John Colson: Pay attention, learn from past mistakes
Hit & Run
As the U.S. electorate skeptically watches the start of the 2020 presidential election cycle at least a year earlier than necessary, I’ve been thinking about our political system and the inequities it seems to have generated in certain quadrennial presidential contests.
And I’ve also been thinking about the fate of our closest ally, in economic, political and so many other realms: the United Kingdom.
I’d like to conduct a short, unscientific and entirely personal review of certain aspects of our dual national dilemmas.
Interesting, isn’t it, to watch the parallels of signs of desperation and disillusionment in the two most prominent democracies on the planet — the United States and the United Kingdom — as we witness what we hope are the beginnings of self-destruction of the Trump administration in the U.S., and what could be shaping up as the undoing of the self-destructive Brexit movement in the U.K.
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Equally intriguing to me are the parallels that were apparent in 2016, the year that deluded voters in Britain approved their country’s pullout from the European Union, by a margin of 72 percent (33.5 million out of 46.5 million registered voters).
That also was the year U.S. voters gave their approval for Donald Trump to dismantle our government and wreck decades of international relations, by a margin of 56 percent of votes in the Electoral College (306 out of 538 electoral college votes.)
We all know, of course, that Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to a graphic by The New York Times in December 2016, Trump’s 2016 result ranks No. 3 among the worst electoral performances in this country. Trump’s popular-vote loss by 2.1 percent compares fittingly with those of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 (who lost the popular vote by 3 percent) and John Quincy Adams in 1824 (who lost the popular vote by 10 percent).
Adams, it should be noted, actually was voted into office by the U.S. House of Representatives after no single candidate in the 1824 election managed to win a majority of electoral votes.
And despite Trump’s claims of a “landslide” Electoral College victory, the plain fact is that he is among the losingest presidents of all time in that category, too.
According to compilations by web-based analysts, Trump’s showing in the Electoral College ranks at No. 46 out of 58 quadrennial elections since the first one. That means that in 45 of those elections, the winning candidate won a larger share of the electoral vote than Trump did, including both victories of Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, and by other recent presidents who Trump hates, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, a Republican, also happened to win election in 2000 despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore.
In both the U.S. and the U.K., the 2016 electoral outcome was a frightening result of political desperation on the part of the electorate, along with a certain amount of delusion about what would happen if Trump were elected and Brexit were accomplished.
Here in the U.S., about a third of the voters were convinced that Trump would “drain the swamp,” as the national government in Washington was known to many, and somehow return the country to the halcyon times of the 1950s, when white men were the absolute rulers in just about every way while women and people of color knew their places and kept to them.
He has done no such thing, I think that much is clear, but instead he has managed to weaken our environmental protections at home, weaken the rule of law across our country, weaken our commitments to democracy and to our allies abroad, and generally has hewed to a course of running our government like one of his many failed business ventures.
In Britain, the Brexit vote was marred by the same kind of misrepresentation and delusional promises that brought Trump to the White House. The British electorate was fed a pack of lies about everything from immigration to jobs to the national economy, and they wanted the lies to be true so they simply accepted them and voted accordingly.
Now, of course, the truth is coming out, and Prime Minister Teresa May is in the unenviable position of trying to cobble together a deal that has no support in Parliament, no support in the halls of the EU, and apparently scant support among the voters.
More and more talk is now heard from Britain about the need for a second Brexit vote, but this time without all the wishful thinking.
Wish we could to the same thing here, without waiting for 2020, but that ain’t gonna happen.
Instead, we are stuck with the prospect of a field of Democrat hopefuls that at this point seems poised to numerically outdo the field of Republican presidential wannabes back in 2016, which at the time was viewed as a somewhat horrific record.
The recent 2018 midterm elections left us with some hope that Trump will be a one-term president, and that we can get our country back without having to resort to armed insurrection or some other, equally unpalatable techniques.
But we must pay very close attention to what is said and what is done by candidates of all stripes over the coming months to ensure that we won’t get fooled again.
Because, as more than one great man has told us in the past, if we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.
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