This Was Not a Change Election

As Democrats take stock of what happened in this election and how to go forward, I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that better organization at the state and local level are needed. The test for a new leader of the Democratic Party should be who brings the most skills to the table on how to do that.

But as I tweeted over the weekend, it is important to keep in mind that this was not what we typically mean when we talk about a “change election.”

That is essentially what this country’s data guru – Ruy Teixeira – wrote today.

Here’s one way to think about the 2016 election. We are witnessing a great race in this country between demographic and economic change that’s driving a new America, and reaction to those changes. On November 8, with a tremendous burst of speed, reaction to change caught up with change and surpassed it.

But is that advantage sustainable over the long haul, as change continues and reaction has to run ever faster simply to keep pace? Probably not. Those old legs will give out eventually, though we do not know exactly when. In the end, the race will be won by change — as it always is.

A big question that was raised by the results of this election is the role of the electoral college going forward – given that Hillary Clinton will likely win the popular vote by as much as 2 million. In some ways, that is an argument for the inevitability of change.

I’ve seen the calls and petitions to do away with the electoral college. But I think it’s important to take a look at the bigger picture that question represents. No one has done a better job of that than Zachary Roth with his book: “The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy.” I reviewed the book here at the Washington Monthly a few months ago.

As various voices suggest that this election was lost due to the electoral college, voter suppression, gerrymandering, etc., I can envision Roth saying, “Yes” to all of those explanations. They stem from the same root and are being used by Republicans today for the same purpose.

On the roots of these structures, Roth reminds us that, while our founding fathers were very committed to freedom from monarchy, they were not as interested in democracy and equality. From the electoral college to Senate representation to voting rights, they established various ways to combat what they feared might result from “mob rule.”

For example, just as we are all getting reacquainted with Alexander Hamilton because of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning Broadway musical, Roth provides us with this statement from his only major speech at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “Hamilton said the system should allow the ‘rich and the well born’ to maintain their supremacy, since they would oppose radical change pushed by ‘the many.’ The goal, he said, was to ‘check the imprudence of democracy.” Other quotes from some of our famous founders mention the need to keep the mob in check.

Many times when modern-day Republicans promote the idea of defending the Constitution, they are espousing the same commitment to freedom minus the embrace of equality. Especially in the Obama era, there is a reason for that.

It’s not simply because the country elected its first African American president – it’s how he won. Beginning in the 1970’s, Richard Nixon referred to the “silent majority.” Through the Reagan years we heard a lot about the “permanent Republican majority.” As Roth says, “Today’s conservatives have no such confidence that the people are on their side. In fact, they are beginning to perceive that they’re in the minority – perhaps more glaringly than ever before. And yet this realization has brought with it another more hopeful one: being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean losing.”

As Steven Waldman pointed out so well yesterday, we are living in a country where the minority actually has more power right now. In many ways, that is how our founders envisioned things. Over the years, significant battles have been fought on behalf of equality and democracy. That’s why this was actually not a “change election,” but an attempt to reverse the progress we’ve made.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.