Many thousands of women are expected to converge on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. Jennifer Willis no longer plans to be one of them.
Ms. Willis, a 50-year-old wedding minister from South Carolina, had looked forward to taking her daughters to the march. Then she read a post on the Facebook page for the march that made her feel unwelcome because she is white.
The post, written by a black activist from Brooklyn who is a march volunteer, advised “white allies” to listen more and talk less. It also chided those who, it said, were only now waking up to racism because of the election.
“You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too,” read the post. “I was born scared.”
Stung by the tone, Ms. Willis canceled her trip.
“This is a women’s march,” she said. “We’re supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption. Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?”
In Tennessee, emotions ran high when organizers changed the name of the local march from “Women’s March on Washington-Nashville” to “Power Together Tennessee, in solidarity with Women’s March on Washington.” While many applauded the name change, which was meant to signal the start of a new social justice movement in Nashville, some complained that the event had turned from a march for all women into a march for black women.
In Louisiana, the first state coordinator gave up her volunteer role in part because there were no minority women in leadership positions at that time.
“I got a lot of flak locally when I stepped down, from white women who said that I’m alienating a lot of white women,” said Candice Huber, a bookstore owner in New Orleans, who is white. “They said, ‘Why do you have to be so divisive?’
In some ways, the discord is by design. Even as they are working to ensure a smooth and unified march next week, the national organizers said they made a deliberate decision to highlight the plight of minority and undocumented immigrant women and provoke uncomfortable discussions about race.
“This was an opportunity to take the conversation to the deep places,” said Linda Sarsour, a Muslim who heads the Arab American Association of New York and is one of four co-chairwomen of the national march. “Sometimes you are going to upset people.”
The post that offended Ms. Willis was part of that effort. So was the quotation posted on the march’s Facebook page from Bell Hooks, the black feminist, about forging a stronger sisterhood by “confronting the ways women — through sex, class and race — dominated and exploited other women.”
In response, a New Jersey woman wrote: “I’m starting to feel not very welcome in this endeavor.”
No one involved with the march fears that the rancor will dampen turnout; even many of those who expressed dismay at the tone of the discussion said they still intended to join what is sure to be the largest demonstration yet against the Trump presidency.
“I will march,” one wrote on the march’s Facebook page, “Hoping that someday soon a sense of unity will occur before it’s too late.”
But these debates over race also reflect deeper questions about the future of progressivism in the age of Trump. Should the march highlight what divides women, or what unites them? Is there room for women who have never heard of “white privilege”?
And at a time when a presidential candidate ran against political correctness and won — with half of white female voters supporting him — is this the time to tone down talk about race or to double down?
“If your short-term goal is to get as many people as possible at the march, maybe you don’t want to alienate people,” said Anne Valk, the author of “Radical Sisters,” a book about racial and class differences in the women’s movement. “But if your longer-term goal is to use the march as a catalyst for progressive social and political change, then that has to include thinking about race and class privilege.”
The discord also reflects the variety of women’s rights and liberal causes being represented at the march, as well as a generational divide.
Many older white women spent their lives fighting for rights like workplace protections that younger women now take for granted. Many young activists have spent years protesting police tactics and criminal justice policies — issues they feel too many white liberals have ignored.
*Article originally published on New York Times.
The presidential election is generally portrayed as a battle to win states and their accompanying electoral votes. Hillary Clinton won Vermont, so she got its three electoral votes. Donald Trump won Alaska, so he got its three electoral votes. Whoever gets to 270 or more electoral votes first — a majority of the 538 total — wins the election.
So rather simply trying to win the most actual votes in the country, a presidential campaign must try to put together a map of state victories that will amass more than 270 electoral votes. That’s the simplified version.
What’s happening under the hood, though, is more complicated. When people go to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate on Tuesday, what they are actually doing is voting for each party’s nominated slate of electors in their respective states (or, in the case of Maine and Nebraska, in congressional districts too).
So when Donald Trump won the state of Alaska, the practical effect was that the Republican Party’s nominated elector slate there — former Gov. Sean Parnell, Jacqueline Tupou, and Carolyn Leman — officially became Alaska’s three electors.
This process repeated itself across the country, resulting in the selection of the Electoral College — the 538 electors who will cast their votes for president in their respective states on December 19. (In the modern era, this ceremonial occasion has been a formality that reiterates an outcome known well in advance.)
The Democratic and Republican parties have each developed solid bases in a series of states that are all but certain to vote for them in a presidential year. But the Electoral College winner will be determined by those few swing states that are more divided politically and look like they could go either way. This year, only the states in gray above were decided by a margin of less than 9 percentage points, as of Wednesday afternoon.
The swing states’ dominance is a consequence of the fact that almost every state chooses to allot all its electoral votes to whoever comes in first place statewide, regardless of his or her margin of victory.
