Tag Archives: usa elections

Long arcs, bending

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

TW: racism, antisemitism, heterosexism, cissexism

I haven’t written much on here because, in spite of a quick look into what went wrong, I have felt woefully wordless. I don’t know that I have answers. I glued my attention to Trump early on in the Republican primary – something that many have held accountable for his meteoric rise. I kept the focus on him as the field narrowed, holding my ground that his visions were an American take on fascism.

His rise, his fall, his uselessness, his usefulness, held my pen captive for months. If anything on the internecine Clinton-Sanders competition I played referee, doling out criticisms on the basis of who seemed to be least examined at the moment. Their contest was secondary – whoever won had to win the ultimate battle, against an age-old adversary hostile to women in control of their own bodies and Jewish existence.

Well, he won. Sanders lost the primary. Clinton lost the general. Any hypothetical in which he would have won in her place was simply that – conjecture. But the allure of that was clearly strong to many, on a deeper level than asking who should have won the primary. It became about what should have been the focus of conversation.

Like many on the outside of the Republican hegemony, the repeated question of whether identity politics had eclipsed “economics” rang like a death knell – as if the clean water Standing Rock and Flint wanted was a resource disconnected from their racial demographics, as if LGBT rights do not cut at their core to cohabitation and hence housing and related industries, as if mandated health coverage of birth control and transgender transitioning care had affected no savings.

Decrying identity politics rarely sounded like a call for including a class consciousness in the politics of the day. If anything, it sounded like looking past some of the most economically deprived people in the country, on the basis of some or all of their identities, chosen or thrust upon them. Are we really supposed to believe that people spraypainting swastikas on walls are motivated by economic problems first and foremost?

ucd-swastika
A swastika, painted on a UC Davis residence, per Shaun King.

All of this was complicated for me by a more immediate sense of insecurity. At my new job, which was also keeping me occupied with something other than writing here, my coworkers were a motley crew of the terrified. A few days after the election, we held a visit for a recently departed member of the team – an Ashkenazi Jewish woman whose father escaped the Holocaust thanks to an integrated military unit and some elbow grease applied to a sealed train car in Nazi-occupied France. Gathered around the table with her were a Black Coptic Christian, people of color with temporary visas, LGBT people, Black people, Latin@ people, and others. The anxiety was tangible, and thirty minutes later it would spill out into the street – as other residents of the Bay Area blockaded almost every major street in a spontaneous expression of the same or similar terrors.

At the core of that terror is at least one question – which is whether it was actually true. The thing itself comes in a million colors, a thousand flavors, untold variations, but what we expected was some sense that this country was salvageable, this country could change, that this country was capable of more than it appeared. For the some among us, that means a capacity to think of women as its highest leaders. For others, that means a rejection of ethnic cleansing as social and economic policy. For others still, maybe that belief suddenly so fragile and subject to destruction was that the moral arc of the universe bends, and it bends towards justice, and it is slow but don’t doubt it. Well, this is a hell of a twist in another direction, shouldn’t we have a moment of doubt?

This doesn’t feel like a failure of the moment. This feels like running up against a wall. This feels like finding out something about the system. Something inescapable. Something unassailable. Some undercurrent that reversed, some tide that has decided to go out after so many years of going in.

Perhaps this cuts to the core of what the call for a refocusing of Democratic strategy sounds like to many of us. It doesn’t sound like shift in priorities, but a clarification of what has long loomed threateningly – that the White working class, and arguably a more specific slice of America than even that, thinks it stands to gain by other vulnerable people’s loss. Feeling like we’re suffocating under that idea, that may not sound new or radical, but it truly is. Historically, the White working class has on the whole checked the aspirations of wealthier White people.

Those expressions have at best inconsistently worked to the benefit of people of color, but a connection is hard to deny. Even at its most toxic – in the populist revolt Andrew Jackson rode into presidential office and later mass ethnic cleansing of much of the South – it easily mutated into other populist expressions of the day, including abolitionism. Whether the uniquely working class expressions of populism were always inclusive of a concern for what would happen to the newly freed slaves, is of course a reasonable concern. But the populist influence was undeniable, in that stymieing the wealthy often meant helping people of color and other groups categorically excluded from power.

What’s intriguing about US history is how every period you look to sees a similar level of success for working class politics and the politics of people of color – from abolitionism’s and populism’s fever pitch in the late antebellum, to the Gilded Age’s nadir in Jim Crow amid racist immigration quotes if not bans, and ultimately in a populist resurrection in the form of the New Deal and Civil Rights Movement (while trade unions brought integration into White political conversations). Maybe this isn’t a long arc, so much as a loose correlation between populism and egalitarianism.

Yet, that’s changed. We still have a White working class, which has begun to be defined culturally rather than economically by a social rejection of LGBT people, women’s rights, and other racially-loaded and not-so-loaded litmus tests. That labor politics leave open the door for discussing the unique needs of particular classes of labor – racialized, gendered, and so on – is increasingly less clear. In terms of symbolic representation, supposed the powerless apotheosis of identity politics, a narrowly defined White working class is at its greatest visibility – having been credited with Reagan’s wins, George Bush’s anemic win and ultimate loss, the turn towards Clinton, the close successes of George H. W. Bush, Obama’s rustbelt victories, and now Trump’s minority coalition win.

In short, it feels like gravity has stopped working, and a fundamental force in the universe has suddenly begun operating by another, still curious logic. A White working class at least generally hostile to the wishes of wealthy White elites has suddenly played a pivotal role in ushering in the wealthiest cabinet in history, after decades of almost erratic political behavior. That their questioning of the class structure opens doors to people of color and others endangered under the social and economic rules (mostly blatantly LGBT people, disabled people, Jewish people, women, and others) has suddenly been cast into doubt.

Perhaps, that’s the nature of this post-election, in which all sorts of things have been called projection. These distinctively vulnerable populations have no reason not to identify this concern – that the White working class has shifted its priorities in a way dangerous to those who wish they had their status. That’s a mirror image almost of what the supposed champions of the White working class have articulated as feeling – that they’re forgotten and left behind in a future accessible to people of color (among other marginalized groups). Yet, it’s the White working class that seems to be doing that to the jeopardizing, perhaps unrealized even, of other working classes.

The past fifty years have seen a sweeping transformation, but it is hard to perceive of it as that, from the other end of it. The historical record suggests a change within the politics of the White, and increasing cisgender and straight, working class – towards their advancement by means of undermining others struggling, and specifically away from organizing in ways that other vulnerable people stood to benefit from.

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Post Mortem

Most of us are asking – what on earth just happened? I have my own share of questions, namely how such an urban-focused primary created such a rural-based general campaign. With this new electoral map, however, I think there’s one conclusion we must discuss: this is the nationalization of what’s been called “the southern strategy”.

Somewhat rapidly, a section of national media has pushed back on understanding this as neatly tied together by former industrial workers in the Midwest switching party alignments. The Washington Post provides some of the best county-level data in maps like this:

d to r swing counties.png

While, yes, this casts doubt on a narrow connection between deindustrialization and racial radicalization, in many ways it suggests a broader dissolution in the upper Midwest – of a one unionized, White, largely Democrat-aligned, working class. Mechanization and globalization have given that group a bit of a one-two punch economically, and perhaps the instability that’s fostered has accelerated another recent trend – the decline of union membership and union support among them. Much of their local economic and social structure – which created nationally distinctive voting patterns – is gone now… so perhaps too are their Democrat-aligned ways.

It’s important to note that White people in much of the rest of the country went through this process long ago. It’s essentially the Southern Strategy writ large – that politicians can appeal to the distinctively White anxiety that people of color are getting a greater piece of the pie to distract us from political and economic conditions shrinking the pie overall.

That this is seen as a uniquely Southern phenomenon is a bit of a shame – it’s long been a huge factor in the inland West and Great Plains regions too among other corners of the country. Obama’s time in office, although one in which he has been soundly elected and reelected, has seen this strategy march to the north and east. First, it spread across Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia, but now, as the Post’s map shows, it’s progressed starkly into Ohio, Iowa, and it’s beginning to reach into Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and even upstate New York.

Minnesota is feeling these effects too – but like New York or Illinois, it’s buoyed by a huge urban center that makes up such a large portion of the state population that this mainly rural change can’t quite swing the state. It’s possible that with more extensive urban turnout this effect would have been similarly masked in Michigan and Pennsylvania. That may have already happened in 2012 and perhaps even 2008. It’s possible that this is a more dramatic map than what the new electoral equilibrium actually is. It’s also possible that this realignment among rural White voters isn’t complete, and that Democratic returns may continue to decline in rural areas in northern states, particularly in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

There are a couple of hazily antithetical options the Democratic Party has before it. Michael Moore and a variety of other commentators from the Upper Midwest have argued that “the people” need to “take over the Democratic Party“. It’s unclear what that means, but to recapture the demographic that’s proven so comfortable with racist sentiment seems impractical. While they may yet be won back with economic populism, that group has largely voted in such a way that shows they increasingly prefer economic racialism. Even if they personally see no benefits, they might prefer knowing someone else experiences greater or more severe economic losses.

