Friday, January 5, 2018

Three Paths from the 2018 Election

Despite voter suppression in key states, a massive, unprecedented misinformation and propaganda campaign orchestrated by a foreign power in favor of and quite likely in coordination with the Trump Campaign, a mainstream media that perpetuated false equivalences and fed oxygen to what amounted to conspiracy theories, a mainstream media narrative driven, in large part, by misogynist men now accused of sexual harassment and/or assault, a thirty or so year smear campaign by the Republican party, an apathetic citizenry that had long ago mostly given up on the political process, culturally entrenched partisan identities, and, of course, systemic sexism and racism; despite all that almost three million more Americans voted for Hilary Clinton than Donald Trump. That is the story of the presidential election of 2016. Anyone who tries to spin some idea about the white working class (whoever they are) or the flaws of Hilary Clinton (which exist) or anything else is an apologist for a flaw in our constitution that benefited one party over another, trying to justify the actions and very existence of the Trump administration as legitimate, and/or hiding from a simple fact: a lot of Americans were manipulated into making a mistake.

In discussions about the future of this country over the last year, I've had one overriding, organizing principle: we will know the health of American democracy in 2018. For most voters conned into voting for Trump or staying home, it will be their first chance to make amends for their mistake. For most Americans who didn't vote as part of a general practice, it will be their first chance after learning just how fragile our democracy is. For most Democrats and liberals, it will be their first chance to get a tangible result from their new anger and organizing energy.

And there are some good signs. Democrats are flipping seats all over the country in special elections. Doug Jones's win in Alabama proves that, under the right circumstances, Democratic organizing can overcome voter suppression in even the reddest of states. Furthermore, historically, legislative power tends to shift away from the party of the President in the first mid-term election. In short, there are some reasons to believe that, for all the long lasting damage the Republican party and Donald Trump have done, American democracy isn't over yet.

But we won't know for sure until we get the results from the 2018 mid-term elections. There are a number of different ways it might shake out and we need to be prepared for as many of them as possible. Here are the three that I see and what I think we should do if they come to pass.

One or Both of the Chambers of Congress Flips
What we do next will depend in large part on which chamber flips (most likely the House) and by how much, but regardless, the first order of business (if it hasn't happened already) is to impeach and remove Donald Trump (and hopefully Mike Pence) from the presidency. If the swing is big enough, if Trump's toxicity is revealed to be strong enough, I bet some not insignificant number of Republican Senators will vote for removal. And the swing could be plenty big enough to scare whatever Republicans remain right off the Trump train. Paul Ryan doesn't appear particularly up for an actual election battle. Ted Cruz doesn't have many allies in, well, life and there is a lot of energy around getting him out. I think we can wonder about Jeff Flake's seat and John McCain's seat and I don't think Romney taking Hatch's seat is an absolute guarantee. There are also a few hundred-thousand new voters in Florida from Puerto Rico and I can't imagine a lot of those votes going to Republicans. Given how there really isn't much evidence for courage of convictions in Congressional Republicans at the moment, how many of them would actually stick up for Trump once it was definitely proven that doing so threatens their power? Even if there aren't enough votes for removal, Democrats need to make the formal effort, if for no other reason than to have receipts for 2020.

After that it depends on who is president, and what the actual composition of Congress is. There are two bipartisan fixes to some of the mistakes in the ACA that seem like an easy place to start if that hasn't happened already. (Two bills that were theoretically promised in return for Susan Collins' vote on the tax bill.) Same goes for a clean DREAM act and a reauthorization or restart of CHIP if it also hasn't passed. (Of course, this is assuming those bipartisan bills and apparent commitments stay that way, which, there is real reason to doubt that Republicans would maintain their support for these bills if they would be passed by a Democratic Congress.) It looks like Congress will also have to ensure that the upcoming census is both fully funded and fairly run, which might be the most important under-the-radar issue of the moment. And then there's the recent tax bill that Democrats should at least try to do something about. We could also, I don't know, start passing legislation to prevent this from happening again by requiring all presidential candidates to publish their taxes before the election or formalizing the norms around conflicts of interest or creating some kind of election review process. There is only so much Congress can do, especially if Trump or another Republican is President, but I think there are lots of small places where steps can be made to solve some of the problems created by the Trump Presidency.

And then, it's gear up for 2020, not just for the presidential election, but for state and local elections. A big part of why we're in such a catastrophic mess right now is that Republicans in 2010 weaponized redistricting to disenfranchise American voters because Republican policies cannot win on merit in the marketplace of ideas. (This redistricting also aided the takeover of the Republican party by its radical right-wing by protecting fringe candidates who won in low-turnout primaries.) Big state-level wins in 2020 will allow Democrats to reform our redistricting procedure so Red Map strategies can never happen again.

Republicans Control Both Chambers in a Relatively Close Vote
Through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and, well voter decision, despite everything Republicans (you know, the ones who supported a fucking child molester) and Donald Trump (you know, the fucking serial sexual assaulter) have done to this country, they retain power. The cultural and systemic racism is too entrenched, the electoral system is too rigged to favor a rural minority, Russian misinformation muddies the waters, the inertia of voter apathy is strong enough to keep people home, and the mainstream media doesn't take the lessons of 2016 to heart. The rage and energy and organizing we've seen since November 2016 just isn't strong enough to overcome the structural flaws of the Constitution, racism of so many white people, and authoritarianism of the contemporary Republican party. I have been holding out hope for American democracy. Especially with the Democrat wave of special elections, I am hoping that the election of Trump is essentially an extreme stress test and that the actual majority of American citizens will assert themselves. But, it might not happen. The vast majority of Americans might not be able to overcome the fact that the framers of the Constitution did not foresee massive population concentration in urban centers. 

