I’m writing this because the question won’t go away. It started a few months before the election and then morphed into a more desperate, ideological moral imperative the day after.
This was the question:
“How could people be dumb enough to vote for Trump?”
There were several iterations:
“Are people really that dumb to fall for his BS?”
“The man has no plan, no experience, no character. How could they consider him presidential material?”
I’m a veteran writer with tons of books. But my friends weren’t calling me about my books. They were calling me because of my previous life as a political operative in Texas, where legends are made and grand political ambitions take flight. I had the privilege of working for Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Congressman Mickey Leland, Governor Ann Richards, Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, first black Houston Mayor Lee Brown and many others. I had seen the tender morsels of flesh carved off the bone; the crack of a thousand eggs from the inside out. I had a few secrets I would take to the grave. Surely, I could solve a simple conundrum about stupidity.
I gave them all the same answer.
Sometimes a misconception or misinformation can be repeated so many times, it becomes an enduring truth. The intent is not always an attempt to deceive. Rather, it’s a collective agreement among members of society that this belief is a fact.
In 1633 the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo and found him guilty of heresy for trying to mislead people into to believing the earth was actually orbiting the solar system. This belief went against God’s creation. Everyone knew it was a fact that the earth was the center of the universe. Back in the late 1800s, it was the fact that blacks, imported from the savage jungles of Africa, were more animalistic than human and naturally inferior to whites. Respected scientists offered cognitive data to support this fact. For a very long time, it was a fact that Columbus discovered America, that George Washington had wooden teeth, that Eve offered Adam an apple in the Great Garden, that people use only 10% of their brain.
We absorb repeated beliefs over time, allowing them to settle into our comfort zones as facts. These are usually plausible, common sense explanations that fill a void. They allow us to move on.
I told my friends this is precisely what happened with the perception of Trump supporters. Some experts have proclaimed over and over that they are uninformed, uneducated, “dumb” voters who don’t really see the light. They infer that Donald Trump has deceived them, blinded their eyes with disjointed half-truths that prevent them from making rational decisions or seeing him for whom he really is.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. When we look at his constituent groups, we can safely extrapolate certain characteristics that reflect a more accurate picture. About a third of his constituency (trailer park, Neo-Nazi, KKK, Bubba hunting in the woods for squirrels) is indeed uneducated and uninformed, not only about Donald Trump, but the political process in general. They couldn’t name the three branches of government if their moonshine business depended on it. The remaining two thirds, however, (traditional conservative Republicans, evangelicals masquerading as born-again Christians, rust belt victims of automation and globalization, supply side/small government advocates, billionaire power brokers that pull the strings) are NOT uninformed. They are fully aware of Trump’s baggage and have accepted it as the cost of doing business.
What business? … Most often, that was the follow up question.
The business of stymying history, of blocking the onslaught of “undesirables” from coming into the room, of pushing back the clock to a more predictable, orderly hierarchy with the right people at the top; Right meaning familiar, meaning traditional, meaning comfortable with, meaning white males with silver hair and golf course tans. The good old boy network that rewarded an elite few had been under attack by President Obama. A President Clinton would do even more damage. Desperation had set in for those who have long benefited by this rich-go-first status quo. Thus, desperate countermeasures in the form of a flawed savior were acceptable.
Ludicrous or ridiculous or totally insane. That was the response I got. When were these people going to learn that we were moving forward, not backwards.
Since they had asked for my expert opinion, I felt an obligation to remind them that the lofty goals of the desperate clock-rewinders was neither unreasonable nor unattainable. Back in the 80s, President Reagan had come in and busted the middle class labor unions, de-funded the civil rights division of the Justice Department, rescinded major regulation designed to keep unscrupulous Wall Street wheeler- dealers in check, increased subsidies for big oil companies, cut school lunches and job-training programs, halved the budget for public housing, and given a huge supply side tax cut to the rich. In just a few years, the progress of the lower class and middle class was completely sabotaged. If Reagan did it, maybe Trump could do the same thing.
