You’ve got my vote, now Good Luck with That

I’m in the mood for a little dissection, aren’t you?


First, let me be clear that I agree with everything in this meme.

I’m something of a proceduralist. It’s only gotten worse since I started studying law in my spare time to improve my skills at a new job. It was early in that reading I read this passage:

[N]eglecting the terrain of procedure is, as it always has been, a mistake. Fundamentally, that is because procedure is power, whether in the hands of lawyers or judges. Smart lawyers and judges recognize the power of procedure. *** Substantive rights, including constitutional rights, are worth no more than the procedural mechanisms available for their realization and protection.

Stephen Burbank, The Bitter With the Sweet: Tradition, History, and Limitations on Federal Judicial Power – A Case Study, 75 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1291, 1292-93 (2000).

Elections are certainly different from court cases, but there’s still procedure involved, if more strategy and nuance. I think the principle still holds. If you don’t get your procedure together, it doesn’t matter what your substantive platform might be. What good is it without the ability to implement it?

As I said, I agree with everything in this meme. I completely get the antipathy to the mealy-mouthed Thoughts & Prayers crowd. I harbor a deep well of contempt for the purely religiose. It is only exacerbated when it’s wrapped in lip service to patriotism, especially when that brand of jingoistic patriotism is all-too-often founded on the most abysmal failure to understand even the most basic aspects of how our government actually functions and how it got that way.

I, too, see something self-evidently true in the implication that there’s something wrong with a society that cannot rapidly adapt to threatening circumstances and that takes umbrage to a benighted element who gets in the way of positive change while mouthing offensive platitudes and claims to a moral superiority that are vacuous at best.

The ridiculous reality is that achieving your goals would be so simple if only there weren’t so much opposition every step of the way. Since that isn’t the case, what are we doing to change the distribution of America’s voting sympathies?

Here’s my starting point:

  • 327,000,000 US population
  • 273,000,000 voting-eligible US population, or ~83% of US population
  • 200,000,000 registered US voters, or ~73% of voting eligible US population or ~61% of US population
  • 138,000,000 votes cast in 2018 US election, or ~69% of registered US voters, or ~50% voting-eligible US population, or ~42% US population
  • Of those votes, 65.8 million went to Clinton, or ~48% of the votes cast, or ~33% of registered US voters, or ~24% of voting-eligible US population, or ~20% of US population.
  • Of those votes, 62.9 million went to Trump, or ~45% of the votes cast, or~31% of registered US voters, or ~23% of voting-eligible US population, or ~19% of the US population.

It was a veritable clash of titans, I tell you what.

Of course, the Trump vs. Hillary vs. Hillary vs. Trump showdown was the championship match set for us by the primaries.

  • In those primaries, about 39,000,000 voters chose Hillary for their team, and about 45,000,000 voters chose Trump for theirs.
  • For Hillary, that’s ~19% of registered voters, ~14% of voting-eligible Americans, and ~12% of the US population.
  • For Trump, that’s ~23% of registered voters, ~16% of voting-eligible Americans, and ~14% of the US population.

From where I sit, neither side has a mandate on much of anything, yet here we are with a meme and a noble pursuit and amorphous blob of wishful thinking. How do you move the needle enough to prevail sufficiently to accomplish your mission?

Let’s Think This Through

You know you need to take Congress, or no bill or amendment or repeal will make it to the president. You know you need the presidency. You might think you’re hobbled by the Supreme Court, but if it really came down to it, with a strong enough Congress and enough support behind the president, you could change the number of justices then ram through enough to re-stack the court favorably. Put the right victim in front of the right court and chase it through appeals quickly enough to get it before the new SCOTUS, and maybe you’ll get a decision that helps lock it in, unless future politics come along and a new SCOTUS reverses the decision.

Or maybe you provoke a new civil war with the dentistry-challenged. That could be a thing.

Look at those numbers above again. Is that the path you plan to take?

Instead, maybe you can push through an amendment that repeals and replaces the source of all our legislative trouble on this matter, the Second Amendment. How’s your math looking?

Another path might be to settle for the kinds of incremental changes you’ve always settled for as long as someone else shoulders the burden. More protection for workers…eventually. More access to healthcare…eventually. More access to education and jobs…eventually. More retirement security…eventually. More redress of racial disparities…eventually. More redress of gender disparities…eventually. Deciding on how to define gender without attacking one or another in pursuit of equity for all…eventually. Address climate change urgently…eventually.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for all of those checkmarks you’re super excited about now. I’m a 51 year old Gen-Xer, and I’ve seen this eventualiness (coined!) for decades. Others have watched far longer. While I admire your enthusiasm for most of the right ideas at this time, perspective says you’re a flash in the pan. Why?

You Are a Flash in the Pan. Prove me wrong.

Because as much as I get your moral outrage, nobody seems to have any earthly idea what you are actually planning to do with it. Lofty aspirations are great, but what are your plans for overcoming procedural and electoral hurdles? If there’s other paths forward other than the three I outlined above, I don’t know of them. Do you? What are they?