If that happens, I think the blue states need to explore how best to take care of their residents. Even if the majority of Americans vote for a Democrat and even if Democrats pick up a ton of seats, Republicans will act like the election is a mandate in their favor because they always act like everything is a mandate in their favor. They will say it is a ringing endorsement of everything they and Trump have ever done despite what all the other evidence shows and then they will finally finish destroying the New Deal and returning America to the capitalist feudalism they love so fucking much. State attorneys general will need to explore and pursue legal action to ensure that their residents receive the Social Security and Medicare benefits they have been paying into their entire working lives. States will also need to explore how to replace federal spending in a way that doesn't overburden their residents with new taxes. Blue states already pay more in federal taxes than they receive in federal spending so there is a chance they can simply transfer some of the tax cuts the Republicans will ram through Congress to their own budgets, especially those blue states (New York, Massachusetts) that have significant financial sectors. There might also be a general willingness in blue states to pay higher state taxes if people know the money will go to programs they believe in.

Furthermore, the blue states should find a way to band together to provide universal healthcare to their residents. Most of the American people live in blue states and most of the American economy is in blue states. California alone is a larger economy that most countries. A joint effort by the blue states should have more than enough population and economic clout to provide universal health care in some form. I mean, they'd be way bigger than Canada and Canada can do it. If they're able to significantly recoup much of the extra funding flowing to the federal government, they can probably offer free higher education too and maybe fund a transition to renewable energy. Maybe even subsidize childcare while they're at it.

Unfortunately, this is likely to create an even wider gulf between blue states and red states and it's hard to know exactly how wide that gulf will get. Will we see another great migration? How tense will the relationship between the states get? How much poorer will the red states get if Republicans at the federal level successfully remove the social safety net? And how will red state Republicans use federal power to punish blue states? Let me be clear about this: I think this would be a tragedy and I think the poor and vulnerable in red states would bear the brunt of this tragedy. But at some point, you have to give people the policies they vote for. Democrats and liberals from blue states and blue cities can't keep protecting everyone else from Republicans if we want American democracy to survive the Trump administration.

Also, if this happens, you can leave. I don't like the idea of leaving because the Americans most negatively impacted by this bullshit don't have the privilege of leaving, and a brain, money, and energy drain is likely to leave the less powerful even more vulnerable. For all it's flaws, I think the American project is still worth fighting for and I think, despite Trump, there is some evidence that we are relatively close to some major humanitarian and cultural breakthroughs. But I am not you. I am not responsible for your family and your well-being. I don't know what resources you have or don't have. I don't know what a fulfilling life means to you. I also don't know if I could lead a fulfilling life in that America. America was founded by people who had the privilege of leaving their home countries for a better life and if I'm not going to condemn those immigrants, I'm not going to condemn you.

Republicans Control both Chambers of Congress Despite Getting 40%ish or Less of the Vote
Because of gerrymandering and because of the likely unprecedented voter turnout in Democrat leaning and heavily populated districts, it is entirely possible that Republicans will narrowly hold on to a majority of seats in both chambers, while getting historically blown out in total vote count. Given the distribution of population, it is entirely possible for 60% or more of the vote to go to Democrats without control of either chamber shifting. If that happens, as above, Republicans will act like it's a mandate in their favor even though it is a clear statement of opposition. Paul Ryan will look us directly in the eyes and say it's clear the American people support his platform. He might even believe that.

If that happens, we march on Washington, D.C. and occupy it until Trump or Pence or whoever ends up being the President (it would still be a Republican) is removed from office and somehow replaced with a Democrat. We turn that momentum, we turn that energy, we turn that organizing power directly on Republicans in Congress. We bring proof of the popular will directly to those who are trying to crush it. If you can't make it to D.C. go to the closest Republican office. Hell, go to the closest Republican Congress person's house.

You might say that looks like a coup, but, well, yeah, it does, but so does a radical authoritarian minority acting like it has a mandate. But here's the thing. It will be clear to Republicans from that result that gerrymandering can only protect them for so much longer. Depending on how the state races hash out, it could signal the end of their state level power and their ability to gerrymander themselves to victory through 2020 and beyond. It reveals the farce of their claims to any legitimacy. And then they will make sure no fair and free election ever happens again. If this happens in 2018 and we don't take to the streets, I don't think there will be a legitimate 2020.

And the tools are already there. If #BlackLivesMatter, the Women's March, Run for Something, Indivisible, Swing Left, MoveOn, ActBlue, and even Our Revolution and organizations directly affiliated with the Democratic Party, picked a date, we could easily fill the streets.

Would this mass protest work? I have no idea. Congressional Republicans are just fine ignoring the will of the people. I think many of them are also just fine with fascism as long as it's their fascism. I don't know if, when you look at the long arc of human history and governance, liberal democracy progressing towards a truly humanist system of power is actually just a fluke of the last 50 or so years and we are now reverting back to our more standard feudalism. But I do know that if democracy is going to die in America I want to make sure we go down fighting.

Want to help that first path happen? Send a little money to Swing Left's district funds. This money will go to whichever Democrat ends up winning the primary, giving them an immediate boost in resources.