music: Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”
I confess, I didn’t really expect it to happen. I’m kind of in shock that it did, and I still wonder if some strong wind will suddenly rise up and blow this strange, new, apparent reality away, but for now, the fact remains: On November 8, a strategically located minority of America’s voters–barely a quarter of those eligible–rose up against being slowly roasted in the frying pan of the Democratic Party’s kinder, gentler neoliberalism and…jumped directly into the fire of an undisguised corporate/reactionary/climate denialist takeover of the United States Government. That strategic minority of voters didn’t jump alone, however. They took the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, with them. That’s the bad news. The good news is, millions of people who might have thought everything was OK because Hillary Clinton was in charge now feel extremely insecure, and with good reason. That may not sound like good news, but it’s actually an improvement on what their state of mind with Clinton as President would have been, namely, “feeling secure, but without good reason.” More on that later. It’s one of the several facets of this complex question that we are going to be examining. We’ll call that “Bad news/Good news.” The others are “how did we get here,” “What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?”
So…how did we get here? Let’s start by looking at a couple of intertwined longer-term phenomena: our overall national sense of well-being, which, I think, is the force that’s been driving the second phenomenon, the waxing and waning of political party ascendancies since the late sixties and early seventies. The Kennedy-Johnson years and early Nixon years were the point in our country’s history when American workers were at the peak of their earnings. A guy with a blue-collar job could buy a house, support his stay-at-home wife, have a family, and send his kids to college if they wanted to go, or into a high-wage blue-collar job of their own. Note use of pronoun “his.”
Psychological sophistication was, not, and still is not, a hallmark of this culture, however, and white, working-class America’s response to change has been to perceive it as stress, and to respond to change/stress by rejecting the change/source of stress. Thus, some people perceived the Civil Rights movement and the Democratic Party’s efforts on its behalf, the hippies, and the anti-war movement as emotional threats, and reacted viscerally to them, rejecting Johnson’s heir apparent, Hubert Humphrey, and voting instead for Richard Nixon, who promised “law and order,” but proved to be pretty disorderly and unlawful himself. Too much stress. Jimmy Carter is a very unstressful Democrat, a Southerner that Northerners feel comfortable with. He’s the Pres.
But another, far more visceral, source of stress had started to kick in in the late 70’s. Workers’s wages quit rising, but the rest of the economy didn’t. In other words, everything cost more, but workers didn’t have more money at their disposal. Source of stress. Throw in a small Middle-Eastern country grabbing America by the crotch, aka the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and a botched rescue attempt, too much stress–Jimmy Carter is outta there after just one term, replaced by an entertainer, who had received hundreds of hours of television exposure as an easy-going, but principled, actor and show host. Much less stress! “It’s morning in America!” Ronald Reagan actually managed to hand the show off to George Bush, Sr., for one term, but the economic stress was continuing, even intensifying, and here’s two nice young Baby Boomers with a fresh approach. Hey, we all know he really did inhale, and so did his VP…they’ll chill us out way better than that crusty ol’ WWII vet.
But the hollowing out of America had begun in earnest. Factories were heading south and east, leaving whole towns, even whole states, with nothing to do for a living, even as the cost of living spiralled relentlessly upward. Personal debt started spiralling up right along with it, pushing millions of Americans into increasing financial stress. That nice young man, President Bill Clinton, made sure that NAFTA became the law of the land, and the already steady flow of closing factories and offshoring jobs became, as Ross Perot correctly predicted, “a vast sucking sound.” And then, just when everybody was losing hope, Mr. Clinton collaborated with the Republicans to “end welfare as we know it,” which was sold to the masses as being about those lazy, dark-skinned people over there, but actually impacted the white folks at least as much. Then, on his way out of town, Bill Clinton agreed to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the firewall that had been erected to prevent another financial crash like the one in 1929. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but its effects built up over the next decade, and resulted in the global financial crisis of 2008. Bill Clinton gave us gifts that kept on giving, didn’t he? People remember these things.
So, folks blamed the Democrats for their increasing stress levels, and voted in that folksy, down-home feller from Texas and his kinda-crazy uncle Vice President. They sent Al Gore, with his promise of “more of the Clinton-same old,” packing, even though Al won the popular vote. Winning the popular vote but losing the election is another thread of our yarn, so to speak, which I will address later. But the feller from Texas wore out his welcome pretty fast, at least among some people, and anyway everyday life continued its downspiral for most people. They almost threw him out after only four years, and maybe the Republicans stole the 2004 election, but for some reason Kerry didn’t want to push the question. So, when the next election came down to a choice between more of the same (in this swing of the cycle, the Republican) and something different, something different won–a half-African-American man with two Islamic-sounding names. In 2016, after eight years of unfulfilled Hopes and more bad Changes than good ones for a whole lot of Americans, those voters were feeling more stressed than ever, and whoever said they were gonna bring them more of what they were already unhappy with was not gonna get their vote. And “more of Obama” was exactly the message Ms. Clinton was putting out. She shoulda seen it coming.