Of course, I reminded them that Reagan, despite his economic policies, was a decent man. He didn’t have criminal prosecutors or IRS agents or a bunch of bill collectors running after him. With Reagan, you could seal a deal with a handshake. With Trump, his hands were allegedly hidden away under someone’s skirt.
I naively reassured them that the scary, insane, doomsday possibility that had loomed over the nation for months would soon be over. Hillary was leading by 5 points, maybe more. Trump’s 61% unfavorable rating was the worst in presidential polling history. The New York Times had given her an 85% chance of winning. The number of undecided voters could fit on the head of a needle. The Latino ground game in Florida was a white hot lake of lava. Everybody was locked in.
And then came the election.
Although I knew (everyone knew) there were “closet” Trump voters, that is to say, voters too ashamed to admit in public what they planned to do in the voting booth, as a political consultant, you learn to trust the numbers. I was deeply involved in the hotly contested Texas gubernatorial race in which Governor Ann Richards came back from 18 points down to win. I had never seen ALL of the pre-election indicators (polls, interviews, endorsements, surges, exit polls, early vote results outside the country) pointed in the wrong direction. Guam, which had missed predicting the outcome of the election only one time in history, went for Clinton 72%. That’s exactly where the US vote should’ve been.
There are sophisticated algorithms and questionnaire redundancies that flesh out hidden patterns. The person being interviewed might not want to tell you for whom they voted. But if the questionnaire is structured correctly, the truth will come out.
Of the 114 national polls that were taken within two weeks of the election, 112 had Hillary Clinton winning and Trump losing. Some had him losing badly. The William & Mary College poll had Clinton ahead of Trump in Florida by 8 points, winning 28 percent of Florida’s Republican early voters. Trump’s own internal polls had him losing, causing him to file law suits very early.
Something had gone wrong. Trump had accomplished what seemed statistically impossible, certainly highly improbable. If you went to Vegas and rolled 7 sevens in a row, the owner would stop the game and check the dice, check your ID to see if you were on the conman list. The odds are so astronomically against that sequence of numbers. Yet, Trump rolled sevens in all the swing states. You’d need an advanced degree in physics to calculate those odds.
This brings me to the first of two theories about the election. Many people believe the election was rigged, that Trump, in cahoots with unnamed conspirators, somehow stole Hilirary’s votes.
If you believe in the numbers, then this theory is easy to embrace. Trump only had a 15 % chance to win with only one pathway to the electorate. He had to miraculously win Florida and then turn 4 blue states red, which he did. There was a “record level of turnout” among college-educated voters – driven by college-educated white women, a key demographic for Clinton. Clinton got 65% of the Hispanics vote, troubling but respectable. Almost 88% of all voters said they had made up their mind in October. This critical time period was at the height of Trump’s women problems and locker room expletives. Plus, his gloomy financials and ties to the Russians were leaked to the media.
Finally, Clinton officially won the majority of the popular vote, 62,403,269 votes compared to Trump’s 61,242,652. Astoundingly, Clinton is ahead in the popular vote by 1.16 million (and rising).
Something doesn’t smell right.
The most logical assertion is someone tampered with the voting process. But that’s a huge conspiratorial leap. In the greatest democracy on earth, with the most sophisticated cyber security networks and most elaborate election protocols with federal, state and local checks and balances coming out of the kazoo, is a such an outlandish undertaking even possible?
As it turns out, according to experts, it’s not only possible, it’s inevitable.
Keep in mind the mighty Democratic National Committee, along with voting registries and many election board websites around the nation have already been hacked. Illinois and Arizona officials shut down their state’s voter registration after suspected Russian intelligence agencies downloaded information on as many 200,000 people. The Department of Defense cancelled an Internet voting project for military soldiers in 2004 because it felt it could not ensure the legitimacy of the votes. In a 2011 report, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency tasked with researching Internet voting, concluded that secure Internet voting is not currently feasible.
