Finally Over

Today the Electoral College voted, and the results made Donald Trump, officially, the President-elect of the United States of America.  There were a few defections, on both sides, but for the most part the electors did what they typically do — they voted for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state.  Concerns, or hopes, that there might be a significant number of “faithless electors” turned out to be largely unfounded.

az2016 has been a crappy year for a lot of reasons, but the 2016 presidential election is one of the biggest ones.  The election dominated the news all year, from the seemingly endless and embarrassing Republican primary debates to the improbable Bernie Sanders movement to the unfathomable, and for the most part totally unpredicted, victory of Donald Trump.  Every night, we got hit over the heads with Trump’s latest outrageous tweet, or Clinton’s big-money speeches to Goldman Sachs, or Trump’s appalling comments about women, or Hillary’s ill-considered private email server.  It was a year of all election, all the time.

There are those who are happy with the results of the election, and there are those who are bitterly disappointed, and angry, and disgusted.  And then there are people like me:  I’m just glad that this wretched election is finally, officially over.

When All Will Be Revealed

Tomorrow we’ll see the finale of HBO’s Westworld.  We’re being assured that all will be revealed, and after the episode the show will actually make sense.

Yeah, right!  I’ll believe it when I see it.  That’s like expecting triumphant Trump staffers  and bitter Clinton campaign operatives to reach friendly consensus on why Donald Trump won the election, or imagining that fair-minded Michigan fans will freely concede that the referees correctly spotted the ball on the 15-yard line after J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down keeper in the second overtime of this year’s classic version of The Game.

Westworld is right up there with The Leftovers as the most confusing show since Twin Peaks.  It’s so intentionally mystifying that I don’t even try to understand it, or piece together the disparate threads of the plot.  I just wince at the horribly bloody violence that is likely to occur at any tender moment, groan at the show’s troubling core assumption that any human who goes to a fantasy world will promptly turn into a blood-soaked, sex-crazed lunatic, and recognize that any character in the next instant could be revealed as a robot, a cold-blooded killer, a psychopath, or all three.  (I also cringe for the actors who have to routinely sit buck naked on chairs on a sterile set while other characters question them and tap iPads, but that’s another story.)

I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out.  Kish and I watch the show, and I just let it kind of wash over me, rather than struggling to make sense of why Dolores’ outfit changes from instant to instant or why Bernard’s interactions with his fake dead son are so significant.  I realized that the show had reached the point of ridiculousness this past week, when I was walking back from lunch with two friends, one of whom watches Westworld and one of whom doesn’t.  The watcher and I started talking about the show, and after a few minutes of discussion of “Billy” and the possibility that the show’s plot is running along different timelines and the importance of the photo of Billy’s bethrothed and whether the twitching beings at the church Dolores visited were troubled robots looking for some kind of salvation, the non-watcher asked, with a baffled laugh:  “What is this show?”  And I realized that it was all pretty silly.

So I’ll watch the finale, but I’m not expecting that I’ll get everything in this episode, because that sure hasn’t been the case in the past episodes.  I just make one request:  before we move on to “the new narrative,” can you at least let us know what the old narrative was all about?

American Tune

I always listen to music walking to and from work.  This evening, as I was listening to my acoustic playlist, it struck me that American Tune by Paul Simon — a beautiful song that is one of my favorites — pretty accurately captures how many people are feeling these days.  I’m not just talking about disappointed Hillary Clinton voters, either.  There seems to be a strong sense of disquiet, an unsettled feeling, mingled with curiosity, trepidation, raw hope, and uncertainty about what might happen next, lurking throughout the general populace.  Some of those feelings stem from the election results and the thought of Donald Trump as President, to be sure, but some of them also seem to flow from concerns about the direction of the country as a whole.  Where is our road leading?

American Tune, which was released in 1973, aptly crystallizes this odd mixture of emotions and sensations.  Simon wrote:

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

Two verses later, the song concludes, in a mixture of pride, doubt, fatigue, and resignation:

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

It says something about the universality of music when a song written at the end of the Nixon Administration can so perfectly express how so many Americans are feeling, 45 years later.

