The People Have Spoken
The people have spoken. The problem is that nobody knows what the hell the people have said. As I write this commentary three days after the 2020 presidential election, we still do not know who will be president. Joe Biden is in the lead in the popular vote but has not yet nailed down the electoral college vote where he is on the cusp of victory, needing only Arizona and Nevada to win. Donald Trump needs the stars to align perfectly in order to win, but he has a chance. By the time you read this commentary, it is likely one or more of the news organizations will have named a winner. It doesn’t matter. Neither Trump nor Biden will concede anytime soon.
The lawsuits are already flying around on both sides to stop the counting of ballots or continue the counting of ballots. Every close race (and there are a lot of them) is likely to be refought in the court system. And it is true that voting in many states was gummed up by changing laws, emergency measures because of COVID-19 and last-minute court rulings. Many voters were confused about the process even if they had made up their minds about the candidates. The court cases may drag on for weeks.
Although a number of Congressional races in the House and Senate are yet to be confirmed, the betting is that the Republicans will hold on to the Senate while the Democrats will keep the House. However, both parties saw their majorities eroded in each chamber. So the likely scenario will be that whoever is finally elected president will face a divided government for at least the next two years.
But one thing about this 2020 election is very clear. Neither side has a clear mandate to make radical change in how the US government operates. There was no blue wave. Progressives were not swept into office (although AOC was able to regain her seat in the House). The Trump supporters may have to hold off draining the swamp.
It appears the electorate has rejected the extremism of the right and the left. Many of the highly progressive ballot initiatives in that bluest of states, California, (such as reinstating race-based selections, rent control, making Uber and Lyft drivers employees and primary voting for 17 year-olds) failed. The status quo also seems to be the rule down ballot as there was little change in state governors or legislatures where Republicans have the advantage.
So, the people have spoken and what does it mean? It means that the people are not as radical as the political parties. Joe Biden emerged as the Democratic candidate for president because he was considered a centrist, even though socialist Bernie Sanders gave him a run for his money. The phalanx of other left-leaning Democratic candidates quickly faded and withdrew (including his ultimate running mate, Kamala Harris).
So why did the polls and the pundits get it so wrong? In the primaries, highly motivated extremists and their supporters have an advantage over more moderate candidates with their less motivated (but more numerous) supporters. That is how AOC beat a long-time Democratic stalwart in the primary for a staunchly Democratic district. But in the general election, when more people vote, the moderate tendencies have the advantage. In my county here in Texas, there were 105 thousand votes cast in the Democratic and Republican primaries (a 30% turnout) while there were 260 thousand votes cast in the general election (a 69% turnout). These voters tend toward the status quo and that is what the results show. Even millennials and Gen Z tend toward the center when their pocketbook is on the line. (also remember, all you conservative baby boomers were turning on, tuning in and dropping out while protesting the Vietnam war back in the sixties).
And the stock market seems to like divided government, rising about two thousand points in just a few days. A divided government means no court packing, no amendments to end the Electoral College, nothing to lower the voting age to 16, or any of the other crazy ideas of the left plus no trade war, no tension with allies and, hopefully, no twitter storms in the middle of the night.
But the political parties need to find a new modus operandi for the coming years. The people cannot endure a continuation of the acrimonious diatribes and hateful rancor of this last election cycle. They need to find a new way, or they may find themselves to be minority outlier parties in the near future.
Politicians of all stripes have a lot of work to do between now and the inauguration of the next administration as well as in the upcoming two years before the by-election throws another wrench into fevered dreams of ideological purity.
First, the House, the Senate and President Trump need to put together a COVID relief bill because there are people suffering out there. Suffering made unbearable by cynical political bickering. The relief bill should focus on payments directly to those most impacted by losing their jobs to the disease such as restaurant servers and bartenders, theater employees and live entertainers as well as small businesses. The same people will also need help with rent and mortgage payments and utility bills. Every elected official in Washington should hang their head in shame that they allowed personal ambition and political ideology to cause so much pain and suffering.
This should be done immediately. Senate Leader McConnell has said he is ready to do it. But so must Speaker Pelosi and President Trump. Caste aside political considerations. Forget personal ambition. Swallow your pride and get a deal done.
Next the federal government and the states need to come together and create standardized rules for elections. It is true that the state governments control how elections are run in their state, but all these varying and conflicting laws are confusing. Uniform standards would still allow the states flexibility in managing elections without confusing voters and making us look foolish internationally. If any country can run an election properly it should be the oldest democracy in the world.
In preparation for the future, both parties need to start moving back to the political center. If President Trump is reelected, he must temper his rhetoric and rein in his instincts so that there can be effective government even when it is divided. He has no need to appeal to his base. The Proud Boys can’t get him elected a third time. If President Trump is not reelected, then the Republican Party must do this on its own, even if Trump attempts to run for the 2024 election. In 2020, Republicans made significant inroads by appealing to Hispanics and Asians. Going forward they need to reincorporate their traditional allies, the African Americans that were liberated by Republican President Lincoln.
And Joe Biden, if he is elected, must remind the progressive left activists that it was centrist Democrats and Independents that got him elected, despite the tepid support of the left. With a divided government there is no chance that the progressive left agenda on his so-called Unity Platform has any chance. He will have to compromise with the Republicans to get anything done. But if he can work with Dixiecrats, as he bragged about at the beginning of his campaign, then, surely, he can do something with the Republicans.
There are two other things that both Democrats and Republicans must do, because these things cannot be done without a broad consensus among the American people and their leaders. The First thing is a Balanced Budget Amendment. The enormous debt created during the Obama and Trump administrations and multiplied by the necessary expenditures during the pandemic crisis, have left America debilitated and vulnerable to future threats, whatever they may be. We must rebuild the financial strength of our country so that we can face the future with confidence.
Secondly, we need to pass another Amendment to allow the Line-Item Veto. The inability of the president to strike out unnecessary and wasteful expenditures that are snuck into larger more important legislation has cost us dearly. A balanced budget will be virtually impossible without such an additional amendment. A line-item veto would have the additional advantage of weakening the ability of lobbyists and special interest groups to skew legislation in their favor, a process that not only costs us a lot of money but that warps the playing field to advantage of special interests instead of the people.
The process of amending the Constitution is long and tedious but if we can get the process started it will boost the confidence of the American people. And if Republicans and Democrats work across the aisle, then perhaps we can face the next election cycle with confidence instead of fear.