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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Two Mornings After

Two questions are on everyone's mind this week: how did this happen? and what will it mean?  Let me begin with the first.

The story played by the media so far--that Trump was elected by an extraordinary surge of white voters--is only a half truth.  In the aggregate, as my older son pointed out to me yesterday morning, who did not vote was more important than who did.  Turnout was way down this year, and Donald Trump earned only half a million votes more than Mitt Romney did in 2012 across the nation.  Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, secured nearly 3 million votes less than Barack Obama.  The fear that I and so many others enunciated as much as a year and a half ago, before Donald Trump emerged, came true: Clinton simply was unable to keep the Obama coalition alive, particularly among black people and youth.  Because black Democrats voted more heavily than young ones in primaries, she won the nomination, but neither category voted in sufficient numbers to elect her.   She was the candidate of the professional class and the intellectual and media elite.  It wasn't enough.

A look at the critical states, however, shows a somewhat different story.  48 hours ago, we thought that the election would be decided in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio,. Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire.  Had that prediction held true, Clinton would be clinging to an electoral majority of 2 thanks to a lead of about 3,000 votes in New Hampshire, having lost all the other states--a possibility that I took very seriously on election day.  Unfortunately, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had to be added to the mix.  In Wisconsin Clinton's failure to turn out Obama voters undoubtedly cost here the state: Trump and Romney's totals were almost identical but she ran 240,000 votes behind Obama in 2012.  Something similar happened in Michigan, where Trump got 167,000 more votes than Romney but Clinton drew 205,000 fewer than Obama.   Iowa also showed this pattern, as Trump gained only 71,000 votes--not enough to have beaten Obama's total--while Clinton lost 165,000.  But Pennsylvania was somewhat different story.  While Romney had 2.612 million votes, Trump had 2.913 million, barely enough to have beaten Obama's total in 2012.  Clinton  ran behind Obama but by only 62,000 votes.  Trump also won enough new votes in Ohio to have beaten Obama's 2012 total, but once again, Clinton's total fell 380,000 votes short of Obama's, while Trump beat Romney's vote by just 178,000.  Florida, along with Pennsylvania, is the second state where a surge of Trump voters undoubtedly changed the result--both Trump and Clinton increased their party's vote by six-figure margins but Trump's increase was much larger.  II Clinton had matched Obama's vote totals in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, she would have secured 32 more electoral votes, but that would have left her with only 264, 6 votes shy of election.  But had she managed to increase Obama's total by as little as 10,000 votes in Pennsylvania, she would have won.  The Democratic party's racial politics failed to deliver, and with good reason. Clinton expected Hispanics and black Americans to turn out in massive numbers and vote for her simply because she has turned her year with the Children's Defense Fund into a lifetime of service to the poor and dispossessed, and because she is not Donald Trump. It didn't happen.

Trump, therefore, will take office on January 20. What does this mean?

The general on the battlefield, Clausewitz teaches us, must remain calm in the midst of danger, chaos, and uncertainty.  He must keep his head while all around are losing theirs, avoid emotional extremes, and try to grasp the truly critical elements of any situation.  He must also, in my opinion, admit to his own uncertainty.  If you're really smart, I often say, the three words you are not afraid to utter are "I don't know."  And I feel fairly certain that no one, least of all Donald Trump himself, knows what the next four years will look like.

Six weeks ago the New Yorker published a good article by Evan Osnos on Trump's transition team, which had already formed, and its plans.  They apparently want Trump to take a series of immediate steps to indicate a radical break with the past.  The first--also signaled by Paul Ryan in his press conference yesterday--could be the repeal of Obamacare.  House Republicans will undoubtedly pass it yet again in the first ten days or so of January, and in the Senate Charles Schumer, the new Democratic leader, will face his first major test: whether to try to use the filibuster to save it.  That in turn will raise the issue of how many of the Democrats, especially those up for re-election in two years, will join him.  There is certainly a significant chance that the filibuster might be defeated, clearing the way for immediate repeal. Trump will also undoubtedly withdraw some of Obama's executive orders.  Last but hardly least, Newt Gingrich, one of those closest to Trump, told Osnos about plans to embark on a Scott Walker-style war on the rights of federal workers, essentially doing away with civil service protections.  While this would be wildly popular with the Republican base, it may be a bridge too far.

