It has been said so often that we stopped hearing it, but nothing about this election year is predictable.
The polls will not help us. Already given to swings, the methodology will require more guesswork than usual. How badly will Donald Trump bleed college graduates? How much of the black voting bloc will turn out for Hillary? Those are the base questions. Every event further muddies these calls pollsters must make.
The violence anticipated at the Republican convention last week did not materialise, but neither did unity. Violence may yet break out at the Democratic convention this week. Just when they seemed to be coming together and accepting Hillary Clinton as their candidate, the Russians leaked a curated selection of emails showing the Democratic National Convention rigging the primaries for Clinton over Bernie Sanders. (More on those in a moment.)
Ivanka Trump gave a speech at the RNC that was a feminist dream. Hillary Clinton herself could have given large chunks. It was full of policies that supposedly help working mothers while marginalising mothers at home and undermining families (see our entire archive, tag: feminism). Yet Republicans cheered. A few days later on opening night at the DNC, Michelle Obama gave an impressive speech with an American Exceptionalism theme. Don’t let anyone tell you America isn’t great, she said. Perhaps she should have a chat with her husband — or her never-been-proud-of-my-country past self.
The constant terror attacks are trying voters’ patience for denial or avoidance by politicians. Normally security concerns help Republicans, but most independents/lean right folks I know find Clinton’s Secretary of State experience more reassuring in this world meltdown than Trump with his praise of Putin and diss of Nato (Note, I did not contend that their preference for Clinton made sense, just that it remains a preference even after the FBI report.)
But the big unknown is the Russians. They have a collection of Democratic National Committee emails that they can release at will to damage Clinton. Considering Clinton’s history of shadiness, who knows what other bombshells the Russians might have in their possession. Perhaps, they will provide this cycle’s October Surprise, the unexpected event that pops in late October for some last minute poll chaos. We must confront the possibility that the Russians own this election.
All of this volatility suggests a realignment, throughout the West, not just in America. The old notions of Right and Left do not inform voting patters. Young, old, religious, or not. The once reliable factions are crumbling and the new dividing line is not yet clear.
George Friedman at Geopolitical Futures sees a nationalist/internationalist axis developing. That is certainly there, but I’m not sure it is the main axis, at least in the US. I’m starting to see a more basic power vs freedom axis.
Both major national parties have served power for power’s sake. At the DNC, factionalism rules. Women seek power for women, blacks seek power for blacks, Hispanics for Hispanics, etc. The DNC smothered their ideas voters because the DNC decided that we just had a black man for president, so now it is a woman’s turn.
At the RNC, the Trump campaign used the party power apparatus to crush the opposition directly. When it suited him to rail against the establishment he did. Once he achieved power, however, he coopted the establishment for his muscle. (That the established powers of the GOP have no backbone and would submit to the strongman is the least surprising event this cycle.) As a final insult, Trump asked Republican voters not to put their faith and hope in ideas, but in him. Only he can solve what ails our nation. And we believe him because history overflows with stories of men with messiah complexes bringing peace, prosperity, and progress, correct?
Power without principles — both parties are led by megalomaniacs who try to win our votes with promises that they will be our thug. Where is the political home for those who fight for ideas? Strangely, I find I have more empathy for the despondent delegates at the DNC than members of my former party because I respect them for fighting for ideals, even though I think their ideals are wrong. We can debate ideas, but we have to endure power.
I find a little ray of hope that those of us who fight for ideas might remember and rally to the security of the structure of American government. We have forgotten that our rights are secured in the form of government. And we have forgotten that social conservatives and liberals can both be federalists. Maybe that is the emerging alignment. If so, I am glad, but I have no illusions that resetting that alignment will be easy. Power on both sides of the aisle likes its advantages and will guard them furiously.
(Image: Greg Westfall)