Friday, November 11, 2016

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Kentucky's State Flag
There are four states in our union that aren't technically states; they are commonwealths. My home state of Kentucky is one. From legal and constitutional standpoints, there's essentially no difference.

But I like the older term. To call yourself a commonwealth serves as a constant reminder of why we joined together politically in the first place. The role of government, at all levels, is to ensure the public welfare, the good of the community, the "common wealth" of the republic.

The Kentucky state flag reminds reminds us of our commitments to one another, not just by reminding its residents of their commonwealth status, but by reinforcing it through the sate motto, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." Certainly an inspiring notion, that we can do more together than we can do alone. And even for someone like me who is a true believer in enlightened self-interest, I have come to recognize that my self-interests are often best served though collaboration and compromise.

These symbols of my home state -- or home commonwealth, I should say -- have resonated with me in the wake of this contentious presidential election. As of this writing, Michigan and New Hampshire are yet to be called, but it looks as though Donald Trump will win 306 electoral college votes to Hillary Clinton's 232. And for the second time in the past five election cycles, a Democrat will lose the presidential race despite winning the popular vote.

Those circumstances alone make the necessary legitimizing of a presidential election difficult, but the process of unification that typically follows elections will be that much harder given the pugnacious personality of President-Elect Trump. Still, some measure of coming together to serve the common good is necessary if we are to make any progress as a nation.

During his campaign, Trump insulted an astounding number of people, including Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, and women. All of these groups responded to this vitriol in the voting booth, leaning heavily toward Clinton -- except for white women, whom Trump astonishingly won by 10 points.

Now many of these minority groups have genuine fears following Trump's victory. They are unsure if he will follow through with his rhetoric. Will they be deported? Will they be harassed by police? Will they maintain control over their bodies and their independence? You can't expect groups who feel stripped of basic human dignity to align behind a president who has scorned them so viciously.

For those not directly targeted by some of Trump's ugly remarks, there's still good reason to have serious concerns about a his presidency. Trump has been incredibly vague on many issues. We have some inkling about what he may do, but beyond a hard-line immigration stance and the promise to undo several "terrible" deals -- most involving trade, some involving treaties, and one regarding the ACA -- it's genuinely hard to say what his actual policies are.

Despite these worries, I think Hillary Clinton was absolutely correct in her concession speech:
We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought, but I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.
Trump won. He will be the next president. We have to move forward together. But in order to do that, it's going to require some concessions from Clinton voters and some self-reflection for those on team Trump.

For liberals, we can't continue to imply either implicitly or explicitly that all Trump supporters are bigots. There exist vast swaths of working class people in rural areas and in the Rust Belt in particular who have struggled economically for decades with no substantial relief. A lot of Trump voters weren't particularly fond of him, but they were desperate to the point of trying something -- anything -- different.

For conservatives, you have to admit that Trump either is a racist, a sexist, and a xenophobe, of that he had no problem saying racist, sexist, and xenophobic things to win votes. Yes, not all Trump voters are bigots, but there is no question that some of them are. And for those who overlooked those flaws in your candidate and voted for him anyway, you have to understand that he's a package deal. You don't get to sweep that under the rug. That bigotry comes with him, and his election marks at least a tacit approval of this dehumanizing behavior by a majority of U.S. citizens.

Put simply, that shit ain't cool.

We have to put a lid on this hurtful, hateful, and wholly unnecessary rhetoric. Stopping the bigoted speech and behavior must start at the top, but all of us -- Trump voters especially -- have a responsibility reign this ugliness in. This plea isn't one of political correctness, it's one of basic human decency. To me, and to many Americans, this marks a nonnegotiable starting point, and frankly, it's not exactly a huge ask.

