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Friday, December 9, 2016

Another Gaggle of Post-Mortems

It's been a busy week, both in my life and in the more immediate volley from the tennis ball machine that is the Trump Presidential transition (TM Bob Cesca). I've been accumulating more columns and data dissecting last month's tragedy. I'm hoping I can pull this many into something coherent. Well, here goes.

Since I just referenced Bob Cesca, let's start with his piece from Wednesday. He asserts that the Dems really didn't experience much of a loss, having won the popular vote by so much, and the loss of white working class voters is overblown:

The shift in white blue-collar voters from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 is much more anecdotal than is being acknowledged among A-list pundits. It’s a fluke that largely reflects a narrow pocket of voters who hate Clinton due to an ongoing geyser of attacks, mostly unfair or based on nonexistent complaints, that has been erupting constantly for 25 years. This was more about a reaction in a small handful of battleground districts rather than a coast-to-coast existential crisis within the Democratic Party.

He believes the Democrats need to ignore the Beltway conventional wisdom that comes up about their party every election, win or lose, that they need to tack to the center. Rather, he feels, going left is the way to go, and he has statistics to back that up:

On health care, 86 percent of Americans with insurance policies purchased via the Affordable Care Act like their coverage. Furthermore, if we take the word “Obamacare” out of the equation, most Americans love the individual parts of the law.
Regarding taxes, 61 percent of voters surveyed think the wealthy aren’t paying their fair share in taxes and 67 percent believe corporations aren’t paying enough.
Concerning Wall Street, 58 percent of those surveyed support breaking up the big banks. Much of the credit here should go to Sen. Bernie Sanders, for setting an example of how Democrats can sell leftist issues without apology.
On income inequality, 66 percent of respondents agree that wealth should be more evenly distributed.
When it comes to college tuition, 62 percent of those polled want debt-free higher education.
Regarding abortion, most Americans surveyed believe abortion should remain legal in some if not all circumstances. Only 19 percent of voters think it should be illegal in all cases.

I'm with him on policy; not sure yet on the "WWC." (though I'm leaning that way, there are stats showing otherwise too)

Just one disagreement, and it's more a matter of degree because I think it's overblown:

The shift in Republican control over state legislatures, governorships and the U.S. Congress is less a consequence of the Democratic platform and more about the rise of conservative media, conservative propaganda and, yes, fake news.

Yes, conservative media and fake news are problems, but the bigger factor, as I've said in the past, appears to be how the mainstream media covers politics. I'm not going to link to anything I've written, because the inimitable Driftglass has written a tour de force (the danged thing, including citations, is about 5000 words) about it (SOMEBODY PAY THE MAN -- DAVID BROCK, I'M TALKING TO YOU). Take it away, Mr. Glass:

This is why I can tell you that this idea that "better messaging" to the white working class is somehow the royal road back to political majorities for the Democratic party is nonsense.  Sure, Democrats always need to work on speaking like mortal human beings and progressives in general suffer from an inexplicable inability to kill the fucking bunny even with all the claws and fangs at their disposal:
But messaging itself is not the problem.  The media is the problem.  And since, as the man said, the medium is the message, until we start taking on the media as Public Enemy #1, we're going to go right on losing.
This is shaping up to be a long post because sometimes I feel the need to drive a point home using a great big hammer, so if you want to scroll on down, be my guest.  But before you move along, my premise is fairly easy to summarize:
For a variety if reasons, white working class Americans have been taking a pounding since the late 1970s.  And for a different variety of reasons, a disturbingly high number number of white working class Americans keep voting for the people that fuck them over.
Judging by policy statements made, resources allocated, attention paid and political capitol spent, it's quite likely that history will judge the Obama Administration to have been the most consistently pro-manufacturing administration since Eisenhower.  In fact, outside of health care (and turkey pardons), I would wager a penny and a fiddle of gold that in the last eight years the Obama administration put more effort into promoting American manufacturing than into any other domestic policy priority.
If you are a member of the general public, unless you made an extra special effort to inform yourself, you are blissfully unaware of any of this.
If you are blissfully unaware of any of this, it is not because the Obama Administration failed to talk it up at every single opportunity, but because over the last eight years the American political media collectively decided that instead of boring-ass stories about what the Democratic party has been trying to do to improve the lives and futures of the working class Americans, what you needed to hear were lively fairy tales about Birth Certificates and Death Panels.  Email servers and Benghaaaazi.  A Republican rebranding scam called the "Tea Party".  Instead of stories about the Caucus Room Conspiracy and Republican sabotage and sedition, you needed to hear endlessly, plaintive cries from all the usual Beltway hacks about how Barack Obama was refusing to lead!
So, as the late, great Al Smith used to say, let's take a look at the record...
I have spent a couple of days going over hundreds of White House press releases, public statements, sections of each of President Obama's State of the Union addresses, etc. all on the subject of American manufacturing.  This is a small, representative sample from that gargantuan pile, with emphasis added by me as the spirit moves me.  
And he presents exactly that. Bottom line, the Obama administration presided over the creation of 800,000 new manufacturing jobs since the end of the Bush recession (note that that's about the likely exaggerated number that Bernie Sanders said NAFTA cost the sector, so at worst the Democrats caused a net gain over time, and that's if you even consider NAFTA a Democratic deal) , but nobody noticed because the media rarely talked about it.

