Trump and the mandate question

November 10th, 2016 at 8:42 am

I recognize that I’m playing to my crowd here and that I’m talking about a term– a political mandate–that does not have a formal definition. But I strongly objected when, in a TV debate last night, some guy argued that Trump has a mandate.

My response was that if you lost the popular vote, you don’t have a mandate. Last I looked, the national tally was (rounding) 59,612,000 for Trump and 59,814,000 for Clinton.

To be clear, he’s the legitimate president elect, though I’d sincerely welcome a national debate about the role of the electoral college. Twice in recent years, the president lost the popular vote.

That said, if you look at the red/blue map of the vote by county, as well as the Congressional and state outcomes, there’s certainly a case to made that…actually, I have no idea what the case to be made is re mandates. Trump absolutely rocked the anti-establishment vote while the vast majority of incumbents held their seats.

It’s all a muddle. Get down to the level of state ballots, and the American people seem to want get high on pot, earn higher minimum wages, and send an extremely harsh message to establishment DC.

I see no mandate in there. Instead, I like where Larry Mishel is on this. Among Trump’s various appeals, some of which were racist, sexist, and hateful, one that was very familiar to me (and Larry) was to working people who’ve long been left behind by a political system run by and for elites. I wouldn’t call it a mandate, but I would say Trump made an implicit bargain with those working class voters to help them claim a larger share of the economy’s growth.

I plan to carefully track the extent to which he and his new administration follow through on that bargain.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 comments in reply to "Trump and the mandate question"

  1. Flex says:

    I don’t think much of the public feels that Trump has a mandate. My impression is that the general public has become inoculated to that term as it’s used in every election by almost every pundit about any candidate who won.

    I was just elected, for the third time, to a township board. The last two elections I’ve run unopposed. I received better than 90% of the votes cast for my position in my township (It’s probably higher than that, but it really doesn’t matter so I didn’t check). I do not believe I have mandate, but I have a better claim for one than our newly-elected leader. The term is now meaningless.

    Like many others, I’ve been considering what, and how, this happened.

    I don’t think there is a specific cause for the loss of the election, although as the turnout was lower than expected for the Democrats it is possible that many people felt that the election was over (most pundits gave Clinton a >90% chance for most of the time) and didn’t bother to vote. While that might explain why this close election swung toward Trump, it doesn’t explain why Trump’s message resonated with enough people to support him.

    Of the multitude of reasons, there are a couple I’d like to explore. But a little brush-clearing first. The white supremacist, racist, vote is easily explainable, and while energizing them may have pushed Trump over the top (along with other things) I suspect that the overt racists are really a rather small percentage of Trump’s supporters. They were getting news coverage they didn’t deserve, and were very vocal in their support, but from what I saw, they were accepted by the Trump crowd somewhat reluctantly. It appeared to be more of a case that Trump supporters were not going to disavow any relationship to them rather than embrace them as their own. The racists were seen as undesirable, but free to support their candidate if they wanted to. And I think that gets to part of the problem, and I might go into that later.

    But what I was reminded of, by the general Trump supporter, was the feeling that things were getting worse and nothing was being done about it. Now here is the problem, everyone sees what needs attention a little differently. I’m reminded of what happens every year when the discussion occurs in our township as to which roads to work on that year. The meeting is announced well in advance, most of us trustee’s take the time to drive over every road (it’s a mix of rural and urban, dirt and subdivision) and try to come to a consensus as to which roads need the most work. Then we get quotes from the county on the cost of the work we think is necessary (and the county tells us which roads they think are important to work on), look at the total budget available, and try to schedule to fix as many miles of road as possible.

    As an aside, as township trustee I get paid an honorarium for each meeting, $125/meeting once a month. I also attend at least 2 sometimes 3 other meetings a month without any pay and spend quite a bit of time during the month reviewing, checking, and like above driving the roads looking for problems. This is on top of 50 hours spent a week at a full-time job (which pays me quite well, so I’m not complaining). The point is that as public officials we do spend a good bit of time trying to determine what the best path forward is, and often this is done simply because it’s the right thing to do rather than for any compensation.

