Searching for common sense in politics

Friday, December 23, 2016

5 Things We Learned from the 2016 Election

The U.S. presidential election of 2016 was unlike any other, and it resulted in a U.S. President-elect unlike any other. So many unusual things happened that it is quite possible that the 2016 election will be what is known as a "realigning election," where things in the world of American politics are never quite the same afterwards.

We will undoubtedly learn many things from 2016, but it will take years to sort out all of those lessons. For now, here are 5 things that are already apparent:

1. The Polls are not Perfect


On the eve of the election, virtually every poll predicted an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. Even the more highly scientific outfits, like fivethirtyeight.com, gave Clinton a 70 percent chance of victory. Even more surprising, of the four possible outcomes (Clinton wins popular and electoral vote, Clinton wins popular vote but loses electoral vote, Trump wins popular and electoral vote, Trump wins popular vote but loses electoral vote) the one that actually occurred (Clinton won popular vote but lost the electoral vote) was considered to be the least likely outcome. Pollsters and politicians will spend the next few years poring over every detail, trying to figure out why the polls were so wrong.

2. Democrats are Hypocrites


During the final presidential debate, Donald Trump declined to say that he would concede defeat if, as expected, Clinton beat him on election night. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats went to town, calling Trump a lunatic and saying that anyone who would not accept the legitimate results of an election was dangerous and untrustworthy. Then they lost, and the script was flipped. Suddenly it was the Democrats calling the election "rigged" and they threw out a litany of reasons why they lost: Comey and the FBI, racist white voters, fake news, Russian interference. The only reason they didn't give was probably the most accurate of all: Clinton was just a lousy candidate.

3. Republicans are Hypocrites, Too


During the primaries, lots of Republican leaders and figureheads said some unsavory things about Donald Trump, from Mitt Romney to Carly Fiorina to Nikki Haley. After his shocking victory, many of those same people have been shamelessly bending over backwards to suck up to the President-elect. On top of that, the same Republicans (including Donald Trump himself) who made claims before the election of the vote being "rigged" are the ones now telling the Democrats to stop whining and accept the results. American politics at it's finest!

4. The Electoral College is in Trouble...Maybe


For the second time in the last 5 election cycles, the winner of the election is not the one who got the most votes. After the election of 2000, there was a lot of talk about how the electoral college was outdated and unnecessary, but that talk died off rather quickly. Now the murmur has resurfaced even more strongly after Donald Trump's shocking and controversial victory. With the Republicans - who were the beneficiaries in both 2000 and this year - in control of the White House and Congress, it's unlikely that Washington will take any action to eliminate or weaken the Electoral College anytime soon. But that won't stop some states from making moves. Expect some changes before the election of 2020.

5. The Election of 2020 Could be Very Interesting


The Democrats are already licking their chops to fix what went wrong in 2016 and go after Donald Trump again. But what will be most interesting about 2020 is what the Republicans do. It was no secret that the GOP establishment was lukewarm, at best, about Trump during his campaign. And although that animosity has subsided somewhat since he won the election, the honeymoon phase will not last forever. Trump is such an unconventional President-elect, and unpredictable person, that it is entirely likely that the establishment will turn against him again before 2020. No incumbent president has faced a serious challenge from his own party since Gerald Ford in 1976. That could change in four years.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Past American Presidents Warned Us About Ourselves

In 2016, America is bitterly divided. That is without question. But, as I wrote last week, America has always been divided, to varying degrees. Much of the division can be attributed to radical partisanship, which has existed since the time of our very first president. And because it is partisanship that decides who our president is, we are always led by a person (so far always a man) who buys into the partisan extremes. We simply go from one extreme to the other.

We didn't have to be this divided
There have been a few (very few) instances of our president trying to warn us about ourselves. I can think of two instances in particular. In both, the president making the "common sense" plea to us was on his way out of office, and therefore did not have to worry about winning any more elections. With the burden of partisanship removed, they were able to freely express their concerns to us.

