Looking for silver linings

I just love elections, even when they go sour (and I’ve been on the shitty end of quite a few). I could — I suppose — blame Theodore H White, and that purplest-prose opening bit of The Making of the President:

themakingofthepresident1960It was invisible, as always.

They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that Nixon had five votes certain — and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort, for Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable  — invisible.

By the time the candidate left his Boston hotel at 8:30, several million had already voted across the country-in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible, but it was certain that at this hour the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic if it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world-the power to mar- shal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal-all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.

That gets me, every time, from the initial “It”.

1960 wasn’t my first experience of US Presendential elections: that would be my Dear Old Dad tuned to AM-crackly, fading, AFN for the first Eisenhower election in 1952. On the other hand, in 1960 JFK was the New Kid on the Block.

So this one is my fifteenth. And I’m following it closer than ever, because I’m able to, now all is so much more cyberspatially-immediate.

Things may, for the moment, seem to be a “done deal”, though yet another October Surprise may pop out of the woodwork.

Here, then, is Ryan Grim (by name and nature as “Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post”) with a nice speculation:

If Donald Trump does what he claims he does to women, he’s guilty of a crime punishable by time in prison. There’s no telling what Trump’s legal fate is over the next few years, but the first chance that the American public will have to cast judgment comes at the ballot box.

And that judgment holds the potential to be devastating: The American people are within striking distance of delivering the most brutal rejection of a major party candidate in U.S. history. 

That title is currently held in the modern era by Democrat George McGovern, who won 37.4 percent of the vote in 1972 against Richard Nixon, a defeat so thorough that it marked the beginning of the end of the liberal wave that had begun with FDR and the New Deal. 

Trump, according to HuffPost Pollster’s analysis, is now pulling in 42.5 percent of the vote. That was before he was caught on audio boasting about his penchant for sexual assault. 

Trump supporters can do their part in driving Trump down to 37 percent by abandoning him in droves, as at least some elite Republicans are starting to do. But there’s also a role for people who were planning on sitting this one out because the Democratic alternative is less than inspiring, or because they don’t live in a swing state. 

Helping make Trump the biggest loser in American history doesn’t require you to vote for Hillary Clinton. A vote for anybody other than Trump ― Green Jill Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson, writing in your own name ― drives down Trump’s overall national percentage by driving up the total turnout.

White that’s not, but I’d never made the connection between the doomed run of George McGovern and “the end of the liberal wave”. The more we have learned about Trump’s character and attitudes, the more welcome the Grim humiliation of >37.5% seems.

I’ve just spent a fortnight in New York City, the well-burnished bits of commuter New Jersey, with a side trip up to the north end of Long Island. What it revealed, from the lawn banners and vehicle decals, was a remarkable social divide. Benign, intellectual, prosperous, leafy Essex County, NJ, is awash with Hillary ephemera. Not too far away, in the harder-scrabble neighbourhoods, Trumpery gets a showing. Similarly, there is a vast political chasm in the bare couple of miles between East by Northeast (bring your wallet and own company) and Montauk’s The Dock (which I recommend for beer and conversation).

All is changed, changed utterly …

When White wrote the first Making of the President (and his own reputation), the Democratic Party was a strange beast, and involved in a strange metamorphosis:

The Democrats were not divided on these issues of the future, of war and peace, as a fortnight later the Republicans were to be. By unspoken consensus, they were united on foreign policy and defense. What divided them were matters of the past, the emotions that reached into the origins of America rather than into the whither of America. They were divided on the relations of white and black, and divided on the attitude of Protestant and Catholic…

In amateur of days another dominant note was struck by the mysterious process of common press observation. From the sounds and sights, from the hundreds of lost and milling faces in the Biltmore, the press distilled a swift truth that was a remarkably accurate historic assessment: that this was the convention where the young faced the old, this was the convention where one generation gave way to another, this was — in James Reston’s felicitous phrase — the assembly that witnessed the Changing of the Guard.

[Chapter 6, page 154 in my text]

That all seems bizarre from our present stand-point: the South is hard-line Republican. Despite all his inanities and insanities, Trump will carry Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee. Not too long ago:

In 1950, the GOP had no senators from the South and only two congressmen in a Southern delegation of 105. Over the previous fifty years, it had mustered only eighty victories in 2,565 congressional races — and fifty of these victories took place in just two districts in east Tennessee. The Republicans had alienated the region during the Civil War, and had been widely blamed for the Great Depression. “I’ve never seen such shitasses in my life”, was Sam Rayburn’s verdict in 1933, after meeting some Wall Street Republicans. For their part, the Democrats had both defended Southern segregation and poured resources into the region through the New Deal, cajoling Northern taxpayers into paying for huge dams and roads.

[Micklethwait and Wooldridge: The Right Nation, page 52]

Even, more recently ago (when that cited book was published in 2004) its authors were predicting that the US would not be just “the Right Nation”, but was going to remain so. Ahem!

So, to a personal conclusion:

I’m wondering whether this 2016 Election is equally a turning-point, perhaps and much as 1964 and LB Johnson’s signing the Civil Rights Act and losing the South “for fifty years”.

Certainly neither major Party can continue to stand where it does. After the Obama revolution (the 44th President wasn’t born when JFK became President: he goes into “retirement” aged just fifty-five), we have reverted to older — and self-evidently uninspiring and unoriginal — candidates for both Parties. Notably, the main opposition to Hillary Clinton sprang from an even earlier generation — a 75-year-old “democratic socialist”. The Trump insurgence exploited a bewildered generation or two of workers whose wages have been frozen for decades — for them, neo-liberal economics has been a total and continued disaster. While my grandson struggles with  a school essay on the 19220s and quotes Coolidge on the chief business of the American people is business, we have to wonder — in a global age — what “business” is exclusively American any more.

Therefore will necessarily be a major reconstruction job for both parties in the next few terms. It might be helped by set-backs to the GOP in the Senate and House — thus releasing a few minds to look for the way ahead, and hopefully a more liberal one (especially if the Democrats are pre-occupied with the pragmatics of delivering).

One last thought: Obama had never held national office before he was elected to the US Senate in November 2004. Four years later, he was President-elect. We should be scanning the new intake.

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Filed under Elections, History, United States, US Elections, US politics

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