    Anyway, after all this work, we have a public meeting to discuss it. Now it is not invariably, because there have been times when the citizens who attend these meetings understand what we do and trust us. But on a regular basis a citizen will attend (and possibly a whole group of citizens from the same street will attend), and tell us that their particular section of road needs immediate attention.

    We don’t argue, and we listen politely, but we might inform the citizen that his piece of road is bad, but not as bad as other roads in the township. So we will try to do what we can to correct his problem, but it may be minimal until other work gets done. And if we don’t have the budget to pay for it, it may have to wait for another year. Sometimes the citizen accepts this, but if we’ve said that for the past 4 years, and nothing has been done (with good reasons, we are not deliberately ignoring him), the citizen gets madder and madder. Now roads are also funded in many different fashions, some roads, trunk roads, are funded by the state not the local municipalities. So they may get repaired more often because the state has more money to spend (which can only be spent on those type of roads (and there are reasons for that too)).

    I think that situation is a microcosm of the election. Yes, internalized (or overt) racism and sexism probably was a component of the mix. But at the bottom there is a feeling of entitlement, bolstered by ignorance.

    Let me be clear. Ignorance by itself is correctable, assuming that a person who is ignorant recognizes that they are lacking in information. That they do not know as much as the experts. Like the man who complains about his road. He’s told by the township board and the county road commission that other areas need more attention. Initially he trusts them, after all, they are the experts. But as years go by, and the experts say the same thing while his road continues to deteriorate, he starts to question if the experts have really looked at his problem. He also sees that another nearby road may have been worked on several times while his road is ignored because that other road is a state trunk road. Now the citizen is pretty certain that he is being ignored, and if informed that the state road can be paved three times while his local road can’t be paved once because there are no funds (as the funding is from separate sources), to him it is evidence that the government is wasting money. And we local officials really can’t tell him his is wrong, because we would have loved to use the money the state used to re-pave a trunk road which was in good shape to fix his road which is now collapsing.

    So our citizen has gone past the state of correctable ignorance, and is now is convinced of government incompetence and in severe cases, government conspiracy. (Side note: it is generally white males who get to the conspiracy stage because minorities have learned that they generally do get less resources and have to live with bad roads, bad schools, and worse jobs because the loud-mouthed white males demand more attention. When they don’t get the attention they think they are entitled to, they assume it is a plot.)

    Then there is the feeling of entitlement. This can arise through ignorance, but it can also be created by seeing resources allocated toward others which they think should share in. I think it’s pretty rare that people will think that they deserve everything, but when they see resources used to help others, they think it’s only fair they get a cut. The idea that some people are much worse off, and need more help, isn’t the problem. The problem is that they are getting some help while I’m getting none. That’s why welfare is attacked so aggressively. The attitude is that some people are getting hand-outs, but not everyone. it doesn’t seem fair. So conditions are attached, often unreasonable conditions or conditions which are more of a punishment than rational. At that point the people not getting help can say to themselves, “I’m not getting a hand-out, but at least I don’t need to waste 2 hours a day on bureaucratic paperwork.”

    The people who feel this sense of injustice are not necessarily cognizant of the amount of privilege they have, or how much government actions (and other social movements) has enabled them to be in a position where they do not need hand-outs (we all imagine we would be nobles in a medieval society, not serfs). They are not amenable to explanation either, because they can see other people getting things they are not getting (Obamaphones).

    Frankly, I believe the above traits are consistent with the results done on primate psychological studies, and our sense of fairness is hard-wired into our brains. Which means our sense of entitlement is too (in the situation where we see other getting something we aren’t we feel we are entitled to that thing as well, it’s only fair).

    As an aside, this is one of the main reasons we need to provide social security benefits to everyone. Yes, the rich, and even some of the better off middle-class, don’t need those payments. But if you make social security a program to help only the poor, it will rapidly be seen as unfair, and popular support to eliminate it will grow. Our monkey brains at work again.

    I know this is a very long comment, but I’m reaching the end.

    For the past few decades, the people in middle-America have been seeing the following happen: people on the coasts get rich, either by manipulating the financial markets, or because they are famous actors/celebrities, or because they are working in government. Now anyone who is paying attention sees that only a handful of people actually become rich actors, or rich lobbyists, or even rich financiers. A lot of people enter those fields expected to get rich, and end up making a living, but not getting rich.

