Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Thoughts on the state of politics and political discourse and action in the late 2016 United States, and of long-term consequences

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 1, 2016

This is my fifth posting to this blog in a loosely organized series in which I address change and its sometimes anomies, and the unrest that it can engender – as that has arisen going into our November, 2016 United States elections. And unlike most (essentially all other) postings in this blog besides those of this series, I have been writing it as a work in progress where I do not know how the matters that I would address here will play out – and even to the degree that I would claim for my China series predictions.

I find myself writing this portion of this posting on November 20, 2016 – just over a week after the 2016 presidential election in the United States. And I begin this starting, orienting note by clearly stating that I was wrong in what I assumed would happen. I did not fully trust the pre-election polls; I had doubts that the people conducting them had fully identified or connected with, or even knew how to effectively reach out to the right demographics for polling feedback and insight. I still thought that Hillary Clinton would win the election, even if by a narrower margin than the polls suggested (including with its stellar reputation and solid record of predictive accuracy in prior elections – their final prediction gave Donald Trump just under 30% odds of winning.) And I thought it likely that the Democrats would take control of the US Senate – how wrong I was.

I organize this posting into two parts: a pre-election preface that I wrote and uploaded in the last days of October, 2016 and that I have decided not to change in any way. Think of that as a settled frame of reference, any typos in it included, to what I would add post-election and certainly at this point in time. And after that I include a brief post-election note, where I will at least briefly discuss what happened, and yes – take the risk of making a few predictions, and even when there is still so much uncertainty. And with this noted, here is …

A brief pre-election preface:
I wrote Part 4 of this series to go live on October 20, well before the election (November 8), and the bulk of that on September 19. As such, a great deal has happened between then and now. I was originally planning on holding off for this next installment posting until after the election, and I will in fact write the bulk of it after the votes have been taken and tallied, and the initial post-election recriminations have died down (hopefully.) But given the toxic nature of this election cycle, and its unprecedented attacks on the democratic process as has been followed in the United States, I decided to add a pre-election preface to what is to come, so I can put this posting as a whole into the more real-time, happening-now perspective of the last two weeks before election day.

I am writing this preface starting on October 30, 2016 as Donald Trump proclaims the election is rigged in anticipation of voting, and that it will be stolen and by a combination of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, the mainstream news media, and the (declared treasonously disloyal) leadership of the Republican Party – which is at least nominally his own political party that he now officially leads. Donald Trump has called out to his diehard base in his rallies, in increasingly strident terms that the whole electoral process is subverted and that it needs changing, and that he is the only one who can do that. And while he would claim that he is not actually calling for armed rebellion if he loses, he has said that he will not necessarily accept the results of the election as valid – unless he wins. And he has arguably been inciting more radical elements of his base to take action, with “dog whistle” calls to “Second Amendment people,” and with proclamations that if he wins his political opponent Hillary Clinton will be tried, convicted and imprisoned, and that “his people” should monitor the polling places to challenge (intimidate) Hispanic and other minority voters – members of demographics that he has vilified as being anti-American and who he sees as being lined up against him. This is all unprecedented in American History, unless you go back to the discord leading up to the 1860 US presidential and down-ticket elections.

Hillary Clinton has been polling ahead of Donald Trump in the 2016 election forecasts with a mid-80’s percentage point likelihood of winning, and with Trump pulling in mid-teens percentage point numbers for his winning. Most polls have tracked with similar numbers, with the only real exceptions found in explicitly Trump-supportive sites and organizations that do not poll widely or at random as far as prior expressed political views are concerned. That, among other reasons, is why Trump keeps declaring that the election is rigged – while equally loudly proclaiming that he will still win. Many have been predicting, and certainly in citizen on the street conversations, that Trump was likely to come up with what he would hope to see become a game changing scandal in the last week or two leading up to November 8. And it looks like he has done just that, with a sudden and unexpected reemergence of the Clinton email scandal, thrown back into public awareness by James Comey, the Director of the FBI, with his sending an innuendo-laced letter to Congress stating that he was going to reopen the Clinton email investigation, after it was formally closed, in case a trove of emails on Anthony Wiener’s computer that the FBI now holds, includes in it some of the missing Clinton State Department emails! (The Wiener trove has been publically said to include some 650,000 emails and text messages on it so any real search for anything specific would take a while. The FBI took possession of Weiner’s computer because of his sexting scandals and the likelihood that he has used his computer to send lewd photos of himself to underage girls. No one has claimed that that has anything to do with the Clintons.)