That’s the high tech side. The low tech side is much worse.
A Princeton professor and helpful grad students broke into the old Sequoia AVC Advantage electronic voting machine now used in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania. It took less than ten minutes. They wedged out the ROM chips which weren’t even soldered into the circuit board and replaced them with their own chips, firmware and voting records. In another test of vulnerability, the same group hacked the popular Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine, the one adopted by most states after the Bush v. Gore fiasco. The ease with which they manipulated internal voting patterns without the slightest detection was almost laughable.
In most states, voting machines are left alone in warehouses for months, unguarded, without the most rudimentary inspection for vandalism or tampering. You’d think the federal government would do a better job of protecting the machines that facilitate the integrity of our very democracy. As it turns our, however, the federal government is not responsible at all. The Constitution specifically gives states the responsibility of dictating the “times, places and manner” of federal elections and choosing the logistics that govern the process. Thus, the election process, itself, is nothing more than a loosely, decentralized, rag-tag group of state election boards involved in local trench warfare, scrambling to meet the ever-growing demands of free elections, free speech and budget cuts, without getting sued.
The fixes desperately needed to place a minor bandage over the critical security gaps in the system don’t look like fixes to conservative State Legislatures that currently control the process. To them, these fixes look like power grabs and unlawful interventions by the federal government. Better to get hacked than jeopardize the state’s constitutional power.
So under the current system, could the United States election process be rigged, manipulated and undermined? The answer is an equivocal “Hell yes”.
But that’s not the real question of the hour. The real question is did it happen in this election. Was Hillary Clinton cheated out of an election victory?
President Obama recently signed Executive Order 13805, which orders a full recount of all votes cast in the election and calls for a special election to be held on December 19th. The official reason Obama signed the order was in response to the concerns of thousands of voters across the country who said they were prevented from casting a ballot on election day, as well as concerns some members of the electoral college may have acted unethically. However, behind close doors, everyone knows the real reason is to prove or disprove suspicions the election was hijacked. Never in the history of US elections have all the indicators pointed in the wrong direction.
Those who believe the first theory say indeed Hillary was cheated out of an obvious election victory. If so, it would be an unconscionable, inexcusable crime, an indelible blight upon the face of democracy and the values to which we so we dearly cling. But what if she wasn’t cheated? What if Donald Trump won the election fair and square?
This introduces us to our second theory, a possibility that many find more ominous than the first. This theory is straightforward, a slap on the back to keep us from strangling, a rushing mighty wind that fills our wishing well of freedom full of sand.
It states that Donald Trump is a visionary who saw the dark side of America’s soul. He spoke to that dark side, and in return, America spoke back … reluctantly, shamefully, fearfully back. The numbers are right. Donald Trump won fair and square.
Let’s look at the numbers again. There are so many numbers. We could easily get bogged down in them. But we won’t; just a bare minimum to support the theory’s framework.
Trump basically had one pathway to victory. Like most Republican candidates, he had to win Florida and Ohio, and then flip at least two or three states from blue to red. He did precisely this, perhaps a bit more. He did it against all odds, trailing badly right up to the bitter end. If you look at the four closest states where Clinton lost, exit polls show late-deciding voters in each of them going strongly for Trump. In Florida and Pennsylvania, late-deciders favored Trump by 17 points. In Michigan, they went for Trump by 11 points. In Wisconsin, and this is unbelievable, they broke for Trump by a whopping 29 points.
In Florida, 11 percent said they decided in the final week. In Pennsylvania, it was 15 percent. And in Michigan and Wisconsin where Trump made a late push, fully 20 percent of voters said they arrived at their choice in the last seven days.
In these close situations, exit polls are more accurate than traditional polls. Companies like Edison Research, one of the best in the business, conduct random stratified probability sample of more than 110,000 physical polling places across the country and about 16,000 early and absentee voters by phone. These unusual trends showed up in their exit polling. Despite their early claims, a large number of undecided and third-party-supporting voters were still free agents. They were soft on Clinton and open to a jerky u-turn at the end.
