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Drop Outs 2020: Who will drop out first in the Democratic primary?

I should state upfront: I have a tremendous record for accurate predictions.

The majority of Democratic voters (76 percent) believe electability is most important when considering their presidential candidate for 2020 and that belief hangs over the field when voters consider any candidate not named Joe Biden. Americans are right to recognize this next election as paramount to the future of our country, and they’re hesitant to embrace a more “exciting” candidate when so much is at stake. At the same time, the public’s collective trauma felt by Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign still affects Democrats today (even in the face of arguments suggesting Comey’s letter, the Electoral College and television media markets did more to swing the election than her candidacy). Democrats don’t need to be told twice the safest pick isn’t always the best. This has created a first-mover problem for 2020 — voters don’t want to break from the candidate they believe is most electable because it could weaken the Democratic argument against President Donald Trump. Even with that concern, the data does not suggest Democratic voters are totally sold on the candidacy of Vice President Joe Biden. He clearly has a base that remains at a solid 30 percent regardless of new candidates in the field, or criticisms leveled at Biden, but his lack of growth suggests the majority want another option and they’re waiting to see what alternative gets presented.

The question shifts from who do Democrats support most, to who will drop out first? The strongest argument for Biden is his electability, but any candidate that survives the onslaught of a field with 20+ candidates inherently proves their electability. As the field winnows to a handful of candidates, voters may be more willing to embrace the policy differences between them. Viewing the Democratic race in this context can be an illuminating exercise for predicting the final candidate. I think there’s ample data available to predict the order of candidates dropping out and I’ve outlined my thoughts below. While the predictions themselves may prove to be inaccurate, I believe the reasons motivating these predictions will prove to be true to some extent. I want to end this article with a Top 10 list, but first we should weed out two groups of candidates who generically will not make it to the end.

Group 1: “Biden will drop out and I will become the moderate front runner”

Senator Michael Bennet, Governor Steve Bullock, Congressman John Delany, Governor John Hickenlooper, Congressman Seth Moulton, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Congressman Tim Ryan.

We should give Hillary Clinton credit for her total domination over the Democratic Party in 2016. Ok, that statement may draw the ire of many people who believe Clinton gained that support through undemocratic means and tactics similar to corrupt backroom deals, but the point remains the same. Joe Biden does not have the same command over the Democratic Party as Clinton did in 2016. He’s a front runner, but a weaker front runner. Other politicians have smelled blood in the water and believe they can run a campaign that replaces Biden as the moderate alternative for Democrats not convinced by the progressive wing of the party.

Unfortunately for all of these ambitious politicians, Biden’s support has shown resilience in the face of criticism. After a full media cycle about Biden’s history of invading women’s personal space, Biden released a non-apology stating he would recognize the world has changed and adapt his habits appropriately. He was criticized for the response, but his support did not falter.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet

After Senator Kamala Harris confronted Biden on his history of supporting policies out of vogue in modern America, many media outlets considered it a watershed moment for Biden’s inevitable downfall. This was an exciting narrative, but polling of each candidate before and after the first debates, revealed Biden’s support remained mostly the same. Although Harris — and virtually all candidates who are lesser known — received bump ups in their favorability numbers, Biden’s support did not falter.

Many politicians are running with the theory that Biden’s appeal has more to do with his moderate views rather than his personal candidacy. This theory is based on the belief that moderate voters would just as likely vote for another moderate candidate should Biden drop out of the race. So far, that theory hasn’t been proven. Moderate voters have now seen a plethora of moderate candidates, including Former Congressman John Delaney, Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke — all of whom had decent debate performances or relatively high media coverage. Despite the exposure to moderate alternatives, Biden’s support has not faltered.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper

The “Biden will drop out” theory does not seem to be based in reality. Biden voters have been undeterred by the criticism leveled against him so far — as indicated by his consistent polling numbers even after two large-scale attacks against his candidacy. More importantly, when Biden voters are polled about their second-choice candidate, a plurality choose progressive candidates — not moderates. The latest numbers on Morning Consult show among Biden voters, 27 percent would support Senator Bernie Sanders, 19 percent would support Harris and 16 percent would support Senator Elizabeth Warren. Collectively, that makes 62 percent of Biden’s base willing to back a progressive candidate. Only a minority of Biden voters would support more moderate candidates as their second-choice such as O’Rourke or Senator Amy Klobuchar.

It is worth mentioning voters for Sanders, Harris and Warren have symmetrical second-choice polling. For example, Warren voters’ second-choice preferences are Harris, Sanders and Biden; Harris voters’ second-choice preferences are Biden, Warren, Sanders; and Sanders voters’ second-choice preferences are Biden, Warren and Harris. These voters are defining “electability” by a candidate’s current position in the polls — not by their more moderate policies.

All of this is to say every candidate in this group has launched a campaign based on a false premise. None of them will be preferred by Biden voters if he drops out. Biden voters prefer another front runner since they’re viewed as more electable. That will be proven in time. Along the way we’ll see the candidates in this group fail to gain any traction and eventually run out of money. With that in mind, a candidate’s burn rate of their accrued funding may be the best indicator of who drops out first (which would indicate Hickenlooper, Delany, Congressman Seth Moulton and Congressman Tim Ryan will be the first ones to drop out) but this is assuming a level of reasoning and logic that seems to be absent from their campaigns. They may pull a Kasich and stick around far past their viability simply because they’re kind of dumb — which also makes it difficult to predict who drops out when. Either way, my guess is all of these candidates will bow out before anyone in our next group.

Group 2: “I’m not actually running for president.”

It’s very difficult to predict when someone is going to drop out of a race they have no intention of winning. Consider Sanders’ candidacy in 2016, when the primaries concluded but he refused to concede. He stayed in the race because 1) he was playing the long-game and 2) he wanted to use his position to affect the Democratic Party and change the system. Both of these goals were accomplished by Sanders, eventually. In 2019, the Democratic Party’s signature issues mirror Sanders’ 2016 platform: Medicare for all, ending forever wars, and breaking up major corporations. He also accomplished diluting the importance of superdelegates for the Democratic primary process. It was only after the party agreed to his demands that he “officially” dropped out of the race, even though every primary had concluded and Clinton was the clear winner. Sanders achieved his goals, but it’d be a fool’s errand to grade him based on the rules of a game he was never playing. Sanders may be in it to win this time around, but many other candidates are not. They all have their own reasons and I want to break those down:

Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio

Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio is partaking in the timeless tradition of “running to raise your national profile.” As it stands, de Blasio is not very popular in New York City. He holds a 42 percent job approval rating, but the racial demographic breakdown reveals why he isn’t dead on arrival. De Blasio’s approval rating among black voters is 66 percent, Hispanic voters 40 percent, and it’s only when you get to white voters do you have a majority disapproval (58 percent). It’s also worth noting that de Blasio’s main opposition are voters who believe he has been too harsh on New York’s Police Department — a faction that skews white — but is unlikely to cause a hitch for the national Democratic platform.

The takeaway from these numbers suggest that de Blasio may not be overwhelmingly popular in New York City, but he may be more popular on a national stage — or even a regional one. If more voters become aware of his policies, he could set himself up nicely for a run at Governor of New York or attract enough attention for a Vice President pick (which would open New York City to a mayoral election, but wouldn’t harm Democrats’ resources for keeping the house and retaking the senate). It seems like de Blasio may find more success outside of his claim to fame. This gambit may prove to be beneficial for his political career, and maybe for New Yorkers as well. Although part of me can’t shake the feeling that de Blasio is delusional enough to think he can win.

Congresswoman Tulsi “The Establishment Is Trying To Destroy Me” Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Congressman Tulsi Gabbard is running for Secretary of State to directly implement her views on foreign policy. Her signature issues are all about foreign policy. It’s the only thing she talks about when granted interviews or given speaking time in debates. She focuses on her background as a military veteran, and her multiethnic background — as well as her transformation from social conservative to progressive — suggests she could build relationships with countries that lack the United States’ modern values. Gabbard was actually rumored as one of the top candidates for Secretary of State in the Trump administration. Of course, the most notable news story from that rumor was when she was endorsed by none other than David Duke — the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke allegedly endorsed Gabbard’s presidential candidacy, although he denies that reporting and Gabbard has denounced his endorsement.

The Duke endorsement is emblematic of the main controversy of Gabbard’s candidacy. She is not a crazy person — although feature pieces from the New Yorker relying on religious bigotry will attempt to portray her as such — but she has a knack for drawing support from crazy people. In February, just before her announcement, NBC reported Gabbard’s campaign had attracted the attention of pro-Russia propaganda sites (which Gabbard claimed is inaccurate). In May, The Daily Beast uncovered the names of high-profile Putin supporters who had donated to her campaign.

There are pundits who have suggested Gabbard is “Russia’s candidate,” and some extremists have suggested she may be literally conspiring with Russia. I don’t think either of these assessments are fair. A candidate who gains the support of specific faction does not mean that candidate is working for that faction. Consider President Barack Obama was enthusiastically endorsed by Louis Farrakhan, a noted Black Separatist and general crazy person, who shares nothing in common with Obama’s political views. Gabbard is a politician who believes in non-interventionism, which unsurprisingly gains the support of people who believe some of the United States interventions in the past have been inappropriate. That may be motivated by generic hippies singing Kumbaya, or it may be motivated by bad actors who want to parade around the world without fear of retribution. Distinguishing between the two may be an argument for a later day. For now, it’s what defines Gabbard’s candidacy, pigeonholing her as a single-issue candidate. Given her overall goal, it might be a good thing if her name becomes synonymous with foreign policy when cabinet positions are considered by the eventual nominee.

Former Alaska Senator Mike “Dank Meme” Gravel

Mike Gravel

When you hand your political campaign over to a duo of teenagers making sick memes, it’s pretty clear you’re not a serious candidate. Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel’s candidacy (or perhaps, these teenagers’ candidacy) is focused on beating up moderate candidates in service of the Democratic Party’s future. They’ve said as much quite explicitly when Gravel’s account tweeted: “we don’t expect Mike to win the presidency in 2020, but we do expect his ideas to win the future.” Like Sanders in 2016, the Gravel campaign is playing the long-game and could very well stick around until November 2020 just to keep trolling the candidates.