Once you know that, how do you plan to move the needle sufficiently for your purpose to succeed? It’s a safe bet that you won’t budge 45,000,000. Those are the primary voters that put Trump on the menu over the other options from which they were choosing. Sure, they were all opposition and we think them odious somehow because that’s how silos work. Maybe there’s 17 million Republicans you can sway, if you can overcome all the obstacles in that path.

This Idea Sucks

I think that about the only way you’ll get a significant shift from centrist Republicans in your favor would be the incrementalist approach, in which case you’d better pick the most vanilla moderate right-of-center Dem you can. If the Dem center can soundly suppress their left wing insurrection, that offers centrist Republicans at least some incentive to jump the aisle. Thanks to the Overton window, the center Dem perspective is still comfortably Republican enough for them so long as their funding improves. They’re really not all that attached to their rabid base. That’s just where the cash flow is.

If you’re not wasting your breath on Republican conversion, however, how do you move the needle with the other groups? You’ve got a pool of ~15% of registered voters to pull from, the ones who still didn’t see the motivation to vote in 2016, 24/7 news cycles, social media interference, and memes be damned. What solutions will appeal to them sufficiently to motivate them to vote for your cause for both Congress and the presidency? Is it still the incrementalist approach? Or maybe the stack the courts, ram it through approach? Or the full on amendment and ratification approach? How do you know? Why do you believe that?

This Idea Sucks More

Do you really think you have the numbers for the constitutional rejiggering approach? I don’t think so. To be painfully honest, I don’t think your team, the good one, has the messaging skills to get that much support from any of the demographics. Please do prove me wrong. I’ve been waiting for a very long time. On that basis, I’m just going to stop suggesting that as an alternative. You just don’t have what it takes.

Our Your Contenders?

That leaves the incrementalist and stack the courts/ram it through approaches. Will either of those appeal to enough registered non-voters to get out the vote? What about now makes it any different from the last time they had a chance? The tragedy in New Zealand is tragic by definition, but damn, the non-voters won’t even be motivated by idiot Nazi cosplayers marching in our streets or actual white supremacist massacres on our own soil, and they’re suddenly going to care because someplace halfway around the world had a bad day?

I love your silo’s intentions here, but what is your message to those registered non-voters?

For that matter, what is your message to the 73 million unregistered voting-eligible Americans?

Harsh Reality and Ugly Truth

We’re not in the silo any more, Toto. We’re well outside of it. It doesn’t matter how much I cheer on your moral outrage. Out here it doesn’t matter at all. As an observer of human nature I’ll tell you now: if Moral Outrage is your message, you won’t just fail to move the needle. You’ll inadvertently create some added momentum for those registered non-voters and those unregistered eligible voters to go the other way. You might notice, those same folks have also not, as of yet, been persuaded by the odious rhetoric of your opposition.

Maybe it’s something about what they perceive as odious rhetoric.

I say this advisedly. I love odious rhetoric. My own. Sometimes yours. Never theirs. It’s not my vote you’re trying to get, though. It doesn’t matter that you don’t see your own rhetoric as potentially odious. Do the people you need to persuade? Can you step back from lobbing tone policing molotovs and from your self-evident moral and ethical superiority long enough to get the job done?

Your pink pussy hats don’t give me much cause for hope.

Oh, sure, they’re provocative. Symbolic. Emblematic. They’re revolutionary. They comfort the oppressed and oppress the comfortable. Political theater, like it or not, is still just the propaganda of the home team. Can you seriously entertain the possibility that the very people you most need to motivate must to be encouraged to vote for and with you, and might not want to be propagandized?

ARE You Doing It Wrong?

Again, (and again, and again) I agree with the meme and have my own contempt for the Thoughts & Prayers crowd. By the same token, can you tell me what percentage of the people you need to persuade are Christians? Of other faiths? One of the hallmarks of this new, young, enthusiastic political demographic is its apparent (if superficial) adherence to reason. Never mind any and all evidence to the contrary. Like any group, you’re no monolith and can’t be corralled into one pen that easily. But you may have noticed that it’s your militant anti-theists with the loudest pro-reason voices.

Will that persuade non-voting Christians? Jews? Muslims? Hindus? Everyone else of faith? Of course you’re right and superior, obviously. I keep acknowledging that. But does it serve you where it matters…winning?

Sell Them: Message, Click, Funnel, Conversion

You’re trying to sell these people something, an idea. You’re trying to sell them on the idea that your idea is the superior idea. You’re trying to sell them on the idea that not only is your idea superior to the other ideas in play, but that there is something to compel them to support your idea enough to take some actions. Some of those actions may seem minimal to you. A lack of empathy for those outside your silo might conceivably blind you to what minimal means to them, not to you. Some of those actions may have nearly insurmountable obstacles in their paths (restricted voting rights, distant polls, short hours, no money for travel, age or some other hindrance). You’re keenly aware of those. Are those the reasons non-voters aren’t voting? Have you bothered to find out? You’re trying to motivate those people to agree with you enough to take those actions, to register, to vote. Don’t even think about trying to get them to actively boost and campaign. You’re having a hard enough time getting them out of their chairs.

