Tag Archives: presidential election

“I did find the cancer… But I will not kill the patient.”

When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.

The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.

I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer. […]

I had tried to search out any other evidence of internal corruption that would show that the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary, but I could not find any in party affairs or among the staff. I had gone department by department, investigating individual conduct for evidence of skewed decisions, and I was happy to see that I had found none. Then I found this agreement.

The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.


I had to keep my promise to Bernie. I was in agony as I dialed him. Keeping this secret was against everything that I stood for, all that I valued as a woman and as a public servant.

“Hello, senator. I’ve completed my review of the DNC and I did find the cancer,” I said. “But I will not kill the patient.”

–Donna Brazile, Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC

The deceptive allure of binary choices

Coates writes that since among working-class Americans, 61 percent of whites—but only 24 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks—supported Trump, only “whiteness” can be the culprit. But why did any percentage of working class blacks and Hispanics vote for Trump? Do they also secretly harbor white-supremacist viewpoints? Did they too inherit the all-powerful white heirloom? Or is it possible that all of these groups were motivated by a variety of factors, not least among them a visceral and uncompromising dislike of Hillary Clinton?

Beware the deceptive allure of binary choices that masquerade as arguments. Coates’s failure to imagine complexity in human motives yields the assumption that such complexity cannot possibly exist.

–Chloé Valdary, There’s No Single Explanation for Trump’s Election

The valence of the bloody heirloom

An analysis of exit polls conducted during the presidential primaries estimated the median household income of Trump supporters to be about $72,000. But even this lower number is almost double the median household income of African Americans, and $15,000 above the American median. Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascardads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant. According to Mother Jones, based on preelection polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown.

Part of Trump’s dominance among whites resulted from his running as a Republican, the party that has long cultivated white voters. Trump’s share of the white vote was similar to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But unlike Romney, Trump secured this support by running against his party’s leadership, against accepted campaign orthodoxy, and against all notions of decency. By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.


“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Trump bragged in January 2016. This statement should be met with only a modicum of skepticism. Trump has mocked the disabled, withstood multiple accusations of sexual violence (all of which he has denied), fired an FBI director, sent his minions to mislead the public about his motives, personally exposed those lies by boldly stating his aim to scuttle an investigation into his possible collusion with a foreign power, then bragged about that same obstruction to representatives of that same foreign power. It is utterly impossible to conjure a black facsimile of Donald Trump—to imagine Obama, say, implicating an opponent’s father in the assassination of an American president or comparing his physical endowment with that of another candidate and then successfully capturing the presidency. Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom and the great power in not being a nigger.

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, The First White President

Politics as fandom.

Fandom is an especially fertile lens through which to view such questions, because fandom is premised on shared passion, and that shared passion creates tribal affinities and emotional attachments that obliterate rational thought. (If you want to analyze digging-in-your-heels, against-all-evidence self-justification, look at fan behavior.) We can see the real-world consequences of fandom when we turn to politics. Much of the vomitorious 2016 U.S. election was a clash of fandoms: Bernie fans versus Hillary fans versus Donnie fans. The U.S. is so besotted with celebrity culture that we’ve handed our fate over to perceptions of politics that are the intellectual equivalent of liking or disliking a Kardashian. Fascism doesn’t need the leader principle anymore; it thrives much better in the politics of style and image.

–Matthew Cheney, The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

A formless, mute, infant and terrifying form of monstrosity called the future

In the accounts given by philosophers like Bernard Stiegler, the human stands on the point of vanishing entirely; we become something incidental to a total technological system. As he points out, a human being without any technological prostheses is nothing, an unsteady sac of flesh defined only by what it doesn’t have: no shelter, no protection, no society. We create tools, but technical apparatuses and their milieus advance according to their own logic, and these non-living objects have their own strange form of life. Our brains developed to control our hands; human consciousness itself was only the by-product of a technical evolution that moved from flint-knapping to the hammer to the virtual bartender; its real job isn’t to perform any particular task but to perpetuate itself.  “Robots,” he writes, are “seemingly designed no longer to free humanity from work but to consign it either to poverty or stress.” Whatever illusion of predominance we had is fading: For others, like Benjamin Bratton, the real political subject is no longer a human individual but a “user,” which can be any kind of biological or digital assemblage. With production automated according to algorithmically generated targets, with the vast majority of all written language taking the form of spam and junk code, this system has less and less use for us—even as a moving part—with every passing day.

