About Election Night

My name is J. Denton Adams. Call me Remy. This likely means nothing to most of you. As a matter of background, I am the former production editor for a McClatchy beast called The Insider, a state government newsletter which, in truth, most normal people don’t read. I don’t necessarily count the membership of BlueNC among “most normal people.” Currently, I am an attorney, a very cynical one, who sees a justice system plagued by archaic notions that seldom do anything but prey upon the tired, poor or huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, we imprison them, and hide them and preclude them from participating in the electoral process.

I believe the American dream is at a substantial impasse, as I suspect many of you do. It is important that we question why, then determine what must be done. In truth, I am far more of a moderate than the normal BlueNC reader, but I sincerely hope my thoughts are not lost in partisanship, as I in part believe that is the locus of the problem.

About Election Night

The first mistake a nation can make is forgetting that history can explain the present. Greater minds than us have often dealt with similar problems before. I will let a Founding Father’s words on rebellion in 1786 explain the elections of 2016:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

-- Thomas Jefferson

There are some times -- like now -- in which I believe Jefferson was right, but the greatest Republic the world has seen has aged too much to occasionally bathe in the phoenix blood of rebellion. The point holds, however, in the metaphorical sense. On November 8, 2016, a minority of the populace elected a man of questionable morality, acumen and temperament to our nation’s highest office. They did this either because they despised his adversary, Hillary Clinton, or found the status quo so abhorrent that it merited a wholesale rejection of the prior eight years. We have witnessed a rebellion, rather than a mandate.

To put President-Elect Trump into context, he is a demagogue whose rhetoric reeks of fascism. His political positions, for decades, have shifted with the day of the week and direction of the wind. He threatened to disregard the results of the election if it did not favor him. He promised to imprison Mrs. Clinton upon his victory, but has since backed off this claim. Others who have taken similar courses of action include Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and Joseph Stalin. This is not to say Mrs. Clinton is or was (or ever will be) a saint. She foolishly sought to turn an incident in Benghazi to her political advantage, displayed royally awful discretion regarding emails and signaled an interest in being a politician, rather than a stateswoman.

“They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed.”

--Thomas Jefferson

Let’s go back to the founding father in the conversation. He was talking about Shays’ Rebellion, in which Daniel Shays spearheaded a charge with 4,000 rebels against the United States in reaction to perceived economic and civil rights violations. Are they much different than those who rose up against all expectations on Election Day to elect Mr. Trump? His true supporters believed not only that the country was headed in the wrong direction, but that they personally had watched their civil and economic rights slowly being chipped away. Like Shays, some had violence on their mind if Mrs. Clinton carried the election. (Which she did in a way, just not the Electoral College.) Now, a portion of those who cast ballots for her are protesting in the streets. (Due to years of a system based in division and identity politics.) The true believers on each side cannot comprehend how anyone could vote in support of the other.

Modern politics has become a game of facade, not facts. Our two-party system, coupled with the wired world, has created a monstrosity. The parties are guilty of waging electoral battles with incendiary sound-bites and questionable online articles, propped up by straw men and cherry-picked facts. Our anemic Fifth Estate has allowed this to happen. Through simplifying issues and feeding on fear and paranoia, our political class has widened these rifts. Gerrymandering has permitted extremists to hold office in more places. Meanwhile, the electorate only knows how they feel at the moment, rather than the substance of the policies put before them.

“The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

--Thomas Jefferson

The problem is not that the American public is angry. They should be. I submit, however, that they are angry about the wrong thing. What they should be angry about is the fact that our elected officials have lost track of their purpose. Liberals are not liberating. Conservatives are not conserving. Representatives are not representing. Progressives are not progressing. Instead, our politicians turn their attention, year after year, to self-serving electioneering, in a desperate gambit to keep or gain power. None are innocent of this. Where have the statesmen gone? There was a time when it was understood that seeking high office was an honorable endeavor. A statesman represents all constituents at all times, not just those who cast their ballots one way.

