“All great changes,” said Deepak Chopra, “are preceded by chaos.”
That starts to get at it — how to understand, and start healing, the national wound inflicted on this country, and the world, by the 2016 presidential election. But I need to throw in a little John Oliver as well.
“We are faced,” he said on his TV show, “Last Week Tonight,” “with the same questions as the guy who wakes up after a Vegas bachelor party deep in the desert, naked, tied to a cactus and a dead clown. Namely, how the fuck did we get here and what do we do now?”
We’ll be struggling to answer the second question for the next four years, but the question of how we got here can be addressed with a certain troubling clarity. It took more than Donald Trump’s spur-of-the-moment racist populism. The groundwork for the results of the 2016 election began with the nation’s founding — and the racist elitism that was deeply a part of it.
“But our Constitution embedded slavery without mentioning it: ‘other persons’ — that is, slaves — were counted as three-fifths to bulk up the political power in Congress of the slaveholders in the South,” John R. Burbank, executive director, Economic Opportunity Institute, wrote this week at Huffington Post. “Then they gave each state two senate seats, no matter what the population, giving small states equal power to big states.
“The founders further reinforced the protection of government from democracy with the Electoral College. This archaic symptom of anti-democracy still confronts and confounds us every four years.”
Burbank notes that, in Wyoming, for instance, there are 196,000 people per electoral vote. In California, 709,000 people are worth one electoral vote.
“I see it as a constitutional coup,” he wrote, “the result of the founders’ designs against democracy.”
So-o-o-o . . . it kind of starts here, I guess. Hillary Clinton, of course, won the “popular vote,” as it is called (rather than just “the vote”); the term has a sly, built-in derisiveness, implying superficiality, or at least a lack of gravitas. It’s not that big a deal that she won the popular vote because that’s not the real vote.
I’ve heard, since the election, a bandying about of the term “the sanctity of the presidency.” Reckless Donald belittles and endangers that sanctity. But the sanctity of the vote, that is to say, the sanctity of the voters, has been belittled since the nation’s beginning. Indeed, the national journey, these past twelve score years, has been to a large extent a journey of expanding the franchise: to non-property owners, to women, to people of color. It’s been a journey toward democracy, and it has been opposed every step of the way by the powerful and entitled. We have a long tradition in this country of demeaning the right to vote and gaming the democratic process, just as we have a long, embedded tradition of racism.
We also have a tradition of standing up for democratic values and the sanctity of the voter. Unfortunately, this is not a tradition embedded in the American infrastructure, except maybe as a platitude. We take “pride” in our democracy but we relegate the serious work of maintaining election integrity — speaking truth to power — to the social margins, where it can easily be ignored . . . and the platitude of our greatness more easily prevail.
Alas, the election of Donald Trump sullies that platitude!
What it also does is expose two-plus centuries of American racism and anti-democratic manipulation. This is how we got to such a shocking juncture.
“But, the evidence already in our hands makes me sadly confident in saying, Jim Crow, not the voters, elected Mr. Trump,” writes Greg Palast, a long-time journalistic sleuth on behalf of election integrity.
“. . . This country is violently divided,” he continues, “but in the end, there simply aren’t enough white guys to elect Trump nor a Republican Senate. The only way they could win was to eliminate the votes of non-white guys — and they did so by tossing Black provisional ballots into the dumpster, ID laws that turn away students — the list goes on.
“It’s a web of complex obstacles to voting by citizens of color topped by that lying spider, Crosscheck” — which Palast described in detail in a Rolling Stone article last August.
Under the guise of combating the bogus problem of “voter fraud” (evil people voting multiple times, or non-citizens pretending to be citizens so they can cast one or more ballots), Republican operatives developed a strategy to eliminate large swaths of voters with last names indicating they are probably African-American, Latino or Asian, simply by finding duplicates of people with the same, or similar, names in other states. Of the 7.2 million names on the Crosscheck list, 1.1 million wound up getting removed from the voting rolls by Election Day, according to Palast.
Another long-time election integrity investigator, Jonathan Simon, closely monitored the 2016 exit polls. Such polls are considered a highly accurate means to gauge the honesty of foreign elections, but sometimes prove awkwardly problematic here in the U.S.
Simon noted a national disparity between exit poll data and election results from Clinton to Trump of 3.2 percent. Furthermore, the shift gave Trump victories in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan. If Clinton had won them, as the polls indicated she would, she would have wound up with 336 electoral votes to Trump’s 188, according to Simon. The specter this disparity opens up is vote count fraud, in particular, the hacking of computer votes — the fairly easy possibility of which has long been controversial.
All this combines with the seductive nature of power and the nation’s long history of elitist racism. This begins to explain how we got here.
President Trump? Oh my God.
Those words alone stir a sense of disbelief and chaos from sea to shining sea. Let the great change that wants to emerge from this chaos begin with a national demand for election integrity and voter sanctity.