Protests In The Aftermath

We’ve seen several nights of mostly peaceful protests, in a number of American cities, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s shocking election of Donald Trump.

In Oregon, two Portlanders have submitted a ballot proposal to have Oregon secede from the Union — although they say it’s only “partially” a response to Trump’s election, because they feel much of the United States no longer subscribes to “Oregon values” of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equality.  Groups in California also are talking about secession.

1ovzjwd1g7d0h7tar9tvcdwAnd, because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, people are asking questions — which get raised after every close presidential election — about whether we should abolish the Electoral College and just elect our President through a simple national referendum.

I’ve got no problem with any of these developments.  In America, people have the right to protest thanks to the First Amendment, and we’ve also got the right to take a fresh look at our constitutional institutions and decide whether to change or reject them through the constitutional amendment process.  I’m not in favor of the states along the west coast, where we have lots of friends and family, actually seceding from the United States, of course, but I also have no problem with people seriously discussing the disconnect between the perspective on the coast, where voters gave huge majorities to Hillary Clinton, and the results found in the interior, where Donald Trump racked up huge vote totals.

I think all of these developments are signs of a healthy, functioning democracy, and they also convey an extremely important message:  elections have consequences, and voting is the way to produce the consequences you favor.  In 2016, tens of millions of Americans didn’t vote at all.  Hillary Clinton got about 6 million fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012, and early indications are that certain groups — like “Millennials” — didn’t turn out to vote in the same way they did in 2008 and 2012.  We’ll never know what the election results would have been if all of those eligible voters had exercised the most basic democratic right of all, but it sure isn’t a bad thing if the people who didn’t vote now feel remorse and resolve that it will never happen again.

Wouldn’t you like to know whether all of the people out protesting Trump’s election actually voted on Election Day?

The Fruits Of Polling Failure

One last point about the election, and then it’s time to move on:  it’s pretty clear that the entire polling edifice about which modern campaigns, and much of modern political journalism, have been built came crashing down Tuesday night.

poll-public-opinion_001-13The Hill has an interesting article on the degree of polling failure, with a headline stating that pollsters had sustained a “huge embarrassment” as a result of their general failure to predict, or even detect the possibility of, a Donald Trump win.  By way of example, no poll indicated that Trump would win Wisconsin, and instead showed Hillary Clinton with a 6.5 percent lead in that state.  As a result, none of the know-it-all pundits who were pontificating on Election Day even identified Wisconsin as a “battleground state” — when in reality Wisconsin may be the crucial state that handed the presidency to Donald Trump.

I’ve written before about the many judgment calls that go into polling, and how a few tweaks in turnout modeling and the demographic makeup of “likely voters” can change the results.  With this election, we’ve seen the suspicion that polling is not quite as “scientific” as we’ve been led to believe become a painful reality.  Pollsters were just wrong in predicting who would turn out, and in what numbers, and as a result their numbers were skewed — which is why the ultimate results were such a shock.

Polls have become a crutch for campaigns and journalists, and also have been used to crush the aspirations of challengers out seeking to raise money.  Maybe now the “national media” covering the elections will actually get out on the campaign trail, go to events, and report on what the candidates are actually saying and how their audiences are reacting, rather than reporting on polling data and insider leaks about the shape of the horse race.  Maybe now campaigns will pay more attention to what people on the ground are saying and doing, and whether they are responding with enthusiasm to a candidate’s message.  And maybe people deciding which candidate to vote for or financially support will pay attention to the candidates themselves, rather than trying to pick a likely winner based on polling data.

I would never say that this awful election had a positive impact on anything, but if it results in our political processes being much less poll-driven, that would be a step in the right direction.

