Hillary Clinton

Trump Won One America, Clinton Won the Other - and Both Lost for Now

But looks are deceiving (nytimes)

But looks are deceiving (nytimes)

The narrow election of Donald Trump as our 45th president has come as a shock to many Americans.  This is partly because of the faith put into the polls and the tealeaf reading abilities of people like Nate Silver who suggested a comfortable victory for Secretary Clinton.  It is also partly because many could not imagine a man with Mr. Trump’s inflaming rhetoric and utter lack of policy detail securing the votes of enough people.  A large amount of Americans would also blame the usual suspects of coastal elites, establishment politicians, and corporate media for creating and taking permanent residence in a ‘bubble’, leaving them blind to the broader concerns of flyover America.

There is some truth to all of these points of course, but what has also become clear from this election is that there are two distinct, insulated bubbles in this country.  As I have discussed in previous blogs, economic and cultural forces have conspired to gradually divide America into two countries largely unknown and unrecognizable to each other.  Never before in the modern era has an American election been so easily parsed along a cultural fault-line – the city vs. the country.

Though geographically this divide has been self-evident through recent election cycles, the demographics that make up these two (admittedly broad) categories have increasingly parted ways with each other.  Glancing at the exit polls and election results, it is easy to see that diverse counties in and around urban cores overwhelmingly supported Secretary Clinton while white-majority counties along the exurbs and further in to rural areas overwhelmingly supported Mr. Trump.

You can point to various explanations as to why this particular election tipped towards Mr. Trump: Republican-leaning white women came home to the party; Black turnout in some key swing states didn’t match previous elections featuring President Obama; the Latino vote proved to be less hostile to Republicans than anticipated; (less convincingly) Gary Johnson and Jill Stein took just enough votes away in other key swing states.

You can also point to the candidates themselves and specifically how Secretary Clinton’s perceived flaws seemed to harm her more than Mr. Trump’s.  How much was that due to anger towards the establishment? How much of this was fueled by sexism (or racism or xenophobia for that matter)?  If this election boiled down to a referendum on the former, the result might be less disheartening, even understandable, but if it was a referendum on the latter, we have revealed something about our country that is deeply disturbing.  A person inclined to outright dismiss one of those narratives shouldn’t be so quick to do so.

No doubt this election will be studied for generations, but the immediate point of concern is how evenly divided these two ‘countries’ are - a tiny change in any one of those previously mentioned variables and the electoral college tips back decisively for Secretary Clinton.  How does either candidate declare a mandate in that environment?

What has been painfully clear is how little contact each of these countries has with each other, despite close geographical proximity. This has left supporters of both candidates fearful and resentful of each other, prone to believe the worst not only of the other candidate, but also of the other group of supporters.   A supporter of one simply cannot understand how a supporter of the other could do so, how he or she could not see what was so clearly true.

As many others have commented on, there is also no national media serving as a gatekeeper to public discourse.  In the interest of ratings and clicks, elements of new and old media alike have devolved, whether consciously or unconsciously, into echo chambers for each worldview, leaving little overlap or exposure to the other.  The media has a lot to answer for going forward.

There are few, if any, other national institutions that inspire trust in the majority of Americans.  This leaves the country with no shared source of information trusted by both constituencies to serve as a jumping off point for policy debates.  The Post-Truth Age has arrived. This makes it nearly impossible for anyone representing one of these countries to govern the other, let alone both collectively.

However, despite the vast gulf between the two, it is clear that they agree on one thing: the neo-liberal consensus of the past 30 years has failed.  Both party establishments have long accepted the core principles of neo-liberalism – privatization, deregulation, financial austerity, increased global trade – while using the culture war to differentiate themselves to the American electorate. Voters have repudiated both parties and Mr. Trump has laid waste to most of the political assumptions both relied on.

But who is President Trump? We have never known less about an elected candidate – his personal qualifications or his policy positions. On the surface he is undeniably an agent of change, but will he form a new, coherent political ideology beyond neo-liberalism? Or once he inevitably faces the obligations and limitations of his office will he fall back into a generic Republican role (maybe with some continued nationalist rhetoric)? How much has the slow bi-partisan emergence of an imperial presidency laid the groundwork for those limitations to fall away? No one knows, least of all his supporters.