When did moderate become a dirty word? Anyone with a modicum of sense recognizes that debate, negotiation and compromise are necessary to the ongoing State. A Supreme Court seat remains unfilled due to idealogues, successfully held ransom for politics. Much of the work of the past eight years is about to be summarily erased, without anyone questioning whether it in fact should be.

Ignorantly, the left and right believe they have all the answers. This fallacy is dangerous in and of itself. When coupled with extremist rhetoric, which is becoming more prevalent, it creates a powderkeg that threatens our very liberty. This is the tyranny of intractable ignorance.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”

--Thomas Jefferson

The good news is that the spirit of the Republic is alive and well. I do not care for our new president, nor would I have had the Democrats taken the day. No matter who is at the helm, if they surround themselves with the best and the brightest idealogues, the American Experiment is at risk. It appears Trump is doing just that. The media is awash with politicos calling for unity, saying that governance is now the issue. Yet, now is not the time for unity. I sincerely believe that those who are rational among us have the unique duty to call out the insanity that faces us all. Otherwise, in four or eight years, we will be doing this once again.

The only way to stop this perpetual whiplash is to reinstate measured perspectives into the the public conversation. Our political system must cease to be dominated by battles of right and left, and instead be supplanted by debate about what will work. Currently, what was intended to be a constructive mix of adversarial views has become one in which enemies sit angrily across the aisles from one another. They will never believe that this pathetic incivility is wrong unless we tell them.

The path we must take, as a nation, is to illuminate the dark mistruths that fuel our system. Their origin is irrelevant. If they are harmful ideas, they should be condemned and identified as the reckless idiocy that they are. If they have remote merit, then they should be evaluated, debated and changed to fit the needs of the people. They should be allowed to prevail or fail in the marketplace of ideas. No elected official, journalist, commentator, savior or despot can change this. No, it is the will of the people that will do this. Still, with no voice in a world of antithetical leaders, we risk real rebellion.

For the warriors among you, I propose simply this: Think what your adherence to the party line has achieved. It should be clear that our progress in recent years can be readily erased with the pulse of insanity that has occurred this election cycle. White nationalists (Nazis) have the illusion in front of them that they are suddenly mainstreamed. Our trade deals, the pulse of our economy, are about to be shredded, with literally no thought as to their positive effects. Climate science is about to be wholeheartedly ignored, where its dissidents should instead be viewed as reckless madmen.

For our true believers, I submit the following: Progress must occasionally be measured in tempered steps. Frankly, this is the same conversation I anticipate having with conservatives. The world must be ready for change, and it is the call of the progressive to set that need for change, much like the conservative must caution against its immediacy. Argue with me as you will, that is the nature of this beast we call democracy.

I, accordingly, have a proposition. That is to elect sane people, derelict of the abomination of gerrymandering, to debate, negotiate and compromise. This is a far cry from an effort to elect solely the members of one party. Instead, it is a call to find the long lost statesmen (and stateswomen) among us. They are what is necessary to achieve change in these times, but they are a forgotten thing. We need to encourage statesmen in all 100 counties, at all times. Those who vote in favor of the people, and their myriad needs are exactly what is needed to shield our democracy from demagoguery. Moderate must no longer be a dirty word, and we are not in a position to argue otherwise in the next two years, at least. Don’t read this as an endorsement of wholehearted leftist policies on my end. While this is my predilection, it is not my end. My goal is to have a state and, ultimately, a nation that works. That is the beauty of our great nation. It is and always was supposed to be a melting pot of ideas. Let’s find the ones that work, and make them work.

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Comments

Fairness and Money

Thank you for your words. I thought, long ago, that we should elect more historians than lawyers to public office. Those that have a sense of history might be more likely to think on a grand scale while also being aware of the pitfalls of the past.

At this moment, one of the most pressing issues in our elections is money. Money to fund a campaign. It currently takes a whole lot of it.

