The Ides of November, 2020

It turns out that we are not better than this…

A common refrain over the past four years has been that Donald Trump is not America… America is better than this.

Well, despite having had four years to get to know Trump, despite seeing almost a quarter of a million people die in part because of a bungled response to a pandemic, and despite widespread corruption and chaos in the Trump administration, over 10 million more people voted for Trump in 2020 than did in 2016.

This means that almost half (47%) of US voters decided that Trump was a better choice than just about the most experienced, decent and moderate Democrat imaginable.

And that Trump’s amorality, immorality, childish behaviour, lies, incompetence, bullying, misogyny, racism, cruelty, nepotism, and crass boorish rudeness were all as a practical matter irrelevant to almost half of US voters. They either did not care, or did not know, or felt that the ends (Republican control of government) justified the means (Trump).

Bottom line: this is who almost half of us are. Any analysis of where the US is going and what needs to be done needs to start by recognising these facts.

…and we are not going to get better anytime soon.

There are various reasons why people voted for Trump in 2020, which can be broken down into four basic groups: personality, propaganda, policy, and anger/fear.

Many people simply like Trump for who he is and/or because of who they are. There’s little or nothing to be done about them.

Another large fraction are so brainwashed by right-wing media that they are convinced that any Republican is better than a Democrat.

  • Changing their minds is very difficult, because beliefs once formed are resistant to change, and it isn’t just the media that influences them, it is the views of their friends, families, neighbours and co-workers (the echo-chamber).
  • In our current hyper-partisan times, people have segregated themselves, both online and off. If you are a Republican, chances are almost all of the people you interact with are too.
  • You have to separate a cult member from the cult in order to “deprogram” them… it is the same thing with Republicans and the right-wing echo-chamber.

Of the people who vote Republican for policy reasons, some simply prefer Republican policies, such as low taxes (even if this means a minimal social safety net), xenophobia or white nationalist racism, guns, and “traditional values” issues (patriarchy, abortion, anti-LGBTQ…), and so on. Democrats are not going to adopt these policies.

Then there are those who would prefer Democratic policies if they understood what these policies are… but they don’t understand them because they live in the right-wing echo-chamber.

It is difficult to reach these people, and even more difficult to change their minds. It usually takes a lot of time and requires trust to be built up before they will listen to you (few people actually change their views because of logical arguments, sadly).

Lastly, there are those who vote for reasons of anger or fear. This group is more complex and a full analysis of who they are and why they are angry/afraid would be a looooong analysis, and this is supposed to be a short article.

For now, therefore, I’ll just observe that since Martin Luther King the general stance of the Democratic Party has been to try to find common ground and compromise on constructive solutions.

In contrast, the Republican Party has repeatedly tried to harness anger and fear and ride it to electoral success. It seems like every election they come up with a new group to hate or fear: from welfare queens to muslims, from libs and coastal elites to blacks, LGBTQ folks, and immigrants. Donald Trump is a master of this… and firmly in the tradition of the modern Republican Party.

It has been and will always be difficult for Democrats to sell complex solutions of common ground and compromise to the angry and the fearful. Hate for or fear of a specific group is so much simpler… and Republicans aren’t going to abandon an approach that has worked so well for them.

Add it all up and it is hard to escape the conclusion that, other than at the margins, it will be a generational project to significantly erode the current low-to-mid-40’s percent of US voters who make up the Republican “base”.

And in the meantime US elections are going to be close-run affairs.

Given this, what is to be done?

In the short term Democrats need to focus on reducing their current structural disadvantages such as the gerrymandered House and the unrepresentative Senate.

There are things that can be improved quickly if Democrats can win the trifecta (House, Senate, and Presidency), and this could provide the breathing space to do the generational work required.

And that is what the rest of this series focusses upon.

A note about the title:

  • On March 15th, 44BCE — the Ides of March — Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Senate to preserve the Roman Republic in the face of his increasingly dictatorial actions and to prevent him from declaring himself king.
  • The assassination succeeded but the attempt to save the Republic failed when the Roman people turned against the Senate and, eventually, acclaimed Caesar’s adopted son and heir as the first Emperor Augustus.
  • While I would never otherwise compare Trump with Caesar, and losing an election is not an assassination, the parallels are striking, as is the sense that we are at a cusp in history when actions taken and not taken could have dramatic long-term consequences.

This short series of short articles is for anyone interested in US politics who wants a quick overview of where we are, and where it looks like we are going over the next year or so. For the rest of the articles, click on the links below.

Next section: What just happened?

What will happen between now and January 20th?

What do I hope happens between now and January 20th?

What will change after January 20th?

What should Biden and the DP do?

What will Biden do?

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