They didn’t feel heard. I don’t feel heard. This is a problem

December 11, 2016

One of the biggest conundrums I’ve been wrestling with from the 2016 election is what lesson to draw from the Democrat’s defeat, especially when it was fueled by bigotry. That’s not all it was fueled by, but it was a definite, even critical, component. Many of Trump’s voters didn’t feel like they were being heard by the “elites” in Washington, and that may very well be true—but how do you respect that feeling when it was so tightly intertwined with bigotry? Moreover, how do you appeal to these voters without indulging in bigotry yourself?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Democrats shouldn’t. The problem isn’t their messaging or policies. The problem is voters not feeling heard or represented at all if their candidate doesn’t win. The problem is that they don’t feel represented in Washington—even by their own representatives.

(Side note: I wrote this post before the recent CIA leaks, and had partially drafted it even before my (now indulgent-seeming) daily blogging experiment. I mention this because, in light of the dangerous territory we’re entering, it feels similarly indulgent to step back and talk about voting reform. I feel like I need to get this out there, though, because it addresses one of the root causes of what brought us here. Also, I have solutions.)

Not feeling represented is something I can relate to. Though I live in Oregon now, until midway through 2016 I lived in Texas. I’m fairly leftward politically, and while I occasionally had a Democratic representative or mayor, I’ve spent the majority of my life represented by congresspeople, senators, and governors who I didn’t feel reflected my views in the slightest. When people say they feel like their elected officials don’t represent them, I understand. I’ve lived it.

(Side note #2: it annoys me that I moved to such a heavily Democratic state, which is actually one of the things I don’t like about Oregon. I attended one of the most conservative universities in the US, Texas A&M University, and I think that experience benefited me enormously. But Oregon is where I got a day job selling delicious craft beer, which, ya know, not gonna pass up.)

The underlying issue is that a large enough slice of America felt so under-represented in government that, when faced with the choice between a career politician who symbolizes—fairly or not—everything they believed had been failing them, and a bigoted charlatan who was willing to promise them anything in order to line his pockets and aggrandize his potentially world-shattering ego, they chose the latter.

I’ll be more direct: the problem is that there were only two choices, and even when one is catastrophically bad, we’re still left with a roll of the dice as to who we get.

Let me paint a new picture for you. Instead of an election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—with Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin hovering around the periphery, acting as potential spoilers—imagine if we could have had an election where the smaller party candidates would not risk spoiling the election for their voters’ least preferred alternative? Actually, I’ll go a step further—imagine if we could have that election, but between Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Ted Cruz, and any number of other candidates.

This is not a fantasy. This is something we can do.

The problem is not the parties themselves. The problem is that they’re the only two games in town, and they can’t possibly encompass the vast variety of political thought across America. The problem is that the system by which we make the most crucial political decisions in our public lives—how our country should be governed, and who we trust to administer it for us—is broken.

I’m not saying this to be dramatic. The system was not broken by malicious intent. It just wasn’t set up particularly well. Say what you will about the Founding Fathers, they were smart old chaps, but they weren’t infallible (see: slavery)—and remember, as clever as they were, we stand on the shoulders of those giants. We can do better than them, because of them.

This is not a blasphemy. It’s the truth. The system is set up, accidentally, to provide for all sorts of shenanigans that are disenfranchising over half of American voters, and forcing the rest of us into uneasy alliance with people who may not actually share most of our views, but who we vote with because it’s better than the alternative. Because the alternative scares us. That’s not a tenable state of affairs.

This is bullshit. It’s madness! People should not have to hold their nose when they’re voting, or at least they shouldn’t have to do it every single time. People shouldn’t have to vote strategically. People shouldn’t have only two choices. We should have many parties, and voting for all of them should be viable—even if, yes, we end up with a party explicitly filled with bigots. At least then movement conservatives wouldn’t be shackled to their crimes.

We need to reform our voting system, and there is a way to do it. This is the fix that fixes so many other problems—and no, I’m not overstating that. The biggest impediment that faces us in the short, middle, and long term is not the decisions we make, but how we make those decisions—because if we make our decisions in a more intelligent and nuanced way, we’re damn near certain to end up with better results.

This goes far beyond the presidency. The president is only one office, after all, and if we make it so more than two political parties are viable, that means even more people are not going to have a president of their party in office at any one time. But that’s okay, so long as everyone has some elected officials who they specifically helped to elect and who they trust to represent them in government, more often than not—and that’s achievable.

We need to reform how we decide who governs, so that the system can’t be gamed—no gerrymandering, no electoral college, no two-party system, no first-past-the-post elections. This is completely possible, with voting systems that have already been tested on smaller scales.

Interested? Go to the next post for the solution.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    John A

    > That’s not all it was fueled by, but it was a definite, even critical, component.

    You making stating this assumption, that it was a “critical component”, as a fact is another reason why so many Trump supports are pissed at democrats today. Being a “Centrist” living in a republican city with a republican wife, and all her family adamant republicans, I can say that this is the case.

    No, bigotry was not a critical factor. It was a critical factor for the people on the Left who wanted Trump to lose even when they knew they were stretching at best to make the claims. And it wasn’t a critical factor on the Right, because they are so disillusioned with the Left, they dismissed all the claims as exaggerated propaganda.

    The people on the Left “Trusted” their candidate and sources claiming Trump was a bigot

    The people on the Right “Trusted” their candidate and sources that he wasn’t.

    The problem here is not the bigotry (which yes, bigotry is a problem), the problem here is crying wolf and distrust on either side. No one side believed or even really listened to the other. They both shut each other out, which as I noted in my last comment on your other post, shot out dialogue and education.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      We don’t agree on the first point, and I can recognize an argument that’s futile, so I won’t bother (at least over the internet—if it was over beers at a pub, I’d have it, which is a far better place to have a discussion).

      On the problem of both sides not really listening to each other, in that I agree. That’s why I advocate for voting reforms like the ones I discussed in the next post. When there’s a diversity of ideas, the middle will have a place and a voice, rather than both sides feeling like the other has been taken over by the most polarized members of their coalition—radicals, in other words, i.e. the kind of people who can’t be reasoned with.

      And they’re right, I might add—only the most excited (whether for good or for ill) vote in primaries, which is why politicians used to always take flack for pandering to their base during primaries, and then hewing to the middle in the general. They’ve just increasingly stopped hewing to the middle, because districts are getting more gerrymandered and the primary is the only thing they fear. Combine that with media that’s getting increasingly focused on conflict, and politics is too interesting.

      I prefer my politics boring.

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