Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A half-dozen things to consider three weeks after electocalypse

Here’s a 2600 word post in a six-bullet, tl;dr listicle:
  • We don’t know yet which awful things will happen. Let’s stay focused.
  • An audit of the vote won’t stop Trump.
  • There is no mandate. There was no landslide.
  • Drop “Trumpism”: don’t personalize this government.
  • The term “alt-right” is a surrender to white supremacist propaganda.
  • You have two choices: pitch in to resist the Republican program, or help enact that program.

And here’s an opening epigram from the close of Charles Blow’s 23 Nov Op-Ed in the New York Times, addressed to the president-elect:
For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity … have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.
Indeed. Details below the cartogram.

We don’t know yet which awful things will happen. Let’s stay focused.

There are portents aplenty in the president-elect’s (often contradictory, or since contradicted or walked-back) campaign promises, vicious bombast, and contemptible dog-whistling. There’s a lot to read into in his staff and cabinet selections to-date. There’s an appalling body of information being fleshed out about the conflicts of interest with which Donald Trump as a businessman will stain a Donald Trump presidency, and into how those conflicts have already begun flesh out what U.S. kleptocracy will come to look like, in Argentina for example -- with plenty more waiting in the wings.

Still. At this point, a forever-seeming three weeks since Election Day, nobody has a clear vision of how a G.O.P. led by the Trump administration will function.

Nobody knows yet what deals that administration will cut to appease establishment Republicans, who have for decades pursued policies in direct conflict with Trump’s stated ambitions; or whether and how a minority Democratic Senate will obstruct predatory, destructive, and inhumane Republican initiatives; or how well-funded advocacy groups (ACLU, SPLC, Sierra Club, et al.) will be able to tie up the G.O.P.'s signature deliverable -- regress -- in court; or what kinds and quantities of sand rank-and-file federal employees, from the National Park Service to the Postal Service to the Air Force, will throw into which governmental gears; or how powerful state and local governments, which are far more influenced by local mores and pressures than the federal government, will act decisively to curb the dismantling of progress and small-d democracy in the U.S. (starting with California and New York -- regarding climate change, for example).

What’s called for today is circumspection about predicting the future. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to prepare for. That doesn’t mean there aren’t appointments and nominations to oppose, duplicity to expose, and audits to demand. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lines to be drawn to corral the white supremacist deplorables who have been emboldened by the president-elect’s vicious campaign.

And it absolutely does not mean that anybody ought to stand down because the incoming government is in any way “normal” or because of any misguided fantasy that if we bury our heads in the sand “our institutions” can withstand the incoming government’s intended corrosion.

What’s called for right now is focus on the threats posed by the incoming government and what we can do about them. That’s different from predicting which are going to come to pass, and when, and in what form. Donald Trump’s narcissistic, bullying behavior is chiefly characterized by unpredictability used to sow dissention and maintain control. So what’s called for right now is attention, agility, responsiveness, and evaluation of long-term, strategic strengths and options.

Above all: focus. Tweets about a Broadway musical are not among our chief concerns, and paying attention to such twaddle is the antithesis of focus. Baseless twitter-tantrums about fictional voter fraud are not about the election of this month, they’re both a distraction from the evolving bribery-state and part of a long-term, coordinated, Republican Party assault on voting rights, the bedrock of (small-d) democracy.

Just because Donald Trump never met a squirrel he wouldn’t point at to distract from his own reflexive lying, cheating, ignorance, and selfishness, doesn’t obligate anyone to follow his misdirection.

An audit of the vote won’t stop Trump

Audits and recounts won’t stop Trump from assuming the office of President; and neither will the Electoral College or the emoluments clause. It’s not hard to understand the desire to disclaim him, even to sympathize with that desire ... but Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States come 20 January.

The recounts that Jill Stein is initiating will at best and at worst function as a kind of catharsis, and the Clinton campaign’s tepid, strictly-formal involvement now that Stein has gotten the ball rolling doesn’t change anything. The election’s outcome will not change.  While the popular vote matters a lot (see next section), it has nothing to do with who won the presidency earlier this month: no one is going to retroactively abolish the Electoral College.