But we didn't listen, because we only hear what we want to hear.

The only president who was not chosen by party politics was our first, George Washington. But even before he left office, partisanship had begun to take hold in the country. As he prepared to leave the President's Mansion (the White House was not yet finished), he saw the dangers of partisan bickering, and he warned the nation that pursuing that path would lead to major problems.

His warning is included in what is known as Washington's Farewell Address. It is chock full of great advice, none of which we took seriously. Here are some highlights:
Washington warned us to avoid partisanship


  1. Washington warned against political parties putting themselves ahead of the people. He said that they could lead to "the will of a party" being put before "the will of the nation." (Boy, don't we know it.
  2. One of his warnings is absolutely pertinent today as we deal with Russia's election tampering. He said that the "spirit of party...opens the door to foreign influence and corruption." Somebody should have told Putin's puppet Donald Trump and State Department for Sale Hillary Clinton about this.
  3. He also warned against accumulating debt. I don't think I need to explain how much we messed up that advice.
There are many more great nuggets of advice in the address. If we had listened to even some of them, perhaps our history wouldn't be defined by division and bickering.

Another president who warned us, on his way out of town, about our own worst tendencies was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In Eisenhower's Farewell Address, he told Americans to be wary of what he called the "military-industrial complex." He described this as the collaboration between our nation's military and the defense contractors who supply it. When taken together, they add up to a vastly powerful group that can influence public policy.

We ignored Ike's advice
The only evidence you need to see the truth of his warning is the wars that have taken place with little or no justification other than the might of our military.


In addition, Ike, like Washington, warned us against racking up massive public debts. Again, however, the greed of our government overtook common sense and we ignored his advice.

These instances of common sense from presidents points out a vicious "catch-22" that we find ourselves in. If a candidate for president spoke in the way these two men did in their final addresses, that candidate probably would not be elected, because the powerful parties would push them out. It's only when they had nothing left to lose that they could express their fears about our future, and by that time they were largely ignored.

It may not be too late, however, Maybe the deep divide present in 2016 will lead us to reevaluate our process. Maybe the partisan system will lose power and we will begin to listen to Washington's advice, only 220 years late. I doubt it will happen, but maybe there is a glimmer of hope.

What do you think? Comment below.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

America Divided: A Historical Perspective

It's 2016 - 240 years since the USA became an independent nation - and there are signs that America is more divided than ever. There is no better indicator of national division than the presidential election. Here are some tidbits that exemplify the partisan divisions (some figures taken from this Wikipedia article):

1. We've now had eight straight presidential elections where the two major candidates were within 8.5 percentage points of each other. That's the longest streak in history (since the popular vote was first tabulated in 1824).

2. The last five elections have featured two "winners" who lost the popular vote. In the previous 53 cycles, that had happened only three times.

3. It's been almost 30 years (1988), and 7 election cycles, since any presidential candidate gained at least 53% of the popular vote. That ties the longest such stretch, the other being from 1876-1900.

Clearly, presidential elections have been closer for a longer period of time than at any other time in American history. That's probably because a larger proportion of people strictly side with one side or the other (Democrat or Republican), leaving fewer "swing voters" than in the past.

But are we really more divided than ever before? It's tough to say for sure, but probably not.

The first, and most glaring, example of an even greater division is the Civil War (1861-1865). Americans were so divided then that, when Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860, half of the country seceded and we had a bitter and bloody war that cost the lives of 620,000 men. That's almost 2% of the population at the time. If we had a war with a similar casualty rate now, with our current population, it would mean the death of 6.4 million Americans.

We may be divided, but it's safe to say we are not that divided. Let's hope to God we are not so divided that it comes to that ever again.

But there are other examples to be found even in the realm of presidential elections.

The very first time that a candidate won the election despite losing the popular vote was the election of 1824. That year, John Quincy Adams (son of our second president, John Adams) lost the popular vote by a whopping 10 percent to Andrew Jackson. In fact, when the electoral votes were first counted up, Adams even lost that to Jackson. But because Jackson did not win a majority of the electoral votes, the matter was passed to the House of Representatives.