As noted earlier, low turnout in this election was a particularly urban phenomenon in increasingly majority-minority districts, exacerbated perhaps by the top of the ticket having such a history of collusion with racist policies. Likewise, while the self proclaimed yet shockingly White progressive wing of the party often speaks favorably of ending those policies, they haven’t delivered. Worse yet, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both discussed a willingness to work with a Trump administration on infrastructure and other economic policies. A large chunk of White academia appears to be lining up behind those racialized economics.

Those “progressive” politics ignore the ways in which Trump’s economic vision is predicated on furthering the patterns by which those benefits are primarily or even only available to White people. If a portion of the Democratic Party can demonstrate a commitment to lower income people of color – who are the reason Democrats still carried the working class in this presidential election – maybe turnout surges, the margins move back into the Party’s favor in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and continue to improve in Arizona and Georgia. That is the new direction of real economic populism in this country, which now has a working class that is largely if not a majority of color.

Key among the provisions the Democratic Party must work on in those and other states to tap into the new demography of this country, however, are the twin pair of disenfranchisement and incarceration. Trump won not only those states but also Florida, North Carolina, and more due to the racist reality of who has the right to vote. If that changes, so does the map, into one that fully takes advantage of the emerging rural-urban split by opening up southern and southwestern states with growing and diversifying urban centers. This is a strategy that’s already changed the map – transforming Nevada and Colorado into strikingly Democratic-leaning states based off of just two key cities – Las Vegas and Denver.

Democrats have a choice between a strategy like that, which is based off of forging ahead with new economic and social realities in the country, or attempting to recapture some rural White voters. In opting for the latter, there are some jobs that potentially could be brought back to the United States from the other countries they are now performed in, but even outside of the questions of how to do that, there’s the reality that that’s not where many of these disappearing jobs have gone. Huge numbers of them have been lost to automation, without any sort of imaginable reversing “fix”. What’s more, many of the jobs this once unionized rural White working class are still here and they’re still doing them.

Seeking to turn back the clock on not only off-shoring but also technological advancement and race relations seems not only a tall order, but a futile effort to salvage a fading voting pattern among a shrinking number of people in only one region of the country. That would be an intriguing response to an election where the Democrats were charged with not thinking enough about all demographics.

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The rock, the hard place, and the eternally sought-after undecideds

The elections podcast by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight team contained this rather interesting moment near its end on Monday:

NATE SILVER: Neither of these candidates has really won that many people over. Clinton is still at only about 42 percent in the [national] polls, down from about 44 or 45 percent right after the convention. 42 percent is not that good. It’s better than being at 39 percent, which is what Trump is at, but some of the marginal Clinton voters now have gone to [Libertarian candidate Gary] Johnson and [Green candidate Jill] Stein. How could Clinton potential lose this election if her favorables are slightly less bad than Trump’s?  If more of her voters go to Johnson and Stein. I think she needs a plan for dealing with that. If you assume that third party vote will fade… well, maybe… […]  but you certainly can’t count on that. I’ve never seen an election before where the number of decideds like goes up as the election goes on. [Laughter]

In this of all election cycles, maybe we should consider this before laughing.

This is an election cycle where, unlike in the last one, significant swings have proven possible and suggest exactly those unthinkable reversals. A lot of the restrictions I talked about in the last presidential cycle seem to continue to ensnare presidential contenders – most notably that Trump is trying what Romney wouldn’t, to say he’s at once in favor of two diametrically opposed immigration policies. But woven in between first Obama’s and now Clinton’s inability to effectively harness the news cycles and first Romney’s and now Trump’s need to hold two positions at once, there’s an almost supernatural destabilizing element: the decided voter who un-decides.

To fully credit them, there’s most likely no singular bloc of voters who fit that description. Even from the same part of the political spectrum, the motivation for a particular de-decider will vary, and as a result their undeciding can arrive at any number of times. While this seemingly new phenomenon is in some ways a reflection of this race – between two major candidates with net negative popularity, and maybe popular to get buyer’s remorse from – it’s also a manifestation of alienation from the two parties themselves.

That dislike for the two major parties doesn’t precisely fall evenly, and so neither do the un-decided. Amid recent allegations of corruption and other non-ideological criticisms, Hillary Clinton is perhaps more vulnerable to losing support for appearing to embody some of the greatest flaws in the system more generally. For Trump, similar allegations might limit or even undo his support, but the perception of him as an electoral outsider might also soften the blow.

Perhaps more coherently than any other recent presidential election, this one has been predicated on ideas of candidates’ relative flaws. With both major candidates facing limited enthusiasm and low popularity, running against their opponent has played a much bigger and more universal role this year than previously.

One of the problems that strategy poses, however, is that some of your support won’t kick in until it looks like you might lose. On the level of this that we have reached this year, what’s more, some of your supporters won’t necessarily stick around once it looks like you will safely carry the election. Conscientious voting has been raised as an issue in both primaries and into the general election, priming voters to ask themselves that if they don’t absolutely need to make a lesser-of-two-evils choice, then why bother.

2016-09-07_0936(The Princeton Election Consortium’s national meta-margin and FiveThirtyEight’s national polling averages, both showing the “sine wave” fluctuations Nate Silver mentioned earlier in the same podcast.)

For Clinton, someone absorbing support from her left and her right on the basis of her not being Trump, this creates boom-bust cycles of her support, or as Nate Silver put it – sine waves across the electoral polling. Like last year, the two major parties have pretty much played each other into a Democratic-leaning stalemate on the national level.

What seems to be new this year is that the sea is choppy, not that we’re in a different boat. The real proof of this dynamic, of course, will be born out in whether Clinton recovers some of these supporters now that the race is tightening again. Until then, as Silver said, we haven’t yet seen a race where the number of undecided voters goes up… but there’s always a first time.

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Into the general

The post-convention speculation has begun, but perhaps we should heed Nate Silver’s advice to wait a little longer, a smidgen more past the 100-day mark until the general presidential election. To tide us over, let’s talk about the map that Clinton and Trump find themselves confronted with. Here’s one I drew up based off of how different voting blocs in the electoral college have cast their votes since 1992.

2016-07-31_1130

To put it simply, there’s two complimentary groups of voting blocs, who can on occasion get caught up in the excitement for a candidate that wins the country as a whole, but by and large, vote consistently for a particular political party’s candidates. After drawing up categories of voting blocs based on that, there emerges a third group – those who never demonstrated a clear preference for one major party or another, and overwhelmingly voted with the electoral college’s result as a whole.

Briefly, let me explain the logic behind using this time period. The fall of the Soviet bloc has receded in most people’s memory, but it actually doesn’t seem that far of a stretch to view it as a slate-cleansing point.

As an event, it cuts to a core change within the Democratic Party – the movement from progressive capitalism in the styles of Roosevelt and Johnson towards the more centrist economics of Clinton and Obama. Unions disintegrated, protectionism faded, and the Democrats redirected their attention away from structuring the economy in general and towards resolving dysfunctional outcomes case by case. The demonstration of the Soviet model’s failure on the global stage, no doubt, played a role in the transition. Liberation was curtailed to inclusion, and environmentalism mutated into today’s green capitalism.

While the Democrats’ sought a new future to imagine, the Republican Party changed the tone in which they viewed the past. By the 1980s, it had been captured by the conservative movement which very openly expressed interest in returning most social practices to a part true and part mythologized past. That remains one of the motivating concerns of most people in the conservative movement – a return to the social arrangements before Roe v Wade, before the Civil Rights Act, before Lawrence v Texas.

Under Reagan that was an optimistic expectation, a simple step back before continuing to evolve as a nation along preferred conservative lines. Under George Bush that idea had begun to sour. Once the fall of the Soviet Union occurred, large sections of the Republican base were on the verge of open revolt – a clean return to the Pax Americana they thought they remembered was increasingly out of reach. That bred a sense of desperation, and out of that came most of the support for Ross Perot, the perceived recapturing of the Republican Party with George Walker Bush, the Tea Party movement, and even now Donald Trump’s candidacy. As others have said, Republicans’ morning in America has become their midnight darkest – a paranoia that began in the early 1990s.