This is a trying time for America and, in truth, our institutions have never seen the type of stress test that could come with a President Trump.  Will they stand up against the worst authoritarian instincts of Mr. Trump or will they buckle as much of the Republican Party already has?

And what of the two countries Mr. Trump is assuming power over? Can he effectively bridge the gap between both of these distinct countries and forge common ground? Does he think he even needs to try? In such a deeply divided political and cultural environment, can our institutions even function with or without someone like Mr. Trump as president?

In the wake of such a bitter election, it is hard to see the appetite for rapprochement from either country within America.  There are many structural obstacles to overcome even if one emerges.  But there must be a coming together.  As other countries in the west experience the same type of backlash against neo-liberalism, the very idea of liberal democracy is under siege for the first time in a century.  History has warned us what turning inward from the world and turning against one another can lead to.  America must serve as a source of hope in a troubled world and offer a way forward based on honoring its basic ideals.  One America can survive a President Trump or even help a President Trump succeed. One America can serve yet again as a beacon of stability and prosperity that the world can look to. Two Americas cannot. 

Housing Advocates Should Remain Wary of Clinton

One has walked the housing walk. One hasn't so far. (styleweekly)

One has walked the housing walk. One hasn't so far. (styleweekly)

Recently, I published a blog discussing the major differences between the Republican Platform and the Democratic Platform in regards to housing.  While both parties have historically promoted homeownership as a core policy – with disastrous results – for the first time, they have split dramatically. The Democratic Party has acknowledged that homeownership does not need to be the end goal for all Americans and has outlined a number of rental assistance programs.  However, the fundamentals of this election cycle, and the Clinton campaign's reaction to them, should have all housing advocates wary of these promises.  A recent Op-Ed by Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine offers a good case study. 

Senator Kaine has a long history of housing advocacy first as a pro-bono attorney in Richmond, then as the city’s mayor, and then as the state’s governor.  In fact, he has the most experience on housing of any major party candidate that I can recall. He is a natural and I think sincere spokesperson for the party’s housing policies.

The policy proposals outlined in Senator Kaine’s Op-Ed are more or less a rehash of the party platform (CityLab has a great breakdown) with a focus on providing more assistance for low-income renters, first-time homebuyers, and a general nod to more federal assistance for public housing.  Though they are light on specifics, I can’t stress how new the inclusion of these policies are as talking points in a national election.  Neither party has ever outlined detailed rental assistance proposals in their party platforms and rarely has housing been discussed at length on the campaign trail. 

Though I welcome this spotlight on housing, my concern is that it is more of a political weapon for the election than a policy commitment for the administration.  Senator Kaine and his history on housing are of course in stark contract to Republican Nominee Donald Trump and his history on housing.  Mr. Trump’s father, while Donald was working with him, was prosecuted under the Fair Housing Act for discriminating against minorities in his complexes.  Additionally, Mr. Trump sought to exploit the mortgage market and subsequent crisis.  In case you weren’t aware of these facts, Senator Kaine points them out.

Certainly talking the talk anyway. (newyorktimes)

Certainly talking the talk anyway. (newyorktimes)

There is much to dislike about Mr. Trump’s history on housing even if you ignore the rest of his baggage.  But, to be clear, the purpose of highlighting Trump’s history on housing is not to contrast policies as much as it is to add to the narrative that the Clinton campaign is pushing – that Mr. Trump is a con-artist who exploits the working class and is unfit to be President.

This is not a particularly hard narrative to push (indeed Mr. Trump seems more than capable of pushing it himself) but it reveals what audience the Clinton campaign is targeting: disaffected Republicans.  You only have to look at Pennsylvania to see this strategy clearly.  There are an estimated 1 million votes in suburban Philadelphia, and if Clinton can attract even a decent number of Romney voters, she will cruise to victory there at an even greater percentage than President Obama did in 2012.  By pushing the narrative of Trump as a con-artist (regardless of its veracity), rather than running for or against any specific policy proposals, the campaign is trying to make it safe for Republicans to vote for a Democrat.

