There's a lot of depression and anxiety floating around, following Trump's surprising victory. (And that describes me on my good days; sometimes I feel like I'm trapped in the scariest nightmare ever, one impossible to wake up from.)
But after I raced back to Salem from Portland late Friday morning, desperate to hear Ed Dover's City Club talk, "A Postmortem on the 2016 Election. What Happened?," making it to the meeting just a few minutes after Dover started speaking, I realized how wise it was to break some I-5 speed limits.
Dover is a Political Science professor at Western Oregon University. He spoke for about 45 minutes, eloquently, clearly, persuasively, without any notes. I enjoyed him even more this election time-around than when he spoke about the 2014 results, because my Trumpian angst was so great.
Science, including political science, allows us to step outside of our personal subjectivity and see things from a more objective, detached perspective. So Dover's reasonable, factual analysis of the 2016 election helped me to calm down, relax, chill.
Since my 2014 blog post about Dover's Salem City Club talk was organized around five takeaways I gleaned from what he said, I'll follow tradition and do the same here.
(1) Once again, this was closely-matched "trench warfare." Dover used this World War I analogy as a metaphor in speaking about how closely matched the Republican and Democratic parties are. There isn't a whole lot of movement in the electorate. Victories are achieved by small advances or retreats in the battle lines.
Just as in 2012, the margin between Clinton or Trump in most (or all) of the battleground states was just a percent or two. But whereas Obama eked out narrow victories in most of the states, in 2016 Trump did. So there wasn't a massive seismic shift in the electorate, which makes me feel better.
It's tough for a party that has held the White House for two elections to do so for three. Lots of people want change. So a small tilt away from the Democratic candidate was enough to elect Trump president. And we need to remember that Clinton won the popular vote, though not the Electoral College.
(2) Rural areas and small towns were key to Trump's victory. Dover spoke about the town in Wyoming where he grew up, which had a population of about 6,000 back then. Now, it has fewer people. Jobs have been lost. Youth move away for better opportunities. Many of those who stay are angry, upset, feeling forgotten by an economy that has passed them by.
Urban areas reliably vote Democratic. This explains why the coasts lean liberal, while the interior of the country leans conservative. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Miami -- these are Dem strongholds. By contrast, for example, eastern Oregon and eastern California vote Republican.
Obama was elected president because the votes he got in urban areas outweighed the votes he lost in rural areas and small towns. In this election, that didn't happen for Clinton. A wave of disgruntled voters outside major population centers lifted Trump to victory.
(3) Trump made a populist pitch, similar yet different from Sanders'. Dover observed that Trump isn't at all a traditional Republican. It is difficult to categorize what he is, since he shifts his positions regularly. Populist probably is the best term to describe Trump.
Populists tell voters that they're being screwed over by an outside force. For Bernie Sanders, that is Wall Street, corporations, the 1%, rich people who donate to candidates who promise to keep the good times rolling for them. In Donald Trump's form of populism, the enemies are immigrants, bad trade deals, businesses who ship jobs overseas.
Trump resonated with white working class voters in a way that Clinton didn't. So he carried some swing states that went to Obama in 2012: Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan (probably). Partly this was due to lower turnout among groups that went for Obama, such as blacks and young people.
But also, Trump was able to appeal to people who felt like they've been ignored by the Powers That Be. Clinton's decision to take for granted some states that previously had been reliably Democratic in presidential elections didn't help. I'm pretty sure she never campaigned in Wisconsin.
(4) Trump will find it difficult to make good on his jobs promises. Notwithstanding Trump's rhetoric about making American great again, which includes restoring lost manufacturing jobs, Dover wondered how he could do this. If a company wants to shut down a plant in this country and open one overseas where the costs are lower, what can a president do?
We have a capitalist free market economy (more or less). Businesses are in the business of making money. They try to lower their costs and increase their profits. Dover said that, really, the only way a government can interfere with a free market economy is to seize control of it.
Mussolini did this. President Truman tried to nationalize the steel industry in 1952, but the Supreme Court ruled this action unconstitutional.
So likely the Republican Party will remain bitterly divided between business interests who like free trade and open international markets, and working class people with less education/income who want somebody to do something about jobs being shifted to other countries.
(5) In Oregon, not much changed, party-control-wise. Dover mostly spoke about politics at the national level. He did have some observations about what happened in Oregon, though. Basically, the political landscape didn't change much. Democrats still have control of the Governor's office and the state legislature.
He observed that Phil Knight gave $380,000 to eight Republicans in competitive state races. The end result was that nothing changed legislatively. If I recall correctly, half won and half lost, leaving the balance of power in the House and Senate unchanged as a result of Knight's contribuiton. Again, trench warfare without much movement.
Brad Avakian's loss to Dennis Richardson in the Secretary of State race was a semi-surprise, given that no candidate with a "R" after his name had won statewide in a long time. Dover ascribed this to people not paying a lot of attention to the Secretary of State campaigning.
And maybe "Avakian" sounded vaguely foreign to uninformed voters.
Anyway, this is my take on Dover's talk, based on my recollection of what he said and some scribbled notes my wife took. (Since I wasn't sure I was going to make it back to Salem in time for the noon City Club meeting, I bequeathed my lunch to Laurel in exchange for her telling me what Dover said if I wasn't able to hear him.)
Like I said at the start, it was his political scientist vibe of detached analysis that left me feeling better about the outcome of the presidential election. He explained the reasons for Trump's victory and Clinton's defeat.
As weird as Trump is, his winning the White House wasn't a random unexplainable bolt of electoral lightning. Like everything else in life, it was the result of causes and effects, some of which can be understood by us humans, and some of which elude our current ability to make sense of political reality.
I don't like what happened on November 8. But then, I don't like a lot of things that happen in the world.
Having Dover remind me that everything happens for various reasons, including presidential victories, helped me view the reality of President Trump as simply one more explainable undesirable event -- like an epidemic, earthquake, or economic downturn.