Anyway, read the whole thing, but I want to bring in a little more detail from a couple of the articles Driftglass cites.

Tons of useful stuff (of course), from Rick Perlstein. The meat for me, for the purpose of my post-morteming:

Trump boogied his way to Pennsylvania Avenue to the tune of the extraordinary finding by a Washington Post-ABC News poll that “corruption in government” was listed by 17 percent of voters as the most important issue in the presidential election, second only to the economy, and ahead of terrorism and health care—and that voters trusted Trump over Clinton to be better on the issue by a margin of 48 to 39 percent, her worst deficit on any issue. This is the part of my article where rhetorical conventions demand I provide a thumbnail sketch of all the reasons why it’s factually absurd that anyone would believe that Donald Trump is less corrupt than Hillary Clinton. I have better things to do with my time than belabor the obvious.
Yet somehow, the great mass of Americans believed Clinton was the crook. Might it have something to do with the myriad articles like, say, “Smoke Surrounds the Clinton Foundation,” by The Los Angeles Times’s top pundit Doyle McManus? This piece, all too typically, despite endeavoring to debunk Trump claims of Clinton corruption, repeated charges like “Doug Band, who helped create the Clinton Global Initiative, sought access to State Department officials for Clinton Foundation donors”—even though donors did not get that access). And that donors harbored the “assumption” that they would “move to the head of the line”—even though they never did.
Trump gave absolutely no indication that he was anything but corrupt since the first time he ever seriously considered running for President back in 2000. And it's not even worth linking to how corrupt he's turning out to be as President-Elect because it would take me from now until Inauguration Day just to cover the first week post-election.
And what were pundits like McManus smoking? The vapors from a cunning long-term disinformation campaign run by the man Donald Trump appointed as his chief White House political strategist. Steve Bannon chartered a nonprofit “Government Accountability Institute,” whose president, Peter Schweizer, hacked out an insinuation-laden tome, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, then offered its “findings” on an exclusive pre-publication basis to the Times, which shamefully accepted the deal—with, predictably, the public’s perceptions of Clinton’s trustworthiness cratering in tandem with our national Newspaper of Record’s serial laundering of Steve Bannon’s filth.
So where did it come from? A book published by STEVE BANNON that the New York Times took as gospel for just long enough to not be able to put that cat back in the bag. This is why I tend to fact-check the Times nearly as much as I do PolitiUncutCo or whatever these days. The New York Times has been at the wide end of the anti-Clinton puke funnel since the Whitewater days. Fuck 'em. I'm never subscribing.

Derek Thompson at the Atlantic makes a point I tried to make a couple of weeks back -- Hillary did have a message for the working class (white or not):

But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.
She detailed plans to help coal miners and steel workers. She had decades of ideas to help parents, particularly working moms, and their children. She had plans to help young men who were getting out of prison and old men who were getting into new careers. She talked about the dignity of manufacturing jobs, the promise of clean-energy jobs, and the Obama administration’s record of creating private-sector jobs for a record-breaking number of consecutive months. She said the word “job” more in the Democratic National Convention speech than Trump did in the RNC acceptance speech; she mentioned the word  “jobs” more during the first presidential debate than Trump did. She offered the most comprehensively progressive economic platform of any presidential candidate in history—one specifically tailored to an economy powered by an educated workforce.
What’s more, the evidence that Clinton lost because of the nation’s economic disenchantment is extremely mixed. Some economists found that Trump won in counties affected by trade with China. But among the 52 percent of voters who said economics was the most important issue in the election, Clinton beat Trump by double digits. In the vast majority of swing states, voters said they preferred Clinton on the economy. If the 2016 election had come down to economics exclusively, the working class—which, by any reasonable definition, includes the black, Hispanic, and Asian working classes, too—would have elected Hillary Clinton president.
The more frightening possibility for liberals is that Clinton didn’t lose because the white working class failed to hear her message, but precisely because they did hear it.
That message either wasn't heard, or Trump's message of fear, xenophobia, and hate resonated more with whites because they care about keeping others down than improving or even maintaining their own lot in life (which is basically the definition of a conservative).

After everything I've read over the last month, I'm inclined to agree with that last sentence. But Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr at Slate do not (go figure; contrarianism for contrarianism's sake is essentially what Slate is about). But I'm willing to hear them out without much commentary from me. These are their five main points supporting their thesis about how Hillary lost the Rust Belt rather than Trump winning it:

1. In the Rust Belt 5, the GOP’s pickup of voters making $50,000 or less is overshadowed by the Democrats’ dramatic loss of voters in that category.

2. Republicans in the Rust Belt 5 picked up almost as many wealthy voters making over $100,000 as voters who made less than $50,000.

3. Trump did not flip white voters in the Rust Belt who had supported Obama. Democrats lost them.

4. The real story—the one the pundits missed—is that voters who fled the Democrats in the Rust Belt 5 were twice as likely either to vote for a third party or to stay at home than to embrace Trump.

The work of Martin Longman, whom I've cited a lot on this, plus the fact that Trump appears to have hit the high water mark for Republicans (more on that another time) in terms of total votes while Hillary appears to be approaching the second-highest mark in the popular vote for any candidate, ever. But I'll be digging into their work more because their viewpoint is as valid as any, until it's not.

Ari was just saying to me that in the last week, undecided broke for Trump, and he and many others believe that's due to the Comey letter. Kevin Drum's got a post up about the generally negative coverage of the campaign, but this is the part that stands out to me:

I can see how the Comey letter would dip Clinton's numbers at the end, but why did the media (relatively) fawn all over Trump over the last three weeks? Did they shine a positive light on his sexual assault stories? I honestly don't remember; once I started working heavily with the campaign in October, I mostly only had time to keep my eye on the polls more than the stories.

What post-morteming since 1992 would be complete without talking about conservative evangelical Christians? Digby shares a Washington Post article that tells us that conservative evangelicals sided with Trump because of some Supreme Court decision from last year:

The presidential election was so close that many factors were “but-for” causes of Donald Trump’s victory. One that’s been mostly overlooked is Trump’s surprising success with religious voters. According to exit polls, Trump received 81 percent of the white evangelical Christian vote, and Hillary Clinton only 16 percent. Trump did significantly better than the overtly religious Mitt Romney and the overtly evangelical George W. Bush. He likely over-performed among other theologically conservative voters, such as traditionalist Catholics, as well. Not bad for a thrice-married adulterer of no discernible faith.
To what can we attribute Trump’s success? The most logical answer is that religious traditionalists felt that their religious liberty was under assault from liberals, and they therefore had to hold their noses and vote for Trump.
The DID NOT "hold their noses and vote for Trump." They enthusiastically voted for Trump. They had 16 other god-bothering candidates they could've voted for in the primary, yet they voted for him. Why? For the same reason the "white working class" did. Fear, hate, and xenophobia. These are the same people who tried to hold on to segregation as stridently and longer than just about anyone else. Trump gave them a much more luscious taste of that cracker-white apple than Bush, McCain, or Romney did. As we Jewish people say, "Zehu!"

Washington Post, you should know better already.

From the Washington Post to the Washington Monthly:

We’ve heard for months now that Donald Trump is as much a threat to the Republican Party as to the Democrats – and that part of his appeal was being tough on both of the stale/corrupt two parties.
Sure enough, there is evidence that on November 8, voters simultaneously said they liked Trump but disliked Republicans. Because the Democrats fell short of both expectations and winning power, it was barely noticed that:
40% of voters viewed Republicans favorably compared to 47% for the Democrats.
The triumphant, newly-re-elected Republican Congress has a 15% approval rating.
Republicans did lose two Senate seats and six House seats – a horrible disappointment for Democrats but still, you know, an actual loss of seats.
More people voted for Democrats in the Senate races than for Republican.
And yet the Republican Party has more power now than it has in decades, and is acting as if the party received a tidal-wave mandate.
Why? Because they cheat.

Aaaaand finally, I have to *#%@ing celebrate the return of the Rude Pundit, who comes back just in time to make the cut on this post. And he needed no stretching, or shootaround, or practice swings... he's on fire:

When I first put myself in a self-imposed time out, one of the reasons was that I was really fucking pissed at myself for getting the presidential election so wrong, for thinking that it was a no-brainer that Hillary Clinton would be elected, that the country wasn't so stupid and deluded and hateful that it would elect a fuzzy, bulbous fungus in human form instead.
But lately, I've come around to another way of thinking. I wasn't wrong. Our election system is so innately fucked that it got it wrong. Right now, Clinton is up by nearly 3 million votes. That's 2 percent more than Donald Trump, with a lead that's growing with every precinct finalized. Yeah, yeah, she didn't win the presidency. But I wasn't wrong about the country. Nearly 54% of voters rejected Trump. And a plurality supported Clinton by far.  
Trump won because the Founders created a fucked-up system to make slave states feel wanted because conservatives have always thrown a fit if you don't just accept their ignorance. We can delude ourselves and say that "in their wisdom" the Founders created the Electoral College as a way to put the brakes on the election of a vile blithering idiot with dictatorial aspirations. But it's that very system that has gotten us to this point.
And the kicker, which is an actual, honest-to-FSM ACTION that addresses the desperate pleas I've made the last two days, which agreeing with me about the reason said action just ain't gonna happen:

(If Clinton truly wanted to fight, she'd take Lawrence Lessig's advice and go after the constitutionality of the apportionment of the electors. Republicans would do it in a heartbeat if the electoral and popular vote were reversed. But Democrats never fight like that. The GOP is throwing sand in our eyes and stomping us while we're wondering why the ref doesn't call a penalty.) 

Fuck yes, Mr. Papa. Welcome back to the good fight.