Why We Vote
[Note: This essay is one in a continuing series by ICCFA executive director Bob Fells focusing on various issues in our federal government. Although the subjects are political in nature, the approach is bipartisan in outlook, at least so far as that is humanly possible. The goal of each essay is not to persuade the reader to adopt a particular political viewpoint or party, but to illustrate why a knowledge of the system is important to protect our businesses, our homes, and our families.]
Election 2016 – A Canary in the Coal Mine
Summer approaches and with it this year come the two national political conventions by the Democrats and the Republicans. Truly a tale of two cities, or at least two very different conventions. According the chattering classes in the news media, Mrs. Clinton cannot avoid being the Democratic Party nominee absent being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Nobody says what might happen if she makes bail. The reason the fix is in for her nomination is thanks to her party’s system of “super delegates” who were apparently committed to vote for her even before the first ballot was cast in the first primary in New Hampshire this past winter. If that is so, then what was all that voting about?
The Republican Party has just the opposite situation. Mr. Trump looks as though he will win enough primaries fair and square to obtain the party’s nomination without any smoke and mirrors. But unlike the Democrats, the Republican leadership doesn’t want the vote leader to be their nominee and are trying to conjure up tricks worthy of Houdini to somehow deny him the nomination. But the leadership of both parties have one thing in common: they want the power to pull the plug on the popular vote if We the People should vote for “the wrong candidate.” Oh, for the days of those smoke-filled back rooms where behind closed doors the party bosses decided on the nominee. It was not democratic (small “d” in its generic meaning) but it had the virtue of avoiding the pretense of “let the voters decide.” Mr. Trump is correct in his assertion that “the system is rigged” but it’s rigged mainly in its illusion of letting the voters choose the candidate.
Depending on how you see the political landscape, both putative Presidential candidates are problematic. One has a long list of negatives including a substantial “unlikeability” factor. The other one speaks in hyperbole, badmouths opponents, and is looked upon by many as a windbag. (To avoid confusion, I’m referring to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, respectively). So what kind of choice does the American voter have come Election Day?
Whoever wins, I think Mr. Trump is the more interesting candidate. I say that not so much because of what he says or does, but because of what the political establishment says about him. Clearly, The Donald has them quaking in their boots like employees who work for a company that has been acquired in a hostile takeover. Will their new boss give them all the proverbial “pink slip?” Democrat leaders don’t like Trump because he claims to be a Republican. Republican leaders don’t like Trump for the same reason. Early suspicions were planted when he self-funded his campaign and refused to take contributions from anyone. Thus, he violated the first rule of politics: money talks. Funding controls candidates like a choke collar controls a dog. Trump doesn’t wear anybody’s collar and that bothers the political establishment.
Then he employs advisors who are suspiciously out of the main stream of “K Street” consultants. Those people are expert at making and remaking a candidate’s image until any similarities between his public image and his private life character are strictly coincidental. And because such politicians are playing a character, they must parse their words carefully, rehearse their lines, and no adlibbing is allowed lest they go out of character. Enter Mr. Trump where what you see is what you get. To him, running for President is like making a sale and he has lots of experience with closing the deal. It doesn’t hurt that for years he has been a television star and displaying the same persona that can be crisply summarized in the words, “You’re fired.”
Time and again, Trump has done everything the experts say will spell disaster for a political candidate and yet he becomes more popular than ever. President Reagan was said to have a “Teflon coating” whereby almost all criticism against him did not stick. Mr. Trump seems to have a Teflon body. When he boasted that he could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and still get elected, nobody disagreed with him. But I noticed two things about the Trump campaign that I don’t hear mentioned in the news media.
The first is the potential for him to motivate the 50% of eligible voters who don’t vote. If Trump can get even a fraction of that number to show up at the polls on Election Day, the results could be a game changer. Traditional campaign strategy has been based on the safe assumption that the 50% who don’t vote will be consistent and continue to stay home. This has been such a given that it is truly alarming to think what might happen if such people double-cross the experts and vote. If that happens, Donald Trump will be given full credit or blame, depending on your viewpoint.
The second point that seems unmentioned is that Trump is serving as a kind of canary in a coal mine. I’m referring to the age-old practice of bringing a birdcage containing a canary into the mine shafts to detect odorless but poisonous gasses. If the bird is found dead, the workers quickly evacuate before being felled by the poison. The poor bird lost its life but saved many human lives. Trump is generally credited for tapping into the anger of millions of Americans. As the pandering statement goes, these are the people who “work hard and play by the rules,” but increasingly believe they are being screwed by their government. Curiously, nobody is accusing Trump of fomenting this anger. There is a consensus that the outrage is already there and Trump is the only politician to understand its cause.
They say that the rulers of ancient Rome used bread and circuses to keep the people distracted and to prevent them from rising up in rebellion against their autocratic rule. This worked for a while but eventually enough people became angry regardless of the bread and circuses and the great empire was brought to ruin. The big question of our time is how to interpret the anger of millions of Americans? Mrs. Clinton seems to suggest that more government benefits are the answer, that people want the government to take care of them. Mr. Trump talks about the trilogy of government waste, fraud and abuse, and that the only thing many people want from their government is to be left alone. Whatever the outcome in November, Donald Trump has served as the canary in the mines, alerting all of us of danger. However, this doesn’t mean that our leaders will heed the warning or that he will be elected.