Free Cake, Now with Less Rat In It!

Have you considered how your in-silo messages that leak out (by design) communicate messages to the very people you need to persuade that are absolutely counterproductive to that persuasion? It’s like watching Bibi Netanyahu boast about being able to make America do whatever he wants. It’s like political operatives getting caught out suggesting that they don’t care what it takes to get the stupid people on their side, just do it. Why not just start a Your Dogs Are Ugly campaign, while you’re at it?

I share this with you because I think, perhaps, you mistake the amplitude of your message for it’s reach and persuasive power. Your degree of fervency could be 100% on target. Is it helping or hurting your message?

Radical Action Now?

I’m not asking for an incremental approach, myself. I’d actually love to see the stack the courts/ram it through approach, because I’m fairly confident that when push comes to shove, the Wall Street forces who might loathe the idea of peeling away some money on your account are even more loathe to see a bunch of yahoos wreak havoc on their delicate supply chains and cash flows. If that’s the motivator I believe it to be, the yahoos would find out very quickly that the armed might of a United States of America isn’t here to support an insurrection led by about 10% of the population (at most). That 10%, on its own, would have a helluva time coming up with the financial backing to make supporting them worth Wall Street’s while.

After that, what should be no more than a handful of Bundy-sized skirmishes that barely gets our Apaches dusty will be put down, and maybe then you can get on to the serious business of some constitution tweaking.  Maybe, just maybe, such an adventure would cement the ¾ support you need for ratification to keep this from coming up quite so vividly every so often.

How Radical?

I’ll say this much. If you’re not prepared to sell Wall Street on the idea that they’re going to lose money one way or the other, so they better choose you because in the long run, because they’ll lose less than if they maintain their support for the other side, you won’t win them. They only speak profit and loss. It might be wrong. It might suck. But right now, you need them, too. Of course, the only way to show them that they stand to lose money either way is they’ve got to take your threat to withhold consent to be governed as seriously as they take the other radicals’ side when they threaten to withhhold that consent.

You’re a bright lot. You’ll figure out your own strategies. But you simply must figure out how to be taken seriously by the power players who already hold the power. 

Could It Backfire?

Anything could. In this case, would you be even worse off if it does? I mean, it’s not like you’ve ever misread your audience before or anything, that’s why you won so quickly and easily?

Maybe the incrementalist approach really is the way to go. On the bright side, first the Boomers and the antiquated fundamental conservatism that goes with them will be in the ground (along with the good ones). Then us Gen-Xers can get on with the serious business of making suggestions you ignore before we go watch Netflix until we die. Inside of 30 years, yours will be a younger, more heterogeneous America, and you will have (I think, I hope) the demographic support to make reasonable centrist changes on the fly almost without a hitch, and a heightened chance of pushing through more radical changes more quickly because you’ll be dealing with an audience that cut its teeth on radical changes in absolutely everything, all the time. Sure, there will be hold outs. At that point, to hell with ‘em. You’ll never win some people. And no matter how free you leave them so long as they leave everybody else the hell alone, you’ll always be tyrannizing them as far as they’re concerned. How dare you resist the half-baked moral edicts? That’s how they’re wired.

Until you figure out how to rip kids from their families to enforce one kind of education (or at least absolutely exclude certain types of education) without being tyrants about it, you’ll always be stuck with that. I’m fairly certain re-education camps and pogroms won’t sell well. So, you tell me, what will be your strategy for containment? The hold-outs need to be mollified somehow, or you’ll need to find the will to police them into peaceful compliance.  Neither one of those is exactly your strong suit.

You’ve Already Got My Vote

As for me, I’ve pretty well decided that from here on out, I’m going to observe the poll results from the youngest voting bloc and simply let that be my guide. Us old farts have had generations of screwing up the world on our terms. We’ve had our wars. We’ve fouled your air and water and soil and food and medicine. We’ve tattered the social fabric. If you lot want to change all that and then screw up by spreading measles and shoving quartz eggs up your hoohahs, who are we to judge after all we’ve wrought? And yes, I know I’m picking at you based on small numbers. So will the opponent. Buck up. A stiff upper lip will do you good for the battles to come.

At this point, I don’t care how silly I think your silly ideas might be, or how serious your serious ideas might be. It’s about them being your ideas, and maybe its high time for the older generations to cut the apron strings and listen to you when you tell us how you mean your world to be. So, yeah, you’ve got my vote. It’s not necessarily out of commitment to the ideals that come from your silo. Honestly, sometimes your team is just goofy and every bit as inconsistent and incoherent as the opposition. But it’s your team, you get to decide what your own expressions of esprit d’corp look like.

Other than that, I don’t have Thoughts & Prayers to offer. That’s not my bag, baby. And I’m running out of fucks to give. What I have might be arguably worse.

Good Luck with That.