Posted by on November 16, 2016

(I apologize in advance if some of these paragraphs run on.  My limited computer skills do not allow me to put divided paragraphs in bullet points.)

In no particular order, here are my thoughts:

  • The greatest irony of the election is that the Democratic establishment intervened massively, both overtly (through superdelegates) and covertly (through Debbie Wasserman Schultz), to assure the candidacy of Hillary Clinton on the theory that Bernie Sanders was unelectable. In this way, they delivered the perfect foil for Trump’s change and antiestablishment candidacy.  Trump spent the entire campaign attacking Clinton for the Washington “swamp,” for which she is the perfect poster child.  These attacks would have fallen flat against Sanders.  Instead, Trump would have had to focus on ideas and policy, and we all know that Trump doesn’t do ideas and policy.  Plus, he shares many of these with Sanders.  The Democrats nominated a candidate to fight the last war.  They got something very different.
  • The minute the results were in, the Democrats started screaming “white-lash” and blaming racism. This is the go-to explanation for every liberal failure.  It is also complete bunk.  Too much has already been said on this subject to make the point worth belaboring.  Suffice to say that Trump got more or less the same percentage of white votes as Romney, McCain and Bush received, and many counties that had gone for Obama in 2012 (and often in both 2008 and 2012) now went for Trump.  Mathematically, Trump could not have taken the rust-belt battleground states without the support of a lot of former Obama voters.  So, a significant number of the allegedly racist Islamophobes who elected Trump had previously voted for the black guy with the Muslim middle name.  Plus, the left is not exactly screaming racism about the African-American voters who turned out in record numbers to vote 93-95% for Obama, but decided to stay home for his paler anointed successor.  Closer to the truth, as I have contended all along, is that the election of Trump was hugely enabled by liberal identity politics and political correctness.  Here is an extremely profane video from the fictional UK character Jonathan Pie which is a rare example of a leftist who actually gets it.  If you don’t mind the carpet f-bombing, this is compulsory watching.
  • During this entire campaign, the left has been crowing that the Republican Party is broken and that the Democrats are gloriously intact. As I pointed out before, a nomination contest involving two aged candidates, one a dynastic pathological liar and the other a self-proclaimed flat-earther, is not exactly the sign of ruddy good health in a political party.  Now, the Democrats realize that, after being comprehensively swept from office[1], their party is at least as broken as its opponent.  The press reports that liberal activists are planning a Tea Party-type revolt to try to pull the party leftward and recapture white working class voters.  Good luck pulling off that coalition.  The Democrats have spent years becoming the party of an insipid identity politics that blames white, male, cisgender privilege for every ill.  I don’t think that they can fashion a tent big enough to accommodate the allegedly oppressed and their ostensible oppressors.
  • I continue to believe that Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make American Great Again” should have had a sub-title: “The Enemy of Your Enemy is Your Friend.”  When the average Joe (and Jane) saw the entire bien pensant establishment – Washington, the mainstream media, Hollywood, Madonna, etc. – line up against Trump, they knew that he was their man.  There are often signature moments when elections are won and lost.  For Romney in 2012, it was his comment about the “47%” and his tax returns.  For Clinton, it was her “basket of deplorables” comment.  A lot of people voted with their middle finger.
  • The biggest reason Donald Trump won this election is that his voters showed up, while Clinton’s couldn’t be bothered.  Turnout determined this race.  Trump’s vote total falls significantly short of Romney’s in 2012 and is about the same as McCain’s in 2008.  This previously produced losses because Obama clocked up 10 million more votes in 2008 and 6 million more votes in 2012 than Clinton produced in 2016.  Although Clintonworld, in a characteristic whine, will blame everyone and everything else for her failure, the simple fact is that she was a terrible candidate.  Period.  But there is another lesson here.  Republicans cannot expect that the Democrats will always nominate someone so lame.  Demographic trends are still against the Republicans.  Resting on laurels will be perilous.
  • The Democrats fancy themselves the party of diversity. But look at the electoral map.  Nearly all red with splotches of blue on the coasts.  One-third of Democratic members of the House of Representatives come from just three states (California, New York and Massachusetts).  State level politics show the same pattern[2]; even true blue Minnesota now has a state legislature controlled by the Republicans.   The Democrats have become a bi-coastal party with negligible geographical and intellectual diversity.
  • As of this writing, Clinton is ahead by 0.5% in the popular vote and looks likely to expand this lead. The Democrats are screaming bloody murder and calling for the elimination of the Electoral College.  One quick response to this: It is fallacious to assume that the popular vote would have turned out the same if the rules were different.   The candidates would have campaigned differently and voters would have behaved differently. (For example, a Trump supporter in California who didn’t bother to vote against the blue tide in that state might have shown up if the popular vote was determinant).  As one Twitter wag put it: “Baseball would be played very differently if the goal was to amass more hits than the other team.”
  • Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist and Trump supporter, definitely wins the contest for best epigram of the election. Thiel said the media “never takes [Trump] seriously, but it always takes him literally.  I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously, but not literally.”  This is the optimistic view of Trump, that it was all one big show and there is more substance than it appears.  Thiel is a very thoughtful guy and a libertarian at heart.  I also assume he has had some serious face time with Trump.  I hope he is right, but I personally believe that there is very little method to Trump’s madness.  Trump’s appointments will be the first indications of which Donald Trump will show up for the next four years.
  • If crazy Trump shows up, there will be one silver lining. The only thing that will stop him will be the separation of powers and federalism.  The Democrats, especially under “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” Obama, have done their best to undermine these two foundations of our governmental structure.  Maybe a little exposure to a crazy Trump will teach them the virtues of checks and balances.