Now, imagine this: the Speaker of the House was Henry Clay, who had also been a candidate for president that year. Let's imagine that scenario in 2016. Let's say that, in addition to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan had also run for president but came in third. And then he ended up being the leader of the body that would decide whether Trump or Clinton won. Crazy, huh?

Clay absolutely hated Jackson, so he made a deal with Adams: he would cobble together enough House votes to make Adams president, and in turn Adams would make Clay the Secretary of State. This arrangement was immediately denounced as a corrupt bargain, and Jackson's supporters spent the next 4 years railing against it and against Adams. (Sound familiar? We could be facing the same thing for the next 4 years). In 1828, Jackson won in a landslide.

We may be divided, but we are not that divided. This year, Donald Trump lost the popular vote, but he did win the electoral college. The election wasn't handed to him in quite the same controversial way that it was handed to Adams, who lost both the popular and electoral votes to Jackson but still moved into the White House.

You think the Democrats are whining now? Just imagine the tweets you would see today if that happened. Imagine that Trump had actually had fewer electoral votes than Clinton, but Gary Johnson had taken a state or two and prevented either from having a majority. And then the vote went to the House, where Paul Ryan struck a deal to make Trump president. Talk about a Twitter meltdown! But that wouldn't happen today, because we are not so bitterly divided that we would allow such a corrupt bargain to go through. Even some Trump supporters would put a stop to that before it happened.

In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden by 3 percent. The first tally of electoral votes left Tilden with 184 and Hayes with 165, with 185 being the magic number needed to win. There were still 20 votes left because four states were in dispute. Both parties claimed victory in each of them. In order for Hayes to win, he would have to pick up all four of the disputed states, which was unlikely.

But, again, a deal was struck, often called the Compromise of 1877. The Democrats agreed to let Hayes have all 20 outstanding votes, and the White House, in return for ending Reconstruction and removing federal forces from the South.

The consequences of this deal were drastic. Democratic officials, many of whom were old Confederates, regained power in the south, and the march to equal rights for blacks was set back almost 100 years.

We may be divided, but we're not that divided. Even the partisan hacks of today would not allow a deal like that to be struck, and I certainly hope we've moved past the point where an entire race would be disenfranchised by a political deal.

It's important to keep things in perspective. Yes, our country is bitterly divided in 2016 along party lines. But it's been worse. The Civil War was a tragedy of division that should never happen again. And the elections of 1824 and 1876 featured similar accusations to the ones flying around today, showing that we've pretty much always been this way.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Russia Did Not Make Trump President, But Ties To Putin Still Alarming

If you follow any political sorts on Twitter, your timeline has undoubtedly been inundated with tweets about Donald Trump being a Russian puppet. There are several reasons for that.

First, during the campaign Trump made no secret of his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Second, one of Trump's closest advisers, Paul Manafort, reportedly has close ties to the Russians.

Third, Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, also has ties to Russia.

Fourth, there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that the Russians tampered with the American election in 2016, possibly to help Trump win.

And there are more, for sure. It's clear that Trump likes the strength of personality that Putin displays, and it's just as clear that some of his closest advisers have some relationships with Russian officials.

This is still politics, so lot of the angst over this is just fear. Liberals and supporters of Hillary Clinton have been terrified of what Trump will do as president since he won the election. Any hint of collusion with Russia plays right into those fears. It also plays into the narrative that Trump only won because the Russians hacked the election. If you're following along, however, this is just the latest "reason" they've given for Hillary losing:

1. Racist Middle Americans
2. Comey
3. Fake news
4. The Russians

Let's just dispel the idea that the Russians cost Hillary the election. They didn't. They did not make Hillary use a personal email server. They did not force Hillary to ignore white Middle-Americans. They did not make Hillary one of the most unlikable candidates ever. The bottom line is that Hillary was a lousy candidate and ran a lousy campaign. Any candidate that was not historically unpopular (perhaps even Joe Biden) would have beaten Trump.