Comey wrote and sent his letter to Congress against explicit advice from the Justice Department, offered to him on the grounds that that letter of intent would be a purely political move and especially when the FBI did not have any specific email or other evidence in hand to justify it. They had not even sought out a warrant for conducting a search of that computer for Clinton-related material! Public release of this document has given the Trump bid for the presidency a new lease on life even if a still slim one, at least as of today and this writing (October 31.) And it would probably not be too difficult to successfully argue a case that when Comey did this, and against explicit advice from the US Attorney General, and without any substantiating or justifying legal evidence that could specifically be brought against Hillary Clinton, he was explicitly violating both the:

Hatch Act, which outlaws a wide range of federal government officials from engaging in “pernicious political activities”,
• And the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as codified for implementation by the United States Office of Government Ethics.

I offer this brief narrative without the usual newspaper article links, simply noting that I could greatly increase its length with such current events references. My goal here is not so much one of offering news as history, as it is of noting and explaining something of how stressful and uncertain the political climate has become in this country. In anticipation of my post-election continuation of this piece, I state that the United States is in real trouble right now for its massively divisive and societally self-destructive chasm-like differences of opinion and with all of the rancor and recriminations that have been coming from that. See Part 1 of this series in particular, in that context.

I intended to limit this preface to a couple of hundred words, but find that actually addressing the issues that I would write about here, and even just briefly, has required a great deal more than that. Unless still new game changing events take place between now and November 8, I am (as of now) planning on completing this posting with a post-election note, in late November, to go live on December 1, 2016. I finish this preface to that, perhaps aptly enough on Halloween Day, October 31, 2016.

As a final note added after writing the above, and also added on October 31, I have decided to add a link to an op-ed piece that is particularly relevant to James Comey and his actions, as reported in my note here. I do not add this here because its author reached similar conclusions to mine, but rather because of who he is and his credentials in this type of matter:

Did Comey Abuse His Power?, by Richard W. Painter. Painter currently serves as a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. He is a long-term registered member of the Republican Party and served as the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007 for then President George W. Bush. I strongly recommend reading this as background to more fully understanding what FBI Director Comey has done here, and the significance of that decision and action. And this also sheds light on how Donald Trump and his brand of extremism does not represent more traditionally held Republican Party values, as held sway pre-Tea Party and pre-Trump, and when there was still discourse and possibility of compromise across the political divides.

A brief post-election note:
I just reread my pre-election half of this posting, and begin my post-election second half to it by repeating that I was wrong in my predictions of who would win. Clinton did win the popular vote by a small margin: some 200,000 votes overall. But she lost the Electoral College vote and the election itself. And the Democrats were able to narrow the Republican Party majority in the Senate and in the House but the Republicans still control both sides of Congress. How did that happen? How were the polls and prediction so far off, and even for what have been the most widely engaged and inclusive polling organizations that have always sought out as wide a range of cross-demographic data as possible?

Comey’s last minute political attack certainly contributed to this and in solidifying distrust of and anger against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in general, if nothing else. And Clinton and her Democratic Party spokespersons did not help themselves when they refrained from directly challenging Trump as he attacked, and with whatever lies and deceptions that he could come up with – or find in the alt-right social media. And even worse, they took to discounting and demeaning all Trump supporters by branding them as racists and bigots and xenophobes; yes a significant number of those who do speak and act in that manner did come forth to campaign for Trump – and while waving their divisive messages up high in the process. But most of Trump’s supporters backed him and voted for him because they saw themselves as left out and discarded and by the problems and pressures that brought us all the Great Recession, and from any recovery that has taken place since. The Great Recession has never, in fact ended for them and they have only seen continued if slow loss – with no real salary increases for decades now.

Trump won on a tidal wave of anger, and as a self-proclaimed savior who would address all sources of fear and concern that these millions of people have faced. And the Democratic response to Trump support and to Trump supporters only embittered them and made them that much more determined to vote for change – any change that would break what has been a status-quo, business and government as usual approach that has only harmed them.

Comey did finally close out his new proposed investigation two days before the election, but its harm had already been done. Clinton and her party never did soften their tone to reach out to Trump supporters, acknowledging their genuine sources of concern – and yes, fear and anger. So traditionally red states that would vote Republican became more polarized than ever before – redder than ever before in this election, and a significant number of swing states that might have gone either way in the election went Trump and Republican too – and particularly in their more rural areas and with larger than usual voter turnouts there.

