In response to the question of why the election went the way it did, one of the reasons given was Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment. That hurt her, they say. It turned people off.
Really? Which people? People so close to not voting for her that, once in the voting booth, remembering that phrase over and above everything else drove them to pick Stein instead? Or people who were already committed to not voting for her? Or perhaps people who were already disinclined to go to the polls anyway—because they had something more important to do than participate in deciding the direction of the country for the next four years—that maybe, had she not said that they might have decided on that day to go vote anyway.
Because I doubt seriously it hurt her among those who had already decided to vote for her, especially since, whether they might wish to admit it or not, they actually agreed with that assessment.
Because really those who were never going to vote for her under any circumstances would likely not have been affected positively or negatively by that remark. They already didn’t like her. Being nice to them would have gained her nothing, because they would not have either believed her or recognized the concession. Not saying something about them would have had zero persuasive impact.
So exactly who then are people talking about when they criticize her for that?
No one. They’re trying to come up with excuses for either their own poor judgment or the lack of involvement in the process by people who were disinclined for many other reasons to vote.
Hillary’s loss is a case study in the dysfunction of our electoral process. She lost due to a toxic combination of apathy, anti-intellectualism, ignorance, and a media environment that offers little in the way of separating fact from fiction, truth from fraud, legitimacy from exhibitionism. The markers necessary for people to draw useful coverage from the ocean of feed in which they swim are either absent or so obscured as to be invisible. If you don’t already have an idea how to judge worthwhile from dross you simply have to guess, and a lot of people guess wrong.
Ah. Why should anyone assume that those who did not vote would have voted for Hillary? A perfectly legitimate question. The answer, roughly, has to do with turnout and dedicated numbers. The GOP seems to have a very solid army of about sixty million voters who vote that way every single time. No doubt the Democrats can count on a similar cadre. But only if the turnout is below 63%. Once turnout rises to 65% or more, the vote tends to go against the Republicans. Those voters who sit at home tend to vote Democrat or Liberal. (People like to point to Reagan’s “landslide” win, but there was only a 52% turnout. True, he buried Carter, but had the turnout been 65%…? Of course, to be fair, Bill Clinton won his second election with about the same turnout, 51%. His first, though, was 58% turnout and he buried Bush I.) Where it seems really to tell, though, is in congressional elections and the problem there is with gerrymandering. Gerrymandering has always been a bit of a problem, but the GOP has turned it into a high art. One suspects they know in a fair fight they wouldn’t have a chance. All they have is that 60 million block.
But this a very rough calculus. The question remains, why Trump?
(I suspect another chief reason Hillary lost—and part of the reason for low turnout this time—has to do precisely with her opponent. Had Cruz won the nomination, I suspect turnout would have been considerably higher, because that would have looked like a real fight instead of the joke this appeared to be, especially with the media putting out all those charts showing how she was a shoe-in because, really, who could possibly in their right mind vote for him? Of course, where it really hurt was the all-important congressional races.)
So, how is this “new era” working out for the people who voted for him?
We have already seen the dismay of many who supported him when it dawned on them that repealing the ACA meant they would lose their own health coverage. Either this is an example of stone ignorance (a few, we don’t know how many, actually did not realize that their ACA was the same thing as the hated Obamacare) or an example of self-selected delusion—that they thought the repeal would only affect people of whom they disapprove. They were voting to take it away from Other People.
It was claimed that Hillary didn’t understand lower income and working class people. That may well be true, but what kind of mental gymnastics is required to convince yourself that a billionaire born to wealth who even in bankruptcy lived a life of luxury did understand, on the kind of intuitive gut-level clearly meant by those statements?
But this is anecdotal at best.
Two questions now dominate concretely. The growing evidence of collusion with Russia in securing the election and the deals made more than a year ago. And the efficacy of Trump’s “leadership style” which seems to be nonexistent. The very first time he runs into the kind of normal roadblocks of Washington politics, namely the lost vote on the ACA repeal, he declares it a dead issue and asks congress to move on. This is lack of staying power at best, a lack of genuine conviction at worst.
During the campaign, one of things Trump said was “vote for me, what do you have to lose?” More or less. It doesn’t matter which group he was talking to, it matters which group heard him.
