While this will not be the topic of my piece today, may I mention that the possibility I have referred to here more than once in the last year--that President Trump will fire Robert Mueller after the midterms--appears to be coming true. I see no other explanation for the decision to replace Jeff Sessions with Republican hack and propagandist Matthew Whitaker. Meanwhile, may I say that I looked into the question of whether the temporary appointment is constitutional, and while the law on the question is as impenetrable as any that I have ever encountered, I'm sorry to say that I don't think it's obvious that it isn't. The President feels vindicated by the election results and confident that that the Republican Party belongs completely to him. Dramatic developments are just over the horizon.
Having gotten that out of the way, I turn now to the overall significance of the election. I don't have the time or energy for a remotely complete analysis, but I have done some research on one key area: turnout. The results were staggering.
In an earlier analysis of the 2016 presidential election, I noted that turnout for both presidential candidates was quite low, and that Hillary Clinton lost because her turnout in critical states was even lower. In my discussion of Doug Jones's victory in Alabama I showed quite conclusively that high Democratic turnout did not elect him--he sits in the Senate because such a gratifying number of Alabama Republicans would not vote for Roy Moore. Low turnout did not however decide any key races this year. Turnout was virtually record breaking in many states.
I checked data in four critical states--Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Georgia--for 2014 and for this year. 5.7 million Floridians cast ballots (in a very close election) in 2014; 8.1 million Florida votes have been counted so far this year, with similarly close results. In Texas the total vote increased by 78%, from 4.6 million to 8.2 million. In Ohio, where the governor's race was less heated and the Senate race was not close, it went from 3.1 million to 4.2 million. And 3.9 million Georgians voted this year, compared to just 2.3 million in 2014--a 70% increase. Donald Trump, clearly, has gotten many millions of Americans more involved in the political process--but on both sides. There were blue and red waves in this election. The blue waves in Texas and Georgia were bigger insofar as Beto O'Rourke and Stacey Abrams did much better than previous Democrats in statewide races in Texas and Georgia--but they were not, it seems, big enough. (A recount may possibly lead to a revote in Georgia but it won't give Abrams a victory.)
The increased turnout, moreover, does not seem to have increased the influence of younger generations. More of them voted, but more of their elders did too. According to the national CNN exit polls in 2014 and 2018, the percentage of voters in the 18-39 age group was almost identical in those two years.
Within their home areas--which include the four states I listed above, even though Florida remains closely divided--the Republicans are as strong as ever. Agricultural areas voted Republican this week even though Trump's trade policies are hurting them. The gender gap in red states was quite small. We remain two Americas, and both sides are quite confident in their values and beliefs.
Much to my surprise, two columns in today's New York Times stated, as clearly as I could have myself, two opposing views of what the election means. They came from the paper of record's longest-serving opinionators, Paul Krugman and David Brooks. Ten years ago I could not have imagined finding myself in agreement with Brooks, rather than Krugman. Now, for reasons that will become apparent, that happens all the time.
Krugman caught much of the nation's eye around 2000 as an unregenerate New Deal Democrat, rather like myself, who called a spade a spade rather than referring to it metaphorically as a shovel during the George W. Bush administration. He wrote frequently about the growth of inequality and nostalgically about the relatively equal economy of our youth. He welcomed the emergence of Barack Obama in 2008. But by 2016--for reasons I do not know--he had changed. He was now an establishment Democrat who, to my horror (and not only mine) argued fervently for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders, whom he dismissed as an unrealistic idealist. In today's column, he repeats, not for the first time, the self-serving claptrap that so many Democrats, alas, are feeding on these days.
Krugman starts with a valid point. The movement of population into urban areas in the last half century has created an extraordinary differential in the population of different states that allows the Republicans to control the Senate with much less than half of the votes cast for Senators. Unfortunately nothing can be done about that, since the Constitution specifically forbids taking equal suffrage in the Senate away from any state without that state's consent. Then, however, he tries to explain Donald Trump's appeal to the Republican party.
"Not to put too fine a point on it: What Donald Trump and his party are selling increasingly boils down to white nationalism — hatred and fear of darker people, with a hefty dose of anti-intellectualism plus anti-Semitism, which is always part of that cocktail. This message repels a majority of Americans. That’s why Tuesday’s election in the House — which despite gerrymandering and other factors is far more representative of the country as a whole than the Senate — produced a major Democratic wave.
"But the message does resonate with a minority of Americans. These Americans are, of course, white, and are more likely than not to reside outside big, racially diverse metropolitan areas — because racial animosity and fear of immigration always seem to be strongest in places where there are few nonwhites and hardly any immigrants. And these are precisely the places that have a disproportionate role in choosing senators."
Now I happen to think that the Alt-Right movement has been a godsend to Donald Trump, but not for the reasons normally advanced. The Alt-Right remains tiny and hardly represents an important bloc of votes. But rather than face up to their own failings and blind spots, Democrats (see below) have chosen to regard the Alt-Right as the backbone of the Republican Party. This is an undeserved insult to many Republicans and they resent it. In fact, although I cannot prove it, I think that resentment of intellectuals and Democrats is much, much stronger among Republicans than resentment of any "darker people." That certainly seems to be what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity think--if you don't believe me, try listening to them for a few minutes any day of the week--and they ought to know. On another front, everyone routinely assumes now that opposition to immigration is simply racism, and thus unworthy of a moral person. I favor immigration, but I also believe that the presence of between 11 and 20 million people with no right to be here in the country represents a huge problem that cannot simply be ignored. (The 20 million figure comes from a recent study by very reputable academics.) Similarly, a liberal Gen X woman of my acquaintance just posted on facebook a graphic showing that a majority of white women in various key states voted Republican, with the caption, "Shameful." It seems to me that liberal women would do well to understand that other women do not owe them agreement on anything.
Krugman, I am sorry to say, has moved in the last 20 years from being an independent left wing voice to very predictable partisan. David Brooks, whom I almost never agreed with about anything until quite recently, has done the opposite. He is utterly disgusted with Donald Trump but almost equally disgusted with the Republican Party, and he sees that neither party is really offering what the country needs, a real platform that could bring us together.
Brooks notes today that large numbers of red state Republicans voted Tuesday to expand Medicaid and raise the minimum wage. Trump's appeal, he argues, relates to both parties' failure to do anything meaningful for the working class for decades. (Trump of course isn't doing much to help them either, unless they work in oil and gas drilling, but he has talked a good game.) he then discusses a new book, The Once and Future Worker, by a certain Oren Cass, which deals with our economy and its discontents. We focus on GDP, Cass argues, without asking hard questions about where gains are going. We give poor people tax breaks (unpopular among Republicans) that help them consume more, but we don't help them produce more. Our whole educational system is designed for the relatively few people go to college and become part of the elite.
Democrats, others have argued, are now, above all, the party of the professional class. "We in the college-educated sliver," Brooks writes, "have built a culture, an economy and a political system that are all about ourselves." That class believes, for the most part, that what's good for the professional class must be good for the country. But that isn't necessarily true at all in law, in medicine, in education, and in my own profession of academia. The professional class believes itself entitled to power because of its superior values and has no use for people who do not share them--as a very impressive Harvard undergraduate just argued in the Crimson. The Democrats won a substantial victory in the House of Representatives and brought out some new voters. To win back the White House, in my opinion, they will need both an impressive new candidate, and some new values.