Web Summit is where humanity rushes towards its extinction.

–Sam Kriss, Watching the World Rot at the World’s Largest Tech Conference

I already wonder what Prof. Jacobs would have to say about Kriss’s provocative essay. This particular passage reeks of techno-determinism, albeit a pessimistic one. Kriss spends an entire paragraph laying out the case that “non-living objects” — our tools — “have their own strange form of life,” and that these tools have evolved (somehow) into an increasingly autonomous system with “less and less use for us–even as a moving part.” All of this suggests to me that Kriss views humanity as extraordinarily deprived of agency by its technological infrastructure.

Yet the following sentence–more of an aphorism, really–declares simply, “Web Summit is where humanity rushes towards its extinction.” I emphasize those words because they suggest that we are actively moving–as opposed to being moved–toward self-annhilation.

To me, this rhetorical confusion is pretty significant. At the end of the essay, Kriss documents a meet-and-greet at a local watering hole. He laments that human sociality has been transmogrified into ever more affective labor.

A human enjoyment as basic as getting drunk together had been transformed into something else; everyone was still at work, being pulled along by the logic of whatever it is that they’d collectively invented. In a corner of one bar, a muted TV was showing the presidential election on CNN: state by state slowly turning red, a grinning goblin creeping closer to the brink of power. People around me were worried; they thought that a nuclear-armed Donald Trump might lead to the end of humanity. For all the tech industry’s claims to be the leading edge of tomorrow, these people were still thinking in terms of a very old world. The end of humanity had already arrived; it was everywhere around us.

But what or who, exactly, had done the transforming? The “logic of whatever it is that they’d collectively invented”? Kriss’s refusal to name names makes a sort of sense, given that a main theme of his essay is the way our society is increasingly a “system terrifyingly self-sustaining and utterly opaque.” This systemic opacity makes it impossible or difficult. Or perhaps, for his rhetorical purposes, it’s rhetorically undesirable to name openly and clearly. Look at that passage again. States, one by one, turn red, apparently of their own accord, as if the vote tallies themselves are “a grinning goblin.” Is Donald Trump the goblin? Or does Kriss simply fear to name the agent that is actually responsible for turning those states red: humanity? States don’t just turn red of their own accord, even on CNN election maps. Voters vote, and the color reflects their choice.

I honestly can’t tell if Kriss is being imprecise as a matter of rhetorical strategy or because he’s not carefully thinking through the implications of his premise. In a lot of ways, it seems politically easier to say, “The end of humanity had already arrived.” It lets us off the hook for having to take responsibility and a measure of control over our technosphere. It also gives people like Kriss persmission to dismiss and demean those people whose goals and purposes are opaque to him.

Kriss can’t understand why tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists would choose to congregate in such a chaotic way. He doesn’t get the appeal of running a 90% chance of failure as an app innovator. The idea of using a social occasion as a milieu for professional networking appears vaguely insidious. Lurking behind it all is some Illuminati-esque entity called Technology (or maybe the Tech Industry?), whose agency and motives are obscure and sinister, possibly apocalyptic. And: surely real people could not choose to vote for Trump of their own volition. There must be something compelling them. Kriss (willfully?) ignores the fact that people and their choices remain utterly central to the maintenance of any and all tools that comprise our systems.

I’m largely sympathetic to Kriss’s critique, I think. Most of the systems that hold our social world together mystify me in many profound ways. People themselves constantly disappoint and mystify me, too. But I do think it’s a categorical error to ascribe agential vitality to “systems” or “technology” without doing at least minimal definitional work. Where does human agency end and systemic agency begin? What is the nature of this “strange form of life” posessed by non-living objects? Are all non-living objects possessed by the same, strange life-force, and do they all exert it the same way upon humanity? Is Kriss overwhelmed by The Tech Industry at the Web Summit, or is he primarily overwhelmed by the apparently chaotic society of its attendees–the people who’ve chosen to work there?