Even as both of these broad portions of political thought in the US rethought their positions, their voters became more consistent and more polarized. So, in that way, the 1992 presidential election was the first of a series of nationwide demonstrations of a new voting pattern. Born out of the earlier party realignment driven by Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the past six elections have been the crystallization of those dynamics.

2016-08-01_1859.png

The math of this model can help paint a particular picture of what strategies Clinton and Trump can draw on. Forget the parties, their political histories, their precisely constituencies – it’s just red, blue, and everyone else.

Thinking of it in those terms, there’s three groups of electoral voting blocs with their own strengths and weaknesses:

  • Team Blue: This group tops out at 246 electoral votes, just a mere 24 votes short of a win. It’s not just the biggest of the groups, but it’s also the one with best retention. The other team has only poached one of its voting blocs one time – which is only worth 4 votes. Although durable and large, it still falls short of a win on its own and suffers from not having many inroads to winning the support of other electoral blocs, making it possible for it to strike out at convincing anyone else (think 2004).
  • Team Red: Topping off at 219 electoral votes, this set of electoral voting blocs is not as close to a win as the leading team, but it’s a much closer second than the distant third. It holds a track record of getting three times as many electoral votes against popular Team Blue candidates than vice versa. What it has in better appeal, however, it lacks in stability, with a fully majority of its components’ votes having gone Blue at one time or another (occasionally multiple times).
  • Team Consensus: A mere 73 votes, this is the smallest group. In part because it plays kingmaker between the two teams, its preferences as a whole are the best predictor of which candidate in a given year will win. Those preferences aren’t to be treated as loosely shared either – in half of this time period’s elections they’ve voted unanimously for the electoral college’s winner. The most likely outcome after that has only seen one defector among them. As the smallest of these blocs within the electoral college however, it can’t fully capture either party’s interest because it’s mathematically impossible to win with it alone.

A sort of a political rock-paper-scissors has emerged here. Blue is big and dependable but has to convince others to come along, Red is almost as big and great a pulling in outside support but perpetually at risk of its coalition disintegrating, and there’s a powerful bloc outside of the two which adeptly supplies the votes to put either over the top but can only choose between these two larger factions’ preferences.

electoral college weighted proportionality

What does this mean for this year’s nominees? More than anything else, it shows how Clinton has followed conventional thought on these political realities and Trump has eschewed that sort of traditional approach.

For Team Blue’s leader (that’s Clinton), the biggest concern within this electoral model is to invite in of Team Consensus and encourage defections from Team Red as much as possible. That’s been followed through on – as she’s selected her running mate from a recurrently defecting Red bloc (Virginia), who is fluent in the minority language common to one of the largest ethnic groups in several Team Consensus blocs (New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Florida all are among the most Latin@ states in the country).

Meanwhile, Team Red’s leader faces a two-front conflict: to maintain a lead in the many states that threaten to break from the pack as well as to bring in support from outside of that group. During the primary contests earlier this year, I noted that Trump appealed more strongly to voters inclined towards the messages of Team Red but living in areas that skew Blue, particularly compared to his rivals. Since then, many have noted that Trump biggest gains have largely come in the form of unexpectedly effective performances in swing states amid news about unusually anemic support for him from Republican bastions.

Don’t worry, someone else did the math and this isn’t a party realignment (at least, not yet). We’ll have a more direct answer to that come November, but the difference is speaks to is more that between Clinton’s and Trump’s strategies. The former is playing the game the way you’re expected to, in spite of the difficulties is poses. The latter, however, seems frustrated by the differences he must balance, so he’s trying to upend the table they’re competing on.

With him now breaking an unspoken rule of every would-be president – don’t criticize the immediate family of a fallen service member – he truly is betting on the possibility that this contest can play out differently than anyone expects. No matter what, this speaks to the kind of temperament he has as a person, but he took seriously the possibility that he could win states no Republican has in my lifetime (namely Pennsylvania), something Clinton never appeared to considered even with unusual polling statistics coming out of Utah and Mississippi. He’s the kind of person who’s quick to set his heart on something, and ignore any signals about what is necessary to give up to reach it.

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This week’s tea leaves

From the globe’s climate to the particularities of abortion access in Missouri, this past week has seen a number of bold but understated announcements. Digging through the implications of what’s been revealed, here’s a few things to keep on your mind.

Global warming is accelerating

NASA released a report on temperature data they collected in March of this year, showing it to be the second most anomalously warm month in all of their modern climate observations. The infamous “hockey stick” is now observable in month-level or similarly more short term graphs, not just in centuries-long looks at global temperatures, implying that global climate change has reached a new velocity.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 1(March 2016 is circled in red, from here.)

One assessment of the data suggests that a strong El Niño, which is associated with higher temperatures in much of the northern hemisphere, might be part of what’s making rapid warming suddenly more noticeable. Mapping the temperature anomalies to different parts of the earth lends that theory some credence as the most unusually warm parts of the planet in March were almost all in northern temperate or polar areas.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 2(From here.)

GOP Senators see the writing on the wall

A number of Republican Senators have long been discussed as uniquely vulnerable in the upcoming elections this fall. Often brought into office in the atypically conservative-driven elections of 2010, they will likely face a different electorate this year, partially because of the presidential election.

A recent report from Politico, however, suggests that this wariness isn’t just being felt among newly-elected Senators. John McCain (R-AZ), who is more or less tied with his likely general election Democratic competitor, has stated he won’t be attending the Republican convention this summer, so as to focus on his own election. A similar announcement was made by Richard Burr (R-NC), who was reelected for the first time in 2010. Even Senators with longer histories in DC appear to want to play it safe this time around.

Stopping Planned Parenthood becomes leaking patient information

Months after the brouhaha stirred up by widely discredited allegations of criminal activity, Planned Parenthood operations in some states are still facing investigations. Although already cleared by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, one Missouri state senator is continuing to press the issue with a subpoena of large amounts of information on abortion from the organization. So far the state’s Planned Parenthood has stated they will comply but only if patient confidentiality is assured – which apparently has yet to be done.

A contention of wrongdoing has already mutated into a cavalier approach towards the safety and privacy of former patients. Imagine what it could become next.

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Good news

Trigger warning: indefinite detention, electoral disenfranchisement, racism

The past few weeks have seemed like a bit of a parade of bad news – with Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican primary among other worrisome events. Recently, however, there’s been a few small but significant changes that can give us hope.

Think of the children

After the number of unaccompanied children crossing into the US peaked in 2014, the public’s attention to the issue has steady declined. Even as fewer children have ended up in the overcrowded and dangerous detention facilities scattered across the southwest US, those already here have largely faced a toxic mixture of judicial neglect and increasingly unrealistic orders for them to leave the country.

A new report from Generation Progress touches on the issues that I and others noticed were looming problems just as the crisis began – that very few of these cases have assigned lawyers or even translators. Concerned Senators and Representatives have stepped in with new federal legislation requiring more extensive availability to those services as well as more thorough accountability for the agencies overseeing these detention facilities and court proceedings. Unfortunately, as long as the Senate and House are Republican-controlled, these reforms are unlikely to become law.

The day’s wages

In New York and California a similar tentative step forward, in this case on the minimum wage, has unfolded. In both progressive-leaning states with large labor pools, local activism was sufficient to push for incrementally raising the wage floor. In New York, the main determinant will be regional, with New York City proper seeing its wages move up the most quickly, followed by outlying parts of the urban center, and lastly other parts of the state. To a certain extent, that reflects cost of living, although across the state that will catapult minimum wage workers from $9 an hour into a more manageable economy. In California, the changes will be tailored more to the type of business, with smaller companies given slightly more time to adapt.

072814-minimum-wage_map
(Changes have so far been concentrated in states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, however. Image modified from here.)

Many commentators have viewed this as a reflection of the populist politics fueling Senator Sanders’ presidential run, but the piecemeal approach in both California and New York is more reflective of the gradual and contextual increases advocated by Secretary Clinton. Far from outside of these policy victories, Clinton took part in the celebratory rally put on by New York Governor Cuomo in her adoptive state.

Who counts the voters

Whether at the state level or federally, these different movements aimed at improving the quality of life have relied on elected leadership. In short, they have needed at least the possibility of voters caring about these issues to motivate political action. The capacity for that to happen as evenly as possible with the population of a district was upheld 8-0 by the Supreme Court on Monday in Evenwel v. Abbott.