When I lived in Japan, we listened to Armed Forces Radio. Almost every hour they ran a public service announcement advising our sailors and marines to 'avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.' If a contractor came out to install a new radar system and teach our military people how to use it, that contractor could not buy pizza for all of the unit--it might lead to the appearance of a conflict of interest. If those eating pizza happily endorsed the system installed by the contractor it could appear that they were bought off.

Yet somehow, when we look at those elected to public office, especially in the upper reaches of government, we are expected to believe that receiving thousands and thousands of dollars in campaign money from the same contractor does not result in a conflict of interest. Even when elected recipients of that money vote for the contractor's best interests instead of the people's best interests, we are expected to believe there is no conflict of interest there. For shame.

The best way to repair confidence in government AND allow our elected officials to rise to the level of stateswomen and statesmen, is to get them out of the business of begging for money to run their campaigns. Then, and only then, can they truly represent the citizens of this country.

Beyond just the issue of raising money, this could mean some kind of rules/regulations limiting the time allowed for public campaigning. This would not be a bad thing. (We've been listening to the 'campaign music' of every news channel for so long now I want to gag when I hear it.) We take it for granted that many people don't start tuning into campaigns until 3 months before the election. If we can limit campaigns to that period of time, we can limit expenditures, use less money and take some of the tit-for-tat campaign contributions that discredit our democracy out of the picture.

American democracy has also been hurt by repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was — in the Commission's view — honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the Doctrine in 1987...

The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views...The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.

The main agenda for the doctrine was to ensure that viewers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints....

The Fairness Doctrine should not be confused with the equal-time rule. The Fairness Doctrine deals with discussion of controversial issues, while the equal-time rule deals only with political candidates.

Now that we deal with a prolific number of news outlets, it is difficult to see how something like a Fairness Doctrine could be re-instituted, however much we may need it. We've ended up with media conglomerates that want their 'news' function to produce as much income and have the same high ratings as entertainment programs. Viewers drawn to these "battles between left and right" mean higher ratings which mean higher ad revenue which means higher dividends for stockholders--and a corporation's first obligation is to its stockholders. Not to the American people.

And gerrymandering. It's got to go or it will be the death of American democracy. No, I'm not being overly dramatic.

What is 'progress' in NC?

In my vocabulary, Moderate is not a dirty word. But neither is Progressive. The two must work together, like yin and yang, for the benefit of the whole. North Carolina has had a whole lot of Moderate leaders. Even though we had a reputation as a Progressive Southern state, when compared with the country as a whole, we have been moderate.

Meanwhile, the world has changed. We live now in a new century, filled with new technologies and patterns of doing business. Call it the Knowledge Economy, if you will, or blame it on the turn of the century or on NAFTA. The world has changed. We, especially in North Carolina, have to choose between keeping up or being left behind.

You suggest that "The world must be ready for change, and it is the call of the progressive to set that need for change, much like the conservative must caution against its immediacy." For some time, North Carolina has pushed the progressive aside out of a perceived need for moderation. We have a lot of wonderful, conservative people here, and their needs must be met, too.

Those who count themselves progressive see a need for change. And you are right, some others will immediately recognize that call to change and others will resist.

There is a real need for all of us older adults to recognize that our grandchildren will not live in the world of our own past. We cannot lure new businesses to North Carolina by proclaiming we use world-class blackboards in our schools while the rest of the world teaches their children about technology. Even small, rural communities, where some families have lived for generation after generation will have to adapt to the new if they want their own grandchildren to live near them. Jobs of the future are different. The skills required for those jobs are different. There is a much bigger need for access to the larger world, through broadband, television and communication. The village of the past does not always serve the needs of the future. And the aim of the progressive is to create the education and infrastructure that will support us in the future.

Those who put party above country, above constituent, will not create a world that will support our grandchildren. Nor will those who demand constant moderation be successful in planning for the future. Sometimes we have to listen to the progressive.

