An American Voting Model: Bernie or Stability
I believe that each American needs to figure out for themselves who to support in the 2020 election and subsequent elections. This piece is not an issuance of moral backing for any candidate. In 2016, I was very outspoken about my principled opposition to Donald Trump. It was my opinion and continues to be my opinion that a vote is an expression of the balance between personal character and national strategy. The opinions that I claim are not a judgment on how others make their decisions. As you read through this piece, I ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt. I have attempted to remove statements on policy issues. My actual opinions on policy are very likely to surprise readers and I am not on the payroll of any campaign. I write for a mature reader; this means that if you disagree with me, make sure it is for the right reasons. That being said, I won’t complain about mindless praise (especially from my students). In all seriousness though, I hope you enjoy it.
Many citizens are unsure of the decision model they use to decide how to vote. From my experience, individuals typically choose between a few different decision models. Some people prioritize a single issue like abortion or gun rights. Many have developed a pathology as to why the overlapping makeup of party policies are all correct; this seems to be a combination of tribalistic blindness and demonization of a rival strawman. Others mark their decision making simply by familial affiliation; “I’m a Republicrat because my parents are Republicrats.” Still, there are some who vote a certain way because of the signaling rhetoric of one side or another.
This model is growing in popularity. On one side, the “woke.” On the other hand, the “politically incorrect.” Many of my friends look at these issues like children gazing at clouds. On Warren, one child sees an anti-racist, the other sees a panderer. Of Trump, one child sees a man willing to say what everyone is thinking, the other says no one should think like that.
What cannot be denied is that the demos has been and continues to be polarizing. There are many reasons this is true. It’s mostly due, in my opinion, to changes in communications technology that incentivize fringe elements to be more expressive on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. These fringe elements have guided the left to “woke” socialism and the right to brazen leader worship.
The 2016 Disengagement Model
In 2016, the model I used to determine for whom I would vote was quite simple. The purpose of my vote was to select the candidate who I thought would best lead to a depolarization of the country. I figured that a strong indicator of depolarization potential would be to select a boring candidate. The candidate that would garner the least excitement from the public would be best. We would be drawn away from our three-letter “news” channels and focus more on who’s bringing the orange wedges to the soccer game or when the TPS reports were due. Yes, the presidency is exciting, but it shouldn't be more exciting than it has to be.
Political theorists have been attempting to address the question of political engagement for some time. While most theorists agree that access to the political infrastructure is important, there is reasonable disagreement on if actual participation is positive. Jason Brennan makes a compelling argument about whether the elites are better positioned to lead the body politic. Others such as Lijphart argue that issues such as a disparate turnout is an expression of inequality and hurtful to democracy. This 2016 model focused less on participation as an expression of ability to participate, but rather interest. The base thesis was that a functioning and understated administration should gain as little attention as possible allowing Americans to unite over culture.
The 2024 Model
In 2020 and 2024, my decision-making model is twofold:
Large scale depolarization within six years.
Promoting a sense of American Nationhood based on values.
America as a Nation is Historically Exclusive
Before I give my explanation, grant me the good faith of providing context.
When I ask my bright young university students here in the United States about the difference between a nation and a country, they seem perplexed. Not only my students, but Americans in general are confused. Throughout my international travels, especially in the Middle East, the difference is clear and known. The nation is an ethnolinguistic group. France is the home of the French Nation. The Arab Nation overlaps many countries like Jordan and Egypt. The Jewish Nation is at its home in Israel. In all of these places, the “nation” is distinguished by the homogeneity of discernible qualities.
The United States has a complicated history with access to nationhood. The lofty enlightenment philosophy of the forefathers plays into direct contradiction with American history and popular attitudes towards immigrant groups. Issues such as slavery, Jim Crow, Native American conflicts and legal exclusion display pronounced scars on the defined musculature of America. This is undeniable. Each generation struggles with its own issues of inclusion that honestly seem as silly as they are upsetting.
While the legacy struggle of Black Americans burns bright in our memory, many other groups’ challenges have been forgotten due to collective acceptance. Jewish, Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants have all faced legal and illegal discrimination over the course of American history. “BLANK need not apply” is a legacy that affected many individuals in these groups, including some who are alive today. That era of legal exclusion is essentially gone.
Each Generation’s Absurd Exclusion
The further we go back, the more minute the differences that warranted exclusion. Anti-Catholic attitudes abounded in the United States and before that, anti-Quaker attitudes. The Ku Klux Klan refused entry not only to Blacks, Gays, and Jews but also to White Catholics.
I say it's silly to show the pronounced absurdity of exclusion. Each successive American generation (even those presently deemed to be bigoted) looks back on previous generations with a sense of confusion. Even in group populations, these shifting standards are bewildering. Take the Jewish notion of the Landsman as an example. This term describes people who emigrated from the same village or small region. New Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries preferred their children to marry a Landsman. The next generation’s standards for acceptable marriage would include the entire country of origin. Where the first generation may demand their child marry an emigre from Byalistok, the next Jewish generation would insist that their child marry a Jew from Poland. The next generations may just demand that their children marry an Ashkenazi Jew. The generation my parents found themselves in was one where marrying a Jew from anywhere in the world was a priority, regardless of origin. So yes, the idea that my great-great-grandparents would potentially exclude matches for their children because they were not from the village of Byalistok is… silly.
