“As newspapers and media across the country and around the world reported Joe Biden’s victory and Donald Trump’s defeat in last week’s election, Trump himself — along with his Republican allies in Congress, including the entire Senate majority leadership and the Republican House minority leadership — remained defiant.
I queried a number of American historians and constitutional scholars to see how they explain what should be an inexplicable response to an election conducted in a modern democracy — an election in which Republican victories up and down the ballot are accepted unquestioningly, while votes for president-elect Biden on the same ballots are not.
Many of those I questioned see this discrepancy as stemming from Trump’s individual personality and characterological deficiencies — what they call his narcissism and his sociopathy. Others offer a more starkly political interpretation: that the refusal to accept Biden’s victory stems from the frustration of a Republican Party struggling to remain competitive in the face of an increasingly multicultural electorate. In the end, it appears to be a mixture of both.
Many observers believe that the current situation presents a particularly dangerous mix, one that poses a potentially grave danger to American democracy.
Jonathan Gienapp, a professor of history at Stanford and the author of “The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era,” noted by email that there have been close, contested elections in the past,
But none of these earlier examples featured what we see now: a completely manufactured controversy based on no evidence whatsoever, purely to maintain power, and to overturn a legitimate election.
In this context,
Trump’s refusal to concede and his congressional allies’ refusal to object to what he is doing is indeed most dangerous. If it continues to be given oxygen, it’s hard not to think that there could be lasting damage to the republic.
This, Gienapp concluded, “is what rot looks like.”
James T. Kloppenberg, a professor of American history at Harvard, responded to my inquiry with a broad overview, worth quoting at length:
Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat is unprecedented. Yet it is consistent with everything he’s done throughout his life, so it should not surprise us. While political scientists often focus on institutions and political practices, democracy, where it exists, rests on deeper cultural predispositions that are harder to see. Unless a culture has internalized the norms of deliberation, pluralism, and above all reciprocity, there is no reason to concede to your worst enemy when he wins an election, nor is there any reason to acknowledge the legitimacy of opponents.
It is just these underpinnings of democracy that Trump threatens, especially now:
Norm-busting has been Trump’s modus operandi from a very early age, so to expect him now to conform to democratic norms is unrealistic. Conceding defeat is a tradition consistent with the ethic of reciprocity: you admit defeat, move on, work with those you disagree with, and try to win the next election. Establishing those norms is the work of centuries, not decades. The colonies that became the United States had been at it since the 1630s. By 1787 those cultural pillars were already in place.
Trump’s behavior, Kloppenberg argues, is the culmination of long-term developments within Republican ranks:
Many conservatives considered the New Deal a repudiation of the laissez-faire dogmas they claimed were written into American life. They were wrong about that, as a generation of progressives had shown for decades before FDR’s election. But from Goldwater and Reagan through Gingrich to the present, many Republicans have viewed deviations from what they consider the gospel of free-market capitalism as heresy. Of course there has never been anything remotely resembling a free market in the United States. State, local, and federal governments were involved in daily life from the nation’s first days. But the fantasy of unrestrained capitalism has endured, as has the strategy of condemning as ‘un-American’ anyone who dares suggest otherwise. Given Trump’s four years of hate-mongering and his stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality, his behavior since the election is to be expected — and criticized as the direct challenge to democracy that it is.
“In the short term, should Joe Biden win the election and move into the White House, he would take office with a Democratic Party unified in its opposition to all things Trump. The question is how long would that last before leaders of every liberal interest group circling the new administration begin to get restless.
In answer to this question, Carter Eskew, a top strategist on Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, wrote by email that
Biden became a unity candidate in response to an overwhelming, almost feral desire to limit Trump’s damage to one term. When Trump leaves, Democratic unity, I fear, may be close behind. Unlike Republicans who have essential agreement around economic and social policy, our Party has fissures on many fundamental issues.
Danger signs for a Biden presidency are already emerging. Different factions within the Democratic coalition will have competing demands: Last week, Black lawmakers — led by Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi — called on Biden, if victorious, to appoint an African-American as secretary of the Treasury, “complicating,” as Axios put it, “prospects for establishment women — like Lael Brainard, Janet Yellen and Sarah Bloom Raskin — to become the first female Treasury secretary.”
Another source of potential division: corporate elites and the donor class versus the reform left: Raúl Grijalva, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Katie Porter, along with organizations like the Communications Workers of America, Our Revolution, Indivisible and the Progressive Change Campaign, called on the Senate on Oct. 16 to reject “any nominee to an executive branch position who is currently or has been a lobbyist for any corporate client or c-suite officer for a private corporation,” putting them in conflict with much of the affluent Democratic establishment.