Not only didn’t she see it coming, she apparently helped it happen. According to some of those increasingly notorious hacked emails, she encouraged her friends in broadcast media to give Trump air time, believing it would be easy for a pro like her to beat a buffoon like him. They also apparently colluded to make sure that Bernie Sanders would not be the nominee. Oh, Those hacked emails and all their manifold ramifications are another topic that has dimensions I don’t seem to be hearing much about, and I will examine that issue later in this post.
So, a broad swathe of American voters keeps getting the short end of the stick, whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected, and some of those voters bounce from one party to the other, hoping for a better deal. Some get discouraged and give up on the voting thing. Although she won the popular vote, Ms. Clinton’s total was about 3.5 million votes shy of Obama’s winning total in 2012, and Trump’s 60 million votes was barely ahead of Romney’s losing tally in that race. The Democrats spent a billion dollars on this campaign, but their inability to motivate just a few tens of thousands of people in three key states–Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin–gave Mr. Trump the electoral votes he needed to offset his popular vote loss…or maybe the partisan nature of vote counting in this country enabled the Republicans, in charge of ballots in all those states, to steal the election. The swing of the pendulum and the claim of a stolen election are not contradictory. The election could not have been stolen if it wasn’t close.
There certainly seems to be more to those results than simple unenthusiasm. The Republicans engaged in systematic voter suppression, both by creating stricter voter identification laws and by using a program called “Crosscheck” that was ostensibly intended to find voters who were registered in more than one state and disqualify them in both, but that seems, in practice, to have resulted in multiple false findings and erroneous voter disqualifications, mostly in demographics likely to vote for Democrats. This is nothing new, of course–for example, in Florida in 2000, the Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, was in charge of determining who was eligible to vote in Florida, as well as in charge of counting the ballots. She just happened to be a Republican, and, even more to the point, co-chair of Republican George Bush’s campaign in the state. She purged thousands of likely Democrats from Florida’s voting rolls. Why are people with a clearly partisan agenda in charge of voter registration and vote counting? And why is Ralph Nader the one most often blamed for Al Gore’s loss of Florida, and the election? But I digress…
“Voter suppression” is another thread that is important to the weave of this yarn.
Time is against the Republicans. The average Republican is an old white man. Emphasis on the old. White people are turning into a minority in this country. Since the GOP, for some reason, has a difficult time attracting younger people and people who are not white, those people who are younger and either not white or white and open-minded tend to become Democrats–or, in increasing numbers, Greens. This erosion of the white middle class’s numerical and political dominance is another one of those escalating sources of that stress I’ve been talking about, but for now let’s focus on the GOP’s efforts to counter their dropping numbers by gaming the voting process. They did this through redistricting in ways that ensured their dominance by creating more “safe seats” for Republicans than for Democrats. The fact that a political party can gain control of the government and use that to game the system and insure its own dominance is, along with our politicized voter registration and vote counting, one of the severe weaknesses of our political system. Could these flaws be fixed, or are they in the process of proving to be fatal? The question is being decided right now.
So, from a “Deep Green Perspective,” I have to note that the struggle between the two parties has left them both dangerously short-sighted. The Republicans are in complete denial of the forces our civilization has unleashed, while the Democrats are in denial about the inadequacy of their efforts to meet these challenges. Both are committed to “economic growth” as the summum bonum of society, that from which all blessings flow. Their differences are about how continued economic growth should unfold, not about whether it should. Infinite material growth cannot happen on a finite planet. We will grow until there is nothing left to consume, and then consume ourselves. This process is already painful, and will only get worse.
But, for now, we’re still here and still capable of a crash landing instead of a nosedive crash, so we need to act on the premise that we have a future. In that spirit, let’s keep looking at the unravelling of Hillary Clinton’s shoo-in to the Presidency. During the campaign, there was an undercurrent of Russophobia in the Clinton camp. I first saw it when she attacked Bernie for his support of “Communist” Nicaragua and Cuba, although it was certainly telegraphed by her actions as Secretary of State, which frequently had to do with confronting Russia. Clinton partisans tended to dismiss critics of her as Russian-inspired, and somebody, maybe the Russians, hacked her emails and the Democratic Party’s emails, and released a whole lot of private communications that indicated just how corporate-friendly, and commoner-contemptuous, Ms. Clinton and the DNC really are. Speculation is that these revelations discouraged a lot voters from voting for Ms. Clinton, and speculation is strong that the Russians are behind it. Hey, it’s not like we never meddled in an election that affected them. You know about Ukraine? Oh, you don’t? No surprise–corporate media didn’t make it a big story, plus–it’s complicated. More on Russia, “Russian influence,” and “fake news” later.
