the presidency for eight years combined with a still accurate belief that their constituencies are growing while the other party’s is shrinking has led to a deep deficit of political organizing in all fifty states. Democrats had this as recently as a decade ago. But it atrophied. As much as anything there is a revolt against the increasingly urban and non-white America symbolized by the ‘Obama coalition’, one that combines racial backlash, economic decline and cultural marginalization. There is something there that goes far beyond anything that can be addressed by a more class based politics alone.

This is just the broadest brush notice of key issues. It’s neither terribly detailed or original. My point here isn’t to offer that critique or to pose a solution. My aim here is simply to highlight that fact that multiple things produced the November 8th result. Some are enduring and will be there in 2018 and 2020. Some are contingent events that will likely never happen again or at least not in any predictable way. They all happened. They’re all important. They get addressed, dealt with in different ways. But standing them up against each other, shouting one down in favor of the other has far more to do with the self-destructive score settling which the bitterness of defeat brings in its wake than anything that is productive of building a different, better future.

About that “defining challenge”? That’s how President Obama characterized economic inequality. Check out my post earlier this year, Economic Inequality: “The Defining Challenge of Our Time”. Facing that challenge would be an important step toward “building a different, better future.”

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