Assuming Trump steps in this direction, I'm willing to reluctantly and begrudgingly give him a shot -- which, by the way, is more than most Republicans did for Obama. Still, you can damn well bet that I'll be watching closely, as we all should. I seriously doubt that a Trump administration will lead to the apocalyptic hellscape so many liberals now fear -- at least not immediately, since inaction on climate change won't swallow Florida and our coastal cities into the sea for a few decades. But if this campaign has taught us anything, it's that it's hard to say what Trump will do next.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rubio wins Iowa

Ted Cruz is my worst case scenario. I disagree with him on virtually every issue: his unwillingness to support any gun safety laws, his conflation of codifying Christianity with religious freedom, his opposition to gay marriage, his dogged attack on the Affordable Care Act, his proposed 10 percent flat tax (which would drive up the debt), his support of returning to the gold standard, his fight against net get the point. Every issue.

But I'm a liberal Democrat, so it's not unusual for me to be opposed to a Republican candidate's platform. What I find particularly distasteful about Cruz is the man himself, specifically his demeanor and his motives. He artfully packages his ideas ("Restore the Constitution) with total disregard for the truth value of his statements and his platform. According to Politifact, 67 percent of his claims are mostly false or outright lies.

While sad, that record is not particularly shocking. Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay once famously stated,  "I would rather be right than president." Cruz would rather be president than right.

His arrogance and egotism is excessive even for a presidential candidate. These are among the many reasons he's so hated by the Republican establishment in D.C. He's masterfully ridden an anitestablishment wave to brand his record -- which lacks legislative accomplishment and is characterized largely by contrarian temper tantrums and government shutdowns -- as something worthy of praise.

I would literally vote for any living human being rather than Cruz. Many Republicans feel the same way. Unfortunately, the most likely alternative is Donald Trump, who is equally hated, particularly among the intellectual branch of the party -- and I'm being generous with the word "intellectual" since this branch includes Glenn Beck and a host of other William F. Buckley wannabes.

On the Republican side, the media portrayal leading up to Iowa was almost entirely framed as Trump vs. Cruz. I can't say I blame these reporters. Who could resist such a narrative? The question was never who was better, simply who was less worse: Which devil do you want to dance with? The story had legs.

Thankfully, the Iowa caucus goers had legs too, and they used them, stepping to the tune of a record-setting turnout. In the final count, Cruz won the day. This morning, major media outlets trumpeted Cruz as the victor in his epic showdown with Trump. My initial reaction was, "Well, shit." Then my memory of recent history kicked in.

The Republican Party has been in disarray after the failures of George W. Bush's presidency. The Republicans haven't fully come to terms with it. They've distanced themselves from Bush to some extent, and the former president's absence at the last two Republican conventions has been noticeable. But exactly how to frame the narrative of the Iraq war and the Great Recession still remain major obstacles.

Iowa's voting record has reflected this identity crisis. John McCain, the eventual nominee in 2008, placed fourth in the Iowa Caucus, carrying only 14 percent of the vote. In 2012, Rick Santorum slightly edged the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. In short, a Cruz victory in Iowa may mean little, especially considering his unpopularity in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But chaos in the Republican Party isn't he only major political development over the last decade. The increased flow of money into politics, thanks in part to the Citizens United v. FEC ruling, will likely extend the primary season -- yet another reason to dislike the ruling. The growing influence of campaign donations is so vast that The New York Times has actively begun covering "the Money Race."

This race matters, and even more so now. While victory in Iowa may not mean much, abject defeat certainly does. Among Republicans, Jeb Bush has raised the most -- nearly twice as much as the next highest fundraiser, Cruz. Unfortunately for Bush, his campaign is faltering fast; he captured just 2.8 percent of the Iowa vote.

Marco Rubio, expected to finish somewhere in the teens, managed a strong third place showing, tying Trump in the number of delegates secured. Perhaps most important, he appears to have solidified his stance as the most plausible establishment candidate, increasing the likelihood that rank-and-file Republicans will back him moving forward. Donors eager to support a more mainstream conservative are likely to view him as the last great hope for this election cycle, meaning we'll probably see an influx of campaign contributions flow toward Rubio as donors abandon less plausible candidates.

While Cruz technically won the Iowa caucus, Rubio's strong finish is more consequential. If recent history holds, he'll make gains in states with fewer evangelical and social conservatives but more fiscally minded and, for lack of a better word, sane Republicans. With 100 percent of the vote tallied, I'm declaring Rubio the true victor in Iowa.