Banter M Issue 68: The New Politics of a Post-11/9 World

In this issue of Banter M: 

Adapting to the New Politics of a Post-11/9 World - Bob Cesca describes the complete shock of Donald Trump's victory in November, and his struggle to adapt to a completely different reality. 

The New (Not) Normal - Chez Pazienza pens a thoughtful essay on his realization that in Trump's America, there is no "normal" and his hopes of going back to a care free life have been completely shattered. 

The End of The Social Justice Warrior - Ben Cohen writes the obituary for leftist social justice warriors who unwittingly helped elect Donald Trump on November 8th. "The identity politics obsessed, social justice warrior movement we've watched grow across American colleges and online has to go," writes Ben. "And the sooner the better."

Adapting to the New Politics of a Post-11/9 World

by Bob Cesca

It's becoming increasingly obvious that, not unlike 9/11, many of us will mark the passage of time and our attitudes in those times as being either pre-11/9 or post-11/9. (November 8, 2016 ended before the election winner was decided, making 11/9 the more accurate and appropriate Day One.) This is certainly the case with me as I not only wrap my head around the idea of covering the berzerker-style of the Donald Trump presidency for the next four-to-eight years, but also as I re-examine my pre-11/9 political worldview.

To say the election rocked my sense of politics and history would be a massive understatement. 

That's not to say my positions on various issues have changed. They haven't -- wait, strike that. Since the election, I feel as if I've moved further leftward. It could be merely self-perception having to do with my naturally emotional reaction to the colossally unexpected ascendancy of a Breitbart-style Twitter troll to the presidency, but there's actually some hard reality to it. These days, I feel a sense of comfort revisiting a more hardline leftist approach in the wake of the election, and I feel it's justified as a means of arguing against the incoming regime. I feel far less inclined to keep an eye on the center. Not that I was ever a centrist. Indeed, the center holds less appeal than it ever has. The center won't see the Trump threat with the same clarity and it will, in all likelihood, become an instrumental cog in the effort to normalize Trump. I refuse to be a part of that. So, to the left I go.

Beyond my posture on the issues and any involuntary leftward drift I'm experiencing, the election scrambled my reliance upon certain institutions and, in a way, much of what I've learned over the years, both in terms of personal experience as an opinion journalist and, before that, as a student of political science.

Let's start with the polls. My trust in the accuracy of reliable polling outfits and aggregators has almost entirely flown out the window. Stay with me on this. It's not what you think.

Given the frustrating ambiguity and unpredictability of politics, polling is one of the only (formerly) reliable touchstones in terms of what voters are thinking. Not any more. All -- or at least most of the polling aggregators failed to forecast Trump winning states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Citing (inaccurate) pollsters seems like a pre-11/9 tactic, and it might not be an issue with the methodology and math itself. The polls might be as close to accurate as ever -- maybe more so. It's the elections themselves that have become less reliable.

Nate Silver released a spreadsheet of the states that went for Trump, and it turns out Trump significantly outperformed his polling. Did all of the aggregators miss it? Or was there another set of factors in play, independent of the polls? I believe the latter to be true. 

Even if we ignore theories about Russian hackers falsifying the returns, there were millions of voters whose ballots weren't counted, and millions more who were disenfranchised in statewide purges and via Voter ID laws. Elsewhere, more than 800 polling places were shut down in the wake of the Supreme Court's disastrous Shelby County v. Holder ruling on Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Simply put, it's more likely the results of the election were flawed. Not the polling methodology and math. The result, though, has been the undermining of polls, and the consequence will be more elections that are skewed by fraud. Tragically, it'll be increasingly challenging to know for sure whether the integrity and reliability of election results have been undermined since it's easier to blame the pollsters than the elections themselves.

This brings us to the Electoral College. Even after the 2000 election, I've always been a firm believer in the wisdom of Federalist 68 and the elector clause of Article II. Not now. One election during the modern era in which the popular vote winner lost the election is enough. Worse, I completely bought into Alexander Hamilton's view that electors would serve as a bulwark against the rise of despotic presidents. So, then, now's the time, right? Apparently not. It doesn't appear as if the electors will step up and perform what I thought was the constitutional purpose of the institution: to block bad actors like Trump.

