Election 2016: How We Really Lost (By The Numbers, Part 3)

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(This is about the election. Because so many Democratic and progressive voters are still debating what happened, and because a forthright postmortem is essential to the Democratic Party moving forward effectively [and is, to all indications, something they don’t actually care to do], I’ve researched what the numbers actually tell us. I find it interesting. If you don’t, that’s fine. If your highest caliber response is to school me on paying attention to this when you want me to pay attention to something else I’m probably also paying attention to, just keep it to yourself.)

Would Bernie Sanders have won? Did Hillary Clinton lose because of Russia/FBI/Mercury retrograde? Was she a good candidate? Was he?

In a discussion elsewhere of factors which led to Donald Trump’s win, I pointed out that Clinton’s favorability ratings throughout her entire 2015/2016 campaign remained historically awful, never hitting a point where a majority of voters saw her positively. Someone asked about the polls before the election which seemed (unlike the polls throughout the months prior) to show her handily beating Trump. Nate Silver was mentioned.

The thing is, though Clinton enjoyed bumps in the polls toward the end, in most cases her edge remained within the margin of error. Real Clear Politics, which tracks and averages all the major polls, had her lead at only 3.2% going into election day. This was just slightly better than her polls against Trump had generally been all along (you might remember those weak numbers during the primaries because some people said they indicated she might lose).

The big numbers predicting her win were projections of probability of her winning according to the biases of those making the projections. Silver, for example, gave Clinton a 71.8% chance of winning (and he was actually accused of being too pessimistic). This didn’t mean he expected her to get 71.8% of the vote. In fact, he predicted she would get 48.5% and Trump would get 45%, a margin of only 3.5%, a number which was, you guessed it, within the margin of error.

But the polls pitting the candidates against each other were only part of the story. Just as, and possibly more, important were the candidates’ favorability polls which indicate how liked and trusted each was. This should have been an important consideration because no candidate had ever won the presidency with a net negative favorability with voters.

When she entered the race in April 2015, Hillary Clinton’s favorability/unfavorability rating was 44%/52%. A net negative of -8 points.

When he entered the race in April 2015, Sanders’s favorability/unfavorability was 20%/27%. Lower scores in both, and a net negative of -7 points. But 54% of voters had no opinion because they didn’t know him, compared to 4% for Clinton.

By November, 2015, Clinton’s favorability/unfavorability was 41%/52%. Net negative -11 points.

By November, 2015, Sanders’s favorability/unfavorability was 41%/37%. Net positive +4 points.

By the Democratic National Convention at the end of July 2016, Clinton’s favorability/unfavorability was 42%/56%. Net negative -14 points.

By the Democratic National Convention, Sanders’s favorability/unfavorability was 53%/36%. Net positive +17 points.

By the election, Clinton’s favorability/unfavorability was 43%/56%. Net negative -13 points.

By the election, Sanders’s favorability/unfavorability was 59%/33%. Net positive +26 points.

So what we see is that throughout the entire primary season and the general election, Hillary Clinton’s favorability scores remained roughly static. Nothing she did after November 2015, months before the email leaks or FBI fishiness, boosted her numbers. Likewise, none of the allegedly critical negative events of the election dropped her scores much further. She stayed at her net negative score, with a constant majority seeing her unfavorably, from DAY ONE up to her loss. Voters had pretty much made up their minds about Hillary Clinton before she even started running.

Would Sanders have fared better in the general, as so many of us think? He did, after all, go from a -7 net negative as a relative unknown to +26 net positive. And he managed to close Clinton’s initial sixty point lead to give her a very tense fight through the primaries.

Clinton, meanwhile, not only just got less popular, she, a globally renowned candidate with a huge war-chest of corporate cash and the support of the entire Democratic establishment, squandered a sixty point lead to a little known, grumpy old senator from a small state.

And, of course, Sanders always beat Trump in the polls by double digits, while Trump was the only GOP candidate whom Clinton would usually beat, though always by a narrow margin. Like that 3.5% Nate Silver spun into a 72% probability of victory.

Sanders now has 56% favorability (32% unfavorability; Clinton has 40% favorable, 54% unfavorable). Among Democrats, he has 80%. Among Republicans, he has 31%; that’s right, nearly a third of GOP voters actually like and trust Bernie Sanders. Among Trump voters, 27% favorable. You know, those voters we’re told would never have crossed over to vote for him?

And how does he score with Clinton voters? 86% favorable. That’s twice Clinton’s favorability on election day, while the majority of her voters (54%) said they were voting for her only to vote against Trump.

A lot of people run with that line about how the Republicans would have attacked Bernie in the primary, and maybe his numbers would have fallen to Clintonesque levels as a result. They never seem to grok the fact that Clinton was already down there, and Bernie would have had to fall thirty-one points in the short time after the convention to sink to her level.

I think the numbers tell the tale. I tell you only because I’m sick of seeing Clinton fans slander Sanders and blame her loss on him (one I saw just before starting to put this post together said, “OMG Bernie people, just STFU and think about how you ruined everything!”). All the data indicates that Bernie had a big chance of winning, while Hillary had a slender chance and was so relentlessly unpopular that the slightest puff of ill wind (an ambiguous FBI announcement, evidence of unethical collusion with the DNC, refusal to take a stand on the Dakota pipeline…) might destroy her shot.

The fact is, Hillary Clinton ended her race as she began, the single most unpopular Democratic candidate in history, while Bernie Sanders started as a relatively unknown, impossible long-shot and finished as literally the most popular politician in the United States.

Anyone who thinks that wouldn’t have (probably) made all the difference is in denial.

By The Numbers, Part 1: How Democrats Continue to Lose

By The Numbers, Part 2: Who’s Our Champion Now?

Are You A Rational Republican…?

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Are you a rational Republican who gets annoyed at all the invective and satire and fiery rage directed at your party simply because of the actions and policies of an enormous majority of your fellows?

Stop. Just stop. Stop being defensive and butt-hurt. More importantly, stop being a Republican.

I know, I know. You’ve always been a Republican. You believe in fiscal responsibility and blah blah blah. Your friends are Republicans.Your daddy and mommy were Republicans. Your great grandpappy and grandmaw were Republicans. Hell, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

Republican. You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means. Not any more.

The Republican party is not the party of Lincoln. Not any more. And if you don’t support the actions of this monstrous Republican president, or the goose-stepping boot-licking quislings that make up the entirety of the existing Republican power structure (as has been the case for many years), or the unfettered ignorance and bigotry of the overwhelming Republican base, then maybe it’s not the party of you any more either.

You identify as Republican because you think being Republican means a lot of things that it probably actually does not any more, if it ever really did. That’s a lie you’re telling yourself. Stop it. Why lie to yourself and cast your lot with horrible people who are very actively destroying everything good and noble and beautiful about our country? Why do that to yourself? Why do that to the rest of us?

Stop. You don’t have to be a Republican. You don’t have to be anything but an American. Party loyalty can be a poison. Don’t be a part of a big ignorant herd, giving loyalty and power to those who do not deserve it. Just stop.

At the very least, you won’t have to keep getting your feelings hurt by people speaking truth to fascism.

NOTE: This goes for Democrats too. The Democratic party isn’t the party of FDR any more either, not by a long goddamned shot, though at least it’s not a burning church of hatred, ignorance, and authoritarianism. But blind, uncritical loyalty to them can be just as poisonous and unproductive.

Inauguration Day 2017: I Am Calm

I am calm.

I did everything in my power to prevent this day from coming. I campaigned (hard) for and donated (a lot) to the candidate who was not just the best choice for our country but who was by far the most popular candidate, the candidate who energized the most voters, the candidate with a demonstrably higher chance to win.

Though the candidate who had, at best, a razor-thin possibility of winning was chosen, and though I was crushed and disillusioned, when the time came, I voted against apocalypse.

So I did all that I could. I am calm. I am at peace. I am also unbowed, unbroken, unafraid.

I will not cry. I will not huddle. I will not hide.

I will fight. I will fight. I will fight.

I will fight on my terms. I am not a part of any party. I am not a part of any herd. I am a one-man guerrilla force against not just the despicable thug now infecting the White House but against all the forces that helped put him there, whichever side they’re on.

I will fight. I will fight. I will fight.

I am calm.

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                                    You want to get out of here? You talk to me.

 

Liberal Lockstep: Why I March To The Beat Of My Own Damned Drummer

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To some degree, this is my Facebook feed:

“It was Russia’s fault!”

“It was Comey’s fault!”

“It was the Millennials’ fault!”

“It was Bernie’s fault!”

“It was Jill Stein’s fault!”

ME: “It was also because of poor choices by the candidate and her campaign, and because of systemic failures over the years by the Democratic party.”

“Tim, why are you still talking about this? We have to unite against Trump!”

And we do. And I am.

But I am a progressive and I want not just to beat the bad guys, I want to improve the world. I see what has happened to the Democratic party since 1992, since the rise of the corporate-friendly Democratic Leadership Council (funded by, among other big business interests, the freaking Koch brothers) and the Clintons with their “Third Way” politics of embracing right-wing policies in order to court voters on the right rather than on the left. I see how the left lost Congress during Bill Clinton’s terms after controlling it for decades, and through neoliberal policies and bad strategy has steadily lost more and more power ever since. I see how Donald Trump is not just the inevitable result of years of Republican degradation and capitulation to their worst elements, he is also the result of Democrats abandoning their traditional principles and essentially becoming socially liberal Republicans.

And I see how the corruption and cronyism and arrogance of the Democratic party went full-tilt-bozo this election and they ignored all the data and all the signs that they were making bad choices and they lost to the single most unpopular candidate in history, a man who did damn near everything possible to make himself absolutely unelectable. It’s not just a matter of forcing the choice of their own incredibly unpopular candidate on voters from the very start and violating their own regulations to make sure she won, it’s a matter of the strategies chosen after that, like never bothering to campaign in Wisconsin or maligning progressives and Millennials while pursuing Republican crossover votes.

These are things worth talking about. These are things that shouldn’t be ignored, lest we keep making the same mistakes and keep losing elections. Even big money Democratic donors are apparently angry that the party hasn’t pursued an honest postmortem to determine the real reasons for its devastating failures at every level this year. It’s a conversation that they think we should have, and the Democratic party’s frantic finger-pointing everywhere but in the mirror is pissing them off so much they’re saying they’re going to start withholding the cash.

Yet when I post about these things, or even when I praise progressives like Bernie Sanders or Tulsi Gabbard for their current acts of principled leadership, I get called out by some of my liberal friends. They really don’t want the party, or its chosen candidate, to be criticized or to be held accountable for their mistakes, or for the negative impact of their policies. When I criticize Democratic leaders for specific failures — say, Barack Obama’s failure to prosecute Wall Street criminals or his record-breaking deportation of immigrants — I’m accused of being a “purist,” naively wedded to my progressive ideals while in the real world we have to apparently just settle for terrible acts when they’re done by our side. Again, I am accused of being a purist because I want to hold our leaders accountable and encourage them to be better in the future.

Folks, I don’t have a “purity test.” I have standards.

I also get a lot of flack about posting what I’m posting rather than what everyone else is posting. “Why are you talking about Hillary Clinton’s campaigning failures when you should be talking about how Russia hacked our election? Why are you complaining about the Democratic establishment’s complete lack of accountability and myopic defense of the status quo when you should be complaining about Trump because Trump is bad?” Sometimes it boils down to a simpleminded accusation like “You’re criticizing Clinton, you must support Trump.”

Well, no. But thanks for playing.

Even putting aside the fact that I do criticize the terrible orange shitnuke, which I am amazingly able to do even while talking about other things, does anyone really need me, personally, to tell them how shitty Donald Trump is? Is it really vitally important that I replicate what everyone else is saying, that I surrender my voice to the group voice?

Because you know what that is? That’s authoritarian message control. That’s an insistence that we should all not just be working together, we should be marching in lockstep. And you know what? I’m not really a lockstep kind of guy.

On the individual level, I know that some of my friends say these things out of annoyance because they’re sick of seeing some of my posts, and that’s fair. I’m sick of some of their posts, too, but I don’t let that turn personal. They can post what they want to post. They don’t have to cater to my concerns.

And I know that some of them are sincerely concerned that criticism of Democrats at a time like this is counterproductive, that it hurts the party and scatters our energies and will limit our effectiveness in the fights ahead. I’m less sympathetic to that viewpoint because I think the left will only beat the right if it, well, moves left again. And sweeping its failures under the rug of temporary expediency, to be forgotten and later dismissed as “old news,” does not contribute to that happening. Only open eyes and open discussion will help us do what we need to do in order to beat back the forces of darkness.

The most insidious reason that some argue for this messaging lockstep is because they are trying to control the narrative in order to protect the entrenched Powers That Be. They want us to think that Russia’s alleged involvement in revealing to us the reality behind the DNC’s “neutrality,” or James Comey’s nebulous letter a week before the election, brought us to this point. They want us to think that a tiny percentage of disillusioned third-party voters betrayed us, not a party and candidate who ran a contest so badly that those tiny numbers mattered even when they had the gift of a buffoon as an opponent. They want us to think that those who didn’t support their candidate are all misogynists and racists and “deplorables,” not folks with legitimate concerns they no longer trust the Democrats to address, who went for the crazy Hail Mary pass of a Trump or third-party vote because the ‘safer’ option, to them, offered no perceived hope or respite from the trials they face.

They want us to support the narrative that it wasn’t their fault because they want to maintain their power and wealth. And they want us to suppress criticism of the establishment, to push us into lockstep with a consistent message that keeps them from being held accountable, allows them to avoid change, protects them from progressive challenges to their control. This narrative is driven from the top and absorbed by those below, and whatever the personal motives of each person insisting we stick to it might be, they all wind up serving that overarching purpose and acting as a shield against accountability and necessary change.

This isn’t just the case now, with President Trump about to occur. This has been the relationship between the Democratic establishment and progressives for a quarter of a century. Progressives are always expected to fall in line, to accept the malignant fiscal policies, the kowtowing to corporate interests, the diminished concern for working people and the poor, the embrace of war as a defining principle. They’re told they have to march lockstep, to be realists not idealists, to shut up about bad things like draconian trade policies and focus instead on good things like gay weddings. They’re told to shrug off the failures of the Democrats because the Republicans are monsters (and they are) and they have nowhere to go. They’re told not to criticize now, during the election, because they might hurt the nominee, and they’re told not to criticize after the election because that stuff’s in the past. (I had one friend literally say, “It’s been nearly two weeks since the election, why are you still talking about this stuff?” Nearly two weeks.)

And progressives, largely, submit. Because a little good is, undeniably, better than all bad. And they surrender their voices to the group voice, to the narrative that the Democrats are doing as well as they can be expected to do, and we can’t do great things, we can only do little good things here and there as we go, and you gotta be a team player and you gotta stop trying to do more. Because you have nowhere else to go. So sit down and shut the fuck up and vote when we tell you to.

No more. Not for me. This year, my  lifelong progressivism became weaponized because (a) I saw that significant change for the better was actually possible because millions of people are yearning for it and willing to work for it, and (b) I saw how utterly resistant to that change the party I’d always supported truly is. Resistant to the point of total disaster.

I’m on your side. But I’m not your monkey. I will fight for what I believe in, and I will always, always point out the Emperor’s lack of garments whether you want me to or not. You pick your fights, I’ll pick mine, and hopefully along the way we’ll wind up with a party strong enough to take our country back and compassionate and ethical enough to make it something worth having.

Trump People (And The Terrible Moment I Was One Of Them)

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Cliff Caldwell was a splintered twig of a kid, short and gangly, a twitchy scarecrow without enough stuffing. His hair was blond and dirty, but always combed down with a troubling precision. He stared at the world through glasses with big thick frames, and his clothes were ratty and didn’t fit right.

Cliff wasn’t very smart, and he moved from grade to grade largely out of an embarrassing agreement by teachers to pass him rather than actually help him in any meaningful way. Teachers even allowed him to grade his own tests because his handwriting was incomprehensible.

Outside of school, you’d sometimes see Cliff walking along the roadside, stomping swiftly along, his gaze fixed straight ahead as if he were racing obsessively toward some definite goal. He was going where he was going, and he seemed oblivious to everything around him.

I don’t know how old we were when I met Cliff, I just remember him always being around when I was a teenager. He was one of those unfortunate kids who was born broken, who can’t function properly, and who thereby becomes the target of derision and abuse from most of his peers.

The last I heard about Cliff was in 2009, when this happened:

“The holidays can cause stress for all of us. This must particularly apply to those slaving in Santa’s workshop. One case in point: 45 year old William C. Caldwell, III, surely the frontrunner for 2009 Angry Elf of the Year.

“It may come as no surprise to anyone that your local mall Santa receives excellent security training these days. And a good thing, too. On Wednesday evening, the mall Santa on duty at Southlake Mall in Morrow, Georgia came face to face with a potentially explosive situation. The 45 year old Mr. Caldwell, in full elfin attire, wanted his picture taken with Santa. When his turn came, he informed Santa that he had in fact brought some of his own tools from the workshop… specifically, a bag of dynamite.

“It probably should have raised a few eyebrows that a 45 year-old man, dressed as an elf, was standing in line with a bunch of kids waiting to speak with Santa… particularly when he’s got this look in his eyes:

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“…The quick thinking Santa immediately informed the Southlake Mall security team of the potentially dangerous elf. Authorities contacted local police who evacuated the mall, blocked off streets and cordoned off the area. Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers arrived along with the Morrow Police. They completed an exhaustive search of the mall. Three suspicious bags were discovered near Santa, but no explosives. Fear that Caldwell would actually drop an elf bomb subsided after the ‘all clear’ was given at 10 p.m., local time…”

Fortunately, this was at worst a crazy whim of Cliff’s tormented mind, at best an actual cry for help. No one was hurt. I have no idea what happened with Cliff after he was arrested, but I hope he found some badly needed help and some happiness and peace.

The reason I’m telling you about Cliff is that he was instrumental in my learning a lesson about myself that has stuck with me for years, a lesson that makes me all too able to understand some of the dark impulses that drive many of the people who support Donald Trump (and, frankly, the Republicans in general).

I’m already quite familiar with the basic unenlightened and racist mindset we see flying its Confederate flag at Trump rallies. I’m from Georgia and was raised by those people. But the lesson I learned through Cliff Caldwell is about something deeper and more intimate than that, about the very nature of self and how it can turn rotten.

As I said, Cliff was often a target of abuse from our peers, from cruel insults and mockery to outright violence. I remember sitting nearby in one class as a group of popular kids (the oft stereotyped jocks and cheerleaders, acting according to stereotype) clustered around Cliff’s desk alternately teasing him and acting like they were his friends. Everyone would laugh. Why not? It was just Cliff Caldwell.

One day, in tenth or eleventh grade, a group of bullies started pushing Cliff around in the locker room, shouting in his face, yanking at his clothes, shoving him into the wall. Laughing at him. To my lifelong shame, I joined them.

Why did I do that? I was a kindhearted kid, a gentle kid, a smart kid who had somehow never absorbed the racism or bigotry I’d been raised in. I had not only always treated Cliff with kindness, I’d stood up for him at times. And here I was,  clawing at his arm, laughing in his face.

It was because, as strong as my sense of self was, as deep my compassion, I was broken too. I was horribly abused at home, so depressed I came close to suicide several times, and of uncertain social value among my peers. I felt small. I felt threatened. And on another day, it might have been me under attack instead of Cliff, though I was at least able to fight. Cliff wasn’t.

I joined that hateful little mob because I desperately wanted to belong. I desperately wanted to be one of the popular kids. And I wanted them to know I was one of them, not a pitiful wimpy target like Cliff, so they would leave me alone.

I thought I was showing strength. But I was really showing the depths of my own despair and weakness.

Then, I really lost it and did something that degraded me far more than it degraded Cliff.

I spat on him.

I actually fucking spat on him.

And this other kid, I can’t remember his name, looked me right in the face with such a look of disgust that it burned me to the quick. “You spit on him?” he shouted, and pulled me back.

And that, my friends, was the moment of epiphany. Through that guy’s eyes, I saw what a craven piece of shit I had allowed myself to become in my desire to belong and to be on top.

I lashed out because I was weak and afraid, and I went too far. I’m pretty sure I’d have walked away ashamed of myself anyway because, as I said, I was a good kid. This was an aberration. But good kid or not, it was me attacking and spitting on a kid whose only sin was that he couldn’t function in the world, a kid fighting his own battles who didn’t need me adding to them.

That other kid, that hero, didn’t become a part of the mob, didn’t give in to those dark petty drives. And he jerked me back into the right, painfully and swiftly, and I am forever in his debt. His disgust with me taught me this necessary lesson much more powerfully than I’d have learned it on my own. I had allowed myself to be drawn into terrible dark waters, and he helped me back to shore.

Trump people swim in those dark waters. They ignore the shore. They thrive out there, making themselves feel strong by tearing others down. The poor, the lost, the weak, the Others…all targets of chthonic rage that can’t find a healthy outlet because the members of the mob don’t bother looking for one. They scream at the light because, like that hero kid’s eyes on me, it makes them see themselves. But they never learn the lesson I learned in that horrible moment.

They are more comfortable in the dark, with their own kind.

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As Above, So Below (aka Art & Science & The Stars Like Dust…)

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                                                                                                  Image by Kim D. French

I’ve always liked Jackson Pollock’s work, but it wasn’t until I saw one of his pieces in person at MOMA a few years ago that I realized how electrically alive his paintings really are. It was, I thought, like looking into a human brain and seeing the crazy branched lightning of synapses firing.

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The image below, created by the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), is a flattened representation of a 3D map showing 650 cubic billion light years, just a quarter of the known universe. Each speck isn’t a single star but an entire galaxy. Peering into it, I now realize that Pollock was painting more than just the mind. He was painting reality itself, the myriad blaze of infinite suns, as well as the swirling quantum dance deep within.

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