Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 2016: The New Normal

On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, in New York City (where both candidates gave their post-election speeches), the sky was cloudy and dark. The next day, it was sunny and warm for a November day.

As I watched the results come in on Tuesday night and gradually realized that it was not just a close election that would take a while before we saw the seemingly inevitable win for Hillary Clinton, but that Donald Trump had won decisively, I felt physically ill. I couldn't process the news. Calling the election an "upset" seemed to have a cruel double meaning. How could my country have elected a leader so odious and unqualified?

Encountering people on the street on Wednesday felt awkward, all of us aware of our national embarrassment. We heard reports of hate crimes committed by Trump supporters (some of which turned out to be hoaxes) and fears that America would descend into an authoritarian dystopia where overt bigotry runs rampant. Democrats and Republicans who had opposed Trump started thinking of charities to donate to and volunteer work to do, as if to offset the election results.

On the same day, we heard Hillary Clinton and President Obama speak about the news in an optimistic, level-headed way. The next day, the current and future presidents met for the first time and started working on the transition to the Trump administration. This is the new normal.

Accepting this will not mean acquiescing to everything, or even most things, that President Trump says or does. We should subject him to merciless scrutiny and criticism, just as we should with any other president. In fact, that will be possible only if we accept that he is legitimately the 45th President of the United States, and the time for protesting Trump's holding this office has passed. If you drown out any discussion of the specifics of his presidency with the familiar refrains that he's abnormal, racist, sexist, etc., you'll remove yourself from the realm of productive debates about the president.

Amid all the national squabbling about Trump that's been going on since June 16, 2015, a few indisputable facts stand out:

Trump said he'd run for president, and it was widely derided as something that would never happen, or, once he officially announced, as a short-lived publicity stunt.

Trump was right.

Trump said he'd win the Republican nomination, and virtually everyone said that wouldn't happen: he had a "hard ceiling" of support far below 50%, and eventually the rest of the field would narrow down to one main challenger who'd emerge as a consensus nominee.

Trump was right.

Trump said he'd win the presidency, and virtually every pundit said this was highly unlikely for any number of reasons: Clinton was ahead in the polls; she was the only one with a serious ground game; Trump had generally bombed the debates; his unfavorable rating was the highest of any presidential candidate in American history and especially bad with women and Hispanics; and it simply seemed implausible that such a person could ever be elected president.

Trump was right.

And he didn't win the election by just one state, as the most recent Republican president did twice. Trump apparently won Michigan, which was considered a blue state, and he won Pennsylvania, which was considered technically a swing state but with the footnote that no Republican candidate had won it since the '80s.

Trump has been wrong about many things. But on his ability to achieve his presidential goals, he's been more right than just about anyone else.

Of course, you might not want him to achieve his goals for his presidency.

But look at his long list of plans for his first 100 days in office. Some I disagree with, like tax cuts. Some are reiterations of unrealistic campaign themes, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall. Some I can't judge yet, like a vague promise to reduce corruption in Washington.

But some . . . actually seem like they just might be good ideas, like more school choice and streamlining the FDA's approval of medications.

And none of them involve turning America into a fascist dictatorship, forcibly removing citizens from the country, systematically violating due process, instituting apartheid, or squelching free speech.

It would be naive to expect any president to succeed in implementing all the best-sounding parts of their agenda. But if Trump is claiming he'll accomplish a number of things that sound like decent ideas, he might turn out to be right.

Let's wait and see. Let's give him a chance. And let's react to the particular things he does or doesn't do when he's in office, instead of unproductively agonizing over the general notion of him as president . . . as strange and troubling as that might be.

How should Democrats respond to Gary Johnson and Jill Stein supporters?

People say Hillary Clinton is such a good listener, and she may well be. But did she ever listen to Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or their supporters? I'm sure she'd agree that she had to work hard for every single vote. She wasn't entitled to anyone's vote. The fact that people like me voted for Gary Johnson (after voting for Gore, Kerry, and Obama) is meaningful. Instead of lashing out at us for how we cast our votes, listen to us and try to absorb what we were saying when we looked at "Clinton" and "Trump" on the ballot and said: "Neither, thanks."