These comments would be incomplete without a few words about Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party. The votes are still being counted, but it appears that Johnson will end up with about 4.5 million popular votes, a nearly 350% increase on his 2012 total.  The LP is putting on a happy face over these results, but there is no question that this was a huge missed opportunity.

The stars were fully aligned this year: large amounts of media coverage, decent fundraising, two appalling opponents, and an electorate hungry for change.  A 350% increase on a small base is a meaningless metric in these circumstances; projecting this kind of increase into a less propitious future, which is what some LP members seem to be doing, is foolishness.  In particular, the failure to hit at least 5% of the popular vote, which would have guaranteed the LP ballot access and Federal election funding in 2020, was a realistic goal that should have been hit.  Although Johnson was probably hurt by the closeness of the election, which may have cost him some tactical voters, his 3% was not even close.

This was certainly not the “breakout” that the LP should have had this year.  And there can be no doubt where for the fault for this lies: Johnson was a bad candidate, although he was by far the best one available to the party.  As many said at the beginning of the campaign, the LP was given a gift in 2016.  Pity that it was not ready for the delivery.

Voter ID Laws

One issue that has already gotten a fair amount of coverage, and which will certainly get more following this election, is voter ID laws.  The right claims that these are sensible rules to protect the integrity of voting by requiring voters to prove their identity.  The left claims that they are a sinister Jim Crow plot to deny voting rights to minorities that are somehow less willing or able to prove their identity.  The left also claims that they are a solution in search of a problem since, according to them, voter fraud almost never happens.

I have not seen good evidence on the prevalence of voter fraud.  I do occasionally see tweets from the Heritage Foundation citing specific examples, but as the old saying has it, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.”  I have also never seen anything demonstrating that it is not a problem, but I have to admit that I do not travel in the circles where this information would be broadcast.  However, do I find it plausible that laws which allow voters to self-certify their voting status could be abused?   Sure, just like I am not surprised when self-certification of income on mortgage applications produces massive fraud.  To be a liberal, however, requires that you categorically deny the possibility of one fraud, after having passed a 2,300-page Dodd-Frank law to stop the other. [3]

I have recently read a lengthy and statistically dense study on this issue by an MIT economics graduate student named Enrico Cantoni.  The conclusion of the paper is summarized in its title: “Got ID? The Zero Effects of Voter ID Laws on County-Level Turnout, Vote Shares, and Uncounted Ballots, 1992-2014.”  In other words, the left is once again more opinionated than informed.

The paper claims to improve on earlier studies which sometimes found a material impact on voting due to these laws.  Although the precise statistically methodology is beyond me, the most important improvement is the use of very granular actual data on the voting results and racial composition of counties for a large number of elections over a 12-year period of time.  Earlier studies have used self-reported data.[4]  It makes a lot of sense to me that Cantoni’s analysis would be more accurate, but if there is a stats-jock out that can give this study a more thorough vetting, I would love to hear the result[5].

Meanwhile, for a shorter and much more amusing take on this subject, I can recommend this video by Ami Horowitz.  You have to give this guy credit.  Going into a minority community and quoting liberal patronizing looks like it could be a bit dangerous for a white, Jewish guy.

 Nation Building

I have mentioned before that Bosnia is the poster child of the neoconservative and responsibility-to-protect proponents of forcibly remaking the world in America’s benign image (see Finish the Job here).  That’s why I was drawn to a recent article in the WSJ entitled “Bosnia Now Rejects the West.”

After initially being called a “breath of fresh air” by Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State and big-time Hillary Clinton supporter[6], the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia has lately told the US ambassador to “fuck off” and has described other western ambassadors as “third rate” and “totally useless.”  (He’s probably not wrong here.)  In general, he has said “I refuse to be [the West’s] laboratory rabbit.”

Meanwhile, the Bosnian economy continues to swirl down the toilet bowl and young people continue to flee the country.   And all of this is what the West has to show for about 20 years of nation building.