This case was launched by the Project for Fair Representation, which previously played a role in an unsuccessful challenge to affirmative action and a fruitful dismantling of the electoral pre-clearance system. The racial dimensions of their work are deliberate and striking, and Evenwel was no exception. The Cato Institute (known for its own relationship with racist, colonialist, and antisemitic ideologies) published a rather flowery amicus curiae on behalf of the plaintiffs in Evenwel where they argued-

Once again this Court finds itself at the intersection of the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties here are caught in the inevitable trap of (1) maintaining majority-minority districts under complex, overlapping standards and (2) administering electoral schemes that do little to advance racial equality while doing much to violate voter equality— the idea that each eligible voter’s vote should count equally. In the background of this conflict, there lurks a cacophony of precedent and oft-conflicting court administered standards that have arisen from Section 2 cases. Basic constitutional guarantees of equal protection inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment— such as OPOV—are getting lost in this thicket.

Avoiding racial discrimination under these circumstances is particularly difficult in jurisdictions where “total population” and “citizens of voting age population” (CVAP)—standard metrics for evaluating whether a district violates OPOV—diverge due to varied concentration of non-citizens. As with the tensions amicus Cato has described before, jurisdictions navigating between the VRA’s Scylla and the Constitution’s Charybdis are bound to wreck individual rights—here, voter equality—on judicial shoals.

The reality that redefining electoral districts across the country by either eligible or registered voters would cast aside representation for people ineligible to vote or unregistered (who are largely people of color) is only indirectly considered. It’s framed as an unfortunate cost needed to make each vote cast equally contested by candidates – a pipe dream as turnout can easily inflate a given voter’s power or swamp their decision in a sea of others’. These organizations, all too recently comfortable with the legal realities of Apartheid, were pushing for a milder version of the same multi-tiered political system, where there are people represented and people beneath consideration.

Perhaps most tellingly, the case here sought a structural response to the reality that millions of people are disenfranchised – while being incarcerated (and depending on the state, afterwards as well), for being undocumented or otherwise non-citizens, or from the inaccessibility of the voter registration system. Instead of asking why those people are beyond the pale of electoral participation and what could be changed about that, it treated their exclusion as an accepted given to be worked around.

Luckily the Supreme Court saw things differently, and as the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund described it:

Upwards of 75 million children—13 million of whom are Black—not yet eligible to vote would have been counted out of the redistricting process had appellants prevailed. Indeed, appellants’ case threatened to take America’s redistricting process back to nefarious periods in our democracy similar to when Black people were counted as 3/5ths of a person for redistricting purposes and expressly excluded from the body politic.

The Court’s decision today vindicates the “one person, one vote” standard, which rightly takes into account Census-derived total population counts when apportioning voting districts. This standard has been applied universally for over 50 years by all 50 states and the thousands of localities within them. Moreover, this clear understanding of “one person, one vote” is already regarded as America’s “de facto national policy” in legislative redistricting, enjoying overwhelming, bipartisan support among state and local governments. Today’s decision reaffirms the guiding logic of this inclusive standard, which fosters access to electoral representation and constituent services for all people, regardless of race, sex, citizenship, economic status, or other characteristics, or whether a person chooses to or is able to vote.

That vision of participatory democracy is the engine that’s helping to drive these modest steps towards a fairer political and economic system. This newly post-Scalia Supreme Court has made clear that they favor that understanding of how this country could organize itself.

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Forcing a Trump vote

The question everyone should be asking right now is whether Donald Trump can force the Republican Party to support him in spite of itself. The party convention process is a surprisingly undemocratic and frankly byzantine mixture of different systems, so they very well might have an opportunity to do so. Whether its wise to alienate the bulk of their primary voters is another question, the frantic whispers from leaders in the party show that they intend to do that. Of course, the problem they have to overcome is whether delegates awarded to Trump can even vote against him – many will be bound delegates, obligated to vote for him on at least the first ballot call at the convention.

Looking exclusively at Trump’s bound delegates alone changes the delegate math for him. Here’s what he has won before tonight’s results come in if we only count those delegates:

State or Territory Bound At-Large Delegates Bound Congressional District Delegates Cumulative
Iowa 7  7
New Hampshire 11  18
South Carolina 21 29  68
Nevada 14  82
Alaska 11  93
Alabama 0* 0*  93
Arkansas 10 6  109
Georgia 17 26  152
Massachusetts 22  174
Minnesota 8  182
Oklahoma 8 5  195
Tennessee 15 18  228
Texas 17 31  276
Virginia 17  293
Vermont 8  301
Kansas 6 3  310
Kentucky 17  327
Louisiana 12 6  345
Maine 9  354
Hawaii 7 4  365
Idaho 12  377
Michigan 25  402
Mississippi 16 9  427
Virgin Islands 1  428
Wyoming 1  429
Florida 99  528
Illinois 39  567
Missouri 12 25  604
Northern Mariana Islands 9  613
North Carolina 30  643

*Alabama’s general and congressional district delegates are technically bound, but there is a provision allowing them to unbind themselves which party leaders will undoubtedly encourage – as a result, for all intents and purposes they’re unbound.

That creates a count of 625 delegates who, unless Donald Trump dies or releases them in an official withdrawal from the race, will have to vote for him in the first vote at the Republican convention. That is still a large number of delegates, but a noticeable bit shorter than the delegate count that’s typically noted as being his.

Many of the upcoming primaries will similarly bind delegates in states where Trump is likely to win at large delegates and many congressional district delegates – along the west coast and in the “Acela Corridor” which both might see the sort of Republican in blue states voting patterns that Trump has succeeded under elsewhere. The bound delegates from Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California, combined with the bound ones from Indiana and Arizona who many expect Trump to likely win together represent a bloc of 558 delegates. Combined with his current winnings that comes just sort of the necessary delegate count to win on the first ballot call – but it’s dangerously close to it at 1183 bound delegates. As an absolute floor on Trump’s delegates, that leaves him room to poach unbound delegates and otherwise amass enough support to potentially become the nominee.

The results tonight will help refine the math of what we’re be looking at for the Republican convention, namely in terms of whether Cruz locks up all of Utah’s bound delegates with a decisive statewide win (in which case they are all allocated together), or if he misses the mark and has to shave off a few to Trump and Kasich. Likewise, an upset in Arizona is also possible. Tomorrow morning we’ll know how tightly Trump will have to win a number of the upcoming primary contests and caucuses.

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Super Tuesday II: everything’s coming up Trump

As promised, here’s the most important map in the US right now:

2016-03-16_1020(Counties sorted by winner: Trump in dark blue, Cruz in yellow, and Kasich in bright green. Candidates who have withdrawn or suspended their campaigns with a win include Carson in pale green and Rubio in red. Ties are in dark gray, counties that will hold contests later in the year are in light gray, and territories that elect strictly unbound delegates are in black.)

In a nutshell, it’s good news for Trump. Here’s a quick overview of what we can all learn from last night beyond that.

Region matters, but it’s only part of the story

A lot of commentary has focused on regional distinctions, in which Cruz is painted as successful in the West while Trump dominates the East and especially the South. That misses some nuances about where and how either of them dominate in various regions.

In the South, urban centers largely light up in contrast to the cold sea of largely rural, blue-coded, Trump-won counties. A large percentage of that were counties carried by Rubio, but Cruz’s showing in North Carolina maps surprisingly well to the more densely populated parts of the state too. Those voters in particularly may very well have been anyone-but-Trump votes, cast by somewhat more moderate and typically urban Southern Republicans. If North Carolina had voted earlier (like South Carolina), they may have gone with Rubio or a more moderate choice than Cruz, but this late in the process they were voting extremely strategically.

Missouri, hotly contested as a southern state, seems to have had a similar dynamic play out last night. Cruz won Jefferson City, Kansas City, Springfield, and Cape Girardeau, while Trump dominated the rural areas between each of those cities. Those who insist that Missouri has a distinctly un-southern feel to it might be right, as the second largest city, St. Louis, was narrowly carried by Trump. Bordering Illinois, those counties saw a dynamic more like those seen further north in the country.

Outside of the South, this urban-rural split is not only less dependable but also shockingly reverses, with Trump carrying Las Vegas, Detroit, Boston, and yesterday Chicago. As noted before, that oddity of him tending to win urban and suburban centers in blue states particularly speaks to his unique appeal to conservatives who feel “under siege” or similarly vulnerable. Where comparatively less populated parts of Illinois flip from Trump to Cruz might serve as an indicator of where a more southern cultural identity ends within the state. Trumps electoral success in Chicago – even though it’s with a small part of the total population there – was key in him pulling off that win.