Gravel should be commended for using his platform to boost younger voices who will likely sway the future of our politics more than many of the other candidates mentioned so far. His campaign twitter has repeatedly expressed admiration for so-called “joke” candidates for bringing new ideas to the party. If nothing else, he’s introduced a new type of rhetoric to these debates which may end up devastating our public discourse but for now it is incredibly funny.

Washington Governor Jay “Hip Dad” Inslee

Jay Inslee

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced his presidential campaign in March with a video entirely focused on combating climate change. As Inslee states in the video, “we’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and the last one that can do something about it.” He feels very strongly about the issue, enough to waste a bunch of time and money to spotlight it on the national stage.

While Democrats generally agree climate change is an important issue, none of them (outside of Inslee) have made it their signature issue. This is for good reason. Americans polled in January 2019 ranked climate change 17th in their top priorities. Only 44 percent of Americans believe climate change should be a top priority — compared to the economy (70 percent), health care costs (69 percent), education (68 percent) and 14 other issues. Climate change isn’t a topic that wins elections — or primaries — but Inslee probably knows that.

Inslee may feel strongly about climate change, but he also floated the idea of running for a third term as Governor. Washington’s gubernatorial election coincides with the 2020 presidential election, so he has a high incentive to get out of the race for president, and focus on the campaign in his home state.

Minnesota Senator and Comb Enthusiast Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar

Pour one out for Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s campaign for president — one of the fallen Democratic stars lost in the gravity of Clinton’s black hole presidential campaign. Klobuchar has been a popular senator since she won her first election in 2006. She continued to win by a comfortable margin in 2012 (and later 2018), which made her a bit of a rising star in the party. Prior to Clinton’s ascension, Klobuchar was frequently listed as an attractive candidate who could pull progressive city dwellers and rural voters. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Klobuchar took the diplomatic road and got in line for 2016 by endorsing Clinton.

Now her moment has passed, and the novelty factor has moved onto other candidates. Klobuchar is in a position where she has to fight to stay relevant in the field, but that’s difficult to do when 1) she is a woman, who statistically do poorly in public favorability when they adopt an aggressive tone and 2) she suffered through an entire news cycle suggesting she is an abusive boss. It’s difficult to fight from behind when fighting at all reinforces the biggest criticism against you.

The stars could have aligned differently for Klobuchar, and in an alternate universe she may be an exciting moderate front runner behind Joe Biden, but we don’t live in that world. Instead, Klobuchar has shown awareness of her position and refused to attack other candidates even when asked directly. This is because she doesn’t want to burn bridges with the eventual nominee, who would see Klobuchar is easily one of the most attractive Vice Presidential candidates in the field. She has over a decade in legislative experience, serves as senator in a blue state (where her position would be appointed by a Democratic governor if she were to leave for the executive branch), she attracts moderates and progressives, and is one of the few women qualified for the position.

If Klobuchar was in it to win the nomination, she’d take a gamble on making more aggressive moves, but it looks like she’s on stage to make friends and raise her national profile.

Author, Self-Help Guru, and Spirit Entity Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson

Believe it or not, this is not the first time author and self-help guru Marianne Williamson has run for public office. In 2014, she took a chance at California’s 33rd congressional district to unseat Ted Lieu, citing her concerns for the country’s shrinking civil liberties and expanding corporate influence. She may have been disappointed by her fourth place finish, but I’m sure she’s relieved to see Ted Lieu has become one of Trump’s most vocal critics. Maybe she’ll score a similar victory with her national presence.

Williamson has proven she speaks differently from ordinary politicians. She’s not concerned with policy, or even messaging, but rather “healing the soul of America.” Her website even says in large letters “the issues aren’t always the issue.” Her candidacy is more about a vague feeling of what politics could be, rather than any concrete policies for what it should be.  

As much as I appreciate Williamson’s honesty in debates, and her spirited public speaking that rivals the shōnen anime, she is the definition of a joke candidate. Good on her for milking it, but she likely won’t make the third debates and her performance in the most recent debate will prove to be her season finale.

With those two groups out of the way, we have ten remaining candidates in the race. I believe these final candidates will drop out primarily because of three factors: size of their base, money available, and concern for other elections. Here’s who I think would drop out first, ending with the Democrats eventual nominee:

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

10. Kirsten Gillibrand

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign is based on the false premise that women vote as a “bloc.” If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, there is convincing evidence that some demographics vote together reliably. An easy example is political party demographics. Believe it or not, people who self-identify as Democrats tend to vote for Democrats. This can also be true for racial demographics. Most famously, the “black vote” was dominated by Barack Obama for both of his elections and is often cited as the bedrock of his base. With the rise of identity politics, and the fervor to elect a woman to President of the United States, Gillibrand made the calculation that she could use her identity to create a voter base of women. Except, women have never voted as a bloc. No matter how many times Gillibrand mentions her mother, grandmother, or wears pink, she is not specifically gaining traction from women voters, because she is not generally gaining traction from any voters.

Gillibrand’s execution of how to appeal to women voters is likely the cause of her under-performance in the Democratic race. She believed the election of 2016 fundamentally altered the nature of modern day politics, and signaled the beginning of a new era with new leaders. With this theory in mind, Gillibrand saw her connection to the Clinton family as a liability and not only denounced their endorsement but went on the offensive against President Bill Clinton. She was no longer “the Clinton’s candidate,” she was now her own woman, and sought to redefine herself as the champion of #MeToo. Gillibrand quickly became the main voice of the movement on Capitol Hill and sought the resignation of Minnesota Senator Al Franken following allegations of sexual misconduct. She executed the strategy of her rebranding successfully and has been paying the price ever since.

It turns out both voters and financial backers don’t like it when a potential presidential candidate cannibalizes their own party. The public was quick to support the spirit of #MeToo, but it has become increasingly more skeptical of politicians championing the cause. People are capable of discerning genuine activism from calculated ulterior motives and Gillibrand is ending up on the wrong side of that analysis. This point was made by Joe Biden in CNN’s debate, when he said Gillibrand has been a lifelong supporter of his policies but she’s criticizing him because “you’re now running for President.”

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, the New Yorker released a lengthy dive into Franken’s resignation which ultimately exonerates the former senator. Voters should read the entire article, but a key data point is every politician who called for Franken’s resignation said they now regret their action. All of them… except for Gillibrand.

Unfortunately for her presidential ambitions, women do not vote as a bloc, and regular voters aren’t so stupid they can’t see the Machiavellian plot she’s architecting. She has no base, no funding, plenty of criticisms available against her candidacy, and she’s unlikely to make it to the September / October debates. I would not be surprised if she drops out within a month’s time.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker

9. Cory Booker

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is a black politician who polls in the single digits among black voters. He’s losing those voters to Biden (roughly 50 percent) followed only by “undecided” (26 percent). Among establishment support, the Congressional Black Caucus has thrown their weight behind Harris — not Booker. Booker has no hold over the “black vote,” and given his rhetoric on uniting Americans with working across the aisle it is unlikely he will create any in-roads with that demographic.

Outside of the week he announced his campaign, Booker has never polled higher than 5 percent. This suggests he has as much public support as “longshot” candidates like Marianne Williamson or Andrew Yang — which isn’t a good position to be in when you’re a Senator with above average name recognition and four million followers on Twitter.

Why hasn’t Booker caught voters’ attention? It could be bad timing. Booker won his New Jersey senate election in 2014, two years before Sanders scorched the earth for politicians taking PAC money. Like many politicians before him, Booker’s campaign was funded by private interest groups, including pharmaceutical companies. Given that New Jersey is home to many American pharmaceutical companies, it made sense for Booker to seek the endorsement of his home state’s largest business community. Unfortunately, that reality has aged very poorly in our new world where individual donors reign king in Democratic politics.

Booker has presented himself as a progressive, but progressive voters are very skeptical of his ties to Big Pharma. It has a nasty habit of coming back around whenever Booker presents a nuanced view on health care issues. That issue may be compounded by Booker’s public speaking, which has been described as “inauthentic,” adding to concerns he’s just another politician bought by private interests.

(irrelevant personal anecdote: I saw Booker speak at Drew University when I was reporting in New Jersey. He was asked one question and spoke for 45 minutes straight — he did not answer the question)

Booker has swung hard into progressivism with his policies, so he can’t rebrand as a centrist — unlike someone like Beto O’Rourke — and has quickly found himself with no real support.

All of this looks pretty bad, but the main motivator behind an early Booker drop-out is he needs to run to keep his job. Booker is up for senate re-election in 2020 and he is already facing a Republican challenger whose entire campaign is centered on Booker’s missed obligations while running for President. An identical criticism was leveled against Governor Chris Christie when he ran for president in 2016 and floated to the lowest approval ratings in modern history. Unless Booker wants a similar spot in history, he’ll cut his losses sooner rather than later.

Former Secretary of Housing and Development Julián Castro

8. Julián Castro

Pour another one out for the political career of Former Secretary of Housing and Development Julián Castro, another fallen Democratic star lost in the gravity of Clinton’s black hole presidential campaign. Some of you reading this article may be thinking: “didn’t you already make that joke about Amy Klobuchar?” Well, this article is already over 4,000 words and I’m worried most of you haven’t read the whole thing. If you are one of those people skipping around: consider all the great jokes you’ve missed in previous sections that I couldn’t find a way to recycle throughout this final ten.

Castro had a high-profile in 2016 as a potential Vice President pick and shares a similar story to Klobuchar. He missed his moment. What made him exciting in the past — a young person with the credentials of an experienced politician — has not transitioned to what excites young Democrats today (big progressive ideas).

