Presidency is About Much More Than the Future of the Supreme Court

This story was originally published in The Hill on August 29, 2016.

After mostly ignoring the Supreme Court for the past four years, we are once again engaged in the quadrennial exercise of pretending its members are the most important issue in the presidential election. Desperate to rationalize their increasingly unprincipled support for the Republican nominee, conservatives have taken a leading role in spreading the idea that nothing is more important than the Supreme Court. This is nonsense. While certainly significant, the Court only touches on a narrow band of matters among all those within the public sphere (and only a small slice of possible issues, at that). The United States Presidency—the most powerful position in the country, indeed in the world—is not all about appointing justices to the Supreme Court. Continue reading

Ignorance and Understanding

There is a terrible feeling of helplessness when others deny your undeniable truth. There are no good choices. You can withdraw and deflect to keep the peace; though how do you sit silently by as the voices blaring on the television screen or bleating in line at the grocery store contradict your reality? You can viciously attack the intelligence and motives of those in opposition, yet how does that persuade or provide the self-reflection necessary for open-minded reevaluation when confronted with new information? If you gently offer your pointed critiques in a civil give-and-take—the usual prescription—stifling your screams of indignation is a monumental task.

It’s really no wonder that electoral politics is marked by two distinct phenomena: self-sorting and withdrawal. Unlike cultural or lifestyle choices, political opinions have an inherent urgency. It’s easier to comfortably disagree with someone about a band or a restaurant. It’s harder to argue that a particular healthcare policy could save thousands of lives and then casually shrug when your fellow citizens make a different choice. The latter debate is emotional. It takes caring. And often, when the world seems—to your mind—disgustingly indifferent to the basic truths central to a fair and just society, dissent is too much to bear. This is the root of the partisan retreat to like-minded media or the comforting self-assurance of those who insist elections don’t matter or both parties are the same. There is no dilemma when no one disagrees with you or if you don’t care that they do.

All of this is true in every election season. In 2016, however, as the absurdity reaches a crescendo, dealing with unfathomable disagreement seems more fundamental. Because if there’s one defining feature of this presidential election, it is the staggering amount of pure, unbridled ignorance on display. Continue reading

Republicans’ Inward Reach on Race

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump’s recent appeal to African-Americans fell flat. At the beginning of last week, Trump’s outreach to black voters came in an address in an all-white exurb of Milwaukee that gave three-fourths of its vote to Mitt Romney. The message that was allegedly tailored for the communities of color he was supposedly courting: respect for the police and creating jobs through tearing down a rigged society. Speaking in front of another nearly all-white audience in the Lansing suburb of Dimondale, Michigan a few days later, Trump was alternatingly artless and insulting. “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” the Republican candidate asked the black people who weren’t in his audience. “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs.”

Trump’s race rhetoric is obviously objectionable for a host of reasons. Continue reading

Down-ballot Doldrums

With another set of astonishing state poll numbers out this week, the ultimate outcome in the presidential race seems pretty well determined. Sure, history says that in a normal election cycle Republican nominee Donald Trump should be expected to gain back some of the percentage points lost after his disappointing convention and the Democrats’ successful one, but even standard tightening will likely leave him well short of victory (not to mention that normal events should not be presumed when it comes to Trump). For goodness sakes just look at the latest NBC/Marist poll numbers from four alleged battlegrounds, now swing states in lazy media usage only. Yes, in Florida Clinton is “only” ahead by 5 points, within striking distance should Trump resuscitate his campaign. But in states right at the tipping point of national averages, Clinton leads Trump by 9% in North Carolina, 13% in Virginia, and a remarkable 14% in Colorado. These are hardly outliers, either, though they are on the high side of current polling. The Real Clear Politics average for these states now has Clinton ahead by 8% in Virginia and 11% in Colorado. For comparison, in 2012, Barack Obama won Colorado by 5%, Virginia by 4%, and lost North Carolina by 2% as he was claiming a national popular vote mandate of nearly 4%. If Clinton holds on in Colorado and Virginia, along with defending two other traditional Democratic-leaning battlegrounds in which she has double digit leads (Pennsylvania and New Hampshire), her path to 270 electoral votes is without obstacle.

Assuming one cares about life after the election—as opposed to participating in presidential election hype as a cathartic identity exercise or a tactic for combatting summer dog-days boredom—then the real drama of the next three months is how these numbers will affect down-ballot congressional races. Continue reading

Republicans’ Ideological Emptiness

One of the things that has gotten lost in present predicament of the Republican Party is the remarkable degree to which the fundamental character of the party itself is now in doubt. Pundits and party officials have been far more talkative about the immediate issues caused by Republicans’ nomination of Donald Trump—that his extreme views and unhinged statements are imperiling not only GOP prospects at regaining the White House but also increasingly threatening the party’s majorities in the House and Senate. This short-term focus is understandable. The latest round of polling has been abysmal for Trump, and down-ballot races are shaping up as referenda on the GOP standard-bearer as well.  Saving the party from electoral oblivion is probably Republicans’ best use of energy and resources for the next three months. What comes after November 8th, however, will likely prove more challenging to the Republican Party than even this urgent task. This looming existential crisis is usually discussed only by certain Trump-averse Republicans offering the banal observation that Donald Trump is not a “true conservative.” That may be true, at least in the minds of those who speak it. But the problem is far greater than that. Continue reading