Many pundits, stuck in the denial stage of grief, are hoping that Trump might finally "pivot" to respectability as President.  Certainly by turning moderate he and the Republicans could bring the crisis in our politics to an end and start a new era of US history, but I do not think that will happen.  I see two possibilities.  One is that Trump will simply go along with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and implement the conservative Republican agenda of a new round of tax cuts and some kind of "entitlement reform" that puts a major dent in Medicare and even Social Security, at least for younger generations.  They will also dismantle a good deal of our regulatory structure.  The role of the Justice Department in relation to local police departments will surely change, and I would not be surprised if the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, which has become a Ministry of Truth for institutions of higher learning, was disbanded entirely.  (Alternatively it might focus on the free speech rights of conservative organizations and religious groups on campus.)  All this could be accompanied by another one of Trump's signature proposals,. a big infrastructure program--if the Republican Congress would go along with it. That is a very open question.

The three biggest question marks, I think, are immigration policy, trade policy, and foreign policy, and here the key will be the people whom Trump chooses to appoint to key positions.  Already there is talk about the traditional Republican foreign policy elite making its peace with Trump, and this might easily happen if Gingrich,. as rumored, became the new Secretary of State.  But on immigration Trump's rhetoric has been so heated and his supporters have been so committed that I expect some fairly drastic steps.  Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, may well be deported, and I will not be surprised if immigration from certain Muslim countries is banned--a step well within the President's power.  Trade could easily be handled more subtly.  Trump will be under enormous pressure from our economic elite not to do anything too drastic, and he may find it more convenient to make extravagant rhetorical claims about his success than to actually block imports, just as he has often done in his business career.  There is, of course, no way that he can possibly bring millions of industrial jobs back to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

That raises perhaps the biggest question of all: how will Trump's base react when he betrays their interests, as he will surely do?  And will the Democrats actually be able to make new inroads among t them?  We do not know.  Ultimately, the answer to the puzzle lies within Trump's psyche. If he is simply driven by a narcissistic need for affirmation, he may take the path of least resistance, adopt in practice relatively less radical and disruptive measures, and further entrench our corporate elite while putting the cultural left more on the defensive.  But if he is driven by real hatred stemming from his childhood, as Hitler was, he will undertake truly radical and brutal measures both at home and abroad, with potentially world-historical consequences. Trump, as I have argued, only became a successful businessman, a tv celebrity, and a presidential candidate because of the bankruptcy of our institutions and values.  A sound financial system would have put him out of business decades ago, a healthy culture would have had no place for him, and he would never have been nominated in an age of strong political parties.  We have left ourselves vulnerable to a demagogue like him.  He will decide what the consequences will be.


sglover said...

Since many of the same stellar names and "talents" keep coming up, and there'll be an energized Republican Congress, it looks like the very best we can hope for is a repeat of the years of Bush the Lesser -- but with even less judgement and less restraint. It's hard to even imagine, let alone comprehend.

And I also wonder what the fallout's going to be, when Trump supporters discover that they've been played, and things are no better or even worse. Something tells me that it's not going to spawn an epoch of sober reflection and public-spirited civic engagement.

Gotta say that aside from dismay and free-floating dread, I am deeply, bitterly furious at the inept, dim, cowardly, and always self-dealing Dem establishment. The DNC, the oh-so-clever "counter-intuituive" kiddies at Vox & Slate et al, the dishonest academic mandarins (looking at you, Krugman!), the hangers-on in the Beltway "think" tanks. I don't think that the nomination was "stolen" from Sanders -- yet he was plainly the better candidate, in almost every way. Not merely in terms of policies, but also in terms of persona, integrity, absence of scandal -- electability! I believe that if Sanders had been the nominee we wouldn't be looking at the horrible prospects we are today.