The fact remains, however, that Trump's ties to, and admiration of, Russia are concerning. The common sense position here is that his dealings with Putin and Moscow need to be watched very carefully, and Russia's tampering with the election needs to be investigated fully. The narrative that Trump is nothing but Putin's puppet is extreme and probably a product of fear, but that doesn't mean we should ignore it.
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Carl Bernstein: Trump Less Honest Than Nixon

Carl Bernstein, the reporter who helped break the Watergate story that led to Richard Nixon's downfall, says that Donald Trump has even less regard for the truth than the late disgraced president.

According to Bernstein, Trump "lives and thrives in a fact-free environment."

His statement is true. Ever since he began his campaign for president, Trump has made a habit of ignoring facts and creating his own truth. He even denies saying things that he definitely said, sometimes even on camera.

This certainly is not news to anyone. Not one single American would be surprised to find out that politicians lie, or hide the truth. Hillary Clinton, who Trump beat in the election, is well known for her own brand of pathological untruths.

Clearly, Trump's disdain for acknowledging things that are plain to see is alarming. I'm not ready to say that it makes him dangerous (hell, a president who was addicted to telling the truth would probably be more dangerous) but it is a little scary.

And don't forget to take the source into account. Bernstein has repeatedly railed against Trump, long before he won the election. From that, I presume that he wanted Hillary to win, although I don't know that for sure. But it's clear that Hillary's supporters have still not come to terms with the fact that she lost, and are constantly throwing incredibly dangerous epithets at the man who did win.

Bottom line: we have an incoming president who ignores the truth even more than most politicians, which is decidedly not a good thing. And we have half of a nation who wants him to fail spectacularly. Not a good combination.
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Monday, December 12, 2016

Trump Continues to Ignore Reality, So Do Hillary Supporters

President-elect Trump continues to deny that there is any evidence of Russian tampering in the presidential election. Now, he's taking it a step further, denying that the issue was even brought up before election day.

I know politicians make a living on being less than truthful, but come on! Trump literally discussed this very issue during the final debate. Does he really think we've all just forgotten that? Or is he so delusional that he actually forgot?

Embarrassing.

It's telling that even many Republican politicians are agreeing that the possible Russian hacks need to be investigated. Any reasonable person would look at all of the information coming in and say, "Yeah, we should probably take a look at it." But we all know that our President-elect is not a reasonable person.

Now, that's not to say that the other side is completely honorable here. Millions of Hillary supporters are using this development as an excuse to say that Trump is an illegitimate president. So they, too, are ignoring reality. Even if Russia interfered, that is not what caused Hillary to lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Clearly, the shock of the election still has not worn off. The losing side just can't come to grips with the fact that they lost. And the winner still can't come to grips with reality.
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Who the Hell is Rex Tillerson?

Like the rest of America, I have no idea what to make of Donald Trump's pick of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.

What we know is that Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the world and one of the biggest companies of any kind.

The list ends there.

What we don't know is how that qualifies him to be the country's chief diplomat, or how he feels about foreign affairs, or how he wants to handle our allies and adveraries around the world.

It has been reported that Tillerson has close ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin. That certainly doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I'm flabbergasted by this pick. Not only is Tillerson a complete unknown, but it already appears that his confirmation hearings will be contentious.

This is vintage Trump, to be sure: going with his gut over anything else. He operated as the quintessential anti-politician during his campaign, so in that sense this is fitting. Even with that knowledge, though, this is a shocking pick.


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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trump An Unpopular President-elect

A new poll shows that Donald Trump is less popular at this point in his presidential transition than most of his predecessors.

Does that really matter? No, probably not.

Presidential approval polls fluctuate wildly within an administration. Check out this chart, showing just the first year of the administrations of recent presidents, which I took from this site:


Bill Clinton was wildly unpopular early in his presidency - leading to the Republican sweep of 1994, but he enjoyed sustained approval ratings in the 60's throughout most of his second term.