Most experts agree that WikiLeaks and FBI Director James Comey’s fingerprints were on the steering wheel. But these weren’t the major drivers. Trump went from losing swing states badly to winning Pennsylvania by 2.5 points, Florida by 2 points, Michigan by 1.5 points and Wisconsin by a full 3 points. For this to happen, there had to be many drivers.
Let’s start in the Minor Leagues and work our way up.
In the last three weeks, chatbots and automated spam accounts generated around 450,000 tweets at an average rate of 500 tweets per day. Facebook and LinkedIn suffered an equal onslaught. These were false messages that carried hashtags identifying certain political subjects, most often, slanderous stories that had no basis in truth. There’s a saying in politics: If you’re dirty, throw mud on everyone. That way, the voters can’t tell the difference.
What we didn’t think possible was happening. The campaign was getting dirtier by the day. Some of the stories stuck. Hillary (with the help of WikiLeaks) was the unfortunate loser in the game.
Another driver was the assumption of victory that, in the last week, let many people off the hook. Some of the votes were protest votes that people thought they could afford to make. Hillary was going to win. But she needed to know people were not totally satisfied with her agenda. In Michigan, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell was the first to warn the Clinton camp about the strong support for Bernie Sanders in her district during the primary. Sanders came to her district 10 times. Bill Clinton came only once. Dingell predicted people in her district would vote for Trump in the presidential election too. She says even though the Obama administration saved the auto industry, blue-collar working men and women of the industry had felt forgotten ever since.
As we move into the Major Leagues, we find the primary three drivers that gave Trump the victory.
The first one is fear. This is no surprise to anyone. Many voters chose Trump because of fear. You might call it the axis of his campaign, extending out into the darkness. He generated so much fear and uncertainty, he didn’t even need a plan or solution to address the outcome, just that he recognized it and would take care of it.
Much of the fear focused on Obama’s immigration policies, the tradeoff between security and open immigration … dangerously and recklessly open. In fact, immigration was never open. But that didn’t keep Trump from portraying it that way. And for this particular “disaster”, he had a solid, tangible, close-your-eyes-and-see-it solution … The Wall.
Obama presented his immigration policy as a continuation of the great open-door opportunity given to our forefathers. He said, “I guarantee you at some point, every one of us has somebody in our background that people didn’t want coming here. We’re going to have to make a decision about whether we are a people who tolerate the hypocrisy of a system where the workers who pick our fruit or make our beds never have the chance to get right with the law — or whether we’re going to give them a chance, just like our forebears had a chance, to take responsibility and give their kids a better future.”
The U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on Obama’s deportation reform, leaving over 4 million immigrants in limbo.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Trump presented the President’s policies as a lack of leadership, fostering the desperate and dangerous invasion of undesirables. Thieves, rapists and murderers were on the way and then he tied Hillary to it. She was going to be Obama’s torch bearer.
As the Motown Temptations used to sing, “Great googa-mooga can’t you hear me talkin’ to you? It’s just a Ball of Confusion….
I could spend a lot of time on this … the failure of President Obama to adequately communicate a very reasonable, cost-effective solution; the effect of a Republican Congress adept in fanning the flames; the failure of Hillary to put a human child’s face (so many children are being left at the border to live or die) on the need for a compassionate America. Bill Clinton did it with Kosovo back in 1998.
But time does not permit a full review of the immigration question, just that, negative is so much easier to sell than positive, and Donald Trump did an excellent job of selling it.
Exit polls throughout the nation, even in those states that showed Hillary leading by mid-single-digits, echoed a repeated sentiment: “We’re looking for a strong leader.”
When you take this top-of-the-brain sentiment into the back room and dissect it, it means a candidate whose tendencies are hard rather than soft, firm rather than flexible. These voter preferences point more to Trump than Clinton. The exit polls were doing their best to reflect an ingrained fear that had taken its toll on voters and overridden their sense of compassion and hospitality. People were looking for someone to protect them from an uncertain future. They were thinking me-first.