Kasich wins, yet barely

If anyone pulled off a major victory in the Republican primaries last night outside of Trump, it was Kasich. While no one, Florida senator Rubio least of all, failed to step up and oppose Trump more or less steamrolling his way to victory in Florida, Ohio governor Kasich gave a surprisingly strong showing in Ohio. Cruz failed to capitalize on his appeal in certain rural parts of Kentucky bordering Ohio, but Trump’s wins along that border (and up along the boundary with Pennsylvania) were overshadowed by Kasich’s decisive if lean wins in virtually every other rural, suburban, or urban part of the state.

His win really was a bare minimum, however. Kasich, armed with electability, experience, and likability, only managed to win a plurality of Republican primary voters. To make matters worse he also had some pretty substantial conservative bona fides and benefited from a semi-organized campaign among Ohio democrats to crossover and vote for him. Even with all that, Trump trailed behind him only 9.1 percent – a meaningful loss, but not very much of one when Ted Cruz won 13.1 percent in the race in Ohio. The viability of Kasich outside of Ohio is dubious at best, and these fairly anemic returns under best case conditions may have a secured a key victory there but they mostly serve as a reminder of how limited his appeal has been.

The missing caucuses

Most coverage has sadly overlooked this, but the Northern Mariana Islands held their caucuses yesterday as well. Trump won decisively, with Cruz in a distant second. This is a bit of an upset of historical norms, actually, as they had previously cast their support even more overwhelmingly to Mitt Romney in 2012. In both cases, however, the territory saw wildly unrepresentative caucuses with fewer than scarcely a thousand participants representing its more than fifty thousand residents.

What next?

Within the immediate race, eyes will soon turn to Arizona, Utah, and American Samoa, which will all hold primary contests next Tuesday. That’s another 107 delegates – 58 of which will be awarded as a set by Arizonan primary voters. If Trump wins that primary, he would be more than halfway to a clear majority of delegates, suggesting that the Republican convention this summer will either be his to enjoy or a protracted mess of last minute deals to deny him the nomination.

Considering those exact possibilities, more than few Republicans are probably busily taking notes on this Bloomberg article which explores exactly how a brokered convention might be engineered. The key issue, particularly if Trump manages to win Arizona or similarly gain control over the majority of delegates is whether he can keep them completely loyal at a potentially rowdy convention. It’s unclear if this was tabulated with the aim to help Trump retain his delegates, Cruz target them for conversion, or for other reasons, but one list of who will appear at the convention as an unbound delegate (meaning, they can change their votes) has already popped up.

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Who’s on third?

I’ve touched on this topic before, that what Trump is appealing to is something that fundamentally succeeds under a democratic system better than what most of his competitors in the Republican primary are offering. At least, within the Republican Party itself, it’s more durable. With Trump leading in the polls, that might sound like basic commonsense, but it also says something far more meaningful and darker about the future of the Republican Party.

What they’ve carefully crafted over the past several decades, with Southern Strategies and Moral Majorities, are ultimately brokered deals. Those are between an electoral bloc motivated by causes artfully directed away from economic populism and a smaller set who call the shots on anything with economic relevance. This was the playbook up through the recent Bush administration – which was headed by something of a cultural representative. His accent was pretty unconvincing to many, but just trying to use one aligned him with one cultural element in the country, which remains a large electoral bloc if not plurality of voters.

His upper class background spoke to the demarcations within that Republican arrangement – if not one of he was from and familiar with the few powerful donors and representatives who held key positions and dictated economic policy. That description of his administration might sound odd, and it is incomplete in how it leaves out the inescapable and protracted debates on marriage equality and abortion. The presence of two distinctive, at times radically so, policy conversations has been the Republican modus operandi for decades. Trump has disrupted that clear boundary between the two and the larger system that created that.

spirit justice.jpgRemember when all national discussion stalled to talk about the Spirit of Justice statue and her exposed breasts? Image from here.

Most clearly, his economic policies, like most of his politics, are taken as much as possible from the reactionary cultural groups tapped into by Republicans for years. Even on “social” issues, he’s touched the live wires that few other Republicans would – ones like immigration which while often talked about in terms of language and identity are impossible to have a substantive policy on without huge economic ramifications, many of which are unfavorable to major Republican donors.

In a nutshell, what I’ve said about that before is that, electorally, what he’s doing works. The prior Republican set-up requires constantly shifting public discussion from issue to issue, with each one manufacturing new ways of understanding the issue that must be bleached of any economic impact. It relies unsustainably on an ability to simultaneously engage and distract the same set of voters and supporters. Trump is just adjusting the Party, making it into something that doesn’t depend on both democratic support and undemocratic leadership at the same time.

One of the conclusions of that, however, is that he isn’t an interloper “robbing” Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie or anyone else of their rightful nomination within “their” Party. He’s adapting the Party from within, alienating some who don’t understand or admit the weaknesses inherent in its prior structure, but ultimately expressing the same politics in a more internally cogent way. Trump is Republican and a plurality of Republicans for months now have supported him in national polling.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3.jpg
(Credit to Gage Skidmore.)

Earlier this week, I saw the first major news headline to recognize what that means:

It’s the Republican “establishment” which would be running as the third party. Trump is the apparent Republican nominee. He is the seeming representation of Republican political philosophy. One of the responding tweets described the bluff being called in other terms

Hopefully this is a realization that a number of people – who had the personal freedom to tune out of the “cuture wars” and write it off as a distraction – will have. Whoever in politics is still operating with that theatrical use of social issues, which always was done in a way dangerous to some, they’re no longer a major party.

The most prominent voices still using those terms aren’t just promising the moon like before, but meaningfully articulating what they want done nationally. The Republican Party’s paper tiger form wasn’t working, and Trump and others have decided to opt in favor of an actual tiger instead.

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The F Word: Revisited

Before taking the risk of making what isn’t just about Trump sound like it’s just about Trump, let me quickly remind you of some facts. There are anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican elements in American popular culture, which Trump and others have tapped into to gain political support. The Republican Party’s leadership and Trump’s competitors as a result haven’t actually condemned him for his past or recent comments. In fact, their failure to chime in with Trump in agreement has come under fire within certain parts of the conservative media.

These political ideas, about who can enter or live within the US, knit together a worryingly familiar set of policies. They are the path to success within the Republican Party’s presidential primary and a means to an amount of popularity in broader US politics as well. Even as we recognize the larger context, it seems necessary to note exactly what the political appeal that Trump is. I was one of the earliest to note there is a word commonly used to describe those politics. It is fascism.

During the Bush years, anti-fascist activist David Neiwert penned a series of essays which today read like a careful examination of the different political movements at that time which have ultimately evolved into Donald Trump’s base. One of them attempted to wrestle with one of the most common features in looks at fascism – the various competing lists of fascist political goals, attributes, and policies. There’s not much of a consensus on what a fascist looks, talks, and thinks like.

I think his choice of the ultimately best one, which is also one of the most specific, might be of use when looking over Trump’s rhetoric and plans and doing as Rachel Maddow asked earlier this week – deciding if we can use the word fascism to describe them (spoilers: you can). Neiwert recommended we listen to Oxford professor Roger Griffin in times like these. Griffin’s definition is a full paragraph that we can properly sink our teeth into:

Fascism: modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.

We can easily break that apart into a few different elements: a call for the regeneration of the country, the basis of that being a policing of who can be assimilated or otherwise included in the nation, which necessitates certain forms of repression and disruption to democratic norms. As Neiwert summarizes it, “palingenetic [phoenix-like in rebirth] ultranationalist populism.”

Here’s how The Donald, his followers, and his competitors stack up against that worldview:

Make America Great Again

trump-announce

From here.

His slogan, borrowed from Reagan, is now purchasable on hats, on t-shirts, and bumper stickers. As its origins make clear, almost everyone runs for office with improvements in mind, potentially restorative ones even, but the centrality his campaign gives this phrase does mirror the fascist appeal towards national rebirth.

What little policy specifics Trump has currently doled out hit the exact same note as well – calling for an overhaul of US policy towards China (currently “a typical example of how politicians in Washington have failed our country”), the administrative pile-up at the Veterans’ Administration (“when Donald J. Trump is president, it will be fixed – fast”), and on immigration (present policies “must change”). On taxes, he showcases his plan as a restoration of competitiveness:

“Politicians in Washington have let America fall from the best corporate tax rate in the industrialized world in the 1980’s (thanks to Ronald Reagan) to the worst rate in the industrialized world. That is unacceptable. Under the Trump plan, America will compete with the world and win by cutting the corporate tax rate to 15%, taking our rate from one of the worst to one of the best.”

Gun policy is just about the only issue he doesn’t quite sound this way on, but even there he’s suggested reworking the background check system, instituting a national right to carry, and encouraging concealed weapons in military facilities. After all, when making “America great again, we need a strong military” meaning”we need to allow them to defend themselves” which entails conceal-carry apparently. The resurrection of the nation makes a guest appearance in the end.