There's, of course, the other justification. The Electoral College is supposed to prevent candidates from focusing merely on the several most populated states. During the campaign, Trump personally visited just 15 states by his own admission. He certainly didn't spend any time in Wyoming, Oklahoma, North Dakota or Montana. Likewise, he didn't campaign in California or Texas. Indeed, most of the time spent by both campaigns was focused on just a handful of battleground states -- many of which have remained battlegrounds for more than 20 years now, allowing other states to be ignored. Now, I get that in the long run, the roster of battleground states has changed, and will continue to change, but it doesn't mitigate the reality that presidential campaigns aren't fully nationwide, and far from it, even with the Electoral College in place.

So, seriously, what the hell is the point? 

Speaking of presidential campaigns, it should be obvious by now that perhaps Bernie Sanders was on to something during the Democratic primaries. I honestly refused to believe, at the time, that a hard-left populist message and an unconventional, somewhat crumpled, 74-year-old candidate was a winnable bet against the GOP machine and nominee Trump. I falsely assumed that Trump's campaign would be a juggernaut, only conquerable by juggernaut Hillary -- a flawless, money-rich establishment campaign appealing to the sensible, safe votes of moderate, undecided and center-left Americans. Maybe even some Republicans, too. 

It turns out that Bernie tapped into a vibe that few non-Bernie supporters recognized, and, in the absence of a wicked anti-Bernie opposition research file, he certainly could've been competitive against Trump. We'll never know for sure if Bernie would've done better than Hillary, but the Jill Stein votes in the rust belt states far exceeded Trump's margin of victory. Had those votes gone to the Democratic nominee -- hypothetically, Bernie -- he might be the president-elect today instead of horrible Trump.

It also goes without saying that I never would've guessed that Trump's behavior was anything less than a recipe for a Democratic landslide of 1964 proportions. Political history formerly proved that candidates with that many ongoing negatives would make for a really, really easy Election Day for his opponent. There were literally hundreds of scandals, obnoxious blurts, rally nightmares, actual video footage of the candidate repeatedly discussing sexual assault, and so forth. None of it mattered. None of it. In the end, I would've settled for Hillary winning all of Obama's 2008 states, but I never thought American voters would elect a candidate with such a massive cache of insanity.  

This is all to say that throughout the election, and as I've always tended to do, I tapped into my traditional view of politics in order to forecast how the election would turn out, not realizing that this was anything but a traditional election. I've emerged from the election with less dependency on traditional/historical political norms, and I'm slowly embracing the idea that the old ways are mostly in the rear-view mirror. Elections from now on won't always be decided based on predictable trends and time-tested methodology. We live in a post-11/9 world in which any blowhard with some money can become president, and the orange toothpaste will never again be shoved back into the tube.

Next: The New (Not) Normal - by Chez Pazienza

The New (Not) Normal

by Chez Pazienza

I was going to write a personal story about buying a new car. That's the slug that's been sitting at the top of my list of long-form piece ideas for the past month -- something to do with the fact that I recently bought a new BMW and what it says about me as a person at this stage of my life. I was going to explain how, in keeping with the notion that the vehicle you drive speaks to who you are, I consider the BMW buy to be a kind of denouement, the final act of a story that began with the breakup of my marriage in 2009. In the wake of that emotional and psychic cataclysm, which left me alone and adrift, I lucked into driving a big Dodge 1500 pick-up -- my dad's weekend vehicle which he let me borrow since I didn't have a car at the time. I never imagined myself in a pick-up, but given how emasculated my situation had left me, there was something empowering and necessary in surrounding myself with such a muscular machine. As I slowly came back to life, I bought myself a little Mini Cooper S, which again matched the particular station in my journey as it felt like the perfect representation of my newfound sanguinity. And now, of course, comes the BMW. I'm a TV producer and I've genuinely settled in Los Angeles. It fits.

But it's scary, because the physical manifestation of a small amount of success acts as a reminder that it's a long way down. I'm very familiar with that. So, as usual, I question who I am. Who I've become. Whether I'm flying too close to the sun. Whether I'm doomed to be taught another crushing lesson about the ebbs and flows of life.

Anyway, that was what I wanted to write about. Was it important? No, of course not. Would it have been anything more than a mild diversion for readers? Probably not, since silly introspection never is. But I have editorial and creative freedom here and occasionally I like to exercise that. Not everything has to make some grand statement about politics, the media or the culture in general.