That is, it doesn’t matter whether Clinton wins New York by a 30 percent margin or a 10 percent margin, since she’ll get the same amount of electoral votes either way. But the difference between winning Florida by 0.1 percent and losing it by 0.1 percent is crucial, since 29 electoral votes could flip.
Naturally, then, when the general election comes around, candidates ignore every noncompetitive state — meaning the vast majority of the country — and pour their resources into the few that tend to swing back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. That’s the best strategy for reaching that magic number, 270.
Well, there’s a lot that’s unfair — or at the very least undemocratic — about the Electoral College.
For one, the winner of the nationwide popular vote can lose the presidency. In 2000, Al Gore won half a million more votes than George W. Bush nationwide, but Bush won the presidency after he was declared the winner in Florida by a mere 537 votes. And that wasn’t the first time — electoral college/popular vote splits happened in 1876 and 1888 too, and, as mentioned, will perhaps occur in 2016 too.
Second, there’s swing state privilege. Millions of votes in safe states end up being “wasted,” at least in terms of the presidential race, because it makes no difference whether Clinton wins California by 4 million votes, 400,000 votes, or 40 votes — in any scenario, she gets its 55 electors. Meanwhile, states like Florida and Ohio get the power to tip the outcome just because they happen to be closely divided politically.
Third, a small state bias is also built in, since every state is guaranteed at least three electors (the combination of their representation in the House and Senate). The way this shakes out in the math, the 4 percent of the country’s population in the smallest states end up being allotted 8 percent of Electoral College votes.
And fourth, there’s the possibility for those electors themselves to hijack the outcome.
For decades, it’s been assumed that the 538 electors will essentially rubber-stamp the outcome in their respective states, and they mostly have. But there’s scarily little assurance that they’ll actually do so.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 30 of the 50 states have passed laws “binding” their electors to vote in accordance with the presidential popular vote in their state. But in most, the penalty for not doing so is only a fine, and it’s unclear whether stiffer penalties would hold up in court — it’s never been tested, and the Constitution does appear to give the electors the right to make the final call. Furthermore, there are still 20 or so states that haven’t even tried to bind their electors.
This hasn’t mattered much in the past because, almost always, the parties do a good enough job of vetting their respective electoral slates to ensure that they will indeed loyally back their party’s presidential nominee.
But there have been a few rogue, faithless, or just plain incompetent electors over the years — and their votes have all been counted as cast.
Rogue electors have never been numerous enough to actually affect the outcome of a presidential race. But it really doesn’t look like there’s much stopping them should they choose to do so.
Now, some defenders of the system, like Georgetown professor Jason Brennan, take the comforting view that the power of electors to go rogue is a good thing, since they could conceivably save America from a popularly elected majoritarian candidate who could oppress the minority.
But it seems just as likely, if not more likely, that electors could install that candidate with dictatorial tendencies against that popular will. Perhaps some electors are wise sages with better judgment than the American people, but others are likely malign, corrupt, or driven by their own idiosyncratic beliefs. (You’ll notice above that several of those historical rogue electors in history had racist motivations.)
In any case, if we had a process in which the electors were notable citizens who were chosen because they’re supposed to exercise good judgment, maybe Brennan’s defense would make sense. But in the system we have today, the electors are chosen to be rubber stamps. As a result, there’s incredibly little attention paid to who those electors even are outside internal party machinations in each state. Any defection by an elector would, essentially, be a random act that could that could hold our system hostage.
The electoral college is, essentially, a vestigial structure — a leftover from a bygone era in which the founding fathers specifically did not want a nationwide vote of the American people to choose their next president.
Instead, the framers gave a small, lucky group of people called the “electors” the power to make that choice. These would be some upstanding citizens chosen by the various states, who would make up their own minds on who should be the president (they’d have to vote on the same day in their respective home states, to make it tougher for them to coordinate with each other).
The Constitution remained silent on just how these elite electors would be chosen, saying only that each state legislature would decide how to appoint them. Initially, some state legislators picked the electors themselves, while other states had some form of statewide vote in which the electors themselves would be candidates.
But over the new nation’s first few decades, two powerful trends in American politics brought attention to the Electoral College system’s shortcomings — the rise of national political parties that would contest presidential elections, and the growing consensus that all white men (not just the elite) should get the right to vote, including for president.
The parties and states responded to these trends by trying to jury-rig the existing system. Political parties began to nominate slates of electors in each state — electors they believed could be counted on to vote for the presidential nominee. Eventually, many states even passed laws requiring electors to vote for their party’s presidential nominee.
Meanwhile, by the 1830s, almost every state had changed its laws so that all electors were chosen winner-take-all through a statewide vote, according to Richard Berg-Andersson. The point of all this was to try to make the presidential election function like ordinary statewide elections for governor or senator, at least within each state.
