I like to think of myself as an optimist. A “glass-is-half-full” kind of guy. But looking out at the political landscape, there is simply no way to break the path we’re on without massive social changes, which will come neither easily nor without pain.
Why the pessimistic outlook? Look at what’s transpired to put us in a situation where racism, sexism and bigotry are not only tolerated but downright encouraged. And look at what it will take to change.
The GOP will continue to be the majority party. Why? Because years of gerrymandering districts have turned a slight voter edge into a massive edge in terms of House and Senate seats, at the national and state level.
There have been countless stories about how gerrymandering has made a mockery of our electoral system. And sadly, it’s all legal. Watch John Oliver’s recent take on it for a quick recap. In a nutshell, it means that Democrats would need to see record turnouts — huge leaps from any previous election — to overcome the crazy way districts have been drawn and gain an advantage in state or national leadership.
How to change it: The parties would have to give up control of redistricting voluntarily to a non-partisan committee. Very unlikely.
With the Supreme Court again leaning to the conservative side, it is doubtful the courts will reverse previous rulings allowing the nearly unlimited amount of money flowing into the political system.
Groups such as the NRA — which was able to hold off a single change to gun laws even after a mass shooting at an elementary school — have already shown the power that large-scale lobbying efforts can carry. But they’re visible, you know who they are and what they do.
The Koch brothers have shown the impact of the court’s stance on money and politics. They created a monster in giving financial support to the ultraconservative end of the Republican Party, a monster they can no longer control.
Want a great example of buying influence? Betsy DeVos donated millions to congressmen who then approved her as Secretary of Education despite the massive protests of teachers and parents. They ignored a tidal wave of telephone calls and e-mails from constituents to vote for the person who writes them the big check, because THAT’S where the power really sits. It’s the money, not the voter.
How to change it: Congress would need to pass strong election laws that limit the influence of money givers, and the Court would have to uphold it. Since everyone in Congress would have to turn on their biggest supporters to pass this, it’s very doubtful this will happen.
‘Don’t trust the liberal media’
One of the more alarming trends has been for political operatives to attack the very integrity of the news media in an effort to cast doubt on news that makes their party or candidate look bad. This is most obvious in the case of Donald Trump’s rise to power.
The reason the media was so stunned on Election Night was simple — they believed the only way that Trump would win was if a massive number of voters just threw out the massive number of negative stories and reports out there about Trump. But that’s just what happened.
The reason is simple — nobody likes to think they’re wrong. In today’s world, thanks to a media that has transitioned back to the Partisan Press system of Colonial America, we can choose to follow a media outlet that shares our views.
We don’t get information, we get affirmation. We get pundits telling us we’re not wrong. We’re not racist to want to ban Muslims from entering our country, we’re not naïve in thinking we can round up and deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a massive border wall, we’re not cold-hearted in blocking refugees or refusing to aid countries in despair.
That’s a powerful draw for people who were always mocked and pushed aside. They’ve learned something that has fundamentally altered the political landscape — their vote counts. And so that group of ultraconservative voters that was once marginal or ignored now holds incredible power, especially in the primaries.
And to win the primaries, candidates have gotten more and more conservative.
How to change it: There is no quick fix. The only real answer is a more educated voter, and since these same voters are very quick to view intelligence as “elitism” and support massive cuts to education, it’s very doubtful we’ll see any improvement.
Is there any hope?
There’s one ray of hope in all of this: Donald J. Trump. His presidency could be a wake-up call to voters who remain largely apathetic. After all, less than half of registered voters bothered to vote in a presidential race that every media outlet deemed the most important of modern times.
If we could hit 60 percent or more of eligible voters in the next presidential election, we could see massive change all down the ballot. That increase would be enough to even off-set gerrymandered districts and could push Congress back to the middle.
Unfortunately, that’s four years away and voter turnout for the mid-term is typically abysmal. To get a surge of voters for the mid-term would mean that things would have to go horribly, horribly wrong in the next two years. And then, who knows what direction the voters will turn?