A recent book by Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers In Their Own Land, takes up the question of the voter block that seems consistently to vote against its own best interests. Hochschild, who lives in Berkeley, California, practically lived in Louisiana among people who are both dependent on and victimized by the oil industry. In the course of her study, many contradictions emerged. One example, she met many dedicated environmentalists—who also hated the EPA and wanted to see it gone. People who knew that the refineries and processing plants were destroying their environment, had poisoned friends and family, were responsible for wild-life die-offs, and yet resisted the idea of regulation, often because they feared it would adversely impact employment. Jobs meant more than the rest, but it was by no means a simplistic metric being applied. Many felt the companies themselves would eventually “do the right thing” and clean up and improve safety.
Reading this book gives us a tour through funland mirror thinking. Coming face to face with the blatant contradictions and the ingrained belief in systems that have repeatedly failed them and the rejection of solution because of a belief that failure from them would be even worse. The conviction that the federal government was the Enemy. Hochschild tried to find the Narrative. In anthropological terms, this is the ur-story people tell themselves in order to organize their beliefs, the strategies of their lives, and determine the principles by which they live. It’s the Who We Are story and when that is found, then what follows begins to make more sense. What Hochschild discovered was a variation of the City on the Hill dominant among these people. Instead of the religious kind, though, this one had to do with the American Dream. They believed in the idea that hard, honest work would get them to their city, where they would finally achieve the comfort and security they see as the promise of dedication. They are willing to wait their turn.
And it’s at that point that the Narrative becomes the problem. Because they see, they perceive, in their view undeserving people cutting in line in front of them. Poor people, minorities, refugees, illegal aliens. People who, in their opinion, have not done the work, have certainly not waited their turn. And in service to this, the federal government is to blame, because they see federal programs enabling this butting in.
Meanwhile, their own reward recedes before their very eyes.
Resentment is only natural.
At this point, it is fair to ask, how come the default blame goes where it goes? There are many reasons for their eroding situations. The changing economic environment, the increasing population, the influx of legal immigrants, the globalization phenomenon. Even without the federal programs they blame, it is likely their situations would be just as precarious.
Except they have been told that all those factors are the result of government overreach, government meddling, government—by means of treaties, of regulations, of corruption. Their preferred media services certainly have told them all this, but they also get it through their jobs, from the companies that are also anti-union, advocates of Right To Work, multinationals often that pretend to be America Firsters but then remove the wealth of communities and put it elsewhere.
The kind of people Donald Trump is part and parcel of.
Their fears are easily played upon because they have them. Fears. No one is doing much to educate them out of such fears. Rather they are told, from a hundred sources, that they are justified in their fears.
And they vote for anyone who tells them they are right to be afraid.
The profound distortions of fact to be found among them is indicative of much of the problem.
A few examples of belief versus reality:
Welfare rolls are up and people on welfare don’t work. The reality is, total welfare rolls dropped 20 % since 1996, which was the year of Clinton’s welfare reform, the reform that cut welfare to a short time and required work for certain benefits. As for that work, the poorest 20% only get 37% of their income from welfare. The rest is compensation for work. You might ask, if they’re working, why do they need welfare? Obviously because their jobs do not pay enough. You might want to look at the current debate over minimum wage. At best, “welfare” is a supplement, and most of the beneficiaries are children and the elderly. But of course, this is not believed by people dedicated to not believing it and scapegoating the poor.
Black women have more children than white women. I was startled that this was still current. I grew up in the heyday of the Welfare Queen, which was a canard even then. The reality is that fertility rates for white women and black women is just about equal.
Maybe as much as 40% of people work for federal and state government and are overpaid. This sounded to me like the one about foreign aid. The numbers are inflated because few people bother to find out, they just want to be angry at something. Adding together all levels of government—federal, state, and local—total workforce as a percentage of employed people comes up to around 17%. It varies with which party is in office. Republican presidents since Reagan have overseen expansions of federal workforce because it’s an easy way to finesse unemployment figures. Obama oversaw a real reduction in the size of the federal government measured by employees, but of course no one opposing him wishes to believe this. As for the overpaid aspect, on average private sector workers at comparable levels make 12% more than government employees—government employees, by the way, who often work longer hours.
These are a few of the beliefs held by people who likely voted for Trump. Clearly, there is a simple lack of fact in this, but it seems just as obvious that there is a lack of interest in any fact that contradicts as belief that helps explain their anger. Make no mistake, these are angry voters. They don’t want to be informed, they want to be vindicated.