This is the nature of exclusion in America. It gets worn down over time. The great scars of American history have been the result of having many nations competing for dominance in one land. From early in the history of our country, these divisions have been fading. The America of 2020 is not the America of 1920. We are in the long era of ethnolinguistic unification. The America of today can’t help, but to be inclusive. Even the KKK has had to adapt to a changing America. One Klan group in Montana is now accepting non-Whites and Gays.
It would be difficult to deny that the largest division of nations in America is race. The multiple nations of America have slowly been unifying through the passing of time and the commonplace of intermarriage. Some of these nations have had little difference to overcome. The children of European immigrants speak without accents and are (for the most part) without identifiable differences in garb. The American Mutt isn’t an insult, but rather the playful statement of absurdity that differences in national origin ever mattered. It seems that everyone is a pinch of this, a bissel of that.
We Are Entering an Era of Interracial America
As temporary distinctions like distinctive garb, accents, and language fade with the generations, the transition from nations to Nation starts to only reside in the most immutable characteristics, those of race.
Yes. It seems the idea of modern America is one that has been progressive in its approach to outgroup acceptance. Each generation incorporates a view of the American Nation that is less distinct in nature. In the 1840s, the image of the archetypal American was not going to include Blacks. The 1890s’ American image was no place for Asians. And judging from the previous paragraph, you might assume that there never would be an aracial America. The accent of German immigrants is not born to the next generation; melanin, on the other hand, is passed down.
However, survey and demographic data suggest that race is not as much of a segregation factor now as it once was. The concrete racial lines of America are blurring and the rate that race matters in America continues to decrease. Rates of intermarriage and mixed-raced children have increased among all parental demographic groups. In addition, the likelihood that parents will be apathetic towards their children’s choice of mate has also increased.
What makes the modern era unique is by just how much this passive acceptance has grown. Gallup polled Americans beginning in 1968, the year after Loving v Virginia, as to their personal opinion on marriage between Whites and non-Whites. 72% stated disapproval. The same polling in 2013 displayed 87% approval. This, in my humble opinion, is the most important and astronomical survey research done in the past decade. This shift in American opinion connotes not only a change in attitude toward mate selection, but a grand shift in attitudes toward total inclusion.
Marriage and familial formation is a far more intimate belonging system than employment. And opinion polling is a greater representation of cultural shifts than policy change. From policy change to attitude change to behavioral change (actual interracial marriage), a lag time exists. From 1967 to 2015, the percentage of newlywed interracial couples rose from 3% to 17%. That may not seem like a compelling amount, but the network effects of critical mass and recycled subjects suggest the rate will increase exponentially and not linearly. Other effects having to do with demographic diversity in population centers, suggest that the rate of daily overlap of individuals from multiple racial groups is more likely. In other words, if meeting a mate happens at church, bars, Tinder and at work, the increase in diversity at these locations raises the likelihood that the mate will be of a different race.
Embracing American Values with a Modern American Candidate
As interracial marriage becomes more common, American nations form into an American Nation. Contending with this notion will require a leader that is able to promote nationhood while appeasing populations capable of sabotage. We need a leader that focuses on the short term requirements for depolarization and the long term traditionalism of distinctly American ideals such as individuality, adventure, freedom, and patriotism.
The voting model we choose to enact has to uniquely focus on this reality. What is the set of decisions we can put in place with the greatest likelihood of ushering in such an American era? This model isn’t a golden algorithm, but rather a set of actions depending on the current state of affairs.
Confronting the Wobble, Embracing the Metagame
This section discusses the issues with wobble and metagame. The wobble is the back and forth of power shifts of the Socialist Left and Trumpist Right. The back and forth brings increasing polarization and instability. Instability can refer to an increase in mob violence and financial systems. This includes the markets where most Americans have invested their 401(k)s, pensions, and homes. Before a top falls, it wobbles.
The metagame, on the other hand, is the prolonged repetition of games where “winning” comes from game to game victories and the continuity of play. The likelihood of playing games over and over again is dependent on an acceptable win/loss ratio and fair play. I wouldn’t play 1000 games of basketball against Lebron James because getting defeated every time would create a sense of hopelessness. I also wouldn’t play basketball at all with a person who punched me in the face every time I had the ball; it just wouldn’t be fair.