Castro doesn’t seem to be framing himself as “the candidate for Hispanic/Latino voters” but that doesn’t stop non-Hispanic/Latino voters from viewing him that way. It’s true that Hispanic/Latino voters do not vote as a bloc — and he undoubtedly knows that — but his focus on immigration may be limiting his appeal to other voters. His two moments of success in the debates — sparring with O’Rourke and hitting Biden with an effective one-liner — both relate to immigration. Castro’s focus on immigration may play to his experience as Mayor in San Antonio, his identity as a Mexican American, and emphasize one of the Trump administration’s biggest scandals — but it’s more likely to pigeonhole him as a one-issue candidate. It’s an issue that just barely the majority of Americans think should be a top concern (51 percent of Americans cited Immigration as a top concern, 9th overall).

It doesn’t look like Castro will be able to gain a foothold and launch into other policy points. The silver lining in all of this for Castro is he still looks like a good Vice President pick. He also has no other office to run for, but he runs the risk of not qualifying for the September/October debates and may call it quits.

Former Congressman and Democratic Heartthrob Beto O’Rourke

7. Beto O’Rourke

Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke shined in the national spotlight for being a relatively progressive candidate challenging Ted Cruz. For a moment it looked like he might enter Democratic hall of fame for unseating one of the most unpopular senators in history. Specifically, it was his ability to raise $80 million for his campaign in a state Democrats have long given-up on. Of course, O’Rourke lost that election, but that didn’t stop some people from citing Abraham Lincoln’s unsuccessful bid for senate prior to his successful bid for president.

As they say, “money talks,” and that was the headline of O’Rourke’s decision to run for president. He managed to raise $9.4 million for Q1 2019 — not quite as much as Sanders’ $18 million or Harris’ $12 million — but O’Rourke’s campaign had only been announced for 14 days by the end of the quarter which showed he raised half as much in a fourth of the amount of time. He benefited from tremendous press attention before announcing, including a documentary about his time on the road and some rosy features depicting him as a lost soul who finally found purpose in life.

What he hasn’t found is any success in his national campaign. Nate Silver put it best: O’Rourke doesn’t have a base. O’Rourke looked progressive next to Ted Cruz, but he looks like a deer in headlights next to real progressives. He has floundered in debates, relying on vague optimism that spoke a lot to dejected Texan Democrats, but says very little to skeptical national voters. O’Rourke has stumbled into the position of a centrist, which is slightly better than his internet reputation as a man with no strong position on anything. It seems like national Democrats are doing a double-take on O’Rourke and wondering what they saw in him in the first place. Was his senate campaign more about a hatred for Cruz? Or maybe big donors were looking for a rising star in the party that could make the case for centrism — the way Howard Schultz and others have hoped? It doesn’t look like either has panned out.

O’Rourke’s fundraising will allow him to limp far beyond his appeal, but even that revenue source is drying up quickly. Unfortunately for him, the extent of his campaign’s failure may scorch other opportunities that would have been open to him otherwise. He may be reluctant to admit he made a mistake in running for president and stick around while praying for a miracle.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg

6. Pete Buttigieg

At this point in the predictions, we need some chaos theory analysis of multiple “what if” situations playing out. If my predictions are accurate, then the campaigns of Gillibrand, Booker, Castro, O’Rourke and various novelty candidates (Inslee, Gabbard, Williamson, etc.) have all come to an end. The voters who supported those campaigns have to choose where to go next (or remain undecided). My analysis on what happens to those voters is the motivation for why I think Mayor of Sound Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg will drop out at this point in the race.

Buttigieg has mainly drawn tremendous support from white college-educated voters. His campaign raised more money than any other candidate in Q2 2019 . That sounds impressive on paper, but it hasn’t helped his polling (it’s almost as if white college educated voters disproportionately have the most expendable income to dump into presidential campaigns). Buttigieg peaked in April after a flurry of media coverage and has hovered around 5 percent since the first debate in June.

He’ll need to gain support from other demographics if he wants to be considered a true front runner, but that challenge will prove significantly more difficult for Buttigieg who is not only polling at literally 0 percent among black voters, but has multiple racially charged scandals from his time as Mayor of Sound Bend. What little support he had from the black community in South Bend has leaked away over his tenure as the city’s mayor. Buttigieg understands this weakness in his candidacy, and seems eager to address it, but it’s looking like an uphill battle.

Racial issues may provide a fitting answer to why Buttigieg is doing so poorly among minorities, but there may be another elephant in the room: his sexuality. The liberal world may have moved passed gay marriage and homophobia in an unprecedented amount of time, but the rest of the world has not. There are a litany of personal accounts echoing the high levels of homophobia in black communities. In fact, Black voter turnout was literally part of the Republican strategy to suppress gay marriage ballot measures. Even in blue states, as recently as 2018, roughly 39 percent of black voters opposed gay marriage. Democrats may be willing to vote for a black man, a woman, or a non-Christian, but they aren’t quite there yet for other minority identities. It is unlikely Buttigieg will be the candidate to win hearts and minds in this community, when he’s already juggling legitimate racial concerns from his past.

Beyond these concerns, I have to consider what voters are available to Buttigieg at this point in the race. Gillibrand, Booker and Castro are all minority candidates with voters who are focused on minority issues (women’s rights, racial inequality, and immigration). Who are they going to flock to when their first-choice candidate drops out? I’m guessing it won’t be the Ivy League, Rhodes Scholar, with a troubling past involving police brutality and racial tension.

Buttigieg may have the fundraising to support an extended run once he’s no longer Mayor of South Bend in November 2019, but more so than the other remaining candidates, he is at risk of feeling his support stagnate while others grow their base. He also has an incentive not to stick around. At 37 years old, this certainly is not the last we’ll see of Buttigieg on the national stage. He may be wary not to tarnish the status he has earned as an underdog candidate who vastly exceeded expectations. Better to leave them wanting more than wishing you were gone.

California Senator and Aspiring God Emperor Kamala Harris

5. Kamala Harris

California voters (including myself, circa 2016) were pissed that their influence on the election was diminished by Democratic Party rules. Not only did Californians have to wait until June for their primary — despite being the most populous state in the country — but they were burned again when the state’s voter turnout handed Clinton the popular vote only for her to lose anyway. Action was taken, and California was moved up in the queue for 2020’s primaries. This creates an advantage for California Senator Kamala Harris, who seems content to play the long game for this election cycle; not that she’s given any indication that the long game needs to played patiently.

Harris was the story of the first debate. She seemed to take the mantle of Biden’s executioner — dispensing of an old man who couldn’t hang with modern day progressivism. The media was eager for that narrative before Harris stepped into the spotlight. Her name seemed to fit all the ad lib blank spots pundits needed to craft a compelling story. She’s a freshman senator from a progressive state, an accomplished prosecutor for multiple decades, an attorney general for the second largest judicial system in the country, and comes from an immigrant family. She’s one of the most accomplished female politicians in the country with some amount of legislative, judicial and executive experience across her multi-decade career. Not to mention, she’s an effective debater who’s media savvy and politically pragmatic. She looked like the perfect foil to Biden during the first debate where she usurped Booker’s criticism of Biden and used her own identity to suggest Biden’s candidacy is inappropriate in the modern era.

But her time in the limelight revealed all the ugly criticisms hiding behind the curtain. Harris presented herself as an identity conscious progressive, but her history as a prosecutor is incompatible with that pitch. Tulsi Gabbard focused on some of Harris’ most dubious accomplishments, including jailing thousands of low-level drug offenders. I’m actually working on another article that goes through all of horrible things Harris has done, but a briefer version would include her smattering of copycat bills, her inauthenticity, her authoritarian policy suggestions, and that absurd student debt bill that’s earned widespread ridicule.

Even with those criticisms at hand, Harris has proven she can garner some support from voters and establishment Democrats, as well as maintain media attention throughout the debate phase of the election. With California so early in the primaries, it may be worth it for her to stick it out until her home state’s vote. Unlike other candidates, Harris doesn’t have another election to worry about, but she may want to take a moment to reflect on why she isn’t doing better in California-specific polling. It could be an indication that her controversial career as a prosecutor has created a “low ceiling” for her support, although it may take time to discern if that is truly the case.

Vermont Senator and Last Year’s Model Bernie Sanders

4. Bernie Sanders

One of the reasons this race is difficult to predict is because Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t look like he has a clear path to the nomination or any intention of resigning to that reality. Analysis from FiveThirtyEight shows that roughly 25 percent of Sanders voters in 2016 never voted for Hillary Clinton (choosing to vote for Trump or third party candidates in the general election). This suggests a quarter of his base was motivated by opposing Clinton, rather than supporting Sanders. Off of this analysis, you can assume Sanders’ support — which again, wasn’t enough to win the nomination in 2016 — is already significantly diminished. On top of that, Sanders is in a field with more progressive candidates. No longer is he the sole option for ideas like Medicare for All or raising the minimum wage. Warren, Harris and even Buttigieg (to some extent) serve as conduits for those ideas as well.

Not that any of that matters, because Sanders has shown himself to be incredibly stubborn when it comes to folding to other people’s demands (need I recycle the fact he refused to concede the democratic nomination even after all the primaries concluded and he clearly lost?). His stubbornness in 2016 wasn’t just because he opposed Clinton’s campaign so adamantly, it’s been part of his personality for a long time. In May, the New York Times published a story about Sanders’ tenure as Mayor of Burlington. Local mayors tend to be tied up in mundane operational issues like road maintenance, property taxes or managing city recreational spaces. Mayor Sanders spent much of his time discussing foreign policy — specifically voicing his support for socialist regimes in Central and South America — he did this while Burlington residents came to public meetings to request street lights or right-hand turn lanes. He spoke about foreign policy so frequently, his own city council passed a resolution restricting council meetings to only discuss issues that directly related to city business. Sanders vetoed the resolution (one of the few times he used that power) and sent a lengthy message to the council repeating his talking points about foreign policy. This is not a man who responds well to being told what to do.