Biden will take office under immediate pressure to address internal Democratic battles over a broad range of topics, including, to name just a few, mass incarceration, immigration reform, denial of asylum seekers’ rights, constraints on evictions, the politics of utility shut-offs, defunding law enforcement and the logistics of mandatory vaccination.”
DL: Further on, someone points out that getting rid of the filibuster will create new problems for the Democrats.
“There are at least five reasons Joe Biden’s consistent lead over Donald Trump does not guarantee him a lock on the White House.
First, there are indications that Trump’s base of support — whites without college degrees — is more energized and committed to voting this year than key Democratic constituencies. And there is also evidence that polling does not reflect this.
Second, Latinos, who are key to the outcome in several crucial states — Arizona and Florida, for example — have shown less support for Biden than for past Democratic nominees. Many Hispanic voters seem resistant to any campaign that defines them broadly as “people of color.”
Third, absentee voting is expected to be higher among Democrats than Republicans, subjecting their ballots to a greater risk of rejection, a fate more common to mailed-in votes than to in-person voting.
Fourth, the generic Democratic-Republican vote (“Would you be more willing to vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate for Congress?”) through early July favored Democrats by more than 10 points, but has since narrowed to 6 points.
Fifth, the debates will test Biden’s ability to withstand three 90-minute battles against an opponent known for brutal personal attacks.
There are other factors — such as the possibility that the Republican Party will conduct an effective voter suppression drive, or that Trump and his advisers will contrive new mechanisms to pave the way to victory.”
“On Feb. 20, Time magazine asked Henry Louis Gates Jr, the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard, about America’s “missed opportunities for racial equality.”
One of the most dramatic shifts to the structure of the African-American community has been the doubling of the Black middle class and the quadrupling of the Black upper middle class since 1970.
Gates was drawing attention to the fact that from 1995 to 2017, the number of Black Americans with advanced degrees — Masters, Ph.D., M.D. or J.D. — tripled, going from 677,000 to 2.1 million. Over the same period, the percentage of Black adults with college degrees more than doubled, from 11 to 24 percent.
One of the most significant changes in recent decades is the remarkable gain in income among more affluent blacks. When we adjust for inflation to 2014 dollars, the percentage of Black Americans earning at least $75,000 more than doubled from 1970 to 2014, to 21 percent. Those making $100,000 or more almost quadrupled to 13 percent (in contrast white Americans saw a less striking increase, from 11 to 26 percent).
These gains have not been restricted to affluent Black Americans.
Since 1966, two years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the percentage of African-Americans with incomes below the poverty line has been halved, from more than 40 percent to 20.8 percent in 2018.
Decades of defamatory rhetoric from Donald Trump — as both citizen and president — notwithstanding, Black America is doing vastly better than it was before the advent of the civil rights movement.”
I would love to be more relevant. I found this piece by Tom Edsall so edifying, that I thought about posting it, and calling my blog, “Please, make me smarter!” This is the first clear explanation I’ve read for the extraordinary loyalty of most Trump supporters.
“. . . According to Joshua Greene, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them,” Trump is expert at sending “signals that are music to the ears of his base,” signals that ineradicably affirm his membership in the populist right wing of the Republican Party.
Greene argued in an email that when
Trump says that a judge of Mexican ancestry can’t do his job, or attacks women for their physical appearance, or makes fun of a disabled reporter, or says that there are good people on both sides of a violent neo-Nazi rally, or that Haiti is a “shithole.” or that the “Second Amendment People” can maybe do something about Hillary Clinton, Trump is very deliberately and publicly excommunicating himself from the company of liberals, even moderate ones.
In Greene’s view, Trump offers a case study in the deployment of “costly signals.”
How does it work? Greene writes:
Making oneself irredeemably unacceptable to the other tribe is equivalent to permanently binding oneself to one’s own. These comments are like gang tattoos. And in Trump’s case, it’s tattoos all over his neck and face.
At the same time, Trump’s “costly signals” make his reliability as a protector of white privilege clear.
John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, described the signaling phenomenon in a 2017 Edge talk as an outgrowth of what he calls a “coalitional instinct.”
“To earn membership in a group,” Tooby says, “you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups.”
This, Tooby notes, encourages extremism: “Practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty.” Far more effective are “unusual, exaggerated beliefs,” including “alarmism, conspiracies or hyperbolic comparisons.”
The success of Trump’s strategy will have long term consequences for the Republican Party, in Greene’s view:
Trump won over the base by publicly sacrificing his broader respectability. Back in 2016, the other Republican primary candidates looked ahead at the general election and thought this was a losing strategy. But Trump pulled it off, perhaps because he didn’t really care about winning. But now he owns the party. No Republican can get elected without the Republican base, and the Republican base trusts Trump and only Trump, thanks to his costly signals.”