    They see all a lot of the attention which is given to people in middle-America is to minorities. They have heard people tell them that their religious beliefs are ridiculous. The see resources used to re-vitalize cities they have abandoned, and are resentful that they have to wait two hours at a DMV. They see groups they respect, which they have been taught to respect, like law enforcement, denigrated and attacked.

    They do not care all that much about civil rights. They already have the privilege desired by civil rights advocates, and they generally think that everyone else has them too (in which case it would cease being a privilege, but whatever).

    What they want is the same thing my original example wanted, he wanted the road in front of his house fixed. He is tired of hearing that the experts say that other roads are in worse shape. He no longer wants to be told that. He thinks that maybe his neighbors might be right, that there is a conspiracy. He absolutely knows that there is incompetence because the road down the way has been re-paved twice. Obama promised to pay attention to his road, and it didn’t happen. Trump has promised to eliminate the handouts to others, in his opinion this will make the country as a whole more fair, so maybe that will get his road fixed. He doesn’t care about what the white-supremacists will do to people of color, that’s not his concern. He wants his road fixed. You can fix all the other roads too, but get his done.

    This is the result of shrinking government services until infrastructure collapses. And it will not help the republicans any more than the democrats. The electorate will continue to throw out the incumbents until the things they want addressed get addressed. This means jobs which give people a reasonable time off, maybe with enough pay to allow one person of a couple to stay home, enough disposable income to enjoy hobbies, schools they can trust their children in, a retirement plan which allows even greater freedom, friendly neighborhoods with low crime. They have been told that this can’t happen when government interferes with business. Which is exactly backwards, business has no intention or incentive to provide any of the above. But as government spends time trying to improve the lives of the citizens who are starving, shifting resources from middle-class areas, it is very easy to see the loss of those resources as a promise on which the government has reneged.

    That I fear, is the root of the problem. Ignorance about the problems other communities face (like Flint, Michigan), anger that their own problems are ignored, a feeling that government services are applied unequally and unfairly (help by media), and a feeling of entitlement that what they had once should continue indefinitely.

    I apologize for the length, but it’s been a rough few days with quite a bit of introspection.

    • Robyn says:

      Thank you for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful response. I found much validity in what you had to say.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      Thnx for this, Flex. Great analogies and points well taken. I’m going to read it again tomorrow to make sure I’m absorbing your thoughts/observations.

  2. Fred Donaldson says:

    On the other hand, Flex, there are also some very corrupt township officials. As a reporter and editor, I recall being offered $50k in the 60s to overlook a payment of $600k to be divided among three township supervisors to approve a zoning change, The details – who, what and why – were on a bank’s stationery, signed by a real VP. Could have used the money at a time when my new home cost $14,000.

    Experienced many other offers at different times and places – many from developers. (It is an advantage to have the local newspaper endorse your project or election.) My point is that some “public servants” are in it for really big money and have nothing but distaste for voters.

    And about the $50k? Since I couldn’t win a libel suit in a county where the DA told me he wouldn’t file the case, despite the letter, I made a deal. One of the three supervisors would resign the next day, and the zoning change would be refused.

    There is some power in an HONEST Press.

    • Flex says:

      I don’t doubt there are unethical dealings by government officials.
      Which is why all government activity should be transparent.

      There is great value in an honest press, and I wish we had more of it.

      I do not feel that the citizens should automatically trust me. They should feel fee to ask any questions and I should be able to provide them with either good answers or admit I don’t know and either point them toward someone who might, or even take their question back with me, get an answer, and get back to them. All of which I’ve done.

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Mandate, schmandate.
    I think that Flex’s comment nailed a lot of the dynamics, but they are fluid.

    As I was doing some research on the GINI coefficient on a Saturday, it occurred to me that there might be some interesting overlap between diabetes/soda consumption and states whose electoral votes went for Trump. The overlap is spooky.

    The most information-rich GINI scale that I spotted is out of China, and I offer it as further support for Flex’s Hypothetical Guy Sick Of Being Perpetually Pushed To The Back of The Line:

    The DNC lost sight of the GINI coefficient at its peril.
    I’d be amazed if any employee of the DNC (or the GOP) could explain what the GINI numbers mean, or why they matter. The DNC is culpable of an epic folly, and now perhaps people will be more clear-sighted about the costs of losing sight of fundamental social metrics like the GINI coefficient.