To his credit, Sanders had reason to believe he had a shot in 2016. His momentum was kept alive by a new surprise development every few weeks. He lost Iowa by only .2 percentage points, galvanizing his base into believing he could win the nomination and followed that up with a crushing victory in New Hampshire. Of course, Clinton swept him in several states for the following months, but then something would happen like his upset victory in Wisconsin that’d reset expectations and renew speculation on his chances.

Will the arithmetic of Sanders’ campaign change if he repeatedly loses primaries? For 2020, Iowa voters show a strong preference for Biden, followed by split support for Sanders and Warren. New Hampshire polls are more favorable to Sanders, but they’re just as favorable to Biden and Warren (and Harris). Sanders’ successfully capitalized on the identity of an oppositional candidate in 2016, but that doesn’t work as well when he’s in a three-way tie with two other oppositional candidates. It also doesn’t help that the establishment candidate (Biden) is tremendously more popular than his 2016 counterpart.

Sanders has the funding, voter base, and security to keep running as a factional presidential candidate for the rest of his life (whenever that may be). If he wants to parade around, fueled entirely by his own ego, he has no real reason to concede… unless he’s convinced his candidacy does a disservice to his own movement. To me, it appears that Warren has overtaken Sanders as the progressive darling of the party. She’s gained the reputation of a policy wonk (in a good way), she has establishment support, and her identity makes her a natural foil to Trump. Sanders maintains a multi-decade friendship with Warren, so it seems like if he’d be willing to concede to anyone — it would be her.

The fundamentals indicate Sanders’ support is diminished in this election cycle. Mostly because he is no longer running against Hillary Clinton, and because Warren and Harris provide options for progressive voters. Whether that’ll be enough to convince him to step aside is another question that can’t truly be answered until we arrive at that moment.

Former Vice President and Current BFF of Barack Obama Joe Biden

3. Joe Biden

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph to this piece (6,000 words ago), the majority of voters are concerned with “electability” when it comes to selecting the Democratic nominee. As the Former Vice President and heir-apparent to the most popular Democratic president in the past 60 years, Joe Biden seems like a natural fit for the majority of voters. Yet, even though 76 percent voters are concerned about electability, under 40 percent support Biden’s candidacy. What are those other 30 percent of voters thinking?

It may be worth considering that the Democratic Party has not had a referendum on its values since the rise of political engagement among millennials. Obama remains popular in his post-presidency across all generations, but was he truly representative of millennial voter preferences? Here’s an interesting data point: Obama is the only two-term President in the past 200 years of American history to receive fewer votes in his re-election (the other President was George Washington, who miraculously received more votes in the country’s first election ever then in his re-election). Was Obama’s re-election less successful because of tea party mobilization and continued economic woes, or was it the beginning of a tide shift in the Democratic base?

Biden — like Obama — is a classic Democrat, who supports liberal policies but can square his idealism with practicality. That approach was essential for Hillary Clinton, but Clinton turned out fewer millennial voters than Obama. Many veteran Democrats argue more left-leaning candidates have always lost their elections (Gore, Dukakis and Mondale), but that wisdom ignores the fact that millennials are significantly more liberal than prior generations. These are voters who not only support further left policies, but their entire community and network support further left policies. These are the same voters who turned out for Clinton and watched the country get handed over to Trump’s far-right campaign. To this generation, the centrists seem more impractical than the idealists.

So yes, over 70 percent of voters care about selecting a candidate who is “electable,” but the party is divided on what that means. In fact, some pundits have argued “electability” is historically a loaded term for “straight white male,” but that may be changing for younger generations who view it more as a candidate with bold ideas that can mobilize disenfranchised voters. An “electable” candidate for younger voters could look like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over former Congressman Joe Crowley, which was primarily achieved by targeting citizens who had not voted in previous elections. Of course, that race was two democrats facing each other.

As the saying goes, “Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall in love,” and younger voters have little reason to fall in love with a centrist candidate even if the generic voter agrees with Biden’s policies. The party maintains skepticism of the progressive wing’s appeal, but who will the voters of Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg flock to after their first candidate drops out? We already know the answer to that question: their second-choice is Elizabeth Warren. If the Ocasio-Cortez’s strategy of appealing to progressives is valid, then we don’t truly know the “ceiling” of Warren’s support. Especially since she has framed herself as being a continuation of Obama’s idealism, which could attract moderate voters who remain content with Obama’s legacy, without sacrificing younger voters who want a more exciting candidate than a man who’s been in office for half a century.

If Biden’s two biggest strengths are a vague sense of “electability” and his proximity to Obama, do those strengths still hold if he’s facing another candidate with competitive polling, comparable policies to Obama’s most popular ideas, and the potential of creating a historic moment by becoming the first woman elected as President of the United States? I doubt it.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

2. Elizabeth Warren

You can keep scrolling to read my insane theory for an alternative top pick, but if you don’t want to subscribe to my propaganda then Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is effectively my prediction for the Democratic nominee.

Simply put, Warren has the most staying power of all the candidates. Her strong progressive base (she’s already competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire), support from establishment Democrats (third most diverse collection of endorsements behind Harris and Biden), and access to fundraising (third most, behind Sanders and Trump) will ensure she can stay in the race for a long time. As other progressive candidates drop out of the race, Warren is the most popular second-choice pick and she shares many of their donors. She’ll be in an excellent position to consolidate the field around her campaign.

On top of favorable fundamentals, Warren is an ideal candidate for today’s Democratic Party. She’s defeated a Republican incumbent (granted in a blue state), her time in the senate has been focused on the economy and health care reform (Americans’ two top issues), she’s one of the more popular senators in the country, and she was even a popular choice for president in 2016 before Clinton announced.

Warren has framed her campaign as a continuation of Obama’s idealism while other front runners (including Harris and Sanders) seem eager to criticize the most popular Democratic president in 60 years. This framing will satisfy Obama loyalists, while also appealing to the idealists of the party who may have some reservations about Obama’s moderate legacy. Even with that approach, she’s a strong contrast to the lofty idealism of Sanders that rarely affected policy. Her proposals are immensely detailed and she shows an understanding of newer problems that young voters are concerned about. Not to mention, she could recreate Obama’s 2008 historic election as the first woman to become President of the United States — but we said that about Clinton too.

There are a few criticisms of Warren waiting to be addressed. Her multi-decade identification with the Republican Party, her unproven views on foreign policy, and of course her Native American ancestry episode that Trump is keen to exploit. Fortunately for Warren, only one of these criticisms would ever be brought up in the Democratic primary: her prior identification as a Republican. However, considering Democrats want to appeal to Republicans, I can’t imagine this criticism will hold. In a general election, she may have to dedicate her time to expanding her foreign policy position or formulate a good line to deflect “Pocahontas” jokes, but luckily this article is only about the Democratic primary and not the general election :^).

I see her candidacy as the most solid of all the contenders, but I also personally hold Warren as my number two pick (just like many other Americans) so I could be biased. Of course, there is another candidate who could become the nominee…

Entrepreneur and Humanity’s Last Hope Andrew Yang

1. Andrew Yang

What chance does Entrepreneur Andrew Yang have for the Democratic nomination? Let’s start by reiterating the three main reasons a candidate would drop out of the race: size of their base, fundraising available, and concern for other elections.

In virtually every poll that includes his name, Yang has polled at a minimum of 1 percent. That number has shown a very minor trend upwards where he is now averaging at 2 to 3 percent in the past two months. In #YangGang circles, the most common testimonial is either 1) I’ve never voted before but I support Andrew Yang or 2) I voted for Donald Trump but now I’m for Andrew Yang. This indicates Yang’s base is made up of disenfranchised voters and Republican voters, who are not at risk of being leeched by other candidates. Yang’s voters are turning out for him specifically. If he rises in the polls, he’s staying at that altitude (or rather, he has a “rising floor”).

Yang doesn’t have the impressive fundraising numbers of other front runner candidates, but he does have similar fundamentals to the most successful fundraising candidates. According to data pulled by the New York Times, Yang is just one of seven candidates who pulled donations from every state in the country. While some candidates have raised more money overall, they benefit from deep pockets in specific regions with very little support elsewhere (Booker, Klobuchar, Inslee, and Gillibrand). Yang also rivals Sanders in percentage of funds raised through small donors with both candidates sitting at 69.6 percent — beaten only by Castro and Williamson. These numbers suggest Yang has the interest of Americans across the country, even if they haven’t bought into his campaign’s viability just yet.

As for other elections? Take it from the man himself. He has no other position to run for and wants to see his campaign to the end.

The fundamentals look strong, but perhaps a more nebulous metric is Yang’s synthesis with the cultural consciousness. His focus on automation and artificial intelligence has captured the attention of Onion punchlines and memes alike. He maintains a policy to accept all media interviews possible, gaining the admiration of right-wing commentators, disengaged voters and progressive media. In interviews with traditional media, reporters seem genuinely fascinated by his platform and Yang has inspired hesitant excitement for his potential. So what’s holding everyone back?

At the beginning of this article (8,000 words ago), I said the 2020 Democratic Primary has a “first-mover” problem. Everyone is aware of the problem, but no one wants to take action first. Progressive Democrats are concerned Biden’s candidacy is too milquetoast to mobilize younger voters, but moderate Democrats are concerned progressivism will continue the party’s long history of throwing their weight behind candidates who campaign on unpopular policy positions.

The Atlantic noted after the second debate that the Democratic primary doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. With the exception of Warren’s consistent surge in the polls (which began before the debates), and O’Rourke’s decline into irrelevancy (also pre-dating the debates), there has been sparse movement with no progress. The front runners and longshots have stayed in exactly the same place. Progressivism can’t gain majority support and centrism doesn’t have a leader. What could resolve the deadlock?

Politico asked a similar question in May: Is Andrew Yang for Real?

Of Yang’s three main policies (Universal Basic Income, Medicare for All and the American Scorecard), all three of them correspond to Americans’ top priorities for 2019. It’s worth noting that the economy was still the number one concern in 2016 and voters believed Trump would address economic concerns more so than Clinton. Yang’s proposal for a universal basic income sounds like science fiction to the average American, but to the average science fiction reader it’s a relatively uncontroversial proposal. In fact, it’s already been trialed in countries like Canada and Finland (both trials were shut down by conservative opposition). Even before Yang’s candidacy emerged, nearly half of Americans supported the idea of universal basic income and after the second debate he received accolades from mainstream media and more widespread internet communities tired of the political process.