Most importantly, doesn’t Kriss fall into the ancient trap of self-fulfilling prophecy? Non-living systems built by people enervate human societies precisely to the extent that humanity cedes agential authority to its tools. When the crash happens, it’s often because people start thinking that their tools will take care of themselves. Worse, cataclysms often happen because people start confusing other people with tools. Kriss seems to lament that transformation; he also empowers and perpetuates it. Instead of trying to understand how and why people would be so gung-ho about valorizing their tools (rightly or wrongly), he speculates that the tools have simply gotten the better of their masters. And instead of trying to understand how and why people would choose to vote for a grinning goblin (rightly or wrongly), he intimates that they’ve simply already sacrificed their humanity. “Web Summit is a hyper-concentrated image of our entire world, and the panic and confusion that is to come,” Kriss says, because society’s “structure is one of increasing chaos.” Perhaps. Probably. Or there’s a pattern there that Kriss can’t see because he refuses recognize it as an extension of his own humanity.


UPDATE (1:51 pm 9/11/16): HRC’s concession speech

Please, not the face!

Looking back, we young idealists and activists were not so much wrong in our assessments of Humphrey as we were totally wrong in our assessment of whether it matters if a corporate center liberal is elected over an insecure, unstable, right-wing candidate who does not respect the Constitution.

Our failure was not in our assessment of Humphrey but in our failure to understand Nixon and what was at stake. We could have turned the close election in favor of Humphrey. We could not have moved the election results by 5 points, but we certainly could have moved the needed one.

Our refusal to participate started a process of making our movement profoundly irrelevant. We allowed Richard Nixon to come to power. We allowed a right-wing counter-reformation to hold power and warp American politics for most of the next four decades. Within our movement, we allowed militancy to replace strategy.

We would continue to march. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of us would continue to protest the war. We shut down campuses. We helped organize returning veterans to join the fight against the war. Many long-term, positive, and enduring movements and changes in the country have their roots at least partially in our efforts. However, none of that changes the mistake made in 1968.

The one irreducible fact of this bizarre election is this: The only way Donald Trump does not become president of the United States is if Hillary Clinton does. In any closely contested state, staying home or voting for a third-party candidate is, in its impact, a vote for Trump. It does not take a great leap of moral or political imagination to envision the damage a Trump presidency will bring to our nation and to the world.

–Michael Ansara, The lousy reason I didn’t vote in 1968 — and why Sanders supporters shouldn’t fall for it

Notice the framing in this essay. Because Ansara writes to Bernie Sanders supporters, a non-Clinton vote = a Trump vote. Of course, Republican apologists are making the inverse argument to the #NeverTrumpers: a non-Trump vote = a Clinton vote. What both arguments have in common — and these arguments have been trotted out like clockwork for every election in my lifetime as well as, I’m sure, for every election in the lifetimes of my parents and grandparents — is that they treat this election as the most historically decisive election ever. This election, Ansara promises, is a paradigm shift. He should know, right? After all, he was there in 1968, man!

“We have a failure of political imagination. We have a failure of moral imagination,” Ansara alleges elsewhere. I’d add that we also have a failure of historical imagination. Only in a culture so blinded by presentism could we so easily forget the apocalyptic rhetoric that thunders down upon us in Every. Single. Election. Cycle.

Including 1968.

If the republic falls during the (terrifyingly possible, however improbable) Trump presidency, it will be easy to blame the people who refused to vote for Trump. (Me? I’d prefer to blame the people who actually vote for him, but whatever.) That would be a failure of historical imagination. Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. Even before this particular election cycle, the forces were at work that prepared the conditions for his dominance in the conservative/Republican electorate — just as those same (or perhaps slightly different) forces prepared the conditions for Hillary Clinton’s dominance in the liberal/Democrat electorate. In direct contradition to Ansara, I would argue that one of the things that made Clinton and Trump possible is the fact that our political institutions have for generations worked to conserve political power within a two-party system.

A key part of that system’s strategy is to denigrate, consistently and vociferously, the notion that people ought to vote their consciences. (And don’t you doubt that it pains me to echo Ted Cruz.) Do you want to know why Trump and Sanders did so well in the primaries? Sure, racism helped Trump and chimerical economic theory helped Sanders. A big part of it, though, was the widespread (and accurate) feeling that the entire institutional apparatus shared by the Republicans and Democrats was designed to deny real choices to the American electorate. Both Trump and Sanders represent significant deviations from their parties’ respective orthodoxies. The grassroots turned to iconoclasm within the two parties because they felt they had no constructive alternatives outside of those parties.

