Columns, Opinion

BERMAN: Dear Democrats: take action and hope that irony swings both ways

On Nov. 8 at 7 p.m., optimism ran through my veins. I turned on CNN while I continued to study for a midterm scheduled for the next day. By 8 p.m., I brushed away some nerves, but I could no longer concentrate on my work. Then it was 9 p.m., and I began to look through the polls I had studied so often in the past weeks. The Rust Belt firewall was sure to hold; Clinton didn’t need to win Florida, Ohio or North Carolina. I decided to head to the ninth-floor lounge in Kilachand Hall, where I saw the distraught faces of students watching CBS on a 3-something-inch television. Many Terriers were still hopeful at 11 p.m. I remember one student said, seemingly out of breath, “If she wins Minnesota, Washington, Oregon … how many electoral votes is that?” I knew it was over, but I didn’t fall asleep until 1 a.m. I had to be sure.

I hope this country didn’t vote for bigotry. I hope this country didn’t vote for misogyny. I hope this country didn’t vote for hate. But I know this country voted for perilous change. I don’t believe that most Trump voters were “deplorables,” but a significant portion of them were. In a poll conducted in August, 41 percent of Republicans said they didn’t believe President Obama was born in this country. More than 30 percent weren’t sure.

I can’t understand the decent factory worker in Ohio who voted for Trump because he promised to bring good-paying jobs back. I can’t understand the single mom in North Carolina who was sick of Washington. But I know the liberal New Yorker who reads the Times.

I take solace in that a plurality of ballots cast were for Clinton. I’m angered by the irony that the election was rigged, as Trump professed constantly — through the electoral college and gerrymandering. There is nothing democratic about the electoral college. Supporters of the absurd entity, also known as Republicans, argue that it allows smaller states to have a say. Otherwise, candidates will ignore them and focus on the highly populated ones. I believe the opposite is true.

The electoral college makes it so only competitive states receive major or any attention from the presidential candidate. There were 15 states where the margin between the two major-party candidates was less than 10 percent. In pretty much every other state, the voters who went to the polls knew whether their state was going red or blue. Clinton didn’t campaign in Alabama because Alabama hasn’t voted for a Democrat since the Middle Ages, or at least 1976. Trump didn’t campaign much in Rhode Island because the last time it went Republican was 1984. The second flaw is that the margins of victory in each state don’t matter. Trump won Florida by about 1 percent. If he had won by 99 percent, he would’ve gained the same amount of electoral college votes.

The electoral college is undemocratic, and may have prevented a sane, intelligent candidate from being our 45th president. As Alexander Hamilton writes in “The Federalist Papers,” the Constitution is designed to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while also ensuring a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” It’s quite ironic that the electoral college is supposed to prevent the rise of a populist, yet instead it aided one.

In 2012, according to the Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman, House Democratic candidates got 49.15 percent of the vote while Republicans got 48.03 percent. You’d assume that the Democrats then got a majority of seats. Instead, Democrats won 46.21 percent of seats. Why? Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is that term you might have come across in your high school social studies class, but you forgot about it and now it causes you to turn your head sideways in confusion. Essentially, gerrymandering is the process by which state legislators draw congressional districts so that it favors one party over the other. Both parties do it, but Republicans do it a lot more. In North Carolina, Clinton won about 47 percent of the vote. But only three of the 13 congressional districts went for Democrats, or 23 percent. This isn’t unique to North Carolina, and it probably isn’t going to improve soon. Republicans have full control of 24 states, compared to Democrats’ six.

Democrats can only hope for a sweeping change in 2018 and then 2020. Hope is what will drive progressive change. Hope is what we will never lose. Let’s hope for irony. That Republicans’ strongest hold on the government will lead to another New Deal. Since it seems like irony is plentiful, the midterm I barely had time to study for was in statistics — the science that failed me.

One Comment

  1. Thank you. Now I know what gerrymandering is….I think. Very good article. I’m not giving up hope. Remember Hillary won the votes of your generation.