Maybe this is why Clinton is afraid? (fivethirtyeight via cook political report)

Maybe this is why Clinton is afraid? (fivethirtyeight via cook political report)

This also reveals what group they are not targeting: progressives and ‘safe’ Democratic voters.  “Vote capture” pops up in every national election because certain voters are simply not going to vote for the other party.  Mr. Trump will likely do worse than Governor Romney among minorities, women, and young voters, all of whom overwhelmingly backed President Obama in 2012 (although less than 2008). Secretary Clinton could probably win the election without disaffected Republicans, but clearly thinks there is the possibility of a safer victory if she can attract some Republicans. 

The “boogie to the middle” is generally an accepted practice in Presidential elections after the primary season and there is clearly a predictable path to victory for Clinton with this strategy.  But housing advocates should be weary for two reasons.

First, this is not a normal Presidential election.  Certainly one can point to the boorishness of Mr. Trump as a candidate to see that, but the larger reason, masked both by Mr. Trump and by the Clinton campaign’s response to him, is that the political status quo has failed to address the economic and social conditions facing the country, nowhere more clearly than with the affordable housing crisis.  The populist outburst represented by Trump supporters on the right and by Senator Sanders supporters on the left are real, justifiable, and imperative to address.  By making this election about how fit or unfit Mr. Trump is (and to a lesser degree about how trustworthy or not Secretary Clinton is) both parties have pushed aside those issues despite the majority of Americans demonstrating their anger over the status quo. 

Will either candidate take housing seriously this fall? (cnn)

Will either candidate take housing seriously this fall? (cnn)

Other than Senator Kaine’s Op-ed, when has housing been discussed at length? Will it even come up in the debates? The millions of Americans struggling with housing costs deserve that discussion and subsequent action.  The primaries at least offered competing policy visions and bold ideas for the future.  That type of leadership is in desperate need for this country but it is decidedly off the table in this election.  This is a potentially tragic lost opportunity with severe consequences for millions of Americans. It calls into question if our current political framework is even capable of addressing these issues.

Second, Secretary Clinton is taking a significant risk by courting disaffected Republicans instead of focusing on the progressive base (or the Sanders coalition.)  It might win this election, but there is no governing coalition between disaffected Republicans and the progressive base of the Democratic Party. Will suburban homeowners really support allocating more tax dollars to rental housing assistance or even public housing? Most of the housing proposals in the party platform and Senator Kaine's Op-Ed would be dead on arrival.

Consider this thought experiment: what if the Republicans had nominated a 'normal' Republican this time?  Would Secretary Clinton try to reach disaffected Republicans or try to fire up the Obama coalition that has just won the last two elections? When it already seems likely that she could win based on this coalition, why reach out to disaffected Republicans? Does the Clinton campaign think she can't win without them? What is that calculation based on? In either case, what chance of major policy changes in housing are already off the table as a result of this strategy?

The Clinton campaign must know that a Republican voting for Secretary Clinton is doing so out of disgust for Trump rather than supporting her agenda. This means that the Clinton campaign/potential administration also knows it is eventually going to underserve if not abandon one of these segments of voters.  Given what strategy Secretary Clinton has chosen this time around, it’s not hard to see where President Clinton might focus in order to get re-elected.  Winning now on this strategy seems like the safe play, but if the Republicans self-correct and nominate a ‘normal’ candidate next time, Republican voters will rally and the progressive base might not forgive her.  In the meantime, it's hard to picture what housing policies would get enacted through Congress. 

It seems likely that Secretary Clinton will win this fall given Mr. Trump’s obvious shortcomings as a candidate and as a human being.   But the way she is trying to win, largely on the margins of disaffected Republicans, shows at best a lack of vision and at worst a deep cynicism.  The time for political triangulation is over.  The time for creating a new vision for housing is long overdue. The Democratic Party platform and Senator Kaine’s background offer glimpses of a transformation in housing policy that our country needs desperately.  If the Clinton campaign is already busy courting disaffected Republican voters (many of which are suburban homeowners), these glimpses might be all we see.