It’s tough to argue with a straight face that this bizarre system is inherently better than just a simple vote. After all, why doesn’t any state elect its governor with an “Electoral College” of various counties? Why does pretty much every other country that elects a president use a simple popular vote, or a vote accompanied with a runoff?
Now, you can argue that the Electoral College’s seeming distortions of the popular will aren’t as bad as they seem — for instance, by pointing out that swing states tend to swing along with the nation rather than overriding its will, or that the popular vote winner almost always wins. But of course, that’s not guaranteed to always be the case, and the biggest major exception (the 2000 election) was an incredibly consequential one.
Others try to fearmonger about the prospect of a contested nationwide recount — which, sure, would be ugly, but if you’ll recall, the Florida recount was also extremely ugly. And since there are so many more votes cast nationally, it’s much less likely that the national vote would end up a near tie than that a tipping point’s state vote would end up as a near tie.
Some argue that the Electoral College ensures regional balance, since it’s mathematically impossible for a candidate with overwhelming support from just one region to be elected. But realistically, the country is big and broad enough that this couldn’t happen under a popular vote system either — any regional candidate would need to get some support outside his or her region.
But when we get down to brass tacks, the most serious objections to reforming the Electoral College come from rural and small-state elites who fear that under a national popular vote system, they’d be ignored and elections would be decided by people who live in cities.
Gary Gregg of the University of Louisville wrote in 2012 that eliminating the Electoral College would lead to “dire consequences.” Specifically, he feared that elections would “strongly tilt” in favor of “candidates who can win huge electoral margins in the country’s major metropolitan areas.” He continued:
If the United States does away with the Electoral College, future presidential elections will go to candidates and parties willing to cater to urban voters and skew the nation’s policies toward big-city interests. Small-town issues and rural values will no longer be their concern.
And Pete du Pont, a former governor of Delaware (three electoral votes), has made a similar case, calling proposals for a national popular vote an “urban power grab.”
But a national popular vote system wouldn’t devalue the votes of people who live in rural states and small towns. It would accurately value them by treating them equal to people who live in cities, rather than giving them an extra weighting. Furthermore, small-state interests are built into the Senate’s math (where Delaware absurdly gets as many senators as California), and many House districts are rural. So rural and small-state areas are hardly hurting for national political representation.
Sure, candidates might end up spending less time stumping in the rural areas that currently happen to be lucky enough to fall within the borders of swing states, and more time in urban centers. But is that really a convincing rebuttal to the pretty basic and obvious argument that in the most important electoral choice Americans make, their votes should be treated equally?
For decades, polls have shown that large majorities of Americans would prefer a popular vote system instead of the Electoral College. For instance, a 2013 Gallup poll showed 63 percent of adults wanted to do away with it, and a mere 29 percent wanted to keep it.
But to ditch the Electoral College entirely, the US would have to pass a constitutional amendment (passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and approved by 38 states) — or convene a constitutional convention (which has never been done, but would have to be called for by 34 states). Either method is vanishingly unlikely, because each would require many small states to approve a change that would reduce their influence on the presidential outcome.
There is one potential workaround, however: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a clever proposal that uses the Constitution’s ambiguity on electors to its own ends.
A state signing on to the compact agrees that it will pledge all its electors not to its state winner but to the victor in the national popular vote — but only if states controlling 270 or more electoral votes have agreed to do the same. If they do, and everything works as planned, then whoever wins the popular vote will necessarily win the electoral vote too.
It’s a fun proposal that’s already been enacted into law by 10 states (including massive California and New York) and the District of Columbia, which together control 165 electoral votes. But there’s one big obstacle: All of the states that have adopted it are solidly Democratic, with zero being Republican or swing states.
So unless a bunch of swing states decide to reduce their own power, or Republican politicians conclude that a system bringing the power of small and rural states in line with that of big urban centers is a good idea, the compact isn’t going to get the support it needs, as Nate Silver has written. (Furthermore, it wouldn’t solve the rogue elector problem.)
As messed up as the Electoral College is, then, we’re likely stuck with it for some time. Your safe state vote might be wasted, or it might even be subverted by rogue electors.
But at least you’ll get to draw fun maps.
*Originally published on Vox.
Donald Trump is the most unpopular candidate in the history of modern polling, with about 60 percent of voters rating him unfavorably, putting him roughly 23 points under water. (Hillary Clinton, currently being battered by yet another round of potentially damaging email revelations, is only a pinch less unpopular.)
In fact, Trump has turned out to be such a surprisingly weak candidate, it seems possible or even plausible that Bernie Sanders, had he won the Democratic nomination, might at this very minute be mentally measuring the drapes for the Oval Office — if Sanders cared about such things. After all, as Sanderistas liked to point out during the primary, Bernie consistently beat Trump in hypothetical matchups by wider margins than Clinton.