If Andrew Yang is for real, he’d have an unprecedented potential electorate for a Democratic candidate. His economic proposals would capture the attention of moderate rural democrats displaced by automation, and mobilize progressives who want to rebalance the economy to assist the middle class. You could argue Yang’s proposals are more left-leaning than the average Democratic nominee, but again young millennials are more liberal than ever before. If Yang captured the Democratic nomination he would be entering the general election with a Republican party that has actively disenfranchised its most loyal supporters. Yang has already proven his appeal among conservatives, which means he’s likely more “electable” than “safer” choices like Biden or Warren. A political platform that addresses the electorate’s top concerns with bipartisan support sounds pretty “real” to me.

The effectiveness of Yang’s platform is the only question left unanswered. It’s true that Yang’s candidacy and his policies are both untested political entities. He has never run for office before and universal basic income hasn’t been exposed to months of debate and oppositional propaganda. Some mainstream media and other candidates have dipped their toes in dismissing Yang’s flagship proposal, but there’s no clear data about the policy’s popularity in a post-Yang world. There’s also no clear indication of how universal basic income would affect the country’s economy (outside of a hypothetical study from the Roosevelt Institute with mixed conclusions). Yang certainly gives a great pitch and his website extensively answers some of the most obvious questions, but no one will truly know until it’s tried. If America were to adopt Yang’s Freedom Dividend, it’d be the largest implementation of the policy in history by several magnitudes and one of the greatest leaps of faith in human history.

I won’t dismiss the gravity of the situation. Yang’s platform could very well bankrupt the country. It could throw our society into a state that has more in common with depression-era Germany than modern day America, and serve as the gateway to the dystopian future we all fear. Then again, if Yang’s predictions about automation turn out true, the country could already be on the road to devastation. We’re ten years away from the elimination of 43 percent of jobs and no plan to structure society when half the population can’t work. If Yang is right, we’ll start to see that dark future beginning with the next recession, which is due any day now. The clearer that vision becomes, the more likely voters may consider his candidacy as the real deal.

Supporting Yang’s solutions for the incoming robot apocalypse might seem insane now, but that may be a good thing. Because if we get to the point where our country needs a savior, it may already be too late.

Categories
Books Politics

Book Log: The Coddling of the American Mind

This post is part of a log I keep on things I finish. Read here for why I keep this log.

Why did I read it?

In 2015, I read Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty. At the time, it seemed like our country was at the height of on-campus hysteria and reading that book gave me an enormous peace of mind. For starters, it looked like the bulk of these problems were originating from the left — the portion of the spectrum I had identified with my entire life. If I disagreed with what was happening on the left, did that mean I belonged somewhere else? This thought led me to researching conservative ideologies which I quickly deduced were not representative of my views at all. I felt out of place. There was nowhere in this new dynamic where I was represented, but then I read Lukianoff’s book.

Lukianoff is a self-described lifelong Democrat who cherishes free-speech and other liberal ideals. These were views I aligned with. I consider myself a free speech absolutist, but at the time it was difficult to find anyone who agreed with view that wasn’t a right-wing lunatic. Lukianoff’s take was refreshing and gave me the insight I needed to make sense of the crazy world we were descending into. From Lukianoff, I was introduced to many other public intellectuals. Jonathan Haidt, co-author of Coddling and a researcher who did studies on political tribalism; Sam Harris, who I had cursory knowledge of but didn’t look into many of his views; Steven Pinker — and eventually more uniquely political-defined characters such as Mark Lilla, Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, Jordan Peterson and Brett / Eric Weinstein. Reading Lukianoff’s book set me on a path to finding the voices I now consider the most valuable in our current moment.

Of course, 2015 was not the peak year of campus hysteria or whatever we want to call this strange time we’re living in. It’s not clear we’ve reached the peak. You could argue 2018 was the worst year yet, but 2019 has already started with a viral scandal about the media’s portrayal of MAGA hat-wearing teenagers and if they didn’t anything wrong or not. We’re clearly still in a time we don’t quite understand. The Coddling of the American Mind is a book that attempts to resolve some of the mysteries of how we got here.

Greg Lukianoff

How was it?

It’s interesting to read a book by two authors because you can pretty much tell when one section is written by one or the other. Lukianoff is an effective writer and makes every sentence meaningful. I tend to highlight key sentences or phrases that impact me and I had to stop myself from highlighting entire pages of this book. Of course, other sections are far more sparse of quality one-liners and take a bit to get to the point (my analysis is these sections were written by Haidt). In terms of pure readability, this is an engaging book on a topic that could’ve come across as dull. Although I have to say the introduction chapter has one of the dumbest framing gimmicks I’ve read in nonfiction.

In terms of information, I was a bit surprised the book’s thesis relied so heavily on other authors. Specifically, Nassim Taleb’s theory on anti-fragility is front and center for most of the book. Other authors and written works are pulled from Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids and Jean Twenge’s iGen. I suppose it’s worth saving the time by not rehashing what other experts have already concluded, but at times it felt in the dark on the full-scope of an explanation because I wasn’t well-read on the other sources of information the authors repeatedly pulled from.

Jonathan Haidt

Of course the book has a fair amount of its own analysis, especially in the “How Did We Get Here?” portion of the book. It makes a compelling case for how the issues born on campus actually came from a variety of sources that intermingled for this very specific catastrophe of free society. This isn’t a book that gives a simple answer for a complicated problem, there are many layers to the issue and each one is extracted and examined. The book doesn’t suggest the finger can be pointed at any one event or individual, this is an issue that came to life due to many influences and all of them must be addressed.

The end of the book concludes with ways to potentially address the problems and I thought this was one of the stronger sections of the book. For one, it helps to end a grim book on a point of optimism. It also helps that the solutions range from small-scope to large-scale and are all backed by data. Something as small as restricting kids’ time on smartphones is an easy life change to make, but others like incentivizing students to take a gap year after high school by altering college admissions to favor that behavior, show how institutional change could affect these outcomes as well. You finish the book feeling like there is a way out of this hole we’ve dug into.

Final Thoughts

I’ve followed the issue of campus hysteria pretty closely for five years, so a lot of this book was a rehash. It felt slow at times; mainly when I was in a section about an experience I still have fresh in my memory. Even with the repetitiveness, this book has macro-level analysis that isn’t always possible in the news cycle of individual events. The third and fourth parts of this book offer the reader an opportunity to step back and see the extent of the situation we find ourselves in as a country. These parts of the book are what made the reading experience worth it.

I can only imagine how much more rewarding this book would be in the hands of someone who had no knowledge of this issue, or maybe only heard about it on their periphery. This book acts as a great introduction for the unfamiliar and adds important insight to a problem others may be well aware of.

4/5

Categories
Politics

Crisis 2020: What Our Next President Needs to Acknowledge

We’re over a year away from the first primaries and almost two years away from election day, but with five high-profile politicians announcing their candidacy as America’s next president in the past week alone — it’s clear we’re full-swing into the 2020 election cycle. This isn’t going to be a fun election. It’ll be as grueling of an exorcism on our country’s values as the last one. It will feel like torture, but it will be necessary torture. There are big questions we have to resolve about our country’s future. Along the way it will become very easy to get lost in the day-to-day horror show, so I wanted to outline my personal beliefs and what I’ll be looking for in our next president.

I want to stress that this election is the second part of a once-in-a-lifetime event. As The Atlantic’s David Frum said: America’s politics were frozen from 1990 to 2015, evident by the fact that the main issues on opposite sides of the era were exactly the same: health care, wars in the middle east, Russia, taxes on the rich and ultra-partisanship. If we learned anything from 2016, it’s that the public was desperate to shatter the ice. We’re still picking up the pieces from that decision. It’s clear the majority of people are not happy with our current state of affairs but it is just as true that many people do not want to go back to the past. We all want to go somewhere different. Where that destination may be lies in the candidates for this election. This isn’t simply the rejection of our current president, it’s deciding the future of our political parties for the next generation.

Below are some musings about what I think are the two most important things facing our country.

picture of Warren and Clinton
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren became popular as the progressive darling of the party, but many other politicians have risen alongside her.

The Economy and a post-work society

Let’s talk about robots. Everyone knows that automation is coming. We see it at McDonalds’ self-serve kiosks or read about it when Amazon announces they’re investing in drone technology to handle deliveries. Automation will be a great thing for many reasons. The jobs that are getting automated are careers no one wants. No one’s life purpose is discovered making change as a cashier or troubleshooting tech support over the phone. We’re happy to give these jobs over to robots, but the problem with automation comes from how our system is designed. America was founded on the prospect of receiving the fruits of one’s labor — but what does the world look like when you don’t have to work?

Right now, we only know what happens if you can’t work and it doesn’t look good.

In traditional capitalist market economy, they say when one market goes defunct, another one will take its place. Where there is a void in the market, a smart entrepreneur can cater to the market’s needs and make a living out of it. This is true for individuals as well. If your job is no longer viable, you’re motivated to get a new one. Many skills can be retrained and reapplied to different industries and we all have an intrinsic desire to survive. This is what many economists say will happen with the automation revolution. Unfortunately for anyone paying attention, we know this is not the case, because we already have a test case for what happens when an industry disappears.

Between 2000 and 2009, America lost five million manufacturing jobs. There is a dispute on whether these jobs were sent overseas or automated by robots, but the fact remains that these jobs are never coming back. In the wake of their disappearance, our country now had five million unemployed workers with relatively dexterous skills and decades of experience. Market economists would tell you these workers had a good chance of retraining for another job, but that is not what happened. The majority of displaced manufacturing workers were unemployed for over a year and then eventually stopped looking, leaving the workforce. Some applied to work retraining programs which proved to have an effectiveness of zero to 33 percent.

picture of Yang
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is a long-shot candidate running on the platform of Universal Basic Income to compensate for shifts automation will make to the American economy.