Think about this: a candidate as bumbling as Johnson, who was ignored by the mainstream media except when there was a story that allowed the media to ridicule him for supposedly not knowing about the world, did far better than any other Libertarian candidate in history. That should send a message.

If you're a Democratic candidate or working for one, try to do better next time. You may think you tried as hard as possible this time. But the Democratic party didn't bother to oppose the worst excesses of the Obama administration — the Libya war, the drone war which could inspire more terrorists, the erosion of Americans' privacy, the expansive theories of executive power . . . Stop and think about the efficiency of markets and the appropriate limits of government power, instead of seeing every problem as one to be solved by government.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The popular vote doesn't matter

It doesn't matter that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, just as it didn't matter that Al Gore won the popular vote.

In both cases, I would have preferred the Democrat over the Republican. But I lost, and I can only accept the results of the election — just as so many people were urging Donald Trump to do if he lost. The same people would have been outraged if Trump had refused to accept the results after winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College.

If you want to switch from the Electoral College to a popular-vote system, put your money where your mouth is. Do the hard work of lobbying for a constitutional amendment. This would take a long time, and you'd have no assurance that it would end up favoring candidates you happen to like. But it would be more effective than ad hoc complaints about the results of a particular election.

There is no such thing as "winning" the popular vote, because you can only "win" under existing rules. If we play chess and you capture my king, you win the whole game — end of story. If I capture more of your pieces in total, I don't "win" the plurality of pieces; I don't win anything. If I had wanted to be able to claim that as a win, I would have needed to reach an agreement with you before starting the game that our goal would be capturing as many pieces as possible — in which case, it's anyone's guess who would have won.

If we had switched to a popular-vote system right before this presidential race started, Trump and Clinton could have changed their get-out-the-vote strategies; Trump could have appealed to large numbers of conservatives and independents in places like California and New York; and Clinton could have appealed to liberals and independents in places like Austin and New Orleans. The candidates might have taken different positions on the issues, or emphasized different issues. And the unpredictability goes beyond that: we don't even know who would have been nominated if primary voters had been trying to choose a candidate who'd receive a plurality of individual votes. For that matter, we don't know if Trump and Clinton would have run for president, or if additional candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden would have resisted the outpouring of pleas for them to run.

Any discussion of a candidate receiving a "win" or "victory" in the 2016 popular vote exists only in the realm of hypothetical alternative history, and has no bearing on the rightful winner in the real world. The only thing the candidates were trying to do was to win the Electoral College, so that's the only fair basis for judging their results.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why did Democrats allow Hillary Clinton to coast to the nomination?

I've never understood it. Her only strong competition was a cranky, ill-informed 75-year-old self-proclaimed socialist yelling about revolution. The problem wasn't a lack of available alternatives: liberals pleaded with Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden to run, but for some reason, they didn't, even knowing they're old enough that this decision might close the door on ever becoming president. And it's hard to believe that Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine, hadn't considered running for the 2016 nomination after being vetted by Obama in 2008.

In the end, Hillary Clinton proved herself to be a painfully mediocre candidate. It's one thing to lose toss-up states like Florida and Ohio, but the fact that she lost Pennsylvania and Michigan speaks volumes. This happened even though her campaign was far better funded and she was believed to be the only candidate with a serious get-out-the-vote operation.

When you consider how she failed at mastering the delegate game in the 2008 primaries, then went on to win her party's nomination only with bizarrely weak competition (and more narrowly against Bernie Sanders than anyone had excepted), then lost the general election to a historically unqualified candidate, the conclusion is clear: Hillary Clinton is just not a skilled politician. As she openly admitted during the campaign, she lacks the political gifts of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. It's great that she's self-aware enough to realize that, but why didn't the Democratic Party as a whole realize it before it was too late?