Trump won. The alt-right became mainstreamed and the once simply far right and ultra-right have in effect become moderate Republicans. Comey might very well turn out to be a source of hope and a wished-for ally for the Democrats – if he can be prevailed upon to challenge the Trump administration on issues such as suppression of citizens based on their religion where Trump and his top national security picks (as of now) are all ardent Islamophobes and staunch opponents of immigration and immigrants. And the Democrats will need an FBI director who will challenge reinstituting waterboarding and other even more extreme forms of torture. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell might very well find themselves courted by the Democrats as natural allies against alt-right extremism!

And this brings me up to today. Donald Trump will not change; he cannot change. He is fundamentally disruptive and he is as such, living proof that disruptive change is only good – it only holds potential for good, when it is matched with and serves as a gateway to achieving new positive good. A disruptive change that is harbinger to positive next-step outcomes can be for the good and even very significantly so. But disruption with no such positive outcomes is simply an exercise in breaking things. Donald Trump is a vengeful narcissist with the attention span of a toddler – except when crossed or when he sees himself as having been crossed in some way. He rewards his supporters and actively foments discord in his teams. And while he does seem to actively believe in at least some of the key talking points that he pursued in his nomination and general election campaigns, a great deal of that will likely fall by the wayside.

Trump does seem to hate Mexican and other immigrants and he is a misogynist and bigot – or at least these appear to be long-term consistent elements of his ongoing message. He is an opportunist who will adapt or discard views and approaches according to his own current here-and-now perceived needs. Some things, he simply will not be able to do and even if he wants to. Reality always collides with political campaign goals and it will for The Donald too. How likely is it that he really can bring back the coal industry to what it once was, and even if he really is as much a climate change denier as he proclaims himself to be?

And this brief note up to here brings me to my key prediction, as noted in anticipation at the start of this post-election note:

• Donald Trump has already frightened and concerned a great many Democrats and others, and his failure to pivot towards being more inclusive, and either when running in his general election campaign or since winning the election has only served to increase the overall levels of concern and disappointment faced by members of these demographics.
• But if Trump does not change – if The Donald simply remains The Donald, with his focus staying on himself, I predict that the concern and disappointment coming from those who voted for him will dwarf that.

Will that prove true? That depends on how fully Trump is embedded in his own personal one man epistemic bubble – how little he actually listens to even his own support base as he makes off the cuff decisions with long-term consequences. If he pivots towards actively, actually seeking to address the fears and concerns of voters who are not anti- anything, except perhaps their being left out of this country’s success then he might be able to hold his current support, and even gain wider respect. But if he fails to live up to the more positive hopes and expectations of the public, and even of just his current base that has read, Rorschach Test-like into his “make America great again” slogan, then he will lose them and their support.

As a final thought here, I wrote Part 4 of a Republican Party in crisis. The Party of Lincoln is long dead, and now the Party of Reagan is too and so is the Party of what has been the extreme right of Ryan, McConnell and the like. The name Republican Party lives on but it is now a new and still awkward entity – which might or might not be longer-term sustainable in this new current form. Time will tell.

I write this second half to this posting on Sunday, November 20, 2016. I know that more will happen relevant to this between now and December 1 when this is scheduled to go live on the blog, but I will most likely end this installment here and now. People will be debating this election and its aftermath for many years to come. I might very well find myself contributing to that ongoing discussion – later and in other postings.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1. And I also offer this and related material at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

A quick November 25, 2016 update:
I was planning on concluding this line of discussion for now, with the above posting. But I decided to update one detail that I offered in it. I stated that “Clinton did win the popular vote by a small margin: some 200,000 votes overall.” But the counting was still incomplete then and more so than it is now. According to more complete tallies, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes (see Election Facts to Keep Handy for Thanksgiving Dinner Discussion.) That, by comparison represents a significant margin. And that lead is likely to grow as the final ballots are counted and verified – finally. There is talk on the part of some Democrats that Clinton should contest the initial vote counts and have voting machines checked, etc and certainly for states that now have Trump winning by less than 30,000 votes. By now I expect the unexpected in this election, but I do not foresee anything like that happening and I certainly do not foresee the results of this election changing. According to US Constitutional Law, a joint session of Congress will officially count the Electoral College votes, and for this election most likely on January 6, 2017. No one has officially won the 2016 Presidential Election until that takes place but I do not expect Donald Trump’s victory to be reversed. This popular vote shift might, however, embolden the Democratic Party as they face and confront a Trump presidency on issues important to them. There is a lot to this story that will continue to unfold, and in unexpected ways.

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