“With notable abruptness, thanks to the advent of the coronavirus, much of the public has become aware its dependence on hospital orderlies, cleaners, trash collectors, grocery workers, food delivery drivers, paramedics, mortuary technicians, and postal, shipping, maintenance, wastewater treatment, truck stop and mass transit employees — on what, to many, had been a largely invisible work force.
People are not looking at people like us on the lower end of the spectrum. We’re not even getting respect. That is the biggest thing: we are not even getting respect. Nobody is listening to their voices. Maybe they’ll wake up and see: Oh, these are the people that are actually taking care of the people that need to be taken care of.
A paper published that same month, “The Declining Worker Power Hypothesis,” by Anna Stansbury and Lawrence H. Summers, economists at Harvard, describes conditions on the bottom rungs of the job market:
The American economy has become more ruthless, as declining unionization, increasingly demanding and empowered shareholders, decreasing real minimum wages, reduced worker protections, and the increases in outsourcing domestically and abroad have disempowered workers — with profound consequences for the labor market and the broader economy.
Tying his re-election to the growing anti-lockdown movement, Trump is encouraging a resurgence of what Ed Kilgore, in New York magazine, calls “the angry anti-government strain of right-wing political activity that broke out in the tea-party movement” — a movement now focused on ending the virus-imposed restrictions on many aspects of American life.
these protests have something for everyone: small-business, concerns for the working class, anti-elitism for resentful rural whites, fetishism of guns for NRA, dislike of government for traditional conservatives. It’s a crosscutting issue even amid a pandemic.
Menchik makes the point that anti-quarantine protests
will distract the electorate. If the election is a fight between Trump vs governors who refuse to open their economies, Trump doesn’t have to defend his record on Covid-19. He’s an advocate for liberty!
Studies of the 2009-10 Tea Party movement, Menchik writes, suggest that “continued protests will boost conservative turnout in Nov 2020.” The protests
will help frame the 2020 election as a choice between the pro-open economy Trump versus the Washington insider #BeijingBiden who is complicit in China’s efforts to hurt working class Americans.
Crucially, Menchik argues,
Continued protests will help Trump rebuild his coalition of 2016. Scholars of digital social movements emphasize a logic of connective action not collective action; where personalized content sharing across media networks enables coalition building.
Casting the coronavirus epidemic as a wedge issue, Trump is playing both ends against the middle, in an attempt to veil his own inconsistencies. . . . “
Here are the top comments after this article, which, like the article, are also amazing.
Mr. Edsall ably documents the fact that Trump is clever but not smart. He’s clever by driving wedges between groups and connecting his disparate supporters in the hope to flip a few states. If he were smart, he would have stepped up with leadership showing (feigned) sincerity, calm, and empathy for the plight of the American people, marshaling the resources to get testing on its feet, and driving forward for effective treatment and the promised land of a vaccine. He would have won. Maybe bigly. But all is not good in the land of Trump. The latest polls show erosion of support by seniors. GOP governors are breaking ranks with the leaders of their party. Most Americans fear the virus and want protection. Trump’s approach is purely political when a vastly different solution is needed. The lack of leadership will leave all areas in the lurch. Because COVID-19 respects no one, the epidemic will ravage every farm, hamlet, village, and town—everywhere. This was a challenge of leadership. Trump has failed. Tragically.
In addition to the groups described as comprising his coalition, Trump pulled together a number of single-issue voters who were willing to hold their noses regarding their general dislike for the man: anti-choice, anti-tax, anti-immigrant, anti-regulation, anti-Palestinian, etc. I hope that this pandemic has revealed that character matters. This is a guy who insisted on placing his name on stimulus checks as a decoration, a guy who lies shamelessly and gives himself a 10/10 for his performance on every issue, the kind of person who, if a character on a TV show, everyone would laugh at and find completely despicable and to be dismissed. I hope that these single-issue voters will come to their senses and see that Trump is not presidential material. Biden, despite his flaws, has a basic sense of right and wrong that one could appeal to. It would matter to Biden whether a given course of action was right or not. Trump completely lacks that. He does not even understand that. His desire to win at all costs and his lack of character are now completely laid bare. He has got to go.
Thank you pundits. Without your guidance Trump’s tactics would have seemed like love of America and the desire to lift the lot of working Americans to me. Every single Trump briefing on the pandemic has revealed such utter incompetence- such a complete inability to marshal a simple paragraph of information that if the voters bring him within a mile of another term, I suppose we will have the government we deserve. Cuomo’s detailed briefings provide a perfect contrast, revealing a thorough grasp of the data and what the consequences are for regular people. Night and day. Grammar school and graduate school. How can Trump be a champion for anyone who successfully graduated high school?