What are all those workers doing if they’re not paying for their cost of living? The government is paying for it. Starting in 2000, more Americans started filing for disability insurance. The increase in disability benefits focused in states hit hardest by manufacturing losses, such as Michigan. Of course, disability wasn’t meant to act as a replacement for work and it wasn’t meant to balloon in size over a short amount of time (the number of Americans on disability doubled between 1980 and 2005). This isn’t to say that these workers “gave up” on finding a job and now belong in an underclass of Americans who rely on entitlements. They spent years looking for a job, but couldn’t find one. When desperation finally hit, they turned to government assistance. Who can blame them?  

Disability saved many manufacturing workers from financial ruin, but that option will not be available for the other industries that get displaced. America’s disability insurance was predicted to run out by 2028, due to the massive increase of recipients. The fund was merged with social security to prolong its financial sustainability. Social security is having its own fiscal problems though — that fund is expected to run out by 2034.

Manufacturing was one industry, but in the next decade we will see many more disappear from the market. AI experts say that any job that’s considered “routine” can be automated. Regardless of complexity, if a task is performed the same way every time, a computer can learn how to do it. The Federal Reserve has classified around 58 million jobs as “routine,” and therefore at risk of being automated. This includes the industries of retail, food service, call center support and trucking driving. These also happen to be the four most popular industries in the United States.

picture of Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden is known as a policy-hound, and could provide some insight on how to resolve America’s economic problems.

Truck driving illuminates how dire this situation will become. The average truck driver is a 49-year-old male, with a high school diploma and no significant family. There are roughly 3 million truck drivers in the United States. It’s the most popular profession in 29 states. What’s going to happen to these truck drivers when they can’t get a job? What do you think millions of 49-year-old single men would do if pushed to desperation? The alternatives to disability insurance are not fun to consider.

While all this is going on, we have companies like Amazon and Apple announcing trillion-dollar valuations and market experts claiming the United States’ economy is better now than ever before. There is clearly a disconnect between these two Americas that cannot be ignored. We’re in the middle of redefining our country’s relationship with work and there are few suggestions to how we’ll navigate this reality. One thing is certain: our current system will collapse. It will begin to collapse during the next recession (which is forecasted any day now). Our country needs a leader who understands the breadth of this issue and has an ambitious solution for it.

When it comes to viable presidential candidates, this issue eliminates anyone who appears tone deaf to the extent of our economic crisis. This is a bigger problem than a $15 minimum wage or tax cuts for the rich can solve. We need big ideas because we can’t afford anything less. I’m more willing to consider a zany idea that appears to have the reach we need, over a more mainstream idea that clearly will not work.

picture of Gillibrand
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is known for being a skilled politician and effective policymaker, but her call for Senator Al Franken to step down rubbed some Wall Street campaign financers the wrong way — potentially crippling her financial position in a crowded field.

Education and the American purpose

It’s often debated whether school is meant to prepare students for a career or for life but it’s clear that the American education system does neither. A High School diploma has become so ubiquitous and devalued by programs like No Child Left Behind that it’s led to the necessity for post-secondary private education for students to stay competitive in the job market. Of course, private higher education has become just as meaningless as a High School diploma, all the while burdening students with oppressive debt that prevents them from entering the workforce sooner and suppresses entrepreneurial endeavors that are necessary to maintain a free marketplace.

We have a lot of economic reasons to fix our education system (and I’m intrigued by ideas such as bailing out student debt, or at least making loan payments interest free) but I believe our schools can resolve a different issue. Americans, and the western world, are facing an existential crisis of purpose. In the same way that our economy is being massively overhauled into a post-work society, our cultural identity has also massively shifted. The question of “what should I be doing with my life?” once had a few answers. Religious texts gave followers a path to leading a good life; American families stressed the importance of leaving a legacy and making the world better for the next generation; and some found their career to be worth dedicating to during the era of prosperous free-market capitalism. These options are not available to younger generations. American religiosity has plummeted (which has many good side effects, but this particular one could be marked as a negative), our country has a declining birth rate that’s barely equalized by mass immigration, and few have the option to pursue a career that’s guaranteed to employ them for their entire life.

Unsurprisingly, our country has become massively depressed and turned to destructive tendencies to fill the void. We’re in the midst of the biggest opioid epidemic in history. In 2015, drug overdoses took over car accidents as the most common form of death and has continued to reign number one ever since. Drug use is a way of ignoring our problems, but our solutions are just as damaging. I believe our political polarization is fueled by individuals desire to define their purpose with ideology. In many ways, politics has overtaken religion as our generation’s existential identity. This is why phrases like “everything is political” have become mainstream. Politics is the only lens people can view the world in a way that makes them care about it, so they inject it into everything, even where it does not belong.

picture of Harris
California Senator Kamala Harris has been an establishment candidate since her Senate race in 2016 where she was endorsed by Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama, despite running against another Democrat.

Last year’s The Coddling of the American Mind outlined how modern trends of polarization and increased anxiety could be addressed by restricting kids’ access to smartphones (two hours a day) and teaching them the basic tenants of cognitive behavioral therapy (a method of addressing cognitive distortions that lead to depression and anxiety — it doesn’t require medication or professional help and is hugely successful). I believe we can redesign our education to address the most important fact of reality: existence can be incredibly draining and you have to teach yourself to find enjoyment in life. There are small modifications that can be made to prevent catastrophe (such as CBT) but we also have to give students the means to discover their own purpose in life. Whether that’s creating a structure that contributes to society (business management, entrepreneurial pursuits, law), pursuing art (music, writing, visuals) or becoming a pillar of a community (parenthood, journalism, religious or volunteer work).

Giving students the resources to navigate the world is more important than frontloading them with entry-level information they might need. I’m sure any person can figure out the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell if they need that information to achieve their goal. That’s not the main concern for young people today. Most are totally lost. They either have no direction, or they’re so dejected by early failures they’re uncertain they can apply themselves to anything meaningful. This type of educational overhaul may not have many-short term gains, but it’ll address a generational issue that if we continue to ignore will lead to monumental problems in a decade or two.

I believe one of the biggest issues facing our generation is finding an answer to nihilism. It may be a stretch to call this section “education,” since the issue I’m describing exists far outside of standardized testing and the achievement gap, but this is the only institution in our society I believe can help with this goal. Nihilism is no longer the harmless, cringey, pop-philosophy name dropped in movies and metal albums. It has overtaken many Americans as their defining ideology. Anyone paying attention can see this. When one of the president’s biggest factions is a group of trolls who refer to a mythical “kekistan” where everything is a big joke; when you have a huge increase in mass shooters, all one-upping each other on who can cause the most devastation to reality; and when you have record breaking drug addiction and depression diagnoses, you’re dealing with a populace that doesn’t believe life matters. That belief has a consequential effect on the rest of us. Our country needs a leader who’s attuned to this existential problem and believes they can do something about it.

picture of Bloomberg
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered a run in 2016 but decided against it.

Closing thoughts

These two issues may seem to exist on such a macro-level that it’d be impossible for any politician to fulfill them. That may be true. I can’t imagine a dream candidate will descend from the heavens and resolve two of the biggest problems in our country within one term. However, this criterion serves the purpose of identifying who will not be helpful for our country’s future.

With these issues in mind, any politician campaigning on restoring our country to pre-2015 is dead on arrival. This is why I am totally unenthusiastic about the prospect of Joe Biden running for president. This is equally true for any establishment Republicans like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker or Mitt Romney. I’m unconvinced any of them truly understand the crisis our generation sees and they’ll want to talk about the same old ideas we’ve heard for decades. The ideas from the past will not lead us into the future.

My focus on redefining our American purpose toward something productive outlines my total zero tolerance toward any politician willing to play the identity politics game. Our generation has a massive over-reliance on deriving purpose from politics. That reliance has devastated our public discourse, ruined friendships, polarized our nation and hampered all mechanisms to resolve these issues. Maybe this would be ok if it resulted in a better world or healthier people — but there is no indication of that. We have increasing numbers of depression and anxiety, and various polls say Americans believe the world is getting worse — not better — despite overwhelming statistical evidence proving we’re in the best point in history. Politics works best when people angrily demand change. This incentive to stay in a perpetual state of anger is what is making us miserable. I see any politician exploiting this existential insecurity as an opportunist who’s leading their followers down a destructive path of self-immolation.

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hasn’t ruled out running for President, but has suggested he’s deciding if there’s another candidate who could make a more viable run on the same platform.

Unfortunately, these two criterions knock out over half of the suspected democratic field. While I’m sure people like Kirsten Gillibrand or Cory Booker have the best of intentions with the tactics they utilize to bring about change, I believe some of those tactics directly contribute to the bigger issues looming over everything else. At the same time, although I may loathe their candidacy throughout the democratic primaries, if my only other option is the guy who’s systematically destroyed our country’s institutions, the choice makes itself.

I’ve been talking about these two issues for the past few months with some friends and the overwhelming response is a common criticism. “Every generation thinks they’re at the brink of global catastrophe!” Before our current moment there was nuclear war in Russia, before that we had a corrupt President who was shooting anti-war protestors on campus, before that we had an assassinated president and racists preventing civil rights, before than we had a world war, which came just after a great depression which was preceded by the first world war. With all these moments in our past and the story of our perseverance over each of them, how could we remain so cynical about the future? Each generation thought this was the end, but it wasn’t. That’s true, but I believe it is because they believed it was the end that they got through it.

Our current political moment may not be the tipping point before devastation, but it sure feels that way, and if we want to prove that feeling is wrong, we should take it seriously and elect a leader who can add the problems of today to the history of adversities we’ve overcome.

