Yesterday I reviewed Hillary Clinton’s What Happened. I realized as I was writing that I had more to say than I wanted to fit into one day, so today we pick up more or less where we left off on Thursday.
Clinton, who spends most of the book rehashing the 2016 US presidential election campaign without offering anything new in terms of insights. We already know she thinks the campaign wasn’t fair, that the outcome was influenced by outside sources, particularly the director of the FBI and the Russians. There are good reasons to be upset about that, especially if you are an American. However, fixing her gaze firmly on the past without comprehension does not bode well for the future.
To me it is obvious “what happened.” The people Clinton hired lost sight of the goal. Winning a presidential election in the US isn’t about who gets the most votes, it is about who receives the requisite number of electoral college votes. The Republicans figured that out, the Democrats didn’t. It doesn’t matter that three million more people voted for Clinton than Trump; she lost decisively.
I don’t know how much influence Russian propaganda and misinformation had on the campaign. Probably not as much as Democrats believe and more than Republicans will concede. But there was evidence during the campaign of foreign interference. Democrat strategists didn’t adjust – maybe they were over-confident. They apparently didn’t understand the mood of the country.
Nor could the FBI investigation/non-investigation of Clinton’s emails (which I won’t get into here) have had a major impact if the Democrats had already solidified their support. That people voted for Donald Trump says a lot about their perception of Clinton, and even more about America – and that isn’t flattering. In Canada we know about the police interfering in elections when they shouldn’t – it happened here in 2006. I’m not sure police investigations have much impact unless people are already considering a change of government.
So what is next? Clinton may not really understand what happened, but she knows the status quo must change. She lays out a moderate vision for reform for the Democratic Party. I’ll be bold and say that isn’t going to work. In 2016, popular vote numbers notwithstanding, the public made it clear they weren’t buying the Democrats message. (I have a theory about the Democrats and elections, which I am not going to get into here.)
American politicians, in word and deed, have created a toxic climate of political polarization in the US that may take decades to reverse. It may require a complete revamping of the system, something almost as unlikely as the United States implementing rational gun control laws.
Clinton rails against the electoral college system, but any voting system has its flaws, and she knew the rules going into the election. Don’t whine if the other party is better at playing the game. If the process is open, transparent and arguably fair, then that should be sufficient. Personally, I despise the electoral college system, but not being an American I don’t see that my opinion counts for much.
She also sees a need for electoral financing reform. I didn’t pay attention to what she proposed during the campaign, but I suspect it wouldn’t have gone far enough. American elections are bought and sold, pretty much always have been. In the absence of proper financial restrictions so too are many, if not most, American politicians. A successful Congressman has to raise $10,000 weekly for their re-election campaign. That’s a million dollars, more or less. A Canadian Member of Parliament is limited to about $100,000 in campaign spending. You see the difference? In Canada there are no corporate donations allowed. Individuals are limited to a maximum $1,200 in donations annually, unlike in the US where donors with deep pockets can spend millions. And don’t get me started on election advertising from special interests, which is also restricted. Our electoral system may not be perfect, but it can’t be bought.
I have pondered the American dilemma for years and have thought of several possible ways to improve their system. It would take time, but it could be done. The United States could once again become a functioning democracy instead of being the punch line for political jokes.
However, I’m not going to outline the solution here. I’m not feeling altruistic today, and for the past decade I have become accustomed to being paid when I give political advice. Some of my ideas are common sense; you could come up with them yourself. Others would challenge the American status quo and would take real courage to introduce. Politicians generally like the status quo. That is why Prime Minister Selfie abandoned his Canadian electoral reform proposals. Changing the system was a good idea when he was in opposition, but it isn’t as appealing when that system made him Prime Minister.
As I said yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s What Happened should have a question mark attached. I don’t think she really figured it out. I think that’s true of Americans in general.
And you know what they say about those who don’t learn the lessons of history.