Thanks for the intelligent commentary

Remy, how do we do these things when so many people vote "party" rather than programs or policy which, many times never even surfaces except as memes...like "make America great again?" Further, when I write my elected representative on some issue asking why or why not he/she would vote for XYZ...or state my concerns...I get an innocuous reply that means nothing. I'm angry. At both parties and politicians in general. How do we make them listen? Term Limits...How? I'm at the point of seeing Vince Flynn's novel "Term Limits" as the only answer.

Stan Bozarth

Moderates, the Fairness Doctrine, a "United" States

While we all recognize that moderates who are able to compromise and work both sides of the aisle actually get things done - and provided our model of governance for many decades - I think we have to face the difficult truth that the days of moderates is in the past.

There are a number of factors that have created the "perfect storm" for this to happen, but the main problem is that moderates can't make it through the primary process on the right.

While it's easy to blame "both parties", the responsibility for this mess lies squarely in the front yard of the Republicans.

Over the past few decades, elements within the GOP has embarked on a systematic process to distill its base to "true believers" that move in lock-step.

They have rolled back protections against the influence of big money in politics, so we now have all manner of special interest and religious non-profits that openly engage in politics, regardless of IRS and campaign regulations. The right is infested with "dark money" from extremist right-wingers that filters out to influence GOP primary voters to a no-compromise vision of bigotry and selfishness.

They have used this funding to create right-wing echo chambers like Breitbart that further amplify this message and misinformation to GOP primary voters.

They have used this dark money to install hard-line, no compromise GOP candidates that ensure their continued rule through the most ridiculous and bald-faced gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics imaginable. When the larger group of general election voters manage to overcome these tactics, they fund misinformation campaigns to undermine confidence in the vote and try "hail Mary" techniques to have their preferred hard-line candidates installed by fiat. (Art Pope and the current McCrory election mess, anyone?)

What we're left with is a current GOP defined by the most extremist of conservative views and installed politicians unwilling to compromise for fear of being "primaried" by the quick and vengeful network of dark money non-profits and right-wing media echo chamber that put them there in the first place.

While a GOP of twenty or fifty years ago had the courage and common sense to work across the aisle for common interests, the current batch of Republicans are often "hired guns" who have less interest in public service than lining their own pockets. Think about some of your representatives from NC in the state legislature and Congress. How many come from an undistinguished background as failed businessmen or sycophants for one extremist cause or another, hopping from one opportunity to the next in the "dark money" GOP ecosphere?

The GOP is buying candidates, plain and simple. These are people driven by their own selfish interests, not those of their constituents.

For many years, the mainstream GOP thinking on public education was that it should be preserved and the only disagreements between left and right was how to improve it and make it accountable. Now, the Trump administration has appointed a Secretary of Education who supports doing away with public education altogether.

For decades, the GOP saw a role for the Federal government in regulating industry, protecting workers, and respecting the environment. The only disagreements between left and right were the extent of that involvement and the nuances of how it would work. Now, the party wants the Federal and state governments out of the business of regulating business entirely.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. What was once considered "nutty" and extreme on the right is now policy. We have gone from a Republican party that wanted to appease Southern voters by having the Feds lighten up on Civil Rights policies and make room for the "religious objections" of evangelicals to the election of officials and appointments to the Trump cabinet who are promoting outright anger and violence towards racial and religious minorities.

We've gone from the more "polite" and "velvet glove" racism and bigotry of a Jesse Helms to having a national debate about whether the "Alt Right" should be more properly called "White Nationalists" or "Neo-Nazis" and a newly energized KKK that thinks they have a mandate to declare war on Blacks, Jews, and anyone else they find undesirable.

While the left can talk all it wants about social and economic justice and all manner of progressive causes, the hard truth is that the left has been forced into being the moderate "adult in the room" to counter the hard-right, no compromise extremism of the right.

In earlier days of this struggle, during the Bush and first Obama administration, some compromise was possible. However, since the GOP has moved so far towards the right, how can the left compromise on what amounts to basic questions about Constitutional rights of its citizens or the ability of state and Federal governments to actually function as moderate forces on industry?