Let’s be clear: no one in despair over the election of a strongman to the U.S. presidency -- for whom more than sixty million U.S. citizens cast their ballots, plus or minus the few tens or hundreds of thousands that any audit might possibly reallocate -- no one in despair over Trump’s election has any reason to be mollified by better bean counting. The U.S. is in deep, deep trouble following the 2016 election. Full stop. U.S. citizens will be struggling with the fallout of this month’s election for many, many years. Even if ...

Imagine -- for a moment, if you haven’t already -- the inconceivable possibility that some combination of vote audits and recounts and Elector misgivings push enough electoral votes into the Clinton column, and result in her assumption of the presidency in January. What happens then? Riots on the streets and in the statehouses across the South and the Rust Belt? Civil war, waged in Washington? Military uncertainty about which civilian is its commander-in-chief? Worse? It would be a different civil war than the one we face when Trump takes office, sure: but a civil war nonetheless. If, inconceivably, the election results were reversed and Clinton assumed the office of POTUS in January, she would accomplish little to nothing in her presidency beyond fighting opposition to her very occupancy of the office (which might have been the outcome even if she’d won the electoral vote in the first place). And that’s the best-case scenario.

Bottom line: no functioning crystal ball would dare forecast sweetness and light for 2017.

Is there a positive spin on audits and recounts? Sure. A conceivable good that might come of this effort is amped-up examination of what fair, (small-d) democratic elections ought to look like, how that differs from current practice in the U.S., and, consequently, the implementation of federal audit requirements on state boards of election (e.g., all votes must produce a paper record). Will Democrats will have to fight for that? I think so. Republicans are well-practiced and quite successful at winning office by gerrymandering and voter suppression: transparent elections would diminish their power, and they know it.

There is no mandate. There was no landslide.

Any statement to the contrary, by @realDonaldTrump or his minions, is bombastic rhetoric, false on its face. The sixty-some million Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, a clear and significant majority, need to loudly and firmly ridicule that rhetoric. Third-party voters have a heightened responsibility to join in: they may not have voted for the only candidate who had a prayer of defeating Trump, but they didn’t contribute to a fairy tale “mandate” or “landslide” for the incoming president.

Donald Trump lost the popular vote. Donald Trump lost the popular vote even among the fraction of eligible voters who (a) bothered, and (b) weren’t denied their right as citizens to cast a ballot (the latter, most frequently, by ongoing, deliberate, and acknowledged voter suppression tactics employed by the anti-democratic -- small-d -- Republican party). That Donald Trump lost the popular vote is not going to change, no matter how anyone counts, recounts, or audits the ballots.

And his electoral victory? 306 to 232? In fractions, that’s 7/12 to 5/12, an arithmetical approximation in which rounding error overstates Trump’s lead.

Not a landslide. Not a mandate. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Drop “Trumpism”: don’t personalize this government

What if we agreed to stop screaming sound bytes about who is or is not our president in some abstract, preferred moral space, and held the entire Republican Party responsible for the actual incoming government’s program, mendacity, and corruption? How about if we held the Democratic Party as a whole responsible for failure to resist Republican initiatives that threaten safety, health, civil rights, our shared environment, truthful transparency, democracy (small-d), and economic well-being?

It’s tempting to personify enmity because it lessens the need for difficult thinking about a complex political landscape, hard analysis, and risky strategizing. In doing so, however, personification neuters effective opposition. So let’s not take short cuts. They don’t lead anywhere we desperately need to go.

The dismantling of President Obama’s achievements will not be quick or easy. Many of the most corrosive promises of the Trump campaign will require congressional cooperation. The current POTUS (in an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker) has correctly stated: “as a practical matter, what I’ve been saying to people, including my own staff, is that the federal government is an aircraft carrier, it’s not a speedboat.” To effect agendas that Trump, his fellow Republicans, or both have articulated, the elected G.O.P. establishment will have to continue to cooperate with the Trump administration; the Democratic Party would have to abdicate or fail in its responsibility as opposition; a vast network of advocacy organizations would have to abdicate or fail in their responsibility to oppose Republican regress, from the courts to the streets; and countless federal employees would have to go along with the dismantling of the government they are sworn to protect.

It’s not just Trump.

Let’s all step up and shine a bright, unforgiving light on those who collaborate with the incoming administration, and hold them irrevocably accountable for their collaboration.