Me-first is actually the headliner for the next hidden driver that spoiled Clinton’s debut, number two on the countdown. Stay with me. If you’re a Hillary supporter, when we get to number one, you’ll finally be given permission to puke on the floor.
In the world of psychological analysis, there is a phenomenon called reductionist thinking. Sometimes referred to as Machiavellian thinking, it is a self-focused, self-rewarding approach to behavior that suppresses emotions and places no value on shared payoffs or personal attributes such as empathy, modesty and restraint. Rather, reductionist thinking tends to promote winning, hoarding and control of others. It screens out the larger context and concentrates on the potential gain of self. Any means to achieve self-reward, including lying, cheating, bullying, sabotaging, and even withdrawing from the process, is justified as long as it leads the reductionist thinker to a personal win.
There’s more to this, but I’ve already gone too long. Still, think about this example. People were out of work during the 2008 toxic derivative recession. Obama proposed a Jobs Bill that would’ve put millions back to work and paid for itself, a brilliant stroke of legislation. Republicans killed it because it would’ve made Obama look good. They had no alternative bill. They didn’t care about the millions of people who suffered from a Wall Street financial scheme in which Main Street workers had no part. Republicans just wanted to win. They spent millions and worked tireless hours behind closed doors to kill Obamacare. It would’ve taken a third of the time to just fix the flaws. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to kill the bill for the Red states home team. They just needed to go back to their constituency, pop the cork and celebrate another win.
The irony in political gridlock is that the voters grow weary of a non-functioning government. So what do voters do? They send more reductionist thinking candidates to Congress to get things moving again. When the Republicans shut down the federal government, the Republican number in Congress grew. That’ll teach Obama. The people have spoken.
In the 2016 Election, Donald Trump positioned himself as a classic reductionist thinker. He didn’t mind lying, cheating, bullying, making fun of a Mexican judge, a disabled reporter and Senator Marco Rubio’s big ears. He even threatened to refuse to certify or accept results from the election, unless he won. He had already begun to file suits. Any suit that made it as far as the Supreme Court would be “declared” a win.
Let’s go back to the exit interviews just after the polls closed. People were looking for a strong leader, someone that would bulldoze through the clutter and bring a win home for the Gipper. Does that sound like Al Gore or Dick Chaney? Does that sound like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Voters expressing the need for a strong leader lean Republican first.
Finally, we take a look at the primary driver, coming in at number one, the shameful, unspeakable straw that broke the camel’s back.
You could name it a lot of things … morality lost, the new spirituality, the rise of secularism, the devaluation of traditional values, God’s new place in line. For the purpose of this writing, I call it the vanishing breed of decent white people.
What? Am I implying that white voters are responsible for Hillary’s loss?
About 1.8 fewer black voters came out to vote than in 2012. Hispanics (God bless their deportation bound souls.) gave a mystifying 29% of their vote to Trump. Roughly 2 million Catholics didn’t come out at all. And in a meaningless march off a high cliff set aside for party loyalists, Libertarian voters gave Gary Johnson over 3% of the national vote. This was a man who had to keep apologizing for not really knowing anything about anything. Had these groups voted for Hillary, Trump’s razor thin, less-than-1% margins in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would have completely changed.
So many constituent groups contributed to Hillary’s downfall. How could I imply that white voters were to blame?
It’s a long story. It begins with the traditional role of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) who control disproportionate financial, political and social power in the United States, establishing and maintaining America’s code of morality.
Let’s lay all of the cards on the table, including the ones that Black power advocates and the nation of Islam would rather keep up their sleeves. Black people were NOT freed from slavery under them on recognizance. They needed help from white people, a majority of white people saying this is wrong and our chosen brand of morality won’t let us tolerate it. The same goes for the Jewish people in World War II concentration camps, and civil rights workers slaughtered in the South, and women and children murdered in Kosovo, and resettled allies from Vietnam.