Ronald Reagan's approval ratings took a huge tumble around the time of the Iran-Contra Affair, but he ended up leaving office with one of the highest ratings of any outgoing president.

George W. Bush had record high ratings after 9/11, and then record low ratings in the last year or two of his presidency (at points, even lower than Nixon's when he resigned).

The fact that Trump is so low before his term even begins is just another sign of how divided the country is. We are in an era of bitter partisanship, and I doubt we'll see any extremely high or low ratings in the near future - unless something like 9/11 happens again.

So don't put too much stock in approval ratings right now. They only really matter when it's election year.
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Friday, December 9, 2016

How Do You Feel About Trump's Cabinet Picks


How do you feel about Trump's cabinet picks?

They're great!
Meh, okay, I guess
Not impressed
Frankly, I'm scared
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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Shocker: Recounts Not Changing Anything

The recount effort, which I believe is nothing more than a vehicle to make Hillary Clinton feel a little better about herself, is apparently not making any significant changes to the election results.

What a shock!

I was able to catch up with Hillary after she heard the news about the fruitless recount, and took a picture of her reaction, shown to the right.

That's completely false. I got that picture off the internet.

And, while I'm telling the truth, the recount probably has nothing to do with Hillary's ego. It's just as likely that it's an ingenious plan by the Green Party to bring in a decent chunk of money, which they usually have an incredibly hard time raising. And it's even remotely possible that somebody just wants to make sure that there wasn't any fraud - even though there hasn't been a single shred of evidence indicating that there was.

But it's way more fun to imagine Hillary just wanting more attention, so I'm sticking to that story.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Branstad a Possible Pick for China Ambassador

There are reports that President-elect Donald Trump is picking Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for the post of Ambassador to China.

That position will be a critical one in the wake of Trump's controversial phone conversation with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-Wen.

The Washington Post reported that Branstad has a personal friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing in the grand scheme of things, but at least it could help smooth over the fracas caused by Trump's Taiwan call.

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Trump Meets Gore; May Govern From Center

Earlier this week, Donald Trump met with former Vice President Al Gore to discuss the issue of climate change.

This development is just another in the strange saga of the Trump transition. He has proven that he has no problem meeting with former adversaries despite backlash from his supporters. And now he has chosen to meet with the figurehead of an issue that he once called a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

This all confirms my belief that you never really know how candidates-turned-presidents are going to turn out. In addition to the list in the linked post, I could also add Barack Obama. When Obama moved into the White House, he was regarded as a sort of liberal hero. He then proceeded to govern mostly from the center.

I think it is a natural tendency for Presidents to move toward the center when they take office. They go from trying to secure and excite their base (while picking up just enough swing voters to win the election) to actually having to govern a country of immensely varied people and interests. It's only natural for them to try to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.

So, as I've said repeatedly, we still have no idea how the Trump Presidency will turn out, but I have to admit that I'm impressed by his willingness to go beyond his campaign rhetoric.


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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Trump Widens Secretary of State Search

President-elect Donald Trump has broadened his search for a Secretary of State beyond Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and the small group that he was originally believed to be considering.

Here is a quick rundown of each of the rumored contenders:

Mitt Romney

Nominating Romney would seem to be a sign of Trump offering an olive branch to the moderate, establishment wing of the Republican Party. Just the fact that he is even (reportedly) considering Romney is one of the strongest signs that Trump is willing to govern more from the center than originally thought. It still would surprise me if Romney would even be interested in the post, unless he is desperate to restore his image. I suspect this whole thing, and the two meetings between the two men, is about something else entirely.


Rudy Giuliani

I don't know why Trump would nominate Rudy, other than to repay him for his loyalty and support. Giuliani has no foreign policy experience, and nominating him would excite almost nobody, except maybe a few New Yorkers who remember the 90's, or hardcore Trump fans who loved watching Giuliani's rants on Fox News during the election.


