No, Virginia, Electors Won’t Change Their Minds

I teach college-age people and, over the past few weeks – with no Bernie Sanders to cheer for – their attention has focused on how to get State Electors to turn their back on Trump and vote for someone more liberal.  It was not the time to debate the issue with them, since my first goal was to get them to do well on their Final Exams.

Now it’s neutral time, and I can speak out:  Gang, it’s not going to happen.  I know you circulated petitions on-line, I know you had high hopes for full-page ads published in some newspapers imploring electors to “vote for a qualified person”.  But let’s examine the reality of it all.

First, on-line petitions have no value whatsoever.  If you really believe in something, folks, go door-to-door and collect real signatures from real voters.   I know that the on-line deal gathered about 5 million signatures, but who cares?  Are these voters?  Are they citizens?  Are they people who signed multiple times?   A stack of paper petitions, signed by legitimate voters, and presented to a state electoral body might – just might – have meant something.  On-line material is just more twitter-fodder.  If you want to motivate me, knock on my door and talk to me.

Now, of course, that’s a lot of work.  If one diligent, non-stop door-to-door campaigner could gather 200 live signatures, 5 million signatures would have taken 25,000 campaigners, or 500 per state.  So, how badly did you really want to accomplish this?

Second, and more important, you made the mistake that all activists make when addressing a political situation – you tried an appeal to reason.  Life lesson:  it doesn’t work.  It did not stop the draft in the 60’s, it didn’t make either LBJ or Nixon stop the Viet Nam war.  It doesn’t influence the Supreme Court in any of its decisions, and has never worked with the Congress.

Someone far smarter than me once commented that protesting before a legislative body is like peeing your pants when you’re wearing dark black woolen slacks.  Nobody notices, but it gives you a nice warm feeling.

Electors are political animals.  They were appointed by a party, Democrat or GOP.  That appointment was made for some loyal work or gesture over time.  They are not going to go against the party, even when the party has made or supported the wrong decision.  Oh, one or two might do it.  But they would be an exception, probably because they have other interests and have no wish for further growth in the party.  They are party members because there is something in it for them.  That’s the nature of politics.

So, I’m sorry to bring you the bad news.  And I’m even sorrier that your hopes for the next 4 years have been dashed if you were leaning toward the Democratic ticket.  But please read my blog on “Why The Democrats Lost”.  The election was won by votes from hungry people.  People who have no jobs, people whose children are hungry, people who are not students, people whose every waking moment is spent not in causes, but in finding some way to earn money to keep their families.  Can and will Trump do that?  I have no idea.  Voters believed it.   Hunger beats reason every time.

How The Rust Belt Killed The Democrats

If you’re a well-educated political professional, with degrees from an Ivy League or Washington university, you screwed up.  Big time.  I’m sure you meant well, and you followed all the usual political steps, but you screwed up.

How? You focused on the wrong groups.  You coached Clinton and Bernie to appeal to the usual platitudes:  doing away with ethnic clashes, promising free education, putting reins on Wall Street, even more Obamacare.  If you had ever worked for a living, as I have, you’d know that the first goal is always “put food on the table”.  Every parent wants their children to have a world of opportunity, equality, and education.  But first, you need to feed them.

I was baffled, and scared, when Trump won the election.  I knew that the Rust Belt crowd was all for him, but I didn’t realize the raw numbers.  Having reflected on it, I’ve got some answers that I should have had earlier.  I still don’t know if Trump’s people were smart enough to see these things, or just got lucky.

I’m a child of the Rust Belt.  I live in Texas now, spent a big chunk of my adult life in Silicon Valley, but I was raised in the Rust Belt.  So putting myself back in that frame of mind, the whole Trump victory makes sense to me now.

The Rust Belt – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, the Mahoning Valley, Milwaukee, South Bend, Gary – is still clinging to an old pattern of the familial company.  When the mills, the auto companies, the assemblers, were rolling full tilt, it was a “company store” environment.  Your grandad worked for the Mill, your Dad worked for the Mill, now you work for the Mill, and someday your sons or daughters would work for the mill.  Each worker had the goal of making sure that his kids would get hired.  I personally knew 3-generation families.  Success was defined by the day your son started his shift.  My own family was defined by who worked where: one uncle worked at this mill, another worked at that assembly plant, another for an auto company.

But then, over years, the mills started leaving.  They left one at a time, but a slow steady trickle.  They went to Japan and China.  The auto plants started to close down one by one and head for Mexico, Japan, Germany.  This has strong economic effect, but an even greater psychological and human effect.  You see, when generations of your family have worked for, and been cared for, by the same company, it becomes your culture.  Perhaps when it was apparent that the plant would no longer be hiring you should encourage your son to look elsewhere for a career.  Perhaps go to college, or trade school, or join the military and get some training.  And some did.  But not all.

To look elsewhere for a living was, and is, beyond the emotional range of those who have multiple generations behind them.  When industry flourished, workers didn’t have to plan much.  Oh, they worked hard.  That was their part.  But other things were taken care of by the company and the unions.  Wages were left to the union president who got elected by promising higher wages next year.  The company health plan, which was a co-op deal, took care of health needs, and there was a pension at the end.  So why think of school, or college, or another trade?

It’s is hard to break the rules of generations.  The Chinese, Indians, and Mexicans are going through the same steps now.  People there are having a hard time leaving tilling the land and going to work in factories.  It’s the reverse of here – because that’s where the factories went.