Trump is representative of all this. Whether he genuinely believes anything he says, he has played these people. The rest of the GOP has decided evidently that as long as he’s the president, they’ll play him to get what they want.
How’s that working out?
Not well. All the myths that have been driving Tea Party and affiliated rage for a decade are now coming onto the front lines and getting an opportunity to play and it turns out that the myths aren’t based on solid anything. It seems a lot of people voted to strip Other People of things they believed were not their due. Except these angry voters will lose out as well and that wasn’t the way it was supposed to work.
The small government argument has gotten lost, consumed by a mindless urge to eliminate government altogether. People are being played by international finance. Everything in the GOP wish list serves only one end—the unopposed leaching out of latent wealth into capital pools disconnected from any nation. If Trump and Ryan and McConnell got everything they wanted, all the people who voted for them would see their incomes reduced, their savings (if any) pillaged, and jobs decimated.
For their part, the Democrats are unwilling to tackle this head on because they have become tied to the same teat for campaign financing as the GOP. They have the rage but they often waffle. With a few exceptions, they won’t call this out, but would rather work at it around the edges and try to mitigate its worst effects while avoiding being shut out of the flow of money. Fundamental policy changes are required and once in a while someone calls for something, but then they talk it to death.
In the meantime, that basket of deplorables continues to work at gorging itself at the public trough.
Hillary did not lose votes over that comment. If we’re honest, we recognized the truth. The problem with it, if anything, is she didn’t specify very well who was all in that basket. But let’s assume for a moment that saying that did have a negative effect on her campaign. Why would it? What is it about calling something out for what it is that would put off people who, perhaps secretly, agree with her? We are, those of us who count ourselves progressives, sometimes falsely delicate, it seems. Like being unwilling to use the word “lie” when in fact that is a perfectly accurate description of what the president has done. And when someone is so sunk in their own petty resentment that they are willing to dump on everyone out of revenge for what they see as their raw deal and tolerates no counterargument at all and be damned the consequences—well, that really is kind of deplorable.
Whatever the case, let’s be clear about one thing—it wasn’t the people she was talking about when she said that who changed their mind about voting for her. She was never going to get those votes.
And I doubt it turned very many if any of those leaning in her direction off at the time. They’re all just using that as a rationalization for the fact that too few of them turned up at the polls.
Come to think of, doesn’t that kind of count as deplorable?
I’ve been sitting here thinking about the regret I’m starting to see from many quarters. Like a bad one-night-stand that came with a surprise wedding ring, that face just won’t go away, and all the skull sweat in the world won’t change the reality. Yes, you did that.
Believe it or not, I have some personal insight into this, one I’d forgotten about. Mind you, this is minor league, childish stuff, but startlingly relevant.
Long ago, as a teenager, I was a member of the DeMolay. Junior Masons, basically. Named after the last grand master of the Knights Templar, Jacques De Molay, who King Phillip the Fair (there’s a name for you) tortured and then put to death when he sacked all the Templar temples looking for gold and endeavoring to erase his debt to the Templars. Legend has it when the raids began, the king’s men found empty temples, no gold, and managed to arrest only a handful of Templars before they could escape, among them Jacques.
Fast forward and we have the establishment of a youth branch of the Masons in 1919. Anyway, it was cool in a very adolescent way. Secret rituals, passwords, officer positions, and we got to wear these excellent black satin capes and carry ornamental swords from time to time. It was one of the rare times I willingly joined something like this and it was fun for a couple of years.
Now, we did do a lot of community service, charity work, and other things. There was serious purpose to the organization and we did some meaningful things. Obviously it was a stepping stone into fullblown masonry, so there was grooming and preparation and the assumption of responsibilities. We pretty much ran our own lodge, although there were of course some adults around to make sure we didn’t get out of hand.
The officer positions were sort of on automatic rotation. Once you took a position, you ascended as a matter of course.
Except for the top three positions. Master Councilor, Senior Councilor, and Junior Councilor. These seats were voted on by the members of the lodge. Even then, it was almost pro forma. The only one of the three that ever actually was in question was Junior Councilor. Moving up from there was just a given. It was the Junior Councilor seat that was regularly empty when a Master Councilor’s term was up and he stepped down.
My third year, though, an unusual event happened—all three posts became vacant at the same time. So we had to vote to fill each one from the membership of the lodge.