The thing I keep thinking about all these hacked emails is that what they reveal is very uncomplimentary to the entire notion of small-d democracy here in the US. What the emails reveal isn’t disinformation, it isn’t wild stories, it’s the actual record, the record Democratic Party insiders thought the public would never know. Ms. Clinton thought the environmentalists who saw her as their best, and possibly last hope needed to “get a life,” and she planned to move ahead with more fracking, pipeline construction, and nuclear power. The emails show us a group of small-minded, power-hungry people who no more deserve to govern than Mr. Trump and his proud basket of deplorables. But there were no serious alternatives, because the two parties and their corporate sponsors have built such a perfectly exclusionary system.
There’s one more thing I want to add about the “how did we get here?” question.
Shortly after the election, an old friend of mine who had been a staunch Hillary supporter sent me the vote numbers from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. He was incensed because Jill Stein’s votes added to Hillary’s votes amounted to more votes than Trump’s votes. “Stein did to Clinton what Nader did to Gore” he screamed at me through the internet, demanding some kind of consolation–an apology, an “oops,” a culpa mea, I don’t know. I’m afraid I was cold comfort. I pointed out the millions of voters who had not voted at all in those states, the billion dollars the Democrats had spent on the campaign versus the three million the Greens had raised (that means that for every ten dollars the Democrats had to spend, the Greens had three cents at their disposal), and suggested that, if the Democrats couldn’t motivate their base, it was their problem. Besides, Greens are not just alienated left Democrats. But that’s another story. I also told him I thought it might be more than coincidence for the votes to have added up that way in all three states, setting Democrats against Greens yet again, when the Republicans were the real culprits.
So, I wasn’t too surprised when the Stein campaign launched recount efforts in those three states, nor was I surprised when the Republicans fought back so effectively that all three efforts were, to one extent or another, stymied, and the official story became “no story here folks, move along.” But there was a story. The effort uncovered 75,000 uncounted ballots in largely Democratic Detroit, far more than enough likely Clinton votes for her to carry the state, and a similar situation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Pennsylvania recount never happened, but, based on two out of three, there’s a good chance something similar happened in Philadelphia, as well. Paul, if by any chance you read this, please note that “Clinton votes plus Stein votes equals more than Trump votes” was a meme manufactured to sow discord among those of us who oppose Mr. Trump.
“We went in looking for Russian hacking,” Dr.Stein commented, “but what we actually found was Jim Crow elections.” Republican governments cut back on early voting, sent fewer voting machines and faulty computerized vote counting equipment to largely African-American precincts, and used Chris Kobach’s “Crosscheck” program to erroneously throw people off the voter rolls. It worked. The US Attorney General ought to treat it as a criminal conspiracy. The Democrats should be up in arms about this–but the Department of Justice is nowhere to be found, and the Democrats are raving instead about Russian hackers spreading false stories (well, some true ones, actually) through overly gullible online news sites like–gee, like Truthout, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism, Consortium News, Black Agenda Report, and Counterpunch, salted in with a large batch of mostly right-wing sites that I mostly wouldn’t trust, either. The common denominator seems to be criticism of the neo-liberal agenda that Clinton clearly embodies.The Republicans steal the election, and the Democrats go after the Russians for it? What is going on here? This story is just starting to emerge, and I’m running out of time in this radio show, so more on this story as it develops!
I’ve pretty well covered “The Deep Green Perspective” of how we got here. In the months to come I’ll examine my other questions–” “What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different “here?”
In closing, I think it will become increasingly obvious that the pendulum swing of Mr. Trump’s election will not ease the plight of the American middle class. What their response will be when they understand that he has failed them is beyond my powers of prognostication. And I also want to make it as clear as possible that I think a Clinton Presidency would not have gotten us out of hot water compared to a Trump Presidency–it just would have been different hot water. When asked if I prefer “the frying pan to the fire,” I have to say, “I prefer neither, thank you”–not that refusing to endorse either gets me out of what we’re all getting. For me, as for all of us, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Music: James McMurtry “We Can’t Make It Here Any More”