Current Events

We Need a Landslide, Not Just a Win

If you’d told me when this election cycle started that I’d be silent for so long before one of the most momentous elections in decades, I’d have laughed. Yet here I am, having gone radio silent for more than six months. Why?

This election has broken my heart into a million pieces.

I started out open-minded, but it quickly became clear that Bernie Sanders would be my choice in the primaries. The GOP was an overflowing clown car of bigotry and nonsense, so none of them were ever really in the running. And though I admired Clinton’s tenacity and many of her accomplishments, I found more in common with Sanders’ progressive platform than her more centrist positions.

Sanders lost. We can quibble over whether there was interference from biased DNC leadership until we’re blue in the face, but he lost. That’s reality.

I was never a “Bernie or Bust” gal. Not only do I think it’s probably pretty counterproductive to take my ball and go home when my guy loses, but I’m a pragmatist beneath all the lofty language and idealistic notions. Given state laws about viable candidates, I knew that no amount of write-ins would ever get Sanders into the White House.

Sanders encouraged us all to whole-heartedly embrace Clinton, but I demurred. It wasn’t because I was, as some have suggested of former Berners, buying into right wing conspiracy theories. It wasn’t because I, as some have suggested of former Berners, have deep rooted issues with misogyny. It was because I took issue with how hawkish Clinton has been in the past and continues to be. Realistically, her track record depicts a woman far more aggressive than Obama, whose military policy I disagree with even if I admire many of his other qualities. And her track record was troubling. She was saying all the “right” things to strike a note with progressives, but this was a woman who had a more than tattered history when it came to race and robust, if typical, relationships with Wall Street.

So I looked for another option. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t delusional enough to believe that any third party candidate would topple Clinton or Trump, but in my mind, all I could think was that maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to send a message this year. We’d be able to grant Clinton her win, but by a slim margin, with the remainder of the vote split between Trump and third party candidates. Such a result would tell everyone that third parties were no joke. They were a force to be reckoned with, goddamit. And such a result might encourage more folks to run third party in the midterms and next presidential cycle. Such surges would be key to making third party candidacies legitimate on the federal level.

But the primary third party candidates were… less than impressive.

Gary Johnson talks a good talk and would probably be fun person with whom to share a blunt. In a perfect world, his ideas might work. But back here on planet earth, eliminating governmental regulation would result in mass discrimination of those in protected classes. That discrimination is barely held at bay as it is.

Jill Stein held more promise… until I took a closