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The DNC

I am not planning to write up my Party’s nominating convention. I’ve managed to watch a fair amount of it, but it was difficult to take notes of the late-afternoon sessions, and while the evening speeches have been magnificent, I don’t know that I have anything much to say about them.

I do want to say something about the general political situation, though. I have told my story from 1988 before, back in 2007, in a note called I’m OK, You’re OK, We’re Screwed. The 1988 story, told in short, is that shortly before the election, I read pieces written as if from four years in the future, each candidate represented by a supporter as if they had won and were now running for reelection. The supporter of George H.W. “Poppy” Bush wrote as if from Elysium; the supporter of Michael "Drop off your turkey carcasses" Dukakis wrote as if from, I don’t know, Detroit. Things were hard at the close of the putative first Dukakis term, but they were starting to improve. I read the two columns and thought: That’s it. It’s over. We lose.

While I didn’t actually know much about how elections really work back then, I have to say, I was right. At that moment, the American public didn’t want hard work to turn around a country with ingrained problems, they wanted the illusion of peace. Now, there was a lot more to it than that, and it’s not as if a different column in whatever magazine I was reading would have changed the outcome of the election. So long as the country was largely feeling that things were OK, or (as I think) didn’t want to face those things that were lousy, the incumbent Party was going to win the election.

When I was writing that note, a year and a half before the election, I was wondering whether the country largely felt that we were screwed, or whether we wanted to elect a soothing President, who would tell us that things were OK. What happened that year was largely different: among other things, Barack Obama was the First Black President, and on some level there was the sense that just electing him would mean that everything would be OK. He was peddling audacious hope but not, if I remember correctly, soothing pap—but it almost didn’t matter, since we were so euphoric about the end of racism.

Sigh.

At any rate, what Donald Trump is trying to do seems to me very difficult. He is saying that things are awful, terrible, dangerous and nearly catastrophic. And he is saying that we won’t have to buckle down and work hard to fix it. He, it seems, will do that for us. I don’t know if I think the country will buy it. Either that things are awful (they aren’t—well, there are always things getting better and things getting worse, and we’re running out of time on climate change before our focus will have to shift toward living with the damage rather than preventing it, but the economy is meh-not-that-bad and crime is down and while of course Daesh is scary, terrorism is at a horrible-but-livable level, and while race relations are of course bad and tense, that’s not actually worse than it has been) or that he will fix them. In fact, it seems to me that in terms of my 1988 concerns, either the zeitgeist is reasonably satisfied at the moment, which is good for the incumbent, or Donald Trump will actually convince people that things are scary, which may well be good for the competent-manager type in the race. Which isn’t him.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

http://michaelmoore.com/trumpwillwin/ seems to think that populous Midwestern states are totally miserable and everyone there is red-haze-of-rage pissed off and angry and that MI, OH, PA, and WI are all gimmes for Trump. I don't know what to think; I don't live in the Midwest, and I feel like *Midwesterners* are often cheerful optimistic folks, that's maybe different.


Re "populous Midwestern states are totally miserable": well, my Midwestern state (Indiana) isn't so populous, and Trump is much more likely to carry indiana than MI, OH, PA, and WI. The Rust Belt has deep, long-term problems, and there is much misery, especially in Flint, Detroit, and parts of Ohio. Flint is Michael Moore's hometown, so I expect he feels their pain most deeply, but that doesn't mean he has an accurate read on the region as a whole. There's a strong sense in northern Indiana that things are improving, and where things are not improving, Democratic voters attribute the problems to Republican governors like Mike Pence (IN), Rick Snyder (MI), Scott Walker (WI), and John Kasich (OH), not to the Obama administration. Snyder, Walker, and Pence are all deeply unpopular: a big reason why Pence was ready to abandon his reelection campaign here to become Trump's running mate is that he is deeply unpopular and was by no means reassured of reelection. If the Republican governor of Indiana, the most conservative Midwestern state, was no safe bet for reelection, that hardly suggests the region as a whole is ripe for Trump's picking. Nor has polling of the race shown anything of the sort. Clinton has consistently polled ahead of Trump in all of these states. In the aggregated polling that has followed the Republican convention and preceded the Democratic convention (so a convention bounce for Trump but not yet for Clinton), Clinton is +6 MI, tied with Trump in OH, +3 in PA and +8 in WI. Moore's method of citing "the latest poll" is not a particularly reliable way to use polling data: averages from multiple pollsters are consistently more accurate than any individual poll, and the polling aggregates do not support his narrative about the outlook in the Midwest. That doesn't mean anyone should have an ounce of complacency about this election, but those opposed to Trump should enter the run-up to the general election with confidence that neither the Midwest nor America as a whole is embracing Trump or what he stands for.


Also, and I know this may sound bizarre, but the polls that ask about whether people feel angry have not actually been showing greater than usual levels of anger at the government lately. I know that between the remarkable Bernie Sanders campaign and the successful Donald Trump campaign, the narrative has been about the angry voter, but it just doesn't seem to be true that there are more angry voters than usual.

I haven't looked for crosstabs on those polls to see if such anger as does exist is concentrated in the rust belt, but if so, it doesn't seem to be showing up in the top line polls. It's surely possible that Michael Moore is right (alas) and the national polls that I have been seeing aren't very comfortable for us Dems, but I'm not yet seeing a localized Rust Belt anger.

Thanks,
-V.


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