And let’s oppose -- with vigor and ingenuity commensurate with the truth that our physical, moral, and national lives depend on it -- the attacks the incoming government will wage on the people of the United States, in assaults categorized by novelist Barbara Kingsolver in The Guardian last week:
Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; limits on corporate influence over our laws.
And -- special shout-out  to my progressive and radical comrades -- not one iota of fighting to retain partial, isolated, and/or incremental gains realized during Obama’s eight years in office and earlier precludes fighting for much, much more. But no magical thinking, please. First things first. You can’t rule the universe when you’re pinned to the ground by monsters holding spears to your windpipe.

The term “alt-right” gives in to white supremacist propaganda

Don’t let fascists set the boundaries of discourse. Why cave in to white supremacists? Call them what they are: white supremacists, fascists, neo-nazis. If you’re not personally certain what the “alt-right” is, who they are, what they want, how they act, watch a three minute video and get started judging for yourself.

Then refuse to call them “alt-right” and refuse to stand by when others do.

If the newspapers you read or your local TV news station calls white supremacists “alt-right,” write letters and make phone calls to object. Not just once but every time, until the supposedly-credible media tells the truth.

Matthew Phelan of Jacobin Magazine, writing earlier this month on the “alt-right” in a history of the “House of Breitbart” concludes that “terrifying as this coalition seems, it bears repeating how niche it really is. [...] The alt-right is quite literally a political sideshow.” Maybe yes, maybe no. In any case, calling scum what it is can only consign it more quickly and more certainly to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Note that this is a specific instance of every responsible person’s two-part duty to (a) amplify only credibly-researched, honest, thoughtful news and commentary; and to, (b) avoid spreading “fake news,” which too-frequently pollutes, diminishes, and distracts from longstanding, more-or-less responsible sources of information. In an age of distributed, social-media driven dissemination of information, nobody will fix this for us. Do it yourself, or we’ll all sink together in a swamp of distraction, misinformation, and outright deception.

You have two choices: pitch in to resist the Republican program, or help enact that program

There’s room for a wide spectrum of tactics, improvisation, and long-game strategies to resisting the corrupt and corrosive program of a Republican party that has selected Donald Trump as its leader.

Maybe you have an appetite for local, state, or national electoral politics (and yes, to stop the dismantling of our government and society, progressives need to step up and win political offices).

Maybe you can pitch in to organize the people in your own community: your neighbors, your classroom, the PTA at your kids’ school, your book club, your place of worship, or people who shop at your local grocery store.

Maybe you can organize your community to make phone calls, or write letters, or participate in marches, or support advocacy organizations in legal and legislative fights, or offer sanctuary to people under attack by the U.S. government or its emboldened vigilante wingnuts, or physically stand in the way of those attacks, or come out for mass demonstrations, or participate in boycotts, or attend city council meetings to advocate for what you believe is right and just.

Maybe the thing you’re best at -- or willing to get better at -- is talking with people who don’t agree with you about something important … face-to-face, not through the flattening, distorting lens of social media. Maybe you won’t convince anyone the first time you talk with them. So what? There aren’t any switches to instantly flip. By engaging with people who think differently from you, you’ll be laying a foundation for future understanding, empathy, and compromise among the vastly diverse people and interests that are all part of the cities, states, and regions in which each and every one of us shares a national fate.

All of that, all of the above, is necessary.

You need not (and you cannot) do it all.

Neither can you avoid doing some of it. Not if you want to stand tall, and look your kids (or your sibling’s kids, or your neighbors and their kids) in the eye and know you helped to save not just your own world, but theirs.

Barbara Kingsolver has some sound advice here -- again, from that piece in last week’s Guardian, Trump changed everything. Now everything counts:
We refuse to disappear. We keep our commitments to fairness in front of the legislators who oppose us, lock arms with the ones who are with us, and in the words of Congressman John Lewis, prepare to get ourselves in some good trouble. Every soul willing to do that is part of our team, starting with the massive crowd that shows up in DC in January to show the new president what we stand for, and what we won’t.

There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud.

Be counted. Out loud.

Thanks to Professor Mark Newman of U. Michigan for the cartogram of 2016 presidential election votes by county (Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0); see Prof. Newman’s post for details about how the cartogram was constructed, and additional maps.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Protest is dead. Resist, or be eaten.
Oakland coal ban: real politics amid the Drumpfoolery
Sticking your neck out
Paying what things cost

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