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Politics

Democrats’ rhetoric on immigration reveals lack of policy alternatives

Reports of children being separated from their parents, placed in cages and drugged have convinced the majority of Americans that the Trump administration’s approach to immigration isn’t exactly something they support. FiveThirtyEight reported that an average of 64 percent of Americans oppose “separating families crossing the border” and “holding children and parents in different facilities while they await trial.” Separated by party, the numbers show a familiar story where Democrats overwhelming oppose the Trump administration’s policies (87 percent) and Republicans are split on support and opposition (45 percent favor the policies, 35 percent oppose). Glancing at right-leaning commentators reveals that many Republicans generally support the concept of enforcing a border but are dismayed by the Trump administrations inhumane approach to the issue. Even with those concerns, the message from Republicans is clear: enforcing the border is important but how this administration is doing it is morally wrong.

As the party of #TheResistance, Democrats are eager to criticize the Trump administration’s immigration policies, but the issue begs the question: what is the Democratic platform on immigration? Democrat leaders have criticized immigration policies both inside and outside the party, which suggests the reason Democrats don’t have a clear policy position is because their base isn’t necessarily convinced borders should exist, let alone be enforced.

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With their unending quest to frame themselves as the all-encompassing “resistance” to Trump, Democrats hope they’ll attract support from anyone who disagrees with any of the administration’s unpopular policies. The latest Trump-fueled outrage of families being separated by ICE agents is one of the many failures by this administration Democrats hope to point to during elections. One of the problems with defining a political party as the opposition to an administration is it becomes difficult to forge what the party actually believes in. At their best, Democrats’ tie their strategy to an actual policy, such as Democrats defense for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which was rolled back by the Trump administration despite maintaining overwhelming support from the public, but other objections that are not tied to policy have created adversarial rhetoric that leads to unsustainable policies for the party of the resistance.

For example, Trump’s executive order limiting travel from seven countries with Muslim-majorities was rightly criticized as poor policy from both sides of the aisle. Many pointed out the obvious inconsistencies of mysteriously leaving out Saudi Arabia or Pakistan from the list of countries (both of which have direct links to Islamic extremism and also a tendency to make generous donations to the US) or the impracticality of indiscriminately banning an entire country of people. Even with these criticisms available to them, Democrats focused on portraying the order as “un-American” and “Islamophobic.” Democrats are skillfully focusing on these criticisms that attack the moral character of the administration to effectively portray the entire administration as racist or un-American. This criticism is again being leveled against the administration following the latest inhumane scandal, but now Democrats have cornered themselves by routinely calling any enforcement of the border as “un-American.” When an entire category of policy is labeled antithetical to America, it’s difficult to suggest alternatives within that category.

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This rhetoric is part of an ongoing trend of Democrats unable to agree if immigration is something that should be limited. Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rollback asylum status for people who cited domestic abuse as reason to flee their country, NPR wrote an article criticizing the decision, as if domestic abuse was an issue that the United States alone was burdened with solving. The language surrounding immigration issues has been morphed to suggest “illegal immigration” isn’t a crime such as when California Senator and speculated 2020 Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris tweeted “An undocumented immigrant is not a criminal.” Even the most popular politician in America, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, can’t escape criticism on the issue. Sanders caught flak from Vox during his presidential candidacy when he suggested open borders would only serve right-wing billionaires interested in depressing wages.

As Dan Pfeiffer of Pod Save America observed, “Democrats are afraid of this issue.” The reason being that the policy with the most support may not be politically viable. Collating all the criticism directed both outside and inside the party, it would seem the most popular position would be no immigration policy at all. The thinking behind this view would be logically consistent with progressives’ interest in inclusiveness and appealing to lofty ideals that expand human rights. Unfortunately for the idealists of the party, enforcing borders is a popular policy position. Democrats love to appeal to lofty ideas, even when there are practical arguments against them, but whereas some tentpole policies such as universal health care or minimum wage increases survive criticism by citing public support, a radically progressive approach to immigration may renew a long-time criticism of Democrats’ impetus to embrace unpopular and unsustainable positions that makes the party lose elections.

For now, Democrats are content with directing the attention to Trump’s unpopular policy rather than formulating their own. Nearly all Americans are unified under the belief of “not this” but Democrats haven’t had a coherent immigration policy for nearly a decade. If they want to make a more compelling appeal for why their ideas would work better they’ll have to start defining them in terms that separate them from their political adversary.

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Politics

Indoctrination through enlightenment

There is a deep allure to knowing things that others don’t. Being informed is a virtue of modern society but being more informed than most people is even more desirable. Americans are filled with skepticism of the status quo and any fact that reveals everything is not as it seems is immensely satisfying to possess. American politics has become less about whose policies are best and more about whose conceptions of society are true. This shift has allowed left and right extremism to dominate the national discussion since they both refute society itself. The average American may have some thoughts on how poverty could be prevented in their neighborhood based on their own personal experience, but if a political opponent establishes that someone is ignorant of where poverty originates from, then their ideas for how to solve it are insignificant. This style of debate services extremism in two ways. First, it effectively invalidates anyone who isn’t initiated into a particular ideology. Second, it acts as a recruitment tool by directing the invalidated to learn the answers to questions that only extremists can answer. Well-intentioned people have a desire to know the truth, but when the bread crumbs to enlightenment are laid by political bad actors, the traveler will find themselves stumbling into indoctrination.

It’s true that knowing things is satisfying, but not knowing things is disproportionately unsatisfying. No politician has ever stood on a stage and said “I don’t know,” because it doesn’t inspire confidence in their ability. It seems citizens prefer a candidate who wrongly believes they’re correct more than one who tepidly admits their ignorance. Part of the attraction of extremist ideologies is they diagnose a cause for all of society’s ailments, often the same one. What is the cause of inequality and suffering in America? Depending on which side of the spectrum you ask, it is either the result of an oppressive patriarchal structure or the machinations of a deep state globalist conspiracy. Framing society’s problems as the result of one overarching concept satisfies devout followers of ideologies but leaves many questions for any on-lookers who are not familiar with these views.

Questioning either of these framings is an effort in futility. To the extremists who dominate national political conversations, announcing that you don’t believe in the patriarchy or a globalist conspiracy is to announce your ignorance of how society works at all. Doing so inevitably puts the attacker on the defensive. Whenever a person inquires or argues against an extremist societal framing, they’re doomed to sit through a lecture detailing the specifics of the ideology or forced to dispute a variety of declarations made by it. This is a common tactic in debate teams known as “spreading” (or the “Gish Gallop”) where one side presents many weak points, forcing the opposing side to dedicate their energy to correcting each one. The corrections dominate the discussion and there’s no time left to suggest an alternative view. Failure to provide a satisfactory and concise explanation of society’s problems is used as proof that the ideology’s catchall diagnosis is more true than any nuanced approach.

That feeling of dissatisfaction is pushed onto the observer of a debate. Even if an observer doesn’t agree with an extremist at first, their mystifying ideology demands further research. What is the patriarchy? What is the deep state? These are questions that lead to more questions that politically-motivated websites like Salon or Breitbart are happy to answer. If these questions capitalize on an ailment the individual has personally suffered, then the mainstream’s failure to answer them confirms this ideology they’ve discovered as the only true perspective of the world. They’ve convinced themselves they have found how society truly works. Even if they stumbled onto the ideology for one specific reason, its truth has a way of re-contextualizing all other problems. If an individual accepts that privilege or corruption is the underlying cause for one problem, it is not unreasonable for them to conclude that it is the cause of many other problems too. Their logic is supported by scores of other followers who have all made the same conclusion.

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Perhaps most insidiously, these ideologies provide an explanation for why anyone would disagree with them. Even in the face of numerous experts disproving theories reliant on patriarchy or globalism, the ideology claims these experts are only publishing these arguments in service of the societal evil the ideology is against. If a woman disputes patriarchy, they’re suffering from “internalized misogyny.” If a conservative condemns the alt-right, they’re a “cuckservative” who hasn’t been “red-pilled” yet. Both of these explanations carry a thinly veiled condescension that says “I used to be misguided like you, but then I found the truth.”

These brain-washed extremists live a life of satisfaction believing they have found out the truth of how society really works and use it to counter opponents of their beliefs. All American political debates fail at this impasse. Supporters cheer on figureheads of their own views, regardless of whatever is said. This dualism seeps into all politically-themed events and the winners and losers are decided by the size of the biggest mob.

How did it get this way?

Americans would not feel compelled to question how society is structured if the structure was working in their favor. Yale Professor of History Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny, that “Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability.” Our moment in history is dense with inequalities. Americans of all demographics feel a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and desperately seek an explanation for their strife. Unsurprisingly, extremists tend to be characterized by an obvious lack in their own life. Whether that be unemployment (or underemployment), the inability to surpass their parents financially (the first generation not to do so), or a lack of personal satisfaction, these political ideologues are drawn to their views by a dissatisfaction with how society has treated them. These spheres of extremism grow by explaining how these problems in their life are the result of an antagonistic action against them.

Despite these troubling trends there’s still hope for promoting sanity and reasonable discourse. The majority of Americans are silent in the political debate. Most are not convinced by these ideologies and are not satisfied with the answers extremists provide. They see the bread crumbs for the poisonous falsehoods that they are, knowing where those paths lead. Although these unimpressed citizens do not dominate the conversation, they do dominate the representation. Across all demographics, most Americans have stayed on the sidelines during this wave of extremism. Despite the difficulties all Americans have faced, it would seem that the most alluring truth is not that society is flawed for one specific reason but that these groups who pretend to know the truth are most certainly wrong.

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Politics

Losing a war by winning it

Politics in America is now dominated by extremism. Every issue is made out to be the difference between protecting the disadvantaged and normalizing fascism. Your actions get conflated to ten times what they actually were so that people can easily categorize you into one side or the other. I don’t believe many people have such extreme views, but some will accept their prescribed side while others will choose to avoid the conversation entirely. This dynamic results in America’s important values being pushed aside for political expediency or personal well-being. There’s no question we live in extraordinary times that demand action. We have a President who seems to dismiss the core values of America in favor of his own interests, but his most vocal opponents have been willing to do the same for their own ends. In light of this, the true political battle in the United States is revealed and it is not good versus evil but decency against savagery.