Let me put it another way. The two-headed leviathan has succeeded for 200-odd years in squelching the rise of alternative political parties; in large part, it has done so by absorbing the radicals and agitators into its coils and domesticating them. The risk the leviathan has always run with this strategy is that a candidate or movement can come along and essentially break a party from the inside if he or she gathers enough constituent support from the heterodox radicals within the rank-and-file.

To wit, the Democrats’ cultivation of a radically progressive base, with its own ideological rigidity, nearly backfied as spectacularly as the Republicans’ own cultivation of radicalism. There’s been a lot of talk about Bernie pulling the Democrats left, but the party still nominated a conventional lifelong politico who portrays herself as quintessentially conservative in temperament. With all her problems, the Democrat Party ended up backing a candidate who will not smash its liberal, coalitional approach to governance all to pieces. It came pretty close to doing so, though. And Clinton’s nomination might mean that Democrats lose the votes of would-be revolutionaries. Considering that the best intellectual case the conservative movement can muster for Trump is a Flight 93 analogy, the Democrats ought to be a little more sanguine about the fact that their primary did not spur them to seal an ideological suicide pact. The Republicans are reaping that whirlwind right now, and the most unlikeable candidate the Democrats have ever nominated will benefit as a result.

In a healthy, diverse political ecosystem, we’d have more viable parties, which comes with a higher likelihood that any one party would have to share power with a rival in order to govern effectively. In the political ecosystem we have, the two behemoths treat elections as zero-sum games.

Zero-sum politics is great for authoritarians. Who wants to share power anyway? Who wants to treat a diverse body politic as a melting pot of opinions and viewpoints? We should shut up and be grateful that we have any choice at all. I imagine a protection racketeer asking a luckless shopowner if he prefers a fist to the head or the stomach. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that maybe we don’t need to get worked over at all, and that there is something seriously diseased about the relationship we, the American people, have cultivated with the institutions which are the self-appointed gatekeepers of our elected offices. We reinforce this diseased relationship every time we pleadingly mumble, “Not the face!” and pull the lever for the lesser of two evils.

The only people who benefit from defining the voter’s franchise so negatively are those who treat elections as zero-sum games.

That is to say: the only people who treat elections as zero-sum games are authoritarians. Right now, that describes both Republicans and Democrats.

Ansara admits that he didn’t vote in 1968. He’s right to acknowledge that as a moral and political failure of imagination. It would have remained a failure of moral and political imagination had he voted for Humphrey, despite his disdain for the man. The fact that the citizens of the United States, decade after decade, refuse to consider other parties is not pragmatism. It’s complacence. If Bernie Sanders supporters recognize Clinton for the ethical train wreck wreck she is and decide to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or anybody else who isn’t named Donald Trump, that’s not a failure of moral and political imagination. It’s having the courage of one’s convictions.

If you don’t vote for Clinton, you’re not strengthening Trump; you’re strengthening the party of whomever you do vote for. Ansara, by refusing to vote at all, simply weakened the institutional viability of all the potential alternatives to the Republican and Democrat candidates (not to mention those candidates themselves). He weakened those alternatives in 1968 by not voting at all; he’ll weaken them again by voting Clinton in 2016.

None of this is to say that I don’t see Trump as a direct threat to our constitutional republic. I do. I think Hillary Clinton represents a far less severe threat than Trump does. My sentiment that Clinton is not nearly as bad as Trump does not, in itself, obligate me to vote for her. I’m obligated to vote for a candidate that would discharge his or her duties in a way befitting my conception of what the American president ought to do for the next four years. That obligation is both moral and political. And because I possess (dare I say) a historical imagination, I can assert with some confidence that this election is unique but not special.

Despite the apocalyptic tenor of even the most mundane election conversation (including much of that found on this blog, I admit), the stakes of this election are not so absolute that I must abandon all principle and vote on the basis of He Whom I Most Fear. The awfulness of Trump does not mean Clinton is entitled to my vote by default. A vote for Clinton should mean I actually am with her, not merely against him.

Political parties have always sought more power than they had, but they haven’t always behaved as though total dominance of the entire governmental apparatus was the only way to get good things done. Authoritarianism is now the norm in the political discourse of both major parties, and I refuse to bow to its abusive logic. If Trump wins, America will be worse off than it would be under Clinton. If I uphold the myth of the binary choice, then all I do is enable the two parties’ zero-sum political authoritarianism for another four years.