“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
When Donald Trump announced his campaign for the Presidency on June 16, 2015, I was among those who thought it was an Onion spoof. For months, I chuckled at the abundant satire, secure in my bedrock certainty that such a buffoon was unelectable. Sure, Conan the Barbarian had been elected twice as Governor of California (they like their movie stars), and a circus wrestler was Minnesota’s Governor from 1999 to 2003. But Trump seemed a special kind of crazy.
My befuddlement came from 30 years of observation. I’d been reading about Trump since I was in high school. I thought The Art of the Deal (1987) was hogwash – a sloppy, happy coat of lipstick on “deals” that benefitted exactly one person. I followed Trump’s casino debacles in real time, reading his lies and double talk in BusinessWeek, marveling that anyone was willing to engage with a two-faced blowhard who regularly screwed partners and contractors alike.
Fast forward to spring 2016, likely to be designated a dire turning point by future historians. The crazier Trump talked, the more popular he got. I’d overlooked Newton’s third law of motion. President Obama is so cool, the Universe called forth a golem to channel the reactive id of a petulant nation.
Finally, I realized: Trump is going to win.
Plato saw Trump coming, 2400 years ago. If you haven’t read Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic essay (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html), it’s worth considering. “…as the people thrill to [a would-be tyrant] as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.” To summarize, democracy in the United States has quickly ripened, speeded by the Internet. Politics is easier to enter and participate in than ever; emotion now trumps reason in public debate. Globalization has marginalized many American workers and has inspired fear in many more. A member of the elite, Trump, promises to fight society’s elite on behalf of the newly downtrodden. His emotionally resonant rhetoric trades on nostalgia for bygone days. Eager to recapture what has been lost, the people unthinkingly hand over their democracy.
Those who oppose Trump can’t settle on one candidate, and will split several ways. This is a type of “me first” decision-making prerogative usually exhibited by conservative voters whose main concern is their own increase. Particularly, Bernie Sanders supporters are so emotionally invested, they seem unwilling to settle for anyone else. A Sanders supporter I know regards his vote as a referendum on his own character – he feels honor bound to reject Hilary Clinton. Although that kind of vanity politics arguably disregards civic responsibility, it seems many are going to take their toys and leave the sandbox this election.
(Or, just as bad, they’ll vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, not bothering to read the party platforms of either. They’ll do this to “send a message.” To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “That message – I don’t think it means what you think it means.”)
What clinches the race in Trump’s favor, though, is the support of the Republican party. Two recent books have convinced me that any Republican candidate who polls within ten points of the Democratic candidate will win.
First is Ari Berman’s Give Us The Ballot (2015) (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/books/review/give-us-the-ballot-by-ari-berman.html) As Berman said on Fresh Air, “[T]he 2016 presidential election is going to be the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.” His book details the history of the Act, and why it was, and continues to be, necessary. President Obama was elected in part because of extensive efforts to get out the vote. According to Berman:
“So a month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina, which was one of those states that had to approve their voting changes with the federal government – North Carolina passed a sweeping restructuring of its election system that essentially repealed or curtailed nearly every voting reform in the state that encouraged people to vote.
“North Carolina had some of the most progressive election laws in the country. Since 2000, they had expanded early voting. They had allowed same-day voter registration during the early voting period. They had passed preregistration for 16 and 17-year-olds so young people could get a jump on participating in the political process. They allowed you to vote anywhere in a county. All of these reforms had a huge impact on voter turnout. North Carolina moved from 37th in voter turnout in 2000 to 11th in voter turnout by 2012.
“And what Republicans did is – they essentially targeted all of those reforms. They cut early voting. They eliminated same-day registration. They eliminated preregistration for 16 and 17-year-olds. They mandated strict voter ID.”
(North Carolina’s voter ID law was recently overturned on appeal.)
Second, and related to the first, is David Daley’s Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy (2016) (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/06/27/ratfcked-the-influence-of-redistricting) Daley recounts how Republicans seized the opportunity afforded by the 2010 census to redraw congressional boundaries in ways that favored Republican candidates. They did this by applying “moneyball” techniques – focusing money and attention on state congressional races that would yield the biggest “bang for the buck.” Their goal was to create veto-proof majorities that could redraw congressional lines with impunity. Smartly, they concentrated Democratic voters in certain districts, so those votes weren’t available to impact Republicans in other districts.
Daley points out that Republicans didn’t do anything illegal, even if the effect was fundamentally antidemocratic. He accuses the Democratic party of political malpractice for allowing the Republicans to get away with it.
Here’s what will happen: millions will find themselves disenfranchised when they try to vote in November. The means will vary – purges of voting rolls, last minute changes to polling hours or locations, new ID requirements, etc. It won’t matter if the changes don’t hold up on appeal – they only need to tip the balance on election day. Republicans are playing a strategic, dirty game, and Democrats are unprepared to fight back. Listening to speeches at the Democratic National Convention last week, all I heard was “get out and vote,” not “make sure you’re going to be able to vote.”
These factors will ensure Trump’s victory: his popularity, divided progressives, a defanged Voting Rights Act, and the backing of a Republican party that took control of significant parts of the political machine while nobody was paying attention. I said a Republican candidate would have an advantage at ten points down, and the latest polls show Trump out front. He’s going to win.
I hope I’m wrong.