I threw my hat in. A couple of others did, too, friends of mine who then proceeded to plan what we would do when we were all in the councilors’ chairs.
Only thing is, I lost every single vote.
Not just lost, but was brutally trounced, receiving two votes for each chair. I had to sit there and listen to the tallies until it was over. The other two who thought I’d be up there with them started looking at me in shock, as if to say “What the hell!”
I sat through the rest of that meeting, performed my duties, and left. I did not go back. I’d been humiliated before, but never so publicly and so thoroughly.
Best I could determine from things later said, everyone thought I would be a hard ass and make them work. I had ideas, I’d never been shy about criticizing what I thought of as stupidity, and I was not particularly popular. Naively, I didn’t think that last mattered. I thought ability was what counted. I was wrong.
I went back about six months later and sitting around with several of them in the lounge I listened to them moan about how badly things were being run and how this went wrong and that was going south in a big way and so-and-so was an ass, etc etc etc. I sat and listened with a rapidly vanishing sympathy. “We should have voted you in,” one of them said. Heads nodded all around.
I was quiet for a few moments, then stood. “Yeah, you should have,” I said. “Hindsight’s twenty-twenty. But frankly I’m glad you didn’t.”
Shocked expressions all around.
“Because I would’ve been stuck trying to manage you bunch of morons.”
I left and never went back.
I have joined exactly two organizations since.
Buyer’s remorse can be a real bitter thing. It looks so shiny, so cool! It makes those agreeable noises and feels powerful.
Then you get it on the road and find out what a lemon it is.
I have zero sympathy for those who voted for this guy and now are stunned, horrified, shocked, and disappointed at what they got. Just a reminder, I suppose, that so many people never do mature past someteen, no matter how old they are. The thing that grinds is, they saddled the rest of us with this mess, too.
I did not watch the inauguration. This is nothing new, though, I rarely do. I saw Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, I watched Obama’s, parts of it, after the fact. I would rather read the inaugural addresses than listen, but really the main reason I skip them is that for me they don’t mean much. This is the party after the fight, so to speak. Parades, lots of glad-handing, important people with lots of money doing a Hollywood red carpet thing. It’s show.
Show is important in statecraft, certainly, but it’s not important to me, so…
But the aftermath this time has been fascinating. It’s a show, so why lie about what went on? Why try to tell the national press corps that what they saw with their own eyes was not the reality? Why start with petty numbers games as if the show was the only thing that mattered?
Well, Trump does do reality tv.
However, I would like to say a couple of things here about some of the images I’ve seen—and some of the vitriol attached—after the fact.
I’m not going to say one damn thing about Melania Trump unless she starts getting involved in policy. Which from all appearances, she will not. Likewise for his kids, especially Barron. I don’t believe in that “Well, your dad’s a so-n-so, so you must be, too!” kind of schoolyard bullying. I rejected that whole sins of the father argument back when I parted ways with christianity. I won’t go there.
I will say this, though, about her supporters and detractors: hypocrisy runs deep.
The so-called Christian Right lent considerable support to this man. His wife is a former model and sex symbol. She’s done nudes. She projects an image which I had thought ran counter to the standards of that so-called Christian Right. Had Michelle Obama done anything like that, these people would have declared the advent of Sodom and Gomorrah and the End Times. (Many of them do that anyway, on a regular basis.) These are people who collectively have made it clear they see the sexualization of culture as a decidedly Bad Thing. But they voted for him anyway and got in the face of anyone who criticized Melania for being what till now they claimed to oppose. This is Through The Looking Glass Time for them and I won’t pretend to claim any understanding, other than recognizing the serious two-faced hypocrisy evident.
As to those critics who have held old photographs of her up for disdain, mocking her and her husband thereby, as if the fact that she pursued a career which many of them might have made apologies about (women have so few options, etc) has anything to do with her suitability to be something else.
Lay off. This is all part of the same bifurcated mindset that places sex in one room and everything else in another and then treats public examples of it as alternately empowering or a disease.
Just because her husband treats her like a trophy doesn’t mean the rest of us get to repurpose her for our own ends.
I have no problem with pointing out the hypocrisy of the Family Values crowd over this, but I will not blame Melania for it. We just bid farewell to a presidential family that had no sex scandals of any kind and clearly set an example as a solid, loving, neuroses-free family—who suffered ongoing derision for 8 years at the hands of people who have violated their own professed standards in that that regard to elect someone who has pretty much been a poster-boy for everything they claim is wrong with America. Well, clearly the whole thing was a deep, deep neurosis on their part. I will not blame Melania for their shallowness, lack of integrity, and evident moral malleability.