None of these groups could liberate themselves by themselves. They needed the help of WASP sympathizers who, in their own private towers of consciousness, found it impossible to look the other way.
Technically, you don’t have to be white to be a part of this group. President Obama is a member. So am I. In several black barbershops, where the subject of illegal Mexican aliens taking our jobs has come up, I have found myself almost involuntarily defending these people, correcting misconceptions about their skill set and work ethic, even though I knew my haircut for that day would not be very good.
Here’s a quote from one of my national interviews:
“I live in Texas where immigration is a powerfully divisive issue, one that conservative Republicans invariably count on to get themselves elected. If I hadn’t seen and interacted with undocumented workers who had slipped across the border in the dead of night, I would fully expect them to be demons from hell, invading the poor Texas countryside, wreaking havoc upon the land.
“In fact, these are hard-working people. Five or six families moved into a single one bedroom apartment, eat can goods and pooled their money to buy a car to get off the bus line. They take the jobs that we don’t want, breathe in the cancerous roof tar, clean the dirty toilets and load the rotten garbage bags onto the truck. They work construction jobs below minimum wage and sometimes don’t get paid at all. But who can they tell? Who will listen to them without asking for their social security card?
“They are illegal like we were illegal when we tried to eat at the same lunch counters with whites and the law said it was illegal. They are illegal like we were illegal when we tried to vote without passing the local poll tax test, you know, the one that asked blacks how many bubbles were in a bar of soap.”
In the past, WASP have invariably been at the forefront in the fight for justice and equality. There did not have to be a personal benefit for them, although history has proven a society that seeks to lift its abused and downtrodden populations, sets in motion a rising tide that benefits all members of that society. Their intolerance for injustice was personal. Opposing evil was just the righteous, Godly, moralistic thing to do.
But in the case of this election, many of the subsets that make up the WASP group as a whole, lost their way. In exit polling, 7 out of 10 white Christians voted for Trump. They expressed concerns the country was going in the wrong direction. In fact, the entire Bible Belt went blood red, showing more support for Trump than Romney. This is remarkable since most of the observed and confessed attributes ingrained in their chosen candidate seemed to fly in the face of Christian values.
You have to envision a Christian deacon or Sunday school teacher with a lovely wife and daughter. How does he explain to them that after much prayer and talking to God, he endorsed a liar, a bigot, a womanizer, an alleged rapist, a flimflam wheeler-dealer picture-perfect reincarnation of Hitler himself. This is whom his spiritual values led him to choose for the highest office in the land. The other choice, a woman who abused emails, was just not acceptable.
For these WASP groups, so many moral compromises had to made in the voting booth. It’s not that Hillary courted the religious right. That really didn’t matter. What mattered was that long-standing, sacred and indelible Bible teachings could not keep so-called Godly people away from the polls.
You’d have to look at it this way. If Satan and Hitler ran for office, how could I read my Bible tonight and then go and vote for one of those candidates tomorrow. Wouldn’t my faith force me to write in Jesus Christ’s name or stay home altogether?
The vanishing breed of decent white people is a frightening phenomenon. They have grown silent in the secular crowd. They watch without the slightest utterance of protest as young children are mowed down in their schools by military assault rifles, time and time again, only to have Congress respond with a concerted, mobilized effort to block any bill that might hurt the NRA. They see these children standing on the borders in Latin America, abandoned by their parents, cold and starving. In former days, there would have been a rancorous outcry. WASP groups would have demanded our great American Christian superpower swooped in to help those who were unable to help themselves. But not now. Moral decay has delivered a win for the Gipper. Decent white people have learned to look the other way.
Thus, you have it, two competing theories from which to choose. Was the 2016 Election stolen? Or did we pick the leader that best represents our inner soul?
The good thing is my friends won’t have to call me anymore. Now, they know as much as I know. They can choose a theory, take a pill and go to sleep. Of course, they won’t go to sleep. I suspect no one will sleep for a very long time.