David Petraeus

Nominating Petraeus would be nothing more than Trump trying to prove once again that he will do whatever he wants, regardless of the conventional wisdom. Petraeus really brings nothing to the table except controversy. I doubt he would even get through the Senate confirmation, with Democrats hating him and Republicans being wary of him. That last point might actually be the strongest indicator that Trump is seriously considering him. There's nothing Trump likes more than to prove people wrong.


Bob Corker

Corker would be a good pick if Trump wants to cozy up to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. He is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which qualifies him for the position as much as any of the other contenders, and certainly more than some (see: Giuliani, Rudy). I wonder if that is the only reason that Trump has considered him. It doesn't appear that he is wildly excited about Corker. This seems to be more of a "by the book" consideration. Or maybe Trump is not considering Corker at all, but the rumors have just surfaced because of Corker's position. Sometimes the media creates "contenders" for positions when they are not getting enough real ones.


John Bolton

Bolton was the Ambassador to the UN under George W. Bush, which makes him a qualified candidate. However, he was so unpopular with Democrats that Bush had to make him a recess appointment because he would not have been confirmed otherwise. He might be the polar opposite of John Kerry. He is a strong nationalist who is not crazy about the UN. He certainly will not get the support of many, or any, Democrats, and even some Republicans may oppose him, which would make it difficult to get him confirmed. Plus, he looks like the curmudgeonly old man next door.

Jon Huntsman

Huntsman is a moderate Republican, like Romney, but he may be more palatable to Trump's base. He also has extensive foreign policy experience, as he has been the Ambassador to both Singapore and China. Perhaps he could share his China expertise with Trump and help avoid further embarrassments like the Trump Taiwan call, although he said that Trump was right to take the call. Huntsman was appointed the Ambassador to China by Obama, and he showed a willingness to work with Democrats as a governor, so his confirmation might be an easy one.


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Monday, December 5, 2016

The Reasons Behind Trump's Taiwan Call Could Tell Us A Lot

I honestly have no idea if Trump (and his team) are just so incompetent that they didn't realize the diplomatic ramifications of having a phone conversation with Taiwan's President, or if they intentionally chose to buck 40 years of protocol. The answer to that, though, could tell us a whole lot about how the next 4 years are going to go.

If it was incompetence, we could be in trouble. This is a President-elect, and an incoming administration, who does not seem to be wildly interested in learning the intricacies necessary to lead a superpower. This is mostly the same group that couldn't even notice that Melania's convention speech blatantly copied parts of a past Michelle Obama speech. That kind of incompetence would be a frightening trait for the leader of the free world. I wouldn't be totally shocked if Trump was not even aware of the volatility in Asia surrounding the China/Taiwan relationship. It's not like he's gone out of his way to surround himself with seasoned foreign policy professionals who could bring him up to speed on delicate matters such as this.

If he intentionally wanted to throw the political and diplomatic worlds into a tizzy, it's tough to say if that is a good or bad thing. Everything about Trump is different than what we've seen in modern political times. Trump was such an unconventional candidate that it was impossible to judge him using long-accepted metrics, which is what made his electoral victory so shocking. The prevailing theory, based on those metrics, was that he would lose the election badly, but he won. Now, he could be proving to be such an unconventional president that the same logic applies. There's no way for us to know, at this time, if his unprecedented style will pay off or cost us dearly.

I certainly hope this was a calculated risk by the Trump team. Even though it remains to be seen whether that kind of unconventional style will reap benefits, at least it's better than being woefully unprepared.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Michigan AG Challenges Recount In Court

According to CNN, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has challenged the Jill Stein/Hillary Clinton recount, saying Stein's request is frivolous.

I agree. What exactly is Stein trying to prove? At best, a few thousand more votes switch to Clinton's side instead of Trump's. At the absolute most - and this is extremely unlikely - Michigan's 16 electoral votes all shift to Clinton. Even then, the result of the election remains the same.

So, why recount? Why waste millions of dollars and manhours? I still maintain that it's just a way to stroke Hillary's ego and make her feel a little bit better about herself.

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