Woven into almost everything he does are familiar tropes to almost every major Republican candidacy these days – a witnessing of others feeling stung by being cheated by a broken system, appeals to a better time this country could see again, and so on. None of that is particularly unique to Trump, or unique to fascists, but it’s just one key rhetorical and ideological aspect of their politics that he has similarly centered.

Morning in America: for whom?

So all of the major candidates, especially in the Republican primary, have made their case for how to rework this country into something more efficient, more fair, and just generally better. What Trump has done, at a unique decibel level, is make it incredibly clear that his better world has reserved seating. He literally launched his campaign while making that clear:

Part of what’s made some of the shock over his recent comments seem silly is that he’s been saying this sort of thing all along. He entered the arena blaring this message: that the improvements he promises to work for will come at a price and that’s millions displaced. An emerging plurality in the Republican primary appear to have answered him that that’s not a cost at all as far as they’re concerned.

His more recent statements on Muslims just expand the scope of who, in his theoretical presidency, would be drawn on the other side of a line of acceptance. This cuts straight to the ultranationalist core of fascism. The line demarcating the inside and the outside has to be strictly applied in most historical forms of fascism, and it tends to create elaborate metrics to allow a tight boundary indeed.

The omnipresent role that that issue plays in his campaign is unique within the Republican field. The degree to which he departs from his fellow candidates, however, is not very large. Questions of which broad swathes of the world’s population are beyond the pale are just answered a little more narrowly by the rest of the field.

Marco Rubio is certainly encouraging people to think of essentially all Muslims in that way as well, but not as interested in a Trump-like heavy handed set of immigration and entry policies. Jeb Bush has gone on record in favor of restrictions on Muslim refugees and said quite a few things about “anchor babies.” Arguably, Trump’s successful jump to the top of the polls while fixating on this type of discussion has paved the way for them and others to speak similarly.

Fie the constitution

Trump’s most recent comments of that caliber advocate a set of policies that are pretty unambiguously not legal. While his prior policy proposals have largely stayed within legal lines, he has been curiously cavalier with how he talks about basic constitutional freedoms.

There are the regular conventions – a disdain for the media, which is an essential check within our democratic system – but also a troubling recurrence of intimidation and assault on protesters by his supporters, which Trump has pretty much encouraged. It’s even led to a near death.

Just as there’s been a race to match Trump on immigration and related policies, at least one competitor has tried to match him on illegal demands. Ben Carson all but argued for a religious test for someone to become president – a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s ban on religious tests for political office.

While Trump and Carson stumble on some rather large and obvious questions of legality, there’s a more casual disregard for democratic convention that’s permeated the Republican primary. A small amount of bucking trends and tradition is probably healthy, but the party establishment and Trump have painted themselves both into a corner. Trump continues to not so subtly hint he might break with the party’s process and make an independent run. The party, meanwhile, has tried to keep hold on him and other candidates all the more tightly in response.

In US politics, our parties are more of a pragmatic organization solution than strictly part of our democracy or constitutionally recognized, let alone mandated. That said, disrupting their normal process could, arguably, have an undemocratic effect, in terms of upending expectations that primary and general voters can have about candidates. In that light, Trump’s fight with party leadership and their own interest in changing around party rules and standards to either accommodate or challenge him both represent a casual departure from democratic norms.

That’s the same “just do what needs to be done” mentality that when applied to constitutional and human rights can lead to dark places, particularly when imbued with the zeal of someone saving their country from an Other which fills them with rage, disgust, and terror.

Popularity contests

Speaking of other candidates playing catch-up with Trump, there’s one element of the definition that Neiwert’s three word summary catches and Griffin’s paragraph misses: populism.

Here’s where Trump and the rest of the Republican field most dramatically part ways. While he has promised not to threaten Social Security and other key entitlement programs, almost everyone one of his competitors has suggested something similar. Their tax plans vary a little less neatly, but Trump’s has the distinction of most overtly appealing to the working and middle classes, to a degree that few others really do.

Before someone starts calling Trump a Democrat plant, realize he’s still to the right of Democrats on those and other economic issues. Particularly the Warren wing of the Democrats stands in sharp contrast with him on questions of international corporate tax policy, but their party as a whole is generally fixated on growing and increasing entitlement and pension programs (although, often, not by much). Amid expansion-minded Democrats and restriction-minded Republicans, Trump sticks out oddly, seemingly wanting to keep things as they are more or less.

Within the American political landscape, there’s arguably a large chunk of the electorate who could be described as populists, more than liberals or conservatives. They’re often explained as those who tend to skew towards tradition and other conservative points on social issues, but favor economic redistribution and other liberal policies economically. It’s often bemoaned that members in that group who vote Republican aren’t voting in their own self interest. It’s seldom asked why they’re doing that.

Arguably, part of what Trump has done is very careful tilt his policies in that groups direction. He’s not asking them to give up their benefits to Republican cuts, and his racially-charged campaign is arguably encouraging fears in that group that the Democrats will ask them to give their benefits over to someone scary and different.

One of the recurring questions in this campaign has been the dumbfounded demand of how Trump catapulted himself to the lead in the Republican primary, later replaced with asking how he’s stayed there. Here’s an answer: he’s better replicating this fascist checklist, primarily in terms of a few economic populist policies (available to those on the right side of the nation’s social, cultural, economic, and political boundaries). There’s a ghoulish impulse that taps into, of thinking that if there’s fewer mouths to feed, there’s more for me.

Pairing that with ultra-nationalist rhetoric allows him to maintain significant support among conservatives, but while also being uniquely appealing to many populists sometimes turned off by conservative economic policy prescriptions. They have to be populists who don’t mind extremist rhetoric, or, ones vulnerable to being whipped into fear or anger in the midst of ultra-nationalist fervor.

The language used, particularly when paired with disdainful talk for “political correctness” also helps pick up a scattered group of extremist conservatives, and potentially even some populists, who aren’t scared off by conservative economics but want more intense conservative social policies. In short, it spreads the support thin, but it also picks up support in demographics boilerplate Republicans were potentially overlooking.

The fact that fully stitching together this fascist policy plank helps someone leap to front-runner status within the Republican primary should give you and hopefully everyone in this country pause. Donald Trump isn’t just arguing for fascism on the campaign trail and, unrelatedly, leading in the primary. His articulation of an essentially fascist collection of policy proposals and rhetorical tricks created his lead. He’s giving the kind of people who vote in the Republican primary what they want, and what they want, looks to be fascism.

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With us or against us

Barton Swaim, a former Republican speechwriter, wrote what he believes is the “perfect Republican Stump Speech” – a distillation of the talking points supposedly winning out in the Republican presidential primary presented to maximum gain and minimal risk. Over at 538, they have an annotated presentation of it, which details why specific words and phrases are key. One of the elements to it that leaped out at me was the regionalism.

For anyone who’s read What’s the Matter with Kansas? this bit from the speech might not be too shocking:

In fact, this election boils down to a few very simple principles. To understand these principles, you don’t need an advanced degree in the latest trendy subject from an Ivy League school. You don’t need to get your opinions from the New York Times. You don’t need to be some policy wonk in Washington, and you don’t need to be a member of the intelligentsia [Annotation: Consider amending to “Northeast and West Coast intelligentsia” for locations not in the Northeast or on the West Coast.] .

You really just need two things to understand what this election is about: You need your God-given intelligence, and you need a deep and abiding love for this country.

The disparagement for “elitists” that is ubiquitous within broader conservative politics is on full display here, and it nakedly gives away one of the easiest ways for it to find expression: the writing off of a large swathe of the country as apparently too good to vote for Republicans. The risk that alienating a huge part of the electorate poses to any Republican fundamentally isn’t a concern, apparently.

The anti-intellectual elements to this only broaden the risks. Academics and intellectuals, some of whom tend to vote Republican, can be found in every state – why throw away their votes? Beyond their presence throughout the country, there are vibrant academic cultures in places outside of the Northeast and West Coast, in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Hawaii. In all of those states, the growing anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party has helped push them into consistent Democratic wins in the presidential race and often at the state and local levels as well. Doubling down on that rhetoric only reinforces that loss of competitiveness.

With that in mind, it’s a surprisingly large chunk of the electoral college that this pushes out, further away, or even out of reach of Republican candidates.

2015-11-23_1843

The implication of writing off, to varying degrees, all of those electoral college blocs is that you have to win almost every other one.

