Many of the pundits are saying, “nobody saw this coming.” They go on to describe the revolt of the less educated white working-class male, or some other demographic that has been marginalized by globalization, or income inequality.
There is no denying that they are at least partly right. But I know that I personally missed something that’s context for Trump’s win – it’s political gaming of the system that’s been a GOP strategy for decades and was happening big time in this election.
As I was puzzling out loud over the fact that Hillary won the popular vote, and Trump won the Electoral College. Marguerite said, “It’s gerrymandering.” I scoffed at her interpretation. I think of gerrymandering as a way to guarantee seats in the House of Representatives by, in effect, picking your voters by demographic mapping.
However the reality is much subtler. Gerrymandering helps a party that does not have a majority of voters support at the congressional level. The “red” minority (see chart) can get three of the five districts (60%) by clever carving. The “blue” majority can draw districts to give themselves all five (100%).
This simple example illustrates how the US political system can be modeled like any other complicated set of interdependent rules and variables. Consider that each state makes the rules about how it runs its elections. It is the governor and the legislature that also define political boundaries. So if a political party can optimize boundaries to get the most seats in congress, it can lock in some districts without having majority of the votes. In addition, it can target the campaign money on districts where there is no such lock.
Another gambit is voter suppression. Voter ID rules, polling hours, polling locations, number of voting machines, early voting, absentee ballot rules — all the many aspects that are controlled at the state level can be played to the advantage of one party over another.
Those tactics will be reflected in not just the House of Representatives, but also the Electoral College.
The GOP figured out how to game the system long ago. The book “Rat F**ked” explains how it happened. The title is a vulgar expression for political sabotage.
The process is ongoing. When the smart money in the GOP campaign pulled back from supporting Trump, it refocused on supporting GOP candidates for state legislatures and governorship. Already the GOP has a lock on the US House. They are working on voter supression strategies to gain wider control.
If you believe in democracy you should be concerned. But even if you are concerned you may not be able to change it. It will take a super motivated electorate to reverse the many ways our political system is being corrupted.
The Citizens United decision is another element of the strategy. Now that huge amounts of money can be targeted at particular state and even local races, it has become possible to hammer any candidate that opposes your interests. The NRA is perhaps the least subtle. It wants politicians to think that taking a stand on gun regulation is just not worth it. But the tactic can work to defeat a popular candidate who opposes any moneyed interest.
Partisan news networks are another facet. Fox News learned how to game the system and President Elect Donald Trump became a master at playing the system to his advantage. Propaganda does not need to be grounded in truth to have devastating effect.
One of the tragedies of public education is the evident lack of discernment and critical thinking exercised by massive numbers of people. Another is the dumbfounding ignorance of basic civics – most people don’t know how our government works, don’t know who the current leadership is, and don’t understand their role as a citizen and voter.
When most of us are indifferent and ignorant to civic processes, the field is wide open to those who want to game the system at our expense.
Bless Save America!