    • Flex says:

      “Hypothetical Guy Sick Of Being Perpetually Pushed To The Back of The Line”

      Much more concise that how I put it. But essentially, that’s what I think is going on.

      One difficulty is that as long as this feeling persists, people who feel this way will vote anti-establishment. Swinging the country from one party to the other every 4-8 years.

      In a 4 year period of time, conservatives can repeal progressive legislation. But it often takes longer than 8 years for progressive legislation to show any effect. After 8 years of Obama we are just starting to see the economy and jobs recover from the 2009 crash. Certainly quite a bit of what Obama could have accomplished was thwarted by obstructionist republicans who were not interested in the welfare of their constituents but were playing power politics (and some of them were lining up for a run for the presidency). But even if Obama had been able to get the ACA he originally proposed, or the stimulus package had gone on longer, I think it would have been unlikely that the last recession would have ended significantly sooner. We might have started to see the wage increases in 2014/2015 but not much sooner than that. (I have reasons for thinking this, but as this comment also threatens to be long, I won’t take that side journey.)

      The solutions I see as possible do not seem particularly hopeful.

      We could have republicans in congress disassociate themselves from the reactionaries and agree to pass legislation which will reduce inequality. I don’t think that’s very likely to happen, because I don’t think they understand what is going on.

      We could, by chance, get an 8-year window where progressive policies can be enacted, and the country can see their affects. This seems unlikely, unless the DNC concentrate on winning back labor, and concentrate on winning back state legislatures in order to eliminate the gerrymandering the republican state legislatures have put in place. That’s the only way the DNC will win back the house. (Frankly, even as a democrat, I don’t trust the DNC to not engage in gerrymandering of their own. I’d like to see either independent or bi-partisan commissions determine representatives districts, over-seen by a non-elected judge.)

      We could get a charismatic leader who promises to correct the system, and actually desires to do so. But this leader will still need help from Congress to do so.

      The last option was both Trump’s and Sanders’ strategy, although I think Sanders was the only one who had the desire to make changes. Trump will make changes based on what his closest advisers say, and we know those advisers are not progressives. In a few years Trump may recognize that his advisers are not providing good advice, but by then the damage will be done.

  4. mclaren says:

    Jared Bernstein certainly seems correct in asserting that the voters did not give Trump a mandate. The math backs him up. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a significant margin, well over 2 million votes so far — and still counting. Her lead will almost certainly rise when the final count is in.

    But focusing on the near term proves deceptive.

    When a progressive looks back over the last 36 years, it’s clear that history is not on our side. Look at the number of Republican-controlled state legislatures in 1980, the number of Republican governors in 1980, the number of Republican senators and Republican congresspeople in 1980. Now compare with today.

    Republicans in 2016 control a record 67 of the 98 state legislatures. Nationwide, in 2016 there are 31 Republican governors compared to 19 Democratic governors (and one independent). There are 247 out of 435 Republican members of the House of Representatives and 52 out of 100 Republican senators.

    You can argue, as Michael Moore and other do, that Americans actually favor a progressive agenda because of polls, yadda yadda yadda, and various other verbal calisthenics. At the end of the day, though, you come down to the hard fact that Republicans overwhelmingly control essentially all political offices in America today above the level of dog-catcher.

    Moreover, this trend has gotten worse. it is not moving in the other direction. The trend is not reversing. Things are not getting better for progressives. Each election cycle, progressives lose more seats, lose more governorships, lose more senatorial and house votes over the long span of time. As a moving average, Republican control of government keeps going up and Democratic control keeps going down.

    What does a sensible person conclude from the numbers?

    We can play rhetorical games all day long, we can talk about “continuing the good fight” and “not giving up” and retrenchment and pivoting to a new Democratic message. At the end of the day, the numbers haven’t changed. The trend is brutal, and ever-worsening for Democrats. The American people have spoken over the last 35 years. They want Republicans in charge of government at every level — state, federal, presidency.

    If that isn’t a long-term mandate for Republican rule, I don’t know what is.