That means that Republicans have to not just dominate the southwest, but reverse the rising Democratic support in Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. It means that the Upper Midwest has to be largely reclaiming as Republican territory – the parts not terribly vulnerable to Republican wins like Michigan and Wisconsin (neither has been won in the electoral college by Republicans since 1988), the parts a bit easier for Republicans to win like Ohio (still won twice by Obama), and Republican strongholds like Indiana (still won once by Obama). It means counting on Virginia to still be a part of the Solid South. It means North Carolina (and Georgia too maybe down the road) being impossible for Democrats to take (like they did North Carolina in 2008). It means winning perpetually too-close-to-call Florida.

In short, completely writing off that set of states means spreading Republican resources thin almost everywhere. It basically hopes to reinvent the 2004 Presidential race’s returns, by will alone.

In that race, the Republicans won, in spite of losing all but two of the states the above map has shaded in. In Iowa and Virginia that year, resentful talk about an educated elite (particularly in the northeast or west coast) sounded to most voters as if it was about someone else, and didn’t potentially include them. That gave Republicans a little breathing room that they can’t necessarily count on in 2016.

The only two states not shaded in above which the Republicans lost that year were Wisconsin and Michigan – in which Democrats maintained some of their smallest margins, 0.38 percent and 3.42 percent respectively. Talking dismissively about the northeast and west coast hypothetically could help wring out those few additional votes needed to turn them red, but that’s with the assumption that those races will be just as close now as then.

The only two other states they lost with comparably low margins were Pennsylvania and New Hampshire – two of the states in the northeast with some of the largest populations outside of the Boston-Washington corridor, and hence potentially most likely to think a contempt for “the northeast” meant someone else. Not far behind those two were Oregon and Minnesota – a similarly exceptional case on the west coast and another part of the Midwest hypothetically excited by hearing negative comments about other parts of the country.

In short, from a Republican perspective focused on recreating 2004, this type of rhetoric is potentially a crowd winner in almost all of the states they already carry, a useful way of appealing in some of the states Democrats just barely won, and largely alienating only to voters in states they had little to no chance of winning.

Of course, that was now over a decade ago – the electoral map has changed. 2004’s returns haven’t appeared to be a lasting condition, so much as a snapshot of where the country was at that moment. The greater continuities in voting patterns – easily observed through the 1990s and into the Obama years – suggests a greater uphill battle for Republicans in the Midwest than 2004 alone might imply. What’s more, in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the developmental growth from the Boston-Washington corridor (now, the Acela Corridor) has made them more likely to see disparagement of the northeast as including them. A regionalist tone today might win some voters over in Midwestern states, but it’s risking even more for a less certain gain.

Beyond that changing calculation of risk, it fails to recognize the emergence of new voting patterns in states that Republicans won in 2004 (and would count on winning under a regionalist strategy). Throughout the southwest and in Florida, Latin@s have emerged as a key constituency, and in Florida and Colorado particularly, new voting dynamics have cropped up among White voters as well. Negative talk about other parts of the country might change some of those voters minds, but policies on immigration and economics are attracting them to the Democrats over Republicans in a way that talk about coastal eggheads is unlikely to challenge.

Jesus-land-1

Remember these maps? Obama won seven of those red states in both elections. Not exactly lasting.

A core part of the argument laid out in What’s the Matter with Kansas? and several other looks at the increasing regionalism and anti-elitism in conservative politics is how they collapse those two issues. In that book and others, what’s presented is a bait-and-switch. Kansans (and others) who are angry for the systemic poverty they either can’t escape or live in perpetual fear of, are told it’s the fault of some “coastal elites” or “effete cultural elitists.”

Misdirected, Kansans and others from “the heartland” end up putting at least some of their energy into fighting symbolic cultural issues, burning off their populist anger doing something that doesn’t directly address their problems. It also propels Republicans into office with popular support in spite of them holding what are typically deeply unpopular economic policies.

What that often overlooks is that what one of the effects of that strategy is that it sets neglected and impoverished people from some parts of the country (Kansas, far from anything like a coastal elite, is the quintessence of that) at odds with the millions of other people in poverty, who often fight to keep the Democratic Party’s agenda focused squarely on feasible economic redistribution.

Ultimately, dividing the country against itself is incredibly effective at preventing collective action to address economic inequalities (as well as their various social dimensions). But being elected is, itself, a collective action. Doing everything possible to tear up a notion of shared goals if not outright community between the “Kansans” and others motivated by their lack of economic security isn’t a strategy that seeks to maintain a cohesive national politics. Among other things, that means that there are no more national elections – there’s and election in one US and an election in another – and it’s increasingly difficult to win both. Are Republicans really sure they want to set that challenge for themselves?

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Unalike in nature

If you don’t already give Podcast for America the periodic listen, allow me to recommend it. It’s exactly the biting, often satirical look at US politics from Mark Leibovich, Annie Lowrey, and Alex Wagner that you wish you could simply switch on the television or open a newspaper and read from them and others. Instead, if thrives in the wilds of soundcloud and iTunes where you little differences (like swearing) can add up to more than just a change of tone, but also a entirely different type of discussion.

Of course, like most media that I cover on here, there’s a criticism that I have. It’s a particular one that grows out of something Alex Wagner said in the most recent episode:

I actually was thinking as we were talking about Trump’s infrastructure how nobody has- Everyone questions the seriousness of Biden’s potential bid because there is like, ‘Does he have the money or does he have the support? Does he have the network?’ Nobody questions it when it’s Donald Trump! Certainly the money isn’t an issue for Trump, but you know, neither one- they basically have the same amount of campaign infrastructure at this point, which is to say, none at all. And yet, that seems to be a liability for Biden in a way that it is not at all for Trump.

The issue I have with this is that there’s an assumption that a presidential campaign is going to have the same relationship to traditional campaigning regardless of which major party is running it. Increasingly, people have recognized that there isn’t a “pivot” faction in US politics, or at least as much of one as most people believe there is. Voters for the most part don’t suddenly vote against the party they had favored two years before. Instead, there are two radically different electorates – one of which votes in most elections and broader one usually only mobilized in years with presidential contests. Voters are fairly consistent, it’s turnout that’s not.

The two major parties increasingly represent factions that skew towards one of those ends of the same spectrum of voting behavior. That leaves us with conditions where Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, but both the House and Senate are increasingly dominated by Republican elected officials. In both of those bodies, there’s a Democratic minority largely sustained by “coattails” that might be entirely their own earned votes, just only in the years when their types of voter turns out.

Of course, these diverging interests in what type of electorate votes impact policy as well. The Democrats have slowly but steadily come out in favor of increasing accessibility for voters transparency within the voting process, and seem poised in the coming years to question certain on-going forms of disenfranchisement – namely for convicted felons and the incarcerated. The Republicans have at the same time begun pushing tighter restrictions on voters to prevent voter fraud and sought to limit the number of hours in which votes can be cast. Both are seeking to make the elections that have a harder time winning more like the ones that they find easier, by broadening or shrinking voter turnout.

More than diverging takes on electoral regulation, there are also increasingly distinct approaches within campaigns themselves. Within both parties, large numbers of supporters are anxious over the potentially biasing effects of large political donations, now enabled by the Supreme Court. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, has emphasized that he doesn’t need those donations because he can fund himself, while surging Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has instead highlighted how many of his contributions come from smaller donors.

That perpetuates the same divide seen in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with smaller donations largely going to Obama and sizable ones largely to Romney. Those donations are made in a broader campaign context. Large donations come with capturing the attention of specific donors, usually in highly specialized events. Smaller donations come from more general appearances, often while delivering iconic stump speeches. Think of Obama’s rallies versus Romney’s behind-closed-doors meetings. A similar divide is already rearing its head in the primaries this year, as Sanders calls for more primary debates – highly public moments in which he can make his case to a large audience – while Trump for a significant amount of time was basically just doing phone interviews from his own apartment.

Joe Biden might not hit the same populist note as Sanders, if he does run, but he would need to compete with that type of a campaign, tailored to a general audience that needs to directly support you for you to succeed in the election. In short, as a Democrat, he would need a ground game, a popular campaign, and other hallmarks that are being asked of his (for now) hypothetical run. Alex Wagner goes on from the part I quoted to note that Trump’s front-runner status proves that at least for now he may not need the typical campaign apparatus, and that’s because of what the Republican Party has, permitted by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and ruling on Citizens United, evolved into an electoral entity that doesn’t seek out popular support, but the financial and political endorsement of a small minority.

To be fully fair to Wagner, I doubt that this is the reasoning behind asking different questions of Trump’s current and Biden’s possible campaign. Still, when it comes to the general election, there should be different standards applied to Biden because he would run an utterly different type of campaign from Trump or any other Republican.