Why I’m Voting NOTA

I’ve voted for a candidate in every presidential election since 1976.  In that 40 years I’ve voted for candidates from both parties and even an independent, John Anderson, in 1980.  This year I’ll break that streak.  I’ll go to the polls this morning and will gladly make my views known on down-ballot races and state and local issues — but when I’m asked about voting for President, I’m choosing None Of The Above.

noneoftheaboveVoting for Donald Trump was never a possibility.  I’ve got old-fashioned views when it comes to the President:  I think character counts.  Trump’s character is about as ill-suited to the presidency as I can possibly imagine — and it’s not just his appalling comments about women or the ugly mean-spiritedness you see lurking below the surface, either.  People elected to serve as President should approach that enormous job with a measure of humility; Trump offers nothing but overwhelming arrogance and bombast.  Presidents are asked to make decisions with far-reaching consequences and should do so based on careful study and reasoned reflection; Trump is the king of the knee-jerk reactions.  These aren’t small failings.  In an increasingly dangerous world, these are character flaws that go to the essential core of the job.  I envision the bumptious Trump in a meeting with world leaders, and I cringe at the message it would send about America.

I tried to get behind Hillary Clinton, which is where other members of my family and many of my friends have landed.  I really did.  But I couldn’t get there, either.  I find the Clintons’ seemingly endless rapacious appetites totally off-putting, and the whiff of corruption in the high-dollar speeches, the Clinton Foundation donations, and other activities also seem ill-suited to the presidency, where the individual’s integrity should be beyond reproach.  I was amazed at the recklessness of Hillary Clinton’s email practices, but even more disturbed by the reaction to it by the candidate and her followers — first by steadfast denials, then by attacking the accusers, and finally by grudging, forced, clearly insincere apologies.  Presidents are going to make mistakes, and when they do they need to accept responsibility for them and demonstrate accountability.  I don’t see that quality in Hillary Clinton, and I think it is a very important one.

I looked at the third party candidates, but they are minor figures who lack the experience or the training for the most important job in the world.  It didn’t take long to exclude them from the mix.

So, no candidate is getting my vote this year.  No one is going to notice that there is one fewer vote being cast, among in the millions that will be counted this year — but it’s the only way I’ve got to send a message that the choice this year is utterly unacceptable, and that it should never happen again.

Making Up Your Mind: Voting For the “Lesser Of Two Evils”

Another common point of discussion about politics these days, as people struggle with making their decision in the worst presidential election choice in decades, is the concept of “negative voting.”

hillary-clinton-a-1024This election has nudged us into bizarre territory.  Except for the true believers in the Clinton and Trump camps, just about everyone recognizes that both candidates are significantly flawed — and is angry that the average voter has been put into this awful predicament. As a result, the discussion about deciding how to vote gets into deeply negative thinking.  You hear people talking about how people need to look at things like worst case scenarios — I’ve actually sat with a person who said he’s made his decision based on “Which of the two candidates is more likely to blunder America into World War III?” — or should engage in relativistic weighing of candidate flaws to determine the “lesser of two evils.”

Indeed, this year, more than any presidential election year in the past that I can remember, serious people have argued about whether or not there is a moral obligation to vote for the perceived lesser of two evils.  See, for example, here and here.   Others argue that the ethics should work the opposite way:  because voting for “the lesser of two evils” is still voting for an “evil.”

This is alien territory for most of us, because in most elections people get comfortable with, or even enthusiastic about, the candidate of their choice and actually believe that the candidate would be a good President.  Their vote is an affirmative endorsement.  I’m confident that in, say, 2008, the overwhelming majority of people who voted for Barack Obama did not think they were choosing the lesser of two evils, and instead thought he would be a game-changing President.

Of course, in any election there is going to be a comparison of the candidates, and a decision on which would be the better choice — and part of that process may be to look at areas where you disagree with the candidate’s position.  But in normal election years the process doesn’t involve a comparison of the faults of the two candidates and arguments about which of the candidates is less irredeemably flawed.

Is it any wonder that the American electorate this year is so deeply disaffected?