}

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Explaining things

One thing characteristic of this time of year is that it’s social. People get together and talk about things. Sometimes, that means talking about things that we’re told to avoid, like politics. That’s easier when it’s talk about another country’s politics, and who better to ask about US politics than someone from there originally? Well, that’s the way it’s been lately.

It’s not surprising that Kiwis would ask me about US politics, not just because I’m from there, though that’s the connection for people first meeting me. Those who’ve known me, though, know that I’ve been studying US politics and the Constitution for some 40 years, and was engaged in politics for much of that time. Besides, who else are they going to ask?

Kiwis have moved well beyond “how the hell did that man get elected?!” to “why can’t you get rid of him?” Most Kiwis understand that it’s extremely difficult in the USA’s weird system, but they don’t get why in practical terms it’s impossible. They also wonder, “why didn’t the Democrats mop the floor with Republicans in the recent elections?” and for that I have to explain how Republicans have rigged the system to prevent Democrats from winning, as we saw most obviously in the US House elections, which I talked about last month.

The one thing that Kiwis have said to me that I can’t argue with is that Democrats must choose someone with charisma if they have any hope of defeating the current occupant of the White House. I think they’re right, because nominating just any ol’ person won’t do, nor will nominating someone to tick off some sort of quota, because the Republican candidate will be a formidable opponent.

It’s a sickening fact that the current occupant of the White House is, at the moment, the odds-on favourite to win the 2020 election. At this point, after all his crimes and scandals, he ought to be less popular than syphilis, but that’s not how it is.

In his first two years in office, Gallup’s tracking of the current occupant’s approval ratings shows they ranged between a low of 35% approval to a high of 45% approval. That means that his approval ratings, while significantly lower than majority approval, are nevertheless more stable than any other president has enjoyed, according to Gallup.

So far, the current occupant’s average approval rating is 39%, which, coincidentally, is also his most current (Dec 17-22, 2018) approval rating. Opponents take comfort that the percentage who disapprove is always higher, but there’s a huge problem with that: Enthusiasm.

There’s no doubt that the vast majority supporters of the current occupant are unshakable. If that wasn’t the case, his approval rating would have plummeted each time there was a new scandal, or another of his close officials was indicted, fired, or resigned, but the rating remains stable. There’s no reason to believe that would change, even if the current occupant is indicted for his crimes—in fact, it may perversely actually firm up his support.

The flip side of his unwavering support is how divided his opposition is.

In 2016, part of the reason the current occupant was able to barely eek out an Electoral College win was because 79,000 votes in three states went to him. That can be partly chalked up to the pathetically stupid decisions made by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to not campaign in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the closing days of the campaign. But the biggest reason was the Russian government’s successful propaganda campaign to elect their chosen candidate.

The Russian propaganda sought to rally rightwing support, and to depress the vote for Clinton. Their specific tactics were to build up and encourage votes for the truly loopy Jill Stein, and to discourage Black Americans from voting. The Russians didn’t need to win millions of votes for their chosen candidate; all they needed to do was win a few thousand more votes in just the right places—79,000 in three states, to be precise.

Absolutely nothing has been done to protect the US election system from foreign meddling. We know that the Russian government hacked into the election systems of several states in 2016, but we still don’t know what, precisely they did, nor whether the vulnerabilities have been closed. In Georgia they apparently haven’t been, as we found out this year.

All this matters because one of the lessons from 2016 is how susceptible to ideological pandering and propaganda the various factions on the Left are, and that hasn’t changed: Not only do the various parts of the Democratic Party not like each other very much, many of them hate other factions within the party. The Republican Party knows this, and having seen how effective the Republican government was in electing the current occupant, they will no doubt try to divide the Left. It’s easy to do.

If the current occupant’s approval ratings remain firm, he’ll start with a solid base of 39% of the electorate that cannot be persuaded to tell him he’s fired. All his campaign has to do, with or without Russian help, is divide the left. If they’re successful, part will go with the Democratic Party nominee, part will go for a minor party, and a large part will simply staying home—and that will be enough to re-elect the current occupant.

However, if there are more scandals, and if the current occupant himself is indicted for his crimes, whether or not they include his collusion with the Russian government, that could—could—inspire his opponents to turn out to vote against him. However, it has to be enough votes in the right states, and that’s where the candidate comes in.

The Democratic nominee can’t be so Progressive as to alienate moderates and conservatives, nor can the candidate be so Centrist as to alienate Progressives and Liberals. That balancing act may be impossible, especially given the stated determination of the Democratic Party’s leftwing to nominate a Progressive or else. Can there be a candidate who’s an acceptable compromise to the many kinds of Democrats? And, if so, can that candidate win over true Independents in a coalition to drive the Conman in Chief from the White House?

Which brings me back to those conversations I’ve had in recent weeks. Kiwis feel that the Democratic candidate will have to light a spark in voters. While many of them agree with me that the nominee could well be someone not currently being talked about much (or even at all), they nevertheless feel that without something that can take an energetic campaign to the Republican candidate, they can’t beat him, and I agree with that.

There are too many unknowns at the moment, but we know the system is rigged to elect Republicans. We know that the Russians and others will try to manipulate public opinion in favour of the current occupant. We know that Democrats, and the Left generally, are extremely easy to divide. We know that the current occupant has a stable level of support as his starting point. All of those are warning signs.

I pledged long ago that I will vote for the Democratic nominee in 2020, no matter who he or she is, and no matter whether I agree with that candidate on very much. I’m prepared to hold my nose, if necessary. I will vote against the current occupant rather than for the Democrat, if necessary. But there is no way I’ll sit out the election, and there’s no way I’ll vote for any candidate other than the Democratic nominee. The real problem we have is that not many Democrats, and very, very few on the actual Left, are willing to make that same promise to America. That may prove to be the biggest danger of them all.

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