    Each time Republicans control all three branches of government, more and more of the New Deal gets rolled back. And when Democrats get back into office, nowadays they never control all three branches of government, and as a result Democrats can never fully roll back what Republicans do. So we have got a political ratchet. Republicans get ripping up the social safety net, shutting down all the progressive legislation, rolling back the New Deal, ending essentially every program enacted by Democrats since the 1910s.

    Now, with this election, we are finally going to lose medicare and social security. We will not get them back. Whenever Democrats win back the presidency, they won’t have enough political leverage to undo the damage. Social security is gone, and it’s not coming back. Medicare is gone and it’s not coming back. The FCC will be rolled back or disbanded, OSHA is going away, the EPA will get shut down, the FDA will be dismantled. Democrats are not going to be able to roll back those changes. Progressives just don’t have the congressional votes to do it even when they get the presidency or win a midterm election.

    The ratchet is moving relentlessly back to 1894. No minimum wage, no health care, no income taxes on the rich, no unions, no inheritance tax, debtors’ prisons (we already have them in many states, in effect), a supreme court that loves child labor and disenfranchises women and blacks and probably Jews and asians soon enough, union organizers and social justice activists branded “domestic terrorists” and shot down like dogs by state or federal troops, just the way the U.S. Army shot down striking Pullman workers nationwide in 1894 on the orders of president Grover Cleveland.

    This is a long-term mandate. You can’t argue with the moving average over the last 35 years. The American people have spoken with their votes over the last three decades. They want Republicans in charge at every level. The American people know what Republicans stand for, and they voted for the Republicans. Progressives have to face the fact that history is not on our side.

    It may sound heroic to talk about keeping up the fight, but out here in the real world, the people who continued fighting against Francisco Franco in 1936 wound up breaking rocks in political prisons for the next 30 years. At the end of the day, you have to be able to see the world clearly for what it is. Franco won. The Republicans have won. The people wanted Franco in power, and he stayed there. The people want the Republicans in power, and they are here to stay. For the immediate future, there is no prospect of anything but more of the same — ever-increasing rollback of the New Deal, dismantling of all regulatory agencies and social programs, elimination of all taxes on the rich, more prisons and more surveillance and more goons hauling more blacks and more union organizers and more protesters off to prison on various Trumped-up charges (terrorism, urban black crime, blue laws like drugs or porn or intellectual property laws, whatever the reactionaries in power can dream up). And the American people love it. They want more of it.

    I don’t know why the American people want Republicans in power at every level in America. I don’t know why Americans love the bad policies of Republican politicians. But ultimately it doesn’t matter — what matters is the ability to look around and see clearly what is going on in front of one’s nose.

    What is going on is that America is not getting more progressive. The USA moving backwards at a rapid rate to the 1890s.

    So there is a clear and unmistakable long-terms mandate for Republicans and their policies at every level of America over the last 35 years. Progressives who argue that it’s Fox News or gerrymandering or corrupt corporations influencing politics or fake news on Facebook or feckless millenials are all just whistling past the graveyard. One election or two elections might be bad luck, or fraud. But all the elections since 1980s? All rigged? All controlled by some mysterious right-wing cabal? All the result of Fox News hypnosis?

    Come on.

    The trend in America since 1980 is absolutely undeniable. And you’re telling me that’s just bad luck? No, one or two Republican governorships would be bad luck — a record high of 67 out of 98 is not bad luck, it’s a clear trend.
    At the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie. America wants Republican policies and Republican control at every level of government. Americans want to roll back our society to the 1890s, and once there, who knows? Maybe Dred Scott will get revisited. Maybe involuntary servitude for debts will be legalized. Perhaps we’ll go back to witch-burnings and public torture of suspected heretics. Trump has already announced he’s going to shut down global warming studies at NASA. Why not shut down science entirely? Get rid of doctors, go back to medicine men wearing masks and practicing rituals to rid the sick of “evil ju-ju.” Why not eliminate jury trials and go back to the way some African tribes decided guilty or innocence? Poison a chicken, and when the chicken totters around and dies, the person in front of whom the chicken winds up dead gets hauled off and killed as an evil sorceror.

    A sensible person has to realize when the fight’s lost and get the hell out of Dodge before the purges and show trials and witch burnings begin.