It’s interesting that the anti-shutdown protestors see themselves as, once again, giving the middle finger to the coastal elites but are actually being duped by conservative elites.
Conservative working class whites fail to understand what wealthy conservative whites have always known. Government per se is not the enemy; government is merely the tool of the real enemy — Big Capital. That the Kochs and Mercers and DeVos’s of the world can fund astroturf campaigns and hoodwink blue colar whites into acting against their own interests is bald evidence of the primacy of money in American politics. What credulous working class whites fail to understand is that COVID-19 is a far greater threat to them than to the shadowy squintillionaires who bankroll their protests. So while they are coughing and hacking their way to an early grave the Kochs and Mercers and DeVos’s of the world are secure in the knowledge that their squintillions will isolate them from the havoc they wreak.
@David Potenziani He cannot even be bothered to pretend to feign sincerity, or anything else he lacks, like everything. He can however, continue endlessly to talk about himself. TV game show host making life-and-death decisions for hundreds of millions. Oh America.
Our country is divided now into two camps but it isn’t even about ideology anymore. It comes down to one thing: those susceptible to the con, and those who aren’t. It’s not about ideology; it’s about gullibility.
“Not only will the coronavirus crisis define Donald Trump’s legacy, it will determine whether or not he is a one-term president.
David Winston, a Republican pollster, summed up the situation in an email:
The country is not looking at what is occurring through a political lens. They are focused on the threat to their health and the country’s health and how that threat is being addressed.
Because of that, Winston continued, voters will judge the Trump administration by “the effectiveness of actions taken to address that threat, and get the country moving forward again,” making the question on Election Day “who does the country believe should be given the responsibility to govern.”
Crises can provoke extreme responses. The 2008-9 recession produced both Barack Obama and the Tea Party. On a grander scale, the Great Depression produced both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler.
No one is suggesting that the country is at such a point now, but, then again, no one suggested in January of 2015 that the country was on the verge of electing Donald Trump president.
The current pandemic shows signs of reshaping the American political and social order for years to come.
A March 10-15 NBC News/Commonwealth Fund poll asked 1,006 adults “How much do you trust the President Trump to provide information about the coronavirus epidemic?” A majority, 53 percent, said they either had no trust at all (40 percent) or little trust (13 percent). 30 percent said they either completely trust (16 percent) or mostly trust (14 percent) the president.
In another danger signal for Trump, the poll asked “how confident are you that the vaccine will be available to the American public at little or no cost” if a Democrat wins or if Trump is re-elected. Nearly two thirds said they were confident a low-cost vaccine would be available with a Democrat in the White House; half said they were confident with Trump in office for another four years.
Trump’s job approval ratings have risen in recent weeks, but Gary Langer, who conducts polling for ABC News, warned that the results of an ABC/Washington Post survey released on March 27 show that there are substantial risks to the president:
Trump’s overall approval rating drops among people who are more worried about catching the coronavirus, report severe local economic impacts, say their lives have been especially disrupted or know someone who’s caught the virus. He also has lower approval in states with higher per capita infection rates.
While some of those findings reflect the higher levels of infection with coronavirus in blue states, Langer wrote, “the results suggest that as the crisis deepens, the risks to views of his performance likely rise.”
On March 26, Pew Research released results of a survey that showed significant demographic and partisan differences in responses to the question “Has someone in your household lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of Covid-19?”
“The Trump campaign is investing more money and resources in an attempt to attract African-American voters than any Republican presidential campaign in recent memory.
The drive includes highly visible television advertising, including an $11 million Super Bowl commercial, along with ad purchases in local black newspapers and on radio stations; “Black Voices for Trump”; storefronts in key battleground states; and a sustained social media campaign directed at black voters whose consumer, religious and demographic profiles suggest potential support, including on such issues as immigration, abortion, gender roles and gay rights.
For Trump, the effort became all the more crucial as the Super Tuesday primaries demonstrated Joe Biden’s strong appeal to black voters. Exit polls showed Biden winning 57 percent of the votes cast by African-Americans on Tuesday, 40 points higher than his closest competitor, Bernie Sanders, at 17 percent.
Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of the pro-Democratic BlackPAC and the affiliated nonpartisan Black Progressive Action Coalition, wrote in an email that Trump has already communicated with a large segment of the African-American electorate, although she disputes the effectiveness of Trump’s bid to win black support:
We’ve had a significant number of black voters tell us that they have gotten Trump ads on their social media platforms. That tracks with our recent poll where nearly 30 percent of those surveyed said that they had been contacted by the campaign.
Many Democrats and their liberal allies downplay the president’s efforts, arguing that not only is black support for the Democratic Party rock solid, but that animosity to Trump among minority voters has reached record highs. Democratic politicians and strategists who act on these assumptions do so at their own risk.”