The November Dilemma
Well, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are finally completed, and the campaigning can begin. Or rather, intensify. Because the campaigning started a long time ago. I don’t think that President Trump ever stopped campaigning throughout his presidency. He had 40 rallies in 2018 and 21 in 2019. And when he couldn’t hold rallies because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he turned daily medical briefings on the pandemic into a political campaign sideshow. At least he did until polls showed him that conflating emergency crisis response with politicking did not sit well with the American public.
You see, governing is different than politicking. Governing requires reason and compromise. Politicians cannot even agree that two plus two is four. Governing requires the understanding of the other side’s point of view and finding common ground. Politicking not only requires the rejection of the other side’s point of view but also the condemnation of the opponent’s motivation as well. When governing the other side is made up of colleagues who have different ideas on how solve mutual problems. When politicking, the other side is made up of evil revolutionaries who want to take away your property and freedom or evil misanthropes that think minorities are sub-humans that should suffer and die.
Our current round of vituperative politics began with the creation of cable news networks. The first cable news network was CNN, founded by Ted Turner in 1980. I did not watch it much because I was overseas much of the time but had returned to the US in 1990, just in time to watch the coverage of the First Gulf War. I was hooked and have been a news junkie ever since. Other cable news networks such as Fox News and MSNBC, followed.
Over time, these initially neutral news broadcasts, became highly politicized. Fox’s O’Reilly Factor, hosted by Bill O’Reilly, was an opinionated prime time show that featured, not news, but mostly conservative editorial comment. The O’Reilly Factor was the most popular cable news show for many years. CNN and MSNBC both tacked to the left in the search for market share. So, cable news networks evolved into national feedback loops providing viewers on both the right and the left with news and opinion slanted toward their political point of view.
The creation of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has allowed the cable news viewers to communicate with others sharing their viewpoints, often to the exclusion of any other viewpoint. With little editorial or regulatory oversight, these social media platforms are rife with rumors, conspiracy theories, outright lies and hacking by foreign governments. Eventually national broadcast television and large newspapers (collectively the mainstream media) began slanting their news and editorial opinions (mostly to the left). Many of you may believe slanted news to be a recent phenomenon but biased news coverage represents a great American tradition descending from Philip Freneau’s National Gazette (sponsored by Thomas Jefferson) and the opposing Gazette of the United States (sponsored by Alexander Hamilton).
But just recently, there have been announcements of a new cable news network that is promising fair, unbiased, non-partisan news during prime time. WGN NewsNation is a new effort by Nexstar Media Group (owner of over a hundred local stations scattered around the country) to tap into a large market in between the left and right. It will be interesting to follow up on their effort and see how much demand there is for unbiased news. Of course, what one person might think is unbiased, another person may believe to be biased. Journalists (by the nature of their profession) tend to be liberal, so what they believe to be centrist is often center-left. NewsNation, in order to be truly unbiased, needs to have some sort of oversight committee composed of people of all political stripes to make sure reporting is fair. Excessive coverage of protests and violence will appeal to one group while downplaying such coverage will appeal to a different group. NewsNation has a formidable challenge ahead of them. I wish them luck.
But if there is a significant audience for centrist oriented news as would be necessary for the success of NewsNation, there would also be a significant population of centrist voters that are appalled at the radical choices they face in the 2020 election cycle. There were a couple of feeble attempts in the Democratic primaries to put forth centrist candidates, such as Mike Bloomberg, in addition to potential non-aligned candidates such as Howard Schultz. However, these efforts came to nothing since the primary system favors more radical candidates with highly motivated supporters.
Third-party campaigns such as the Libertarians and the Green Party, also lie out on the fringes and so do not appeal to the silent majority in the middle. The aftermath of the 2020 elections will create major changes in the traditional Republican and Democratic parties. Party leaders may move to the center or further to the extremes. We will have to wait and see. But if NewsNation is successful, and if the major party leaders do not acknowledge that success and see what its potential means, there will be room for a new party to develop.
In the 2020 presidential race, we are faced with a choice between a narcissist whose erratic behavior lies dangerously close to madness and an aging party hack in the beginning stages of dementia. The fear that many of us feel is that a win by President Trump will drag the nation dangerously toward fascist authoritarianism while a win by Joe Biden would lead to an incapacitated president that would be the puppet of his far-left handlers. A sweep by the Democrats could change the basic nature of America and disrupt the life of everyone in the country. Fanatics on each side have tendencies toward authoritarianism and oppose the checks and balances put in place by the Founders to forestall just such a populist shift that would destroy our republic.
There is not a lot that most people can do. The party selections have been made. The primaries have been held and the candidates selected. It is too late to add any candidates to the ballots. But there is one thing that we can still do. We can vote for divided government. In most cases, divided government is a bad thing. It’s bad because nothing can get done.
Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives passes dozens of radical new laws, tries to spend many trillions of dollars, and create electoral changes that favor big D Democrats. Mitch McConnel’s Senate passes tax breaks to fight the impact of COVID-19, laws to protect businesses that force employees back to work, and create electoral changes to block Democratic advances. The two sides do not even meet in conference committee in order to hammer out a compromise bill that can pass both houses of Congress. All this uncompromisable legislation is just more campaigning and not governing.
But most Americans don’t want these radical elements of each party to govern. Because these radical elements will ram through, not only legislation to radically transform the country, but also to make changes to electoral law that ensure that the party in power remains in power. We have seen that before. The fist thing that Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega did after being democratically elected was to change the electoral laws so that they could stay in power. Hitler and Mussolini did the same thing.
No! A divided government and the gridlock that results ensure a way to preserve our democracy in the hope that four years from now we will have better alternatives. Presidential polls put Joe Biden ahead, but Trump has a history of defying the polls. The Republican National Convention did an impressive job of showcasing credible black conservatives. Trump only needs to chip away a couple of percentage points in the formerly monolithic black vote to gain victory. Even a reduction in black enthusiasm might be enough to turn the tide.
We must consider the presidency a toss-up that can go either way. Most polls show that Democrats will remain in control of the House of Representatives. So, it is essential that everyone (not just Republicans) vote for the Republican Senate candidate in their state so that Republicans can remain in control of the Senate. That way if Biden wins, he will be stopped from going too far left by the Senate, while the House would block a Trump White House from going too far right. A divided government will tell the extremists on the right and the left that they do not have the mandate of the American people.
This is, of course, a defensive strategy and a stalling tactic. But it will give us four years for responsible leadership to return to the traditional political parties or allow time for a new principled political party to organize and gain popularity. We, the American people, need better alternatives than we have been presented in recent election cycles. Unfortunately, we usually get the alternatives we deserve.