So in the parallel world where Sanders beat Clinton and Trump still won the GOP nomination, would Bernie be crushing Trump? If the presidential race were a likability contest, almost certainly. But if it were just a geniality pageant, Sanders would probably have won the Democratic nomination.
Let’s imagine a Trump-Sanders general election. It would be fascinating for many reasons, but let’s start with political parties, because Sanders isn’t technically a Democrat and Trump is barely a Republican. Based on the polling and exit polls from the primaries, it’s pretty safe to say that Sanders would have the millennial vote sewn up, and white liberals, too. Sanders is a senator, a former congressman, and a one-time mayor, but he is clearly more of an outsider than Clinton — and, because he isn’t a millionaire, he’s also in many ways more of an outsider than Trump. He would be a change agent — remember the political revolution? — who’s also embraced by a popular sitting president.
On the other hand, it’s hard to see Sanders winning much Republican support, even among Republicans disgusted by Trump. This might have helped Libertarian Gary Johnson — in the parallel world, he doesn’t have Aleppo moments and runs a solid campaign — but it’s hard to see Green Party nominee Jill Stein getting even her current 2-3 percent. Most Republicans would probably have stuck with Trump, as they are now, and most Democrats would likely have felt the Bern, enthusiastically or not. It would have been an embarrassment of riches for independents.
Policy-wise, Trump and Sanders actually have more in common than Trump and Clinton — both are notable trade skeptics, for example, and each is comparatively wary of involving the U.S. in foreign adventures. But Trump is what you might call an opportunistic populist — he seems willing to tailor his policies to the mood of his electorate — while Sanders is more of an ideological populist, driven by ideas more than political calculations, at a time when some of his big ideas struck a chord. Sanders, a self-identified European-style democratic socialist, is to the left of most Americans. Trump is a mixed bag.
Trump has been relatively consistent on building a Mexico border wall and keeping out Muslims, but would he have shaped his other views to contrast more with Sanders and appeal more to the political center-right? Maybe. Clinton, though her policies tend to be significantly further to the left than Bill Clinton’s in 1992, takes up such a big swath of the pragmatic center temperamentally, there isn’t much room left. Facing Sanders, it is easier to imagine Trump actually following through with his often-promised, only briefly attempted pivot. That point in September, before the first debate, is the only time in the general election he came close to passing Clinton in the polls.
It’s hard to see Sanders — who “honeymooned” in Soviet Russia — exploiting Trump’s coziness with Vladimir Putin like Clinton has, especially given his own sympathies for Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. But Sanders would likely have done about as well as Clinton among Latinos, crushed Trump among African-Americans (though perhaps not as definitively as Clinton will), and done better than Clinton among the white working-class voters who make up the bulk of Trump’s support. Sanders would have robbed Trump of a good share of the anti-Clinton vote while also, presumably, getting the lion’s share of the anti-Trump vote
But — and here’s where things get tricky — it’s not clear the anti-Trump vote would have been as big as it is today. Remember, Donald Trump is a natural performer. He can be affable and entertaining on camera and on stage. Most of his problems since the Republican National Convention have been of his own making, often with a big assist from Clinton, who has shown a remarkable ability to get under Trump’s skin.
Would Sanders’ Democratic convention have given the stage to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, sparking Trump’s first general-election crack-up? Maybe the Access Hollywood tape would have emerged, but if Clinton hadn’t baited Trump into picking a fight with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado beforehand, would Trump have been able to survive an 11-year-old video relatively unscathed? Would Sanders have beaten Trump in all three debates? I don’t find it plausible that the Clinton campaign arranged for 12 women (and counting) to come forward with stories of Trump’s groping and assault over decades, but Hillary clearly helped guide Trump’s foot into his mouth. That doesn’t seem like Sanders’ modus operandi.
That’s the downside of having “likable” be your brand. If this had been a positive, issues-oriented campaign, like Sanders pledged to run, we might not have learned so often or clearly how temperamentally unfit Trump is when faced with the slightest adversity or challenge to his authority. For all the grousing about how ugly a campaign this has been — and it hasn’t been pretty — goading Trump into showing his thin skin was a real service to the republic.
At the same time, we never got to see how Sanders would have reacted to the opposition-research trove Trump would have dumped on him. Trump has a bully’s instinct for belittling and humiliating people he thinks are weak. Amazingly, he hasn’t been able to rattle Hillary. Is Sanders as unflappable? We don’t really know.
And of course, “we don’t really know” is the only true answer we’ll get to the question in this headline. Sanders could have relegated Trump to the dustbin of historically humiliating losses, or Trump could have ground Bernie into so much Vermont dust. In a not insignificant way, Sanders got the best of all worlds: He’s still the nice guy, he’s world famous, and in that parallel universe, he might even be president. In this world, being a U.S. senator in a safe seat is a pretty sweet gig.
*Article originally published on The Week.