Meanwhile, in the category of “They Will Never Learn,” I read in The Economist an article about Venezuela which claims that “[m]any Washington think-tankers are huffing and puffing for the United States to take tougher action” against the Maduro regime.  What conceivable US interest is in play here is a total mystery to me.  Equally mysterious is what conceivable good American intervention could do.

Finally, ISIS’s last strongholds in Syria (Raqqa) and Iraq (Mosul) are being slowly extinguished.  The WSJ reports that ISIS recently tried to deflect the attack from Mosul by launching one on Kirkuk.  The assault failed miserably when the local Sunni Muslims failed to rally to their calls for jihad and instead joined the fight against them.  They had seen ISIS up close and had enough. Although US airstrikes are helping, to me this shows that ISIS is mostly collapsing under its own homicidal and parasitical weight, as I predicted long ago.

This points out one of the logical inconsistencies of the interventionist crowd.  They believe enough in our way of life to want to try to impose it through the barrel of a gun, but not enough to believe that it will win of its own accord.

John Cochrane on Atlas Shrugging

When Stanford and University of Chicago economist John Cochrane isn’t giving Paul Krugman a good intellectual bitch-slapping, a worthy effort in itself, he is beating the drum for pro-growth economic policies.

Back in August, Cochrane posted a piece on his Grumpy Economist blog about the competing theories to explain America’s sluggish growth.  He said that there are three:  we have run out of innovative ideas (the leading proponent of which is Robert Gordon from Northwestern), we are suffering from a persistent demand shortfall from “secular stagnation” (the leading proponent of which is Larry Summers from Harvard) or our economy is suffering a “death by a thousand cuts of cronyist regulation and legal economic interference” (one of the leading proponents of which is Cochrane).

I think of the Cochrane explanation at the “Atlas Shrugged” theory.  The politicians have finally thrown enough sand in the gears of the great free-market prosperity machine that they have brought it to a halt.

To see what a realistic program to unclog a lot of the gears would look like, I recommend you read “Don’t Believe the Economic Pessimists,” a Cochrane editorial recently published by the WSJ.  This lays out a nine-point program that would be tremendously impactful and should be politically very possible, particularly with the Republican electoral sweep.

Avid readers will notice many similarities between Cochrane’s proposals and the Economic Man’s thinking.  That is because, like mathematics, there is one right answer.  And an infinity of wrong ones.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom


I Wish I Had Said That…

“90% of politicians give the other 10% a bad name” by Henry Kissinger

“He looks like somebody has put their finger up his bottom and he really rather likes it” by Conservative MP Anna Soubry, describing Nigel Farage in a television interview

“If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it” by Mark Twain, who may be about to be proven wrong, although for the better or worse is still very unclear

“If you can’t trust people with freedom, how can you trust them with power?” from a libertarian tweet, making a pretty obvious point about the contradictions of statism


[1] Not only did they lose the presidency, the Democrats made virtually no headway in the Senate (although the odds were greatly in their favor here) and the House.  The Republicans also control two-thirds of the governorships and a large majority of the state legislatures.  The Supreme Court is also likely to go against them, particularly now that Justice Ginsburg is on suicide watch.

[2] One subtle consequence of this is that the Democratic Party has virtually no bench, since state politics serve as the farm system for the national big leagues.  This is how you end up with a battle between Clinton (69 years old) versus Sanders (75 years old), while party leaders Harry Reid (76 years old) and Nancy Pelosi (76 years old).  The Democrats may be trying to become the ruling party of Italy.

[3] I am constantly impressed by the mental flexibility of the left.  Another example: A leftist can believe that a carbon tax would reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, or a tax on sugary drinks would cut obesity, but that increasing the minimum wage would have no impact on employment.  Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”  What about no consistency at all?

[4] Leave it to the liberals to use self-reported data to justify self-certified voting.  Now, class, repeat after me: People respond to the incentives you put in front of them!

[5] The study has been distributed by economist Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution blog.  Since Cowen clearly does understand the statistical work, this is some confirmation.

[6] Albright showed the depth of her intelligence when she urged women to support Clinton with the words: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”  Given that 42% of the female electorate just gave their votes to Trump, that special place must be very crowded.

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4 Comments on "Reflection on an Election"

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Rich Cerick

Insightful and provocative post. Thanks, Roger.
Rich Cerick


Thanks, Roger. Very logical, funny, and incisive. I found myself both laughing and crying at the same time. This type of election has been in the making for a long time with journalism being reduced to opinion, the primaries catering to the extremes, and the middle class being squeezed. The question is whether we, as a country, wake up to the truths spelled out in your post. If not, I fear we will continue to get more of the same. The Libertarian showing was abysmal – as you say, a missed opportunity for them.