After nearly a year of covering campaign rallies, interviewing voters, and reporting on polls and TV ads, here are five post-election thoughts:
1. Let’s scrap the Electoral College.
It’s a relic from our infant days as a country. And now twice in the last five elections, the presidency has gone to the candidate who lost the popular vote. In 2000, Al Gore out-polled George W. Bush by more than 500,000 votes. At last count, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by more than 600,000 votes. But Trump is headed to the White House because he got more than 270 electoral votes.
Delegates to the Constitutional Convention that concocted the Electoral College rejected picking a president by popular vote for reasons that now seem historically remote, even quaint. Centuries before TV and social media, the bewigged delegates feared that each state’s voters (mostly white men who owned property) would know so little about the presidential candidates that they’d all back their state’s “favorite son” candidate and none of the contenders would get a majority. Plus, the delegates wanted to make sure small, less populous states didn’t feel left out.
Now about 38 states feel left out every four years as the presidential candidates spend all their time and money wooing about 12 battleground states, including North Carolina.
No other democracy uses this arcane system to pick its national leader. The United States shouldn’t either.
Last time I checked, we elect all of our other representatives, from members of Congress to school board, by popular vote. Why not president? Being a republic means we pick our leaders by majority vote and then let them set policy and enact laws.
2. Serve up some humble pie to the pollsters, the pundits, the press and the Democratic Party.
Trump’s election was such a shocker because there was too much poring over poll numbers and not enough venturing out to talk to real people.
It looks like pollsters may have missed the Trump wave in those key Rust Belt states partly because many of his supporters were not considered “likely voters.”
Meanwhile, the pundits opined with supreme confidence from their TV studio seats after interviewing not voters, but other pundits and political pros. Not enough of these talking heads left Washington or New York – except to attend those TV infomercials called national political conventions.
Then there was the press, my people. We all worked pretty hard. But maybe we were guilty, yet again, of focusing too much on the horse race and not enough on what message voters wanted to send with this election. Maybe if we’d done more reporting on the anxiety felt by working class men and women who’d lost their good-paying factory jobs, we’d have caught on to what was about to happen.
Speaking of blue collar voters, the Democratic Party used to be their party. As recently as the 1990s, Bill Clinton could count on support from many white working class voters – in the South and in the Midwest. But many of them later came to blame NAFTA, the trade pact that went into effect during his administration, for costing them their jobs. This year, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats effectively ceded these voters to Trump. And it cost them the election.
She lost Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and probably Michigan (still too close to call) – states that had gone Democratic every four years for decades. Democrats could lose these Rust Belt states for good unless, starting now, they try to rekindle the romance with these voters. Maybe the Democrats should make outgoing Vice President Joe Biden their new party chairman – he’s about the only Democrat these days who still connects with blue-collar voters.
3. President-elect Trump needs to clean up his act.
I was struck by all the parents and teachers who worried about how children might be affected by all the tough talk and rank behavior during the 2016 campaign. During the debates, we saw insults fly, candidates talk over each other and moderators lose control.
But, for me, the most degrading moments of the campaign came when Trump slandered whole groups of people – Mexican immigrants, Muslims, women, the disabled – in ways I think will haunt him as he takes up residence in the White House, the people’s house.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, he flashed real presidential temperament when he said he wanted to be a president of all the people and unite the country.
His words would have more power if he follows them up with action. Like appointing a diverse Cabinet that included, say, Latinos, Muslims, women and the disabled. And like educating himself about this country’s history and about how America has sometimes gone shamefully astray whenever religious and racial minorities were demonized.
As a New Yorker, the new president should visit the Statue of Liberty and read Lady Liberty’s words welcoming immigrants to our shores. And then maybe listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to better understand the sting of discrimination.
4. My question for those protesting Trump’s election: Did you vote?
Non-violent protests have an honored place in American history. Suffragettes marched to get the vote. So did African-Americans in the South. Anti-abortion activists hold Right to Life vigils. And the LGBTQ community stages gay pride parades.
Now thousands of mostly young people around the country are flooding city streets and gathering on college campuses to protest Trump’s election. They’re carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs, they’re whacking Trump piñatas, and they’re chanting “Not my president!”
Protests can be powerful in expressing grievances, but I know of something even more potent: Voting. I have no way of knowing how many of these protesters took the time to go to the polls. But estimates are that African Americans and millennials, for example, turned out in lower numbers for Clinton than they did for President Barack Obama in 2012.
And many young voters who had favored Sen. Bernie Sanders over Clinton in the Democratic primaries opted on Election Day for either Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. In 2012, third-party candidates got just 3 percent of the vote. This time, they got 8 percent.
Voting for your candidate of choice rather than settling for the so-called “lesser of two evils” is a principled decision, to be sure. But neither Johnson nor Stein had a chance of winning. So any anti-Trump protester who voted third-party effectively deprived Clinton, the one candidate who could have defeated Trump, of his or her vote.
It’s noble to protest, but those who do so without also voting or without casting their vote in a savvy way are hurting their own cause. To rewrite one of Obama’s favorite rallying cries: Don’t just protest. Vote!
5. What’s next? The opportunity is there for a real revolution.
Democrats are heart-sick right now. Just like Republicans were in 2008, when Obama’s election made history.
History could be made again these next four years in a way both sides might be able to live with. If, that is, Trump is smart enough to govern like the revolutionary he says he wants to be.
How? By being a Republocrat president. Or a Demopublican president. Translation: Be an independent outsider who’s come to town to change Washington. Don’t be a captive of either party’s ideology. Decide what’s best for the country, not a party, and go from there.
Trump was elected as a Republican, but he was a Democrat for much of his life. He has never been an ideologue. So he would serve himself and the country best if he ran a results-oriented administration – kind of like a businessman would – that acts on the best ideas, taking counsel from both sides.
Trump has made Republicans happy with his promise to nominate a conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court. But he has proposed a trade policy that many Democratic populists could get behind. Trump will work with the GOP-controlled Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But he has sounded more generous than free-market Republicans when discussing what to replace Obamacare with to make sure millions are not left without health care. And in his post-election speech Wednesday morning, Trump called for rebuilding America’s roads and bridges – something Obama has been trying in vain to get the GOP-controlled Congress to fund.
Americans of all stripes are angry at Washington. Letting insider members of the congressional establishment – Republican or Democratic – dictate his agenda would make Trump look like a tool, not a leader. If he really wants to “drain the swamp” in D.C., as he said on the stump, he shouldn’t distinguish between Republican crocodiles and Democratic alligators.