During the campaign trail, I was more disturbed by Trump’s flagrant approach to protesters at his rallies than anything else. Specifically the incident where he asked his crowd to “knock the crap” out of protesters and that he’d “pay for the legal fees.” That moment disturbed me because it was the bridge from ordinary disagreement to violence against your opponents. It wasn’t enough to insult your detractors, now they had to physically pay for it. That moment was a glimpse into Trump’s values (or lack thereof) and how far his supporters would go with him.

It was a clarifying moment for me, because regardless of whatever your specific views are on issues, silencing opponents is not only un-American, but normalizing that action pulls at the fragile toothpicks that support our free society. America’s commitment to free speech has allowed the war of ideas to be fought with appropriate tools: arguments, logic and shared experiences. If you can’t talk to your enemy and explain your differences, you’ll surely fight them instead. Our system can survive a few incompetent politicians, or a few years of incompetent leadership, but it cannot survive removing the mechanism meant to reveal that incompetence.

Yet here we are on the other side of a Trump presidency and his critics seemed to have shed their “when they go low, we go high” mantra in favor of violence. Whether that’s literally punching people in the face, lighting their hair on fire or rioting to prevent a pro-Trump speaker. These actions would be bad enough on their own but the reaction for many liberals is not to condemn violence or make excuses – they endorse it. They don’t see this as hypocritical because violence against “nazis” is always justified.

Most of the people willing to endorse violence come from the younger generation. You can find endless tweets from people supporting the recent riots. They are self-appointed experts on how to beat toxic ideologies despite never reading a history book in their life. It’s natural that younger people have more energy while the older generation shares their experience and wisdom for how best to channel that energy through productive means. But the current younger generation has delegitimized everyone but themselves. Boogiemen come in the form of the patriarchy or identity politics, cutting off all influencers who are not fellow travelers. The few remaining figures who could dispel these toxic views are fearful that upsetting their base will diminish their chance to stay in office. This is predicated on the concept that America’s political battle is between the left and right, but as any political science expert will tell you – the two directions eventually curl back toward each other if you go far enough. This weariness for replacing one extremist with another is why the country remains so staunchly divided.

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Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster. He’s created a domestic crisis with his sloppy immigration actions, he failed his promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall,” he’s forced most of the state department’s higher-ups to resign and his administration has been the cause of more riots in the past dozen days than most of the past dozen administrations. In the face of spectacular failure, there’s no reason democrats shouldn’t be careening toward high approval ratings, but that’s not what has happened. Instead they’ve placated this dangerous anti-American extremism in hopes it will serve their own ends.

During the North African campaign of World War II, Supreme Commander of the Allies Dwight Eisenhower oversaw a deal with Vichy France’s Francois Darlan. The armistice was — in effect — an alliance between the free world and the fascist regime of Vichy France. Tactically, the deal served the allies. They had better standing in North Africa, key strategic resources and spent less vital manpower fighting the French. After all, Germany was the true enemy. But the deal was harshly criticized by Free France’s Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and several critics in America, including one renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow, who said:

“Are we fighting Nazis or sleeping with them? Why this play with traitors? Don’t we see that we could lose this war by winning it?”

What good is fighting a war against an ideology that has sunk the world into conflict if you’re willing to use those same ideas for your own victory? Unlike that historic example, there is no literal war being fought on a battlefield. America is constantly in a war of ideas. Our country has stood the test of time because of its commitment to personal freedoms and choosing to fight the war of ideas instead of the war of violence. America needs to revitalize a movement that adheres to the rights that made this country great if it hopes to survive the current wave of extremism.

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Politics

The Janitor President: What If A Clinton Administration Was Terrifically Boring?

EDIT (05/08/2018): I was reminded that I wrote this article today and I’d like to publicly acknowledge how well it has aged.

Long before we knew what this election was going to become someone on my twitter feed remarked that if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton won it’d be the day that “politics became boring again.” Recent polls have Clinton’s chances of winning so high that she’ll not only win every single swing state, but also claim several red states like Arizona and Georgia. Ironically, Donald Trump may go down as one of the biggest losers in recent history. It’s fun to talk about Trump because he’s the edge case. He’s the guy that might drive all of civilization off a cliff. Even if he didn’t cause the apocalypse, it’s a mystery what his presidency might change if he did win. However, it seems pretty clear that that isn’t going to happen. What also isn’t clear is what a Clinton presidency would look like. Of course we know the general jist of liberal policies and continuing the work Obama started, but how much of Clinton’s campaigning was appealing to voters and how much of it was saying what she intends to do?

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In the January debate, MSNBC asked the candidates what they would do in their first 100 days of office. Hillary Clinton answered with this plan:

“I would work quickly to present to the congress my plans for creating more good jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure, clean and renewable energy, raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing finally equal pay for women’s work. I would also be presenting my plans to build on the Affordable Care Act and to improve it by decreasing the out of pocket costs by putting a cap on prescription drug costs by looking for ways that we can put the prescription drug business and the health insurance company business on a more stable platform that doesn’t take too much money out of the pockets of hard working Americans. And third I would be working every way that I knew to bring our country together. We do have too much division. Too much mean spiritedness. There’s a lot we have to do on immigration reform, on voting rights, on campaign finance reform, but we need to do it together. That’s how we’ll have the kind of country for the 21st century that we know will guarantee our children and grandchildren they deserve.” -Hillary Clinton. January 17, 2016.

Sounds pretty detailed. But if you pull that clip back by one minute you’ll see that Bernie Sanders answered first and a different image starts to form. Listening to Sanders’ answer compared to Clinton’s, it shows her answer was meant to mute every single one of his points and portray herself as the more reasonable version of his goals. Sanders says he wants to establish unified health care as a human right, raise minimum wage to 15 dollars, create jobs by rebuilding America’s infrastructure and “bring America together” by making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. Keep all that in mind and re-read Clinton’s statement. She matches every single point. It’s a clear debate tactic and not indicative of what she’ll actually do, even if she actually believes in implementing all those ideas on a hypothetical level.

Hillary Clinton Attends Georgetown Institute For Women, Peace And Security Award Ceremony

Another major portion of the Hillary Clinton campaign has been “electing the first female president.” It would be a historical moment in tandem with electing the first black president. Obama’s historic election also saw higher turnout of new voters. The 2008 election saw many black voters showing up on election day for the first time. The thinking for Clinton may be that women would turn out in similar numbers to vote for her and be a part of another historic election. Yet, I’m skeptical that Clinton is as passionate about the in vogue feminist topics as she puts on. Despite pushing for “equal pay for equal work” Clinton’s own staff reportedly had a pay-gap among the female and male staffers. As for her support in the “listen and believe” mantra for sexual assault victims, her complicated history with Bill Clinton’s alleged victims may blur where she truly stands on that issue. I don’t doubt that Clinton has had her own run-ins with gender discrimination and I’m sure she supports the concept of equality, but her political career doesn’t trend toward these types of issues. She’s a big-ideas type of politician who doesn’t get involved with interpersonal policymaking.

Clinton’s preference for looking at the big picture is on display with how she handled the “superpredators” mini-scandal during the campaign trail. When the Bernie Sanders crowd realized he was doing awful with Black Americans, they found an old clip of Hillary Clinton referring to gang members with “zero empathy” as “superpredators” and that they had to be “brought to a heel.” For context, the clip originated from 1996 when Hillary Clinton was First Lady. Bill Clinton had previously passed a Crime Bill that was tougher on criminals as was the national conversation on crime, partly because the House of Representatives and the Senate were both controlled by Republicans who were strongly in favor of “three strikes you’re out.” The clip was taken from this defunct era, literally twenty years ago, brought into the modern day where the word “institutionalized racism” is common and Hillary Clinton was asked if she thought her use of the word was racist. Personally, I thought the question was unfair and it seems most of her supporters agreed because her polling barely saw a downtick.


However, her response shows Clinton’s disinterest with tackling a personal issue like racism. She immediately jumps to underfunded schools and lacking economic opportunities for minorities. Her critiques were primarily from the Black Lives Matter movement, but her response was as if it was a bullet point in a dense economic policy reform. This moment may have been the most illuminating moment of the campaign.

If her answer to the superpredator question didn’t give a sense of her priorities, then her running mate certainly did. Clinton picked Tim Kaine as her running mate reportedly to reinforce her image as the “sensible choice.” After the announcement she gave insight on how she came to this choice over other progressive prospectives like Warren, Castro or Booker:

“I have this old-fashioned idea. If you’re running for president, you should say what you want to do and how you will get it done.” -Hillary Clinton. July 23, 2016.

Tim Kanie is a terrifically boring candidate. There’s nothing on his career resume that jumps out. He runs government efficiently and that’s about all you can say. Which might be exactly what Hillary Clinton wants to do.

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I think it’s a fool’s errand to guess what any President’s exact plans will be. The possibilities are nearly endless. It’s probably a good guess to assume that Clinton would tackle education. Obama somewhat famously ignored education in his first term to tackle health care instead. The system hasn’t seen a major reform since No Child Left Behind, which has been called a disaster by both parties, but education isn’t the only aspect of our system that’s in dire straits.

Low-level research on topics like the IRS or America’s infrastructure will reveal that there’s a lot of issues in the country that have needed moderate maintenance for some time. These issues may not be as exciting as ending racism or getting everyone on electric cars, but they are necessary. Since many of these goals are considered “boring,” they get ignored. Even loftier goals like “equal pay for equal work,” a concept that’s disputed in the economics community, sidetracks conversations about maternity leave, or vacation leave. These issues have been on the national stage for twenty years and haven’t seen progress.

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Clinton’s positioning of being the “sensible choice,” and her positional preference for big issues, it’s possible she’ll turn out to be the Janitor President. We gave her all our crap. We spat on her the entire time, but maybe she’ll end up doing the job that nobody else wants to do. That might be what we need.

That’s my hopeful wish for her Presidency. If her first week in office she introduces a bill for Campus Speech Zones, I’m going to be pissed.