The debate isn't about how government will work, but whether we will have a government at all or simply cede control to the Koch brothers, Sheldon Addisons and Art Popes of the world.

Getting moderates in office is a nice idea, but will never happen on the right with the current paradigm. Already, the audience for the extremist right is shrinking, but it may take another couple of decades before the "dark money" forces, despite their wealth, influence, and tight-knit organizations, simply run out of a large enough voting block to stay in power. In the mean time, GOP candidates will still fear being "primaried".

Vicki mentioned the Fairness Doctrine. Yes, the elimination of opposing voices in media has been a big contributor to this problem. However, the Fairness Doctrine only worked with broadcast media - radio and tv stations had to provide "equal time" when there were a limited number of channels available on the airwaves so that both sides had a chance to be heard.

We don't live in that world anymore. The audiences for radio and television are declining every year as individuals drift towards websites, podcasts, and other online media. There are an unlimited number of "channels" available - something like a Fairness Doctrine would be unworkable in the Internet age.

The press has never been subject to something like a Fairness Doctrine because anyone, with just a few dollars, can print their own newpaper, pamphlet, or publication to get their message out there - an unlimited number of channels, so to speak. The Internet has made it possible for the medium of audio and video to become much like print media has always been.

What has limited the power of print media are protections provided by the Constitution and court decisions around free speech and responsibility for libel and slander. In the past, a newspaper might lean left or right, but could easily go under if they went "off the deep end", printing outright lies about public figures that would result in litigation or extremist positions and half-truths that would scare off potential advertisers.

Now, with funding for the extremist right-wing coming from big-monied interests, those checks and balances are no longer in place. Brietbart was started and is sustained with money from the extremist right-wing. FoxNews is part of a larger effort by Murdoch to push the limits of right-wing speech on cable and in print in the US and other countries. And we've all seen how, in this election cycle, small players, sometimes with right-wing funding and sometimes on their own, have set up fake news websites to push misinformation.

If Art Pope's Carolina Journal or Sheldon Addison's Las Vegas Review-Journal go off the deep end, they can just hit up Pope or Addison for more money to fund their operation, regardless of what advertisers might think. There's not enough time and money in the world for someone like Hillary Clinton to go after every fake news site spreading lies about her under our libel laws - it's a high-stakes, big-money game of "whack-a-mole".

I would like to say I'm optimistic and have a solution to this mess, but I don't.

A few decades ago, extremists in the US would have their views marginalized in mainstream media by the Fairness Doctrine or our laws that balanced press freedom with libel, slander, and advertising support. Now, with the Internet, it's easy to live in a bubble where the most dangerous racist and bigoted views seem "normal" because that's all that an individual chooses to see.

I fear we have dark days ahead because many of the basic systems of our democracy that have kept a balance between different forces in American society - white majorities and racial minorities, religious majorities and minorities, and industry and workers - have completely broken down.

I can't think of any period in history that's been quite like this except for, perhaps, the French Revolution or the breakup of the Soviet Union. In both cases, a ruling system that didn't recognize the problems of the majority of its citizens devolved most immediately into anarchy. The French struggled for a century with establishing democracy in their country after bitter, partisan politics and violent struggle. The former Soviet Union collapsed into a set of smaller nation-states, some thriving and others struggling with bitter ethnic conflicts and Putin-style oligarchies that suppress basic human rights and are controlled by big-monied interests not so different than the ones we see here.

For better or worse, I think we are headed for a few decades where the Federal government is reduced to powerlessness and different states and regions of the US go their own way. In some states, the Koch and Pope kinds of big money interests will be in firm control like local warlords. In some parts of the US, you'll find basic human and civil rights enforced and respected and, in others, completely disregarded.

In one sense, it will resemble the pre-Civil Rights era, but, this time it won't just be Blacks migrating out of oppressive parts of the US - anyone with talent and drive - women, gays, non-evangelicals - will be drifting to areas where their basic rights will be protected.

We won't be a "United" States anymore.