A Wedge Too Far

Last year wrecked us. Election obsession eclipsed our decency, and there’s no indication we can recover.

Among my friends on Facebook, I count a Reverend and several educators. They’re trained, called even, to open closed minds. The rest of us aren’t. So we took the tactics of fanaticism (Cowboys vs Eagles, Marvel vs DC) and translated it into political discourse. We taunted our opponents, buried them in virtual information that supported our opinions or refuted theirs. We painted our souls in the colors of our team and hurled insults at the opposition.

What I learned: You can’t change someone’s mind by sharing blog posts, articles and memes. You can’t change someone’s opinions by degrading them. You can neither change the world nor be changed by it by belonging to groups of like minded people. Civil face to face discussions, meeting people who hold beliefs contradictory to your own, listening to another’s testimony with an open heart; these are how world views change.

I have deeply held opinions that are political, social, cultural and religious. My opinions have evolved dramatically over the years. I’ve been on both sides of the political and cultural issues that separate us, and my beliefs were unwavering… until they wavered. Want to know how that happened? Come have a drink with me and find out.

My advice: Quit purging your friends list. Don’t burn down the neighboring village. Visit it. You might find it’s your own mind that gets changed. If you insist on being a social warrior, please remember the golden rule. If you sincerely want to change the world, join a campaign, join a church, volunteer, or run for office. Get involved in the real world not the virtual one. If you just want to yell into the canyon to hear your echo, go to Arizona.

America Loses When Everyone Chooses

So many mentions of Federalist 68 in the news this week. So I read it. (Well, re-read it, as I’m sure this was suggested, if not required, reading in Mr. Strother’s History class.)

Federalist 68 is the argument made for adoption of the 12th Amendment by Alexander Hamilton. The 12th Amendment provides the procedure for electing the President and Vice President, which is through the electoral college.  Each state gets one elector for each member of congress (both houses). This is to provide fair representation for small states. In modern elections it’s been argued that it causes under representation of larger states, since even the smallest state gets two Senators and one member of the House, even if their population isn’t really big enough for a House member. Larger states get two Senators as well and House members portioned by population.

What stands out to me isn’t what the news keeps telling us, that the electoral college exists to protect us from ourselves. We weren’t meant to have a say. Hamilton never thought the general public would or should be allowed to pick the President at all. The voters were to select electors, who themselves were to be “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” (I know… Hamilton was suuuuper wordy, and he seems to have never spoken in rhyme. Try to stay awake. This will be over soon.) In other words, electors were supposed to be wise men capable of deliberating and making the correct choice for President.

The electors represent the “sense of the people” not the will of the people. The voters in no way select a Presidential candidate. They select someone they trust to pick the best person to serve as President. It’s democracy once removed (or indirect democracy if we’re being pedantic). As an extra safeguard, in order to win the Presidency, the victor has to receive more than half of the votes from the electoral college. Anyone who can’t do that, can’t win. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, the House of Representatives gets the names of the top five candidates and they choose “the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.” It’s not clear that the ultimate winner has to be chosen from the top five finalists. There’s nothing there about all the electors from a state being required to all vote the same way. Each state is supposed to convene its electors, and they debate and deliberate and then each casts a vote. The votes from all of the states’ electors are then tallied.

Despite what the news today says, Hamilton didn’t worry at all about an unfit person becoming president. He literally says, “It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” The problem is over the years we’ve lost sight of what the founding fathers had in mind. They didn’t want us picking the president. (Some of them did, but the compromise was that we shouldn’t.) They were totally okay with the occasional demagogue making it to Congress. Hamilton says “talent for low intrigue and the little arts” might charm a State, but with this electoral process in place no one like that could ever be President.

Prior to 1820 a limited number of states held popular votes to give direction to electors. Most simply chose electors and trusted them to do the job. By 1824 all states were holding popular votes, and of course, it immediately all went to hell. There were four candidates in the 1824 election. Andrew Jackson received the most popular and electoral votes, but he did not receive the majority of electoral votes. So the four names were sent to the House of Representatives, and they chose the most qualified man, John Q. Adams, to be president. Andrew Jackson was probably illiterate, and certainly irrational. John Quincy Adams was worldly, dignified and intelligent. No brainer. Four years later Jackson trounced Adams and we had our first potentially crazy person in the white house. (Yes, he was a war hero and a decorated general, but he was more George Custer than George Washington.)