We face a wobble with Bernie Sanders as a probable nominee for the Democratic Party. Whether or not you support Bernie’s policies does not change the instability of such an intense change in administration. To be obvious, few would contest the divisive nature of our current president, Donald Trump. The civil nature of the dialogue between politicians and pundits has been undercut by his 2016 campaign, many of his actions and much of his rhetoric in office. That being said, another four-year term would not reek as much damage as the initial election. In addition, would the reelection of Donald Trump create a new population of civic saboteurs? I think not. On the other hand, the election of Bernie Sanders likely would create a sabotaging backlash on the web, the Hill and the streets. Should Bernie get elected, not only is there likely to be an extreme economic downturn (instability), the script is likely to be flipped in regards to civic sabotage.
Living in the progressive stronghold of West Hartford, Connecticut, I have experienced over three years of catastrophization. Everyone from NPR to the local barista has seemed to be living in a day-to-day delusion of looming doom. Often, the critique of the president is legitimate, but much more often, conversation seems to devolve to conspiracy theories and apocalypse. Forget about sides for a moment. This has been blatantly unhealthy for everyone. I fear a reversal of attitude in regard to Republicans was disinformation, catastrophization and undue demonization about a possible President Sanders further delegitimizes the authority of government. Hasn’t enough damage been done?
If Donald Trump Loses in 2020, Expect a 2024 Run
Most importantly, another four-year term would not prevent a future vie for office. The defeat of Donald Trump in this election does not necessarily translate to a permanent defeat. He could and most likely would run again in 2024 if he loses in 2020. How much wobble can we stand? Off that, is another four years of Donald Trump more dangerous than a prolonged wobble?
Another four years of Donald Trump also avoids the quagmire of the breaking of democratic norms that could occur with Donald Trump as a one-term president. The reigns of power require a peaceful transition and like it or not, the president has a die-hard base and a willingness to violate norms. While a literal peaceful transition is likely no matter the election outcome, the transition has great potential for bitterness and even official challenge. How do we negotiate with a hostage-taker who is willing to kill the hostage?
We wait till their shift is over. I’m not going to try to rush the president out if it will lead to him violating norms and further degrade the country. President Trump’s 2016 win represents a fluke of the American demos brought on by the most unusual of circumstances. His continued support represents a mix between apotheosis by diehard supporters, compromising conservatives, a new minority of minorities and others’ fearful of social and economic norms promoted by American progressives.
One notion of this model is setting up a system that promotes the end of short term polarization with a realistic expectation that appeasement must be part of that model. Another four years of this current administration will allow for a fresh start; Democratic candidates in the next election will be able to arise without pure opposition to Donald Trump. The nature of any current candidate’s campaign, especially in the primary season, will alienate 2016 Trump supporters and cause contempt.
Some of the candidates of the 2016 election, are exactly the candidates that could help lead America into the direction of nationhood. Americans, Red, and Blue, are excited for new faces to help us into this new era as a Nation. In my following statements, I’m making less of a promotion of policy and more of leadership potential. Andrew Yang led a widely inclusive campaign. He minimized alienation of Trump supporters, minimized identity politics and expressed patriotism. Pete Buttigieg is probably the best long term option for the Democratic Party and possibly America. While he is currently limited to Trump supporter inclusion by a competitive primary season, he holds a certain number of characteristics that could give him great potential as a leader to unite an American Nation. Like Yang, voters get the view that he really loves America and his military experience is clearly honorable. His homosexuality will always be an issue for some voters, but his salvation is in his approach to others’ critique. While posturing is undeniable, his general approach is one of understanding. This was exemplified by his response to an Iowa primary voter who exhibited actual beliefs held by many Americans. Was Pete’s response carefully advised by those who consult on his image? Probably. That being said, Pete’s campaign staff acted as a surrogate with the poise that I believe Pete would ascribe to the presidency. If it wasn’t for Pete being in a committed marriage, he would remind me a lot of JFK.
Good options exist on the Republican side as well to usher in an era of the American Nation. The greatest option is by far Nikki Haley. Unlike Mayor Pete, she has a strong government record. Her stint as the governor of South Carolina was one of inclusion; she led the legal and respectful removal of the Confederate battle flag. She did this in response to the racist shooting by Dylann Roof at a Black Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In addition, her time as Ambassador to the United Nations gained her wide support from the Trump base. I find her immutable qualities less relevant than her prior posts in determining her ability to unify an American Nation. Being a woman will be helpful in her campaign, but that almost seems tangential.
The option for a bored citizenry went out the window midway through the 2016 election. Cruz, Sanders, Clinton, and Trump were and continue to be attention-worthy. What we have to ensure now is the long term sublimation of this attention. Let’s turn this attention into something positive and make way toward the new American Nation. This desire to form the American Nation has to be balanced with the concern for interpersonal contempt and political polarization. This means that the best option moving forward is removing the wobble and accepting the metagame.
Ari Zahav is a professor, writer, speaker and consultant. His areas of expertise are on governance, Middle Eastern conflict politics and communications technology. His travels, thoughts and work can be found on his website, AriZahav.com and social media platforms that he begrudgingly uses.
For media inquiries, speaking requests and consulting, please email Communications@AriZahav.com