Nor will I support attempts to ridicule him by holding her up as some example of unsuitability based on the opposite neurosis attaching to women who—
Well, let me put it this way: all those who were (and are) madly in love with Hillary and feel the world has ended because she is not the president—would you have supported her fervently if nude photos of her from her college years surfaced? With all the rest of her qualifications intact, had she taken a year to do something that doesn’t fit with an image of “stateswoman”, would the love have been there?
Food for thought.
But for now, unless she gets involved with policy—and if she does, I will wait to see how and what she produces—I will not credit any shaming that goes her way.
Fox News is defending CNN in the wake of a Trump insult and possible threat at his first press conference in over 160 days. In recent years one could not imagine Fox News chastising someone who is in many ways the perfect flower of their mutated brand of “news.” But since Roger Ayles has stepped down and may now be looking at some very serious problems, there seem to be a few people at Fox trying to reposition themselves in order to gain a credibility that the network actively shunned for more than two decades.
This on top of a sitting senator actually testifying against a colleague before the senate committee vetting Trump’s cabinet picks.
That rumbling, still faint, may be the severe indigestion coming from one of the worst morning-afters this country has ever had. The headiness of the post-election high has faded and people who thought everything was going to be “fine” (or some version thereof) are starting to wonder who this is snoring beside them.
It may make for some of the most trenchant reassessing we’ve done for a long, long time. In that regard, this may turn out to have been to the good.
But only if it doesn’t take too long for the bromo to work
2016 was a thorough-going challenge to a sane hominid’s equilibrium, regardless how you try to contextualize it. Picking the “best” posts from such a year reveals a litany of political views, deaths, and photographs designed to distract from the magma-flow of WTF that worsened as the year continued.
Still, some good things happened. I’ll try to do a more cogent overview later. For now, my “favorite” posts of the year.
The last couple of months descended into escapism and disbelief, for evident reasons. Stay tuned for more.
I should be working on the short story I’ve been struggling with, but instead I want to say a few words about art and talent and memory.
Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and (briefly) Asia has died. He was 69 and he had been fighting cancer.
The first time I heard a piece of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it was Knife Edge, from their first album, and a bolt went through my brain. This was the “other” band that mattered to me–suddenly and thoroughly, the cadences, the depth, the compositional holism, the instrumental proficiency, the temerity of three young guys to challenge Bartok, all of this displaced the light-hearted, Bazooka Joe triviality of so-called pop music that saturated the airwaves a the time. We had that or the in-your-gut near-chaos of Jimi Hendrix and the grime-laden street patina of the Rolling Stones, and now, above it all, musicians who not only had the chops but the historicity and grasp of the psychological possibilities of infusing contemporary rock idioms with the incision and deep-boned depth of what we often mistakenly call classical music and make it speak to a new generation. They elevated what was in so many ways a toy in musical form to something that could take us out of ourselves in the way Beethoven or Mozart did for people so many of us neither knew or respected at the time.
The period lasted from about 1967 till 1975 or ’76. In that less-than-a-decade near geniuses made musical pronouncements we are still responding to if only to try to deny or reject, and the best of them were represented by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Condemnations that they were “pretentious” mean little in an era where pretension is embodied more by attitude than talent. A major “star” styles himself by not smiling and mouthing polemical inanities better known than the music he produces, this is a form of pretension, but one that elevates nothing, reifies nothing, establishes nothing beyond a sullen narcissism. Perhaps ELP was pretentious, but those who criticize them for that understand little about real pretension, which is a mask hiding an empty space. Maybe ELP were pretentious, but if their pretension masked anything it was a room filled to bursting with ideas and exuberant joy in musical experimentation. It contributed. If it made some feel inadequate or small, well, that was not ELP’s fault.
Greg Lake, in his ELP years, possessed a magnificent voice, a gift for phrasing that bordered on the operatic, and deftness of interpretive innovation that was a match for Keith Emerson’s volcanic expressionism and Carl Palmer’s controlled hyperkinetic rhythmic adventures. They were evenly matched and magnificent and I am ever so grateful to have grown up to the soundtrack they provided.
Take note. Brilliance has moved on.