In the intervening years, we’ve moved completely away from Hamiltonian democracy and toward the Jeffersonian ideal of a more direct-democratic model. In modern elections, each state’s electors are required to vote for whoever wins their state’s popular vote. The actual vote casting of the electoral college is ceremonial.

Based on state by state popular votes in 2016, Donald Trump should receive 306 electoral votes. Next Monday, the electoral college will convene in 50 state capitals and duplicate the state level popular votes in direct contradiction of Federalist 68. Barring a revolt of 37 Republican electors, and despite Hamilton’s prediction “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” an absurd cartoon villain will win the presidency.

If 37 Republican electors cast their votes for someone other than Trump, the House of Representatives will convene to select our next president. I can say with 98% certainty that won’t happen, and with 100% certainty that a Republican would still win in that scenario. That Republican probably wouldn’t be Donald Trump, but would more likely be Mike Pence or Paul Ryan. Ryan is going to be President eventually. Now’s as good a time as any.

Thanksgiving in 2016

Generations from now, when historians look back on 2016, they’ll agree that it can eat a bag of dicks. This year’s harvest was a steaming pile of crap. Regardless, we’ll give thanks tomorrow and celebrate with a feast.

As a nation, we normally gather on Thanksgiving in large diverse groups of friends and family. We smile and nod at racist uncles and Fox News repeaters, indulge vegan cousins and ignore goth nieces. A large enough dose of tryptophan makes everything a little more tolerable. This year, however, many will gather in smaller like minded groups. Some won’t join any gathering at all. The weeks’ old wounds of election day are still too raw for tolerance to be allowed back in our homes.

I often wonder about Thanksgiving in 1963. President Kennedy was killed on the Friday before Thanksgiving. He’d already pardoned a turkey. Right before Thanksgiving is a shit time to die. What’s worse is he was on his way to lunch. I’m very structured about meal times. I would have been thinking about what I was having for lunch at that time of day, and at that time of November, I’d have been daydreaming of the coming feast. Maybe presidents have more to worry about, but maybe they don’t. Maybe the personal tragedy of November 22, 1963 is that a man was robbed of life, lunch and Thanksgiving feast. I’ve heard stories of some pretty horrible things said in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That must have been an uncomfortable year to share a table with people who had wicked words in their mouths.

There’s no moral to this stream of consciousness. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that you don’t need to make a point. Also a bag of dicks is a lot uglier than anyone could have dreamed.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Final Forecast

This is my final map prediction for 2016. I just went and double checked. It’s identical to the first map I made on Oct. 26. I should have stuck with my gut.
Just as a reminder… This is strictly electoral math nerdery and not a political opinion. I promise I’d be just as geeky about the map regardless of the outcome. My goal is to be right, not rosy.

Forecast 2

It’s new map day. A lot has happened since I shared my last prediction a few weeks ago. I’m hesitant to share this now, knowing that news tends to blow up on Friday afternoon.
A few notes…
1) This is not a political opinion post. It’s purely electoral nerdery. I geek out for the math of electoral politics.
2) The following red states may turn blue before I make my final prediction in the coming weeks:
     – GA (16)
     – UT (6)
     – IA (6)
     – though unlikely, it’s in the margin of error, TX (38)
3) The following blue states may turn red before I make my final prediction:
     – ME (4)
     – AZ (11)


This is not a political post. It’s a forecast.

For reference on my Electoral College street cred, I called the 2012 number accurately on the morning of election day (Scroll my timeline if you doubt me. It was 11/6/2012.), I spiked the ball at bed time and gloated the next day. TV pundits missed that call. I got it right.

For 2016, I’m still on the fence with Georgia and Pennsylvania, and Maine could split it’s 4 electors, but it’s close enough for me to make my prediction. I may still revise this as we get closer to Nov. 8.

Also, for the record, Clinton wins this race even if she loses Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. That’s unprecedented in modern elections.

If the Democrat were anyone else, TX would have been in play. Speaking as a Texan, that’s kind of exciting. If the Democrat were anyone else, the Democratic electoral count would be closer to 400. That’s landslide territory.

