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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Do We Need a Recall Process?





I just undertook a relatively spontaneous week to detox from a number of things... I did a three day news cleanse (no food), a six day overall nutrition cleanse (no non-plant-based and few processed foods), a five day liver cleanse (no alcohol), and a week-long brain cleanse (no politics, and especially, no Trump!).


I pulled it off somehow, but in the same way I came back from those cleanses somehow not craving meat, cheese, carbs, fat, and alcohol, I find myself today returning to the internet with still very little desire to read or watch anything about politics and can't even look at Trump's face. We'll see if I can ease my way back into it, and if I can't, I might turn this blog back into its original topic -- the consolidation of industry, money, and power in this country, which did get some attention a week or so ago.


After getting back to the news late last night, the only thing that stood out to me (beyond the hurricanes) was Ta-Nahisi Coates' latest piece for the Atlantic on race relations:
In a recent New Yorker article, a former Russian military officer pointed out that interference in an election could succeed only where “necessary conditions” and an “existing background” were present. In America, that “existing background” was a persistent racism, and the “necessary condition” was a black president. The two related factors hobbled America’s ability to safeguard its electoral system. As late as July 2016, a majority of Republican voters doubted that Barack Obama had been born in the United States, which is to say they did not view him as a legitimate president. Republican politicians acted accordingly, infamously denying his final Supreme Court nominee a hearing and then, fatefully, refusing to work with the administration to defend the country against the Russian attack. Before the election, Obama found no takers among Republicans for a bipartisan response, and Obama himself, underestimating Trump and thus underestimating the power of whiteness, believed the Republican nominee too objectionable to actually win. In this Obama was, tragically, wrong. And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon. It is as if the white tribe united in demonstration to say, “If a black man can be president, then any white man—no matter how fallen—can be president.” And in that perverse way, the democratic dreams of Jefferson and Jackson were fulfilled.
The American tragedy now being wrought is larger than most imagine and will not end with Trump. In recent times, whiteness as an overt political tactic has been restrained by a kind of cordiality that held that its overt invocation would scare off “moderate” whites. This has proved to be only half true at best. Trump’s legacy will be exposing the patina of decency for what it is and revealing just how much a demagogue can get away with. It does not take much to imagine another politician, wiser in the ways of Washington and better schooled in the methodology of governance—and now liberated from the pretense of antiracist civility—doing a much more effective job than Trump.


Coates is right -- Trump's "appeal" (as it were) has been to white resentment, and his voters love it. Racism is still rampant, and today it's more apparent than it had been in a couple of decades.


However, I'm not 100% discouraged -- 10 months ago, we came 70,000-odd votes from electing a Democrat for the third term in a row since the '40s. The Obama presidency was an incredible success, and without Republican cheating that involved serious treachery, some missteps by the FBI, and/or voter suppression, Hillary Clinton is in the White House, with a mandate to build on Obama's accomplishments. Frankly, we were within reach of having as many as eight Democratic terms in the White House in a row. During that span since 1992, each Democrat that has won has done so fairly easily:


  • 1992: Clinton by 5.8 million votes and 202 electoral votes
  • 1996: Clinton by 8.2 million votes and 220 electoral votes
  • 2008: Obama by 9.5 million votes and 192 electoral votes
  • 2012: Obama by 5 million and 126 electoral votes


While not so for the Republicans:


  • 2000: Bush *lost* the popular vote and won by 5 electoral votes
  • 2004: Bush by 3 million votes and 35 electoral votes
  • 2016: Trump *lost* the popular vote by 2.9 million votes and won by 77 electoral votes (and many of those states when to him by tiny margins)


Prior to 1992, Reagan-Reagan-Bush slaughtered their Democratic opponents. So, while he Republicans have gotten very openly racist again and it certainly helps them among whites, they're still trending downwards at the presidential level to the point that when they do win, it's always controversial (and two of those three elections were definitely stolen and a third very suspicious).


When Democratic Presidents have been elected since 1992, they stayed in office relatively easily for two terms. Both Clinton and Obama won reelection by at least 5 million votes. They entered office popular, endured insidious beatdowns by the Republicans that hurt their approval ratings for a stretch of their presidency, but left office fairly popular (and in Obama's case, much more shortly after).


Republicans lose their shine within months of the beginning of their terms (Bush was in the low 40s on September 10, 2001, and Trump is historically unpopular for someone this early.


Additionally, two of those narrow three Republican "wins" happened on the back of a sudden spike in a political environmental factor favoring them. 2004 was really a war year and also would've gone against Bush if it weren't for the groundswell against gay marriage (yes, that was really a thing!) because of anti-gay marriage legislation on the ballots in many states. In 2016, the Comey letter torpedoed Clinton unexpectedly for two weeks. It's been said by Nate Silver and others that Clinton would've won had the election been held on October 25th. I'd also assert that if the election had been held on November 25th (which is an egregious counterfactual because that wasn't a Tuesday, but it works rhetorically), she would've won, as well. The Comey "retraction" happened on November 6th and never got time to register with voters.


Nothing in particular happened at the last minute to tilt Clinton to reelection in 1996 or Obama in 2012, and the 1992 and 2008 recessions turned elections that were already leaning towards the Democrat into a Democratic landslide.


The trend appears to be in our favor. The problem is, that unlike in in many other countries (and a number of U.S. states), we lack the ability for the to recall a President at the popular level. The end result is that the length of a President's term has no ability to correlate with a President's long-term job performance and a premium is placed more on the equivalent of a political insulin spike rather than keeping the populace properly fed (both literally and figuratively) over a longer span of time. To use a metaphor that's morbidly apropos, the odds of a Republican hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. are less likely than a nice spell of Democratic sunny days, but the citizens on the coast get the exact length of time to rebuild their homes as the hurricane does to destroy them. That's not a recipe for much, if any, new construction. Or, in the real world, constructiveness. It's a wonder we ever make any progress at all. It would be really helpful if we could shorten the length of those storms. 2020 and 2024 will tell us whether our political oceans are cooling (going "blue") or warming (going "red"). If we had a way to fix our impulsive mistakes in the middle of a term, I think we'd be far better off. I'd posit that there'd be a good chance Trump would be recalled if there were a recall election held today.


In the meantime, I find myself wondering whether, as one person who values his sanity, I should ride this out in the storm cellar with less awareness of what's going on in the rest of the world, or whether I should stay above ground trying to scream for someone to save me ("Barack? Mr. Comey? Mr. Mueller? Frau Merkel?") while watching the debris fly dangerously close to my brain...