That's what I used to think, anyway. What I thought before November 8th plunged this country into an absurdist nightmare. Since the still unbelievable election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, it's been hard to muster any interest in or concern for the trivial -- hard to even want to commit to any emotion that isn't pure, inconsolable rage and disgust. I'm not going through the Kubler Ross stages of grief. There's been no denial or bargaining and there damn sure isn't going to be any acceptance. I shot right to stage two and have stayed there since November 9th. I've felt nothing but anger. There have been hints of stage four -- depression -- lurking just around the ring of fire that circles my brain 24/7, but mostly it's that fire. It's that fucking fury. Fury that our country really is as stupid as the cynic at my core had always warned the disbelieving angel on my shoulder that it was. It's the kind of aghast outrage that's at time paralyzing because it comes with the knowledge that no attempt to void that rage and no amount of fighting will stop the inevitable. 

I can resist, but in the end there will always be the big picture and it will be out of my own hands and in the tiny hands of an endlessly corrupt, dizzyingly incompetent narcissist bully. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.      

It's in times like these within a society's history that it's difficult to imagine using the power of expression for any purpose other than dissent and rebellion. Maybe this is why the first thing I could bring myself to write in the wake of the Trump win was a cry of defiance that read like my fingers were bleeding as I slammed them into the keys of my laptop. I said that starting now our art, our press, our media in general no longer has the luxury of being frivolous and toothless. Our voices, those of artists and journalists and anyone with the ability to express him or herself, need to be powerful and relentless in shouting into the darkness. We've had the privilege of being timid and petty for far too long and we have to now remember that our language and actions have to be strident in taking a stand as one against this threat to the republic and to human decency itself.

But that's an exhausting proposition, and I know it. The arc of American history, at least, doesn't bend toward justice; it bends toward convenience. There's nothing I'd like more than to be comforted by the feeling that things will get back to normal so I can go back to being largely complacent, particularly at my age. I know that's out of the question, though. The truth is it's impossible to get back to normal because there is no normal anymore. None of this is normal. All of this is shocking and unacceptable. It's tempting to simply give up, if for no other reason than the fact that America was stupid enough to bring this upon itself. True, bad actors from hostile foreign lands went far out of their way to swing the vote in the direction they wanted to see, but in the end they wouldn't have succeeded if half the country hadn't been dumb as a fucking rock. To realize this is to question whether Jeffersonian democracy even works. (No doubt those hostile foreign entities' goal in the first place: proving our way is corrupt and can be undone by our own hand). It's to question whether our great experiment is a failure because we're simply too diverse and divided a country to see eye to eye anymore.   

It's personally frustrating to give a damn. It takes effort and years off your life to care what happens in the big picture, instead of giving in, keeping your head down, and just hoping for the best. I'd rather not care. I want to go back to writing about more than the terrifying punchline that is Donald Trump and what will be the Third World-style reprobate kleptocracy he'll bring to the United States. I want to write about stupid shit that exists as nothing but a diversion because I have the luxury of doing so. I want to listen to happy songs and see sweetly touching movies and read escapist novels. I want things to go back to normal. I want a president I can trust not to threaten global stability. Democrat or Republican, I hardly care at this moment, so long as he or she is a responsible adult rather than a self-obsessed, self-indulgent child. 

But the anger I wish would subside won't, and I know it. There have been so many post-mortems about this election from the Democratic side that the whole thing has become a Rorschach Test, with people seeing in this failure whatever they want to see -- whatever feeds their biases. The truth is there's blame to go around. There was the outside and even foreign influence, determined to thwart Hillary Clinton and usher in a President Trump: Russia, Wikileaks, the FBI. There was the backlash to the largely Millennial left's idiotic obsession with navel-gazing identity politics, political purity and perpetually scolding the "un-woke," over inclusion, solidarity and a willingness to pick your battles and compromise on occasion. There was the completely baffling and inexcusable standard to which Clinton had to rise and surpass in order to beat an incompetent buffoon. There was the fact that -- look, let's face it -- we're a really, really fucking dumb country. There was so much. So much that makes me want to put my fist through the nearest wall.