If the Republican were any other candidate, FL, NC, and VA would have given the win over to the GOP. If the Republican were Paul Ryan, WI would be red and MN would be in play. Something to consider for 2020.capture

Don’t Vote; Won’t Matter

I am and have always been obsessed with American politics, American presidential politics, doubly so. I’ve read dozens of presidential biographies and autobiographies. I could pick all 44 of them out of a line up and tell you a few interesting facts about each. I’m properly obsessed with the personalities of each and every one of them. I even have a set of presidents made by the Marx toy company in the 60’s. My personal hero is Calvin Coolidge, who is literally the only man Will Rogers ever met and didn’t like.

In past cycles, I’ve posted political blog posts here including my manifesto. However, this election cycle has left me so disgusted that I haven’t said or shared anything outside of the safety of my living room. It’s one of those “if you don’t have anything nice to say” situations. I know sharing my opinions on Facebook won’t change yours and is likely to either hurt your feelings or cause you to say something to hurt mine.

People who drag out the old “lesser of two evils” gripe have always pissed me off. In most election cycles, there are two, or more, extremely qualified candidates who survive the trial by fire of their party’s nominating process. I bitched openly and often about a recent president, but my complaints were about his policies, not his ability or his pedigree. I have had the great fortune, as most of you have, of standing in a voting booth and knowing either option would be a good steward of the presidency and of the country. This year, though, is the first time I’ve had a concern that one of the “two evils” might actually be evil.

This all got me to thinking about why it doesn’t really matter.

The founding fathers will protect us. One of the great things about our constitution is that it created a government that can’t be dominated by a single person or even a single party. We’re built for dysfunction. There are three branches of government with three very separate functions. The primary purpose of each is to either validate the others or prevent the others from growing too powerful. One of the branches, the Congress, is itself divided into two houses made up of elected representatives from all over the country each with their own agenda. The only way Congress can accomplish its one function (to create laws) is for a majority of representatives from each house to agree and then for both houses to agree with each other. What’s even more dysfunctional is that right now, the majority party in control of both houses of Congress, believes most governance should not be done at the federal level.

Your vote is worthless. In case you didn’t already know, you live in a voting district that was created to ensure the victory of a single party in every election. That sentence is true no matter where you live in the country. Yes, your red district used to be blue, and will one day be blue again. By that time, the lines will have been redrawn at least two more times to try and keep it red. Unless you’re drawing out congressional districts, you are powerless in choosing your Congressman. Senators are chosen at a statewide level. State political allegiances change very gradually over decades from red to blue to red to blue. If you’re over forty and live in the South, you’ve watched an entire region of the country go from blue to red, and some of it is now beginning the gradual move back to blue. Unless you live in a state with a small and gullible population, I’m looking at you Montana, your one vote and your opinion won’t accomplish anything. Finally, despite what you may think, Presidents are not elected through popular votes. They are elected by the electoral college. When you vote, you are technically helping select the electors from your Congressional district and state (see above for why that doesn’t matter), and those electors can vote for whomever they darn well please.

Make America The Same Again.  The state of American politics has always, always been just as ugly, dirty and loathsome as it is today. The parties have always vilified each other. Every president has been openly despised and ridiculed by the “other” party. Only during times of national crisis do the branches work together. And even then it’s only ever long enough to start a war. Once fighting commences, they go back to hating each other, unless one party has the decency to secede entirely from the union. Many of our leaders have been deplorable human beings. Our founding fathers sat in a hot room and did the math on the value of a human being who is owned by another human being (spoiler, the solution is 3/4 of a human being). Once, for 140 years, women couldn’t vote at all because men said so. Many of our presidents cheated on their wives, but Warren Harding went so far as to write his mistress letters about his penis and probably fathered a child with her. Richard Nixon’s long national nightmare ended in resignation. The things Bill Clinton did should be restricted to the realm of presidential fan-fic. There were no good old days. This is literally as good as it gets. And nothing you do will change that.

Let’s go back to pretending our differences don’t matter. I have friends… Well, I have Facebook friends, who support Trump or who support Sanders or who support Clinton or who don’t care at all. I like those people. All of them. That’s why, despite my passion, I haven’t ranted long and hard about this disaster of an election year. Do I wish we had better candidates? Yes. Do I wish I could explain why I disagree with your choice and maybe even change your mind with my wicked logic? Of course I do. Do I wish Donald Trump would go away and let someone more experienced, presidential and less divisive take his place? Duh. Do I wish we could cede all governmental power to IBM’s Watson? Yes, yes I do. But it’s not going to happen.

What i’m saying is it’s okay to be passionate, but don’t expect to change the world… and don’t be a dick.