But the "expert" "leadership" of the Democratic Party did their damnedest to derail that chance of doing something sensible, and by means fair and (often) foul they got their way. Backing Sanders became proof of misogyny!!! So when I think of that whole well-connected Beltway gaggle -- and I live in the Beltway -- oh, I can understand completely why somebody might pull the lever for Trump, with glee. (Which I did NOT do, by the way.)

For what it's worth, from talking to Clinton devotees and looking around on the web, it appears to me that believing Dems and professional Dems are doing what they do best -- looking for somebody else to blame. Naturally. Predictably. So of course Clinton's defeat is all because of racism. Or misogyny. Or dumb rednecks who don't know what's good for them. Or wily Russians. Or even -- my favorite -- traitorous Greens, who somehow ruined everything with their half-percent vote totals!

That last is no joke. Check out Krugman's twitter feed. Every liberal's favorite economics mandarin accused the Greens of botching HRC's chances in Florida -- but his accusation is plainly mathematically nonsensical!! Apparently our "Nobel Prize" economists have difficulty comparing numbers and performing subtraction. Clearly we should defer to such wizards. (Krugman seems to have removed all of his remarks for November. Interesting.)

Bozon said...


Very helpful and illuminating post. Re the question they have been asking, and which you explore, how did this happen, it is somewhat surprising that the main line media had been predicting a Clinton victory, then a Trump catch up, then a close race with her victorious. This was based, from what I can tell on polls and statisticians and social scientists.

You had predicted, as you mention, long ago, that in your judgment she would not be able to continue the Obama phenomenon. You had, as I recall, no actual evidence for this excellent hunch.

I have posted some other explanations, regarding the media, on my site as well. I had not thought of some of these.

Isn't it odd, in some ways, that so complex and detailed an examination of what is claimed to be quantitative evidence proved so inaccurate.

Maybe you have thoughts on that.

You mentioned the media account so far of a sudden white surge. Then the question springs to mind, does the concept of a surge make any sense other than as an excuse, or a smoke screen, for inaccurate social science analysis, or, something worse, a bias behind the analysis itself, a controlling of the experts making the analysis themselves?

After all, there may be something to be said for the persuasiveness of polls showing someone favored: such polls themselves might tip the scale of favoritism in that direction.

All the best

Energyflow said...

Hitler's father beat him brutally and he had little job prospects. Trump was a pampered rich kid with a golden spoon in his mouth(gaius julius caesar). Boomer trump is not lost generation adolf(bitter, hate filled). If he does not bring jobs bernie will defeat him in 2020. He wants dodd frank gone, meaming banks unregulated annd more military spending. This is bad. Kill banks, cut military. Infrastructure spending can be made instead of bombs. If he is seen as a con man working for wall street and military industrial complex like Obama then alt right will nominate an Xer who really is a Hitler and a Sanders type from Lenin's example. if the problems really are too big to handle as America's debts and empire are too expensive and system unmanageable hen constitutional convention, seccession movement or civil war seem likely. He could be like yeltsin or gorbie, watching everything collapse. The press in europe and governments are appalled. Populists are winning because neoliberalism and PC ism is not good for majority. Job exports, declining wages, liberalised markets killed middle class. What can bring it back. If Trump doubles the debt, increases unemployment, bank wealth he will lose congress in 2 years and be a lame duck but will have opened a can of worms to previously unthinkable ideas like isolationism, seccession and 2020 could make this election look peaceful.

Gloucon X said...

It could be as simple as Trump represented change and action and Hillary didn’t and that Trump made an emotional connection and and Hillary didn’t. This was a fate that Hillary shares with many other losing candidates: Romney, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Dewey. In each case, the emotional connection missing as was the case for a populist change.

However, barely enough voters were willing to take a chance on a highly unknown quantity resulting in a win by the tiniest of margins in three states. Hillary may have a million vote popular vote margin once all the California votes are counted and Trump’s vote percentage will be below Romney’s 47.3%. Hardly a mandate.

History did unfold in an unprecedented way with regard to the government experience of Trump: He will be a president with none at all. I’m certain that Ross Perot is currently cringing thinking about how he foolishly sabotaged his own 1992 campaign. If Trump has a successful presidency, we could be at the beginning of a new era where both parties are flooded with candidates from outside of the political system.

The election was lost due to mediocre or bad economic results for most Americans under Obama. Now Republicans have the burden of improving the economy enough to keep the loyalty of these Trump voters in those industrial states, otherwise Trump will not be reelected and the republicans will lose the Congress. I think they will drop their ideology and go semi-Keynesian. Look for a lot of unnecessary military spending and dirty energy infrastructure spending. The resulting huge increases in the deficit will be explained away as unimportant--just as they were under Reagan and Bush Jr. We’ve seen this movie before.

sglover said...

About the polling, the always excellent Mathbabe has some pertinent observations:

"The models were plain as day. What the numbers were telling us was that if the polls were right, Clinton would win easily, but if they were underestimating Trump’s support by anywhere near a Brexit-like margin, Trump would win easily. Shouldn’t that have been the headline? Wouldn’t you have liked to have known that? Isn’t it way more informative than saying that Clinton is 98% or 71% likely to win based on some parameter someone plucked out of thin air?"

So it wasn't so much polling per se, but the presentation of it's meaning, that misled people. (Still, you'd think the geniuses of the Democratic Party, or at least their very well-compensated consultants, might have been aware of these subtleties.)

One of the reasons why I quit reading things like the NYT and WaPo and, well, all American "news" sources is that they're pretty consistently incompetent at conveying any quantitative information in a meaningful way. How many articles hang on free-floating "statistics" like, "Study shows coffee drinkers are 50% more likely to die a horrible death"? It's generally nice to know things like population sizes and composition, error bars and so forth, but you'll almost never see that described in a useful way. I often wonder if most journalists have the most basic skills for coping with numbers at all.

Gloucon X's take is spot on:

Look for a lot of unnecessary military spending and dirty energy infrastructure spending. The resulting huge increases in the deficit will be explained away as unimportant--just as they were under Reagan and Bush Jr. We’ve seen this movie before.

Republicans will magically discover that "fiscal sanity" isn't really important and open the spigots. Public works spending has been sorely needed for years, so one can hope -- but these are Republicans, after all. I expect we'll just throw a lot of asphalt around. So a reasonable bet is a pumped up "prosperity" bubble that lasts long enough for a good Republican performance in the 2018 elections. The real rot will show up -- and it'll really show up -- in three years, five, ten.

But I'm not sure that it makes a lot of sense to hang on to our expectations of Republican expectations. In particular, I wonder how much worries about being re-elected will really affect this gang. I think many of them, many more than usual for a political coalition, simply plan to get while the getting's good, and leave the wreckage to somebody else. And who wants to bet that Trump himself will give a damn about four more years in 2020?

Sorry for an overlong comment, but I have to add one more thing. As bad as a Trump presidency looks to be, the man does seem to have put down two political dynasties, and that is no small favor. Today we're treated to a post mortum from HRC herself, and it is a cosmic-scale example of blame-shifting. According to her, it's all Comey's fault!

Consider the arrogance and obtuseness behind this mentality, the sheer inability to learn, and imagine how that would play out dealing with Iran, Syria, Russia. Is it any surprise that we have a Trump presidency now? It almost looks not so bad.

Energyflow said...

good analysis by a prof. Turchin on revolutionary causes, i.e. elite growth, poverty increase, govt. debt increase all which Trump will make worse. 2020 will see the problems much worse as elite trough feeding for money, influence worsen parallel to poverty, scapegoating of minorities, immigrants and democrat constituencies. Blame shifting for failed Trump policies. He is no fair obama. Bait and switch is his game then scapegoat someone else for what he did. As long as he avoids foreign conflict he will have free hand as America is war weary. They will tear each other apart. Left-right wing dichotomy in values, income too great between regions, rural, urban. Demagogue Trump will abuse this. Neo cons were just into corruption, war, finance expansion for hegemony of USA as patriotic system. Those days are over. Trump recognizes America cannot expand like that but believes it has to build up internally somehow but will not find the will or way to remake a peaceful industrial america with a middle class with normative values a la norman rockwell. Debt in all forms is overblown, corruption, poverty, social differences all too great. Cognitive dissonance on a societal level leads to violent eruptions.