So what comes next? Well, while I don't ever want to see America simply give in and adapt to a Trump presidency, I honestly don't think we'll have a means of. That's because it's entirely possible that the sins, mistakes, and outright disasters of the Trump administration will come at us so quickly that there may not ever be time to process and normalize them. (Of course the flip-side of that is that we become comfortable in our discomfort.) That will mean more outrage, not less. More indignation, not less. More of a need to keep fighting back against this madness, not less. It's daunting to think about, particularly when all you want is to close your eyes and hide under your blanket or just try to forget what's happening all around you. But giving up entirely is out of the question, if only because I can't imagine my own fury will let me. 

I'm going to stay angry. I don't think I have a choice.  

The End of The Social Justice Warrior

by Ben Cohen

As election night loomed on November 8th, Democrats were buoyant with excitement, smelling victory and relishing the prospect of shutting Donald Trump and his supporters up once and for all. And then it all went horribly, horribly wrong. 

With the election of Donald Trump, the left in America has been thrown into complete disarray. Where did it all go wrong? Looking at the evidence, it is almost impossible to pinpoint exactly why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. While there is overlap with the competing theories, it is worth remembering that Clinton actually won the popular vote, and by a very, very significant margin. She may have been too centrist, too corporate, too wooden and so on, but the fact remains: more Americans voted for her than they did Donald Trump. While many seem to think the election is about poor white people voicing their resentment of a system that has failed them, the fact that poor minorities overwhelmingly voted for Clinton discounts the notion that it was purely economic. Racism played a factor in Trump's victory in key states, and so did sexism. 

The major overlap, it seems, revolves around culture -- and this is where Democrats must focus their attention going forward. Trump was seen as a hero of conservative values -- a white, male, success story and an enemy of political correctness. Clinton on the other hand, was seen as the quintessential coastal elite -- a product of Washington's political culture and an affront to the white working class male perception of what it means to be American. 

Whether these perceptions were valid or not is irrelevant. They were marketed to the American voter as such, and everyone picked the candidate they felt better represented their values. This did not matter much on the coasts -- in densely populated, ethnically mixed areas, Americans appeared to recognize the danger of a Trump presidency and voted to stop him. But across the rest of the country, Americans felt Trump better represented who they were and voted against a woman they thought they had nothing in common with. 

When looked at through this perspective, it seems clear that if the left wants any chance of winning back the House and the Senate in 2018 and taking down Trump in 2020, it must come together quickly and present a coherent set of values it can take to middle America -- the states Trump beat Clinton and the culture war is most evident. 

While there is little to be positive about going forward in the short term, the shocking loss to Trump may actually turn out to be the best thing that has happened to the left since George W. Bush. The left must take a long hard look at itself and purge factions that do not help rescue the country from the proto-fascists set to take over in January. As we saw when Bernie Sanders supporters got behind Clinton, the centrist and leftist Democrats are more than capable of finding common ground. They can rally around health care, anti-poverty measures, a stronger relationship with unions and environmental protection. This won't be easy, but there is enough crossover to create a cohesive movement capable of mounting an effective assault on Donald Trump and the Republican Party. But it does mean that the identity politics obsessed, social justice warrior movement we've watched grow across American colleges and online has to go. And the sooner the better. 

For years, millennial college students have been indoctrinated by radical professors and sites like Salon.com that have encouraged them to view the world purely through the lens of ethnic and gender identity politics. They have waged on language and insisted on an interpretation of American culture so removed from everyday reality that engaging with them is akin to trying to convert an evangelist Christian to Islam. Safe spaces, trigger words, and the never ending gender and sexual orientation classifications have turned liberalism in America into a laughing stock. If the election of Donald Trump isn't a sign that the left has gone too far and created an equally powerful reaction, it is unclear what is. 

Thankfully, the students protesting their university's lack of safe spaces and promotion of ideas they find frightening is becoming less and less relevant. With the prospect of a Trump presidency looming and his promised wholesale destruction of affordable healthcare, public education, environmental protection and the dramatic increase in the threat of nuclear war, students now have something real to protest about. And if they continue rallying around "micro-aggression" their lack of fluffy toys, the rest of us should tell them in no uncertain terms to leave the battlefield and make way for those willing to do what it takes to win.