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One bird with one stone

Trigger warning: racism, electoral discrimination

I have been sick most of this week and sadly stuck inside at home as a result. Probably the only good thing to come out of that, however, was that I was able to directly participate in a twitter conversation held by the organizers for VoterVOX on Tuesday. Hosted on that group’s hashtag, they had a discussion about, as they put it – creating “a polyglot democracy” through community-centered translation services. Part fundraising drive, part introduction of the new foundation, and part overture about the coming struggle to define and structure the 2016 US elections, there were a lot of interesting hints about what to expect to see more of.

One of the most enlightening stories shared in the twitter conversation was one by Sabrina Hersi Issa, who has had VoterVOX widely credited as her brainchild more than anyone else’s. She explained-

An essential and defining part of VoterVOX is that it’s a response to a type of racism built into the structure of US democracy. While there’s linguistic inequalities experienced by basically all people whose first or most comfortable language isn’t English, VoterVOX is designed to increase and improve participation for people who specifically speak languages originally spoken in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. As pointed out in the conversation and on VoterVOX’s fundraising page, people of Asian ancestry are one of the fastest growing demographics in a number of key states – Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. With the looming 2016 elections, VoterVOX is poised to address the shared needs of a diverse set of communities who may have quietly become a hugely important voting bloc.

Of course, there is a broader context here, as 2016 is likely to be a distinct electoral terrain for people of color. The protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) have come under fire, and the Supreme Court dismantled the standards of pre-clearance (which have long been a barrier to racial electoral discrimination). VoterVOX’s emphasis on specific forms of linguistic disenfranchisement seeks to expand the arsenal against racial inequality at the polls even while a broader protection for marginalized communities has been lost – which was an active force in among other states, Arizona and Georgia. The capacity of indigenous communities to use VoterVOX remains to be seen, as will whether it can create a political environment that reinforces the rights of largely English- or Spanish-speaking Black and Latin@ communities. The origins of VoterVOX are in different communities than those, and it has been shaped by those communities’ needs.

That said, a two-front fight of combating both access being compromised by linguistic discrimination and other attempts to discriminate against communities of color could be quite effective. That could challenge the types of electoral discrimination resurrected by the gutted VRA while also addressing the more subtle and namely linguistic-based forms that flourished even under pre-clearance. In short, there are two different fights for meaningful access to the polls for communities of color in the US as anxieties around the 2016 elections build. VoterVOX is an innovative attempt to tackle one of them, but only one of them. Its specialization means that it will be very effective at what its designed to do, but it also means that it’s only meant to address one of them.

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Full disclosure, I am in the process of donating to VoterVOX myself. If you are similarly interested, here is their IndieGoGo page, which is where the featured image for this article is from.

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Tugging Clinton along

For several months this has been the comparatively cynical leftist view of Bernie Sanders: that his campaign is a shell game. His purpose in the otherwise largely uncontested Democratic Presidential Primary is to create excitement within liberal and specifically economically populist political circles that can then at least in part be ceded to Hillary Clinton when she (inevitably, the theory goes) becomes the nominee.

There’s been multiple responses to that among the communities targeted by that supposed campaign. Some have insisted that Sanders is the only candidate they would support so that strategy wouldn’t work. Others have staked out positions more critical of the current system – particularly on racial inequality – than Sanders, suggesting he himself would need his radical bona fides challenged. Perhaps most commonly however, people have noted that even if he or his campaign only hope to influence the election and not have him run in the general election or even win, he can still have an effect not just on popular support for the Democratic Party but on policy. The most common form of this has focused on language. The hope is that he will force Clinton into policy promises or even more broadly will change the type of questions asked of candidates in all primaries.

That’s the exact note hit by one piece hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future: that Sanders’ “hope was to ‘trigger the conversation’ about the way the economic and political system is rigged by the billionaires and their corporations. He wanted to begin a movement around a vision of how the country could be run for We the People instead of a few billionaires and their giant corporations”. You’ll notice the lack of detail, because public discussion this early in the campaign policy does tend to be pretty vague and broad. While Sanders’ campaign has led in the primary at providing details about their planned policies, few other campaigns have reached near that level of specificity or had either critics or the media ask for that. Even assuming that Bernie can pressure the rest of the Democratic field into talking similarly to him he’d have to stick in the race long enough for detailed policy rather than general rhetoric to be standard in order to put pressure on other campaigns, namely Clinton’s.

In the past week or so we’ve not only finally started to reach that time in the primary, but Sanders deliberately testing the waters to see if that dynamic of forcing other people in the primary to the left on policy can work. Clinton’s eventual adoption of a plan similar to Sander’s proposal for how to make higher education more financially accessible came with a months-long lag time. Sanders originally presented his plan in May, with the aims of it being to increase the number of people with college degrees and decrease the economic hardships for those who are in the process of attaining one. In August, Clinton capitulated on that issue and discussed a draft of a similar plan that more specifically emphasizes reducing overall student loan burdens rather than enrollment and graduation, Sanders’ focuses.

Two days ago, Sanders pressed the issue further by stating that he would pay for his plan with a tax on financial industry transactions. Today, he doubled down while circulating a petition in support of his Workplace Democracy Act – which is designed to promote unionization and related labor organization. In short, he’s testing the nature and scope of his influence after having eventually gotten Clinton to present her own version of a policy plan similar to his. Martin O’Malley appears to even be possibly doing his own pushing on the front-runner Clinton, by urging the US to embrace a more humanitarian policy on refugees. Whether these efforts can hone their ability to lead Clinton into advocating for these types of policies remains to be seen, as does that these promises can actually materialize into political action in office.

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The “it” issue

Trigger warning: abortion

It’s back. Abortion, the thorny intersection of bodily autonomy and medical care, is rising to prominence again as a defining political issue in US politics and specifically in the coming 2016 elections. Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a court case with the US Supreme Court to strike down a Texan law, designed to make operating a medical center that provides abortions legally all but impossible. One potential outcome of the case, if taken up by the Supreme Court, is an end to the widespread use of these laws in many states to reduce the number of centers offering abortion. This wasn’t merely a routine legal conflict, however, but a deliberate and public first shot in the coming political and legal fight over rights and access to abortion and related medical services. After all, the Center for Reproductive Rights drew up an image (presumably ahead of the filing) which asks people to share the news and image on Facebook:

center for reprorights image 9-3From here.

It’s not just those in favor of maintaining or expanding reproductive rights and their accessibility that are spoiling for a fight. Also today, the Family Research Council sent out their semi-daily “Insider’s Guide to Pro-Family News” which highlighted a post they had published on their blog yesterday. It continues the anti-abortion argument that ending federal support for Planned Parenthood’s broader organization wouldn’t necessarily affect access to medical care by noting the prevalence of Federally Qualified Health Centers and other locations where non-abortion parts of health care are available in many areas largely neglected by the US’s broader health system. It notes one fact however: that these clinics can more or less match Planned Parenthood in access to all but one federally-guaranteed medical procedure – abortion. The implicit message is clear, that that’s not a medical procedure that needs to be accessible.

Unlike other recent versions of this fight, the ability to access and the right to have an abortion are inescapably central to the current political debate. While prior discussions have been derailed from arguments over the use of birth control to defenses of the other uses of that for hormonal regulation and other medical needs, what is being zeroed in on by both sides in the on-going discussion is how directly threatened access to abortion is. This is the byproduct of a curious dualism in US politics. The right to an abortion is indisputably provided for, yet the details of accessibility of that medical procedure are hardly an afterthought. Anti-abortion activism has exploited that discrepancy for years – from demanding that no federal funds be used to directly finance abortion to the setting up of countless “crisis pregnancy centers” and picket lines. There is an organized movement in the US to make abortion financially, physically, and now legally difficult to access. In fact, the increasing inclusion of specifically anti-abortion clinics among federally-funded clinics is a key part of that effort, as a recent Vice documentary showed:

That is part and parcel with the Family Research Council’s response, down to the potential inclusion of those types of clinics among alternative medical providers to Planned Parenthood. What has been constructed over the years is an incredibly well distributed medical care system, within which it’s entirely possible to ask for an abortion but nightmarishly Kafkaesque to actually find a provider. With that continuing abuse of the split hairs between “theoretical right” and “accessible right”, the implicit argument – about whether there is a right to abortion being accessible – is now advancing to a highly visible court battle. What’s more, that’s coming to the fore just as a congress looking for a contentious issue to use in the looming government shutdown, and following that a federal election. Get ready to talk about abortion because it’s going to be inescapable while the US is forced to consider whether that division between the right to an abortion and the right to access an abortion can stand the test of time.

The featured image for this article is Debra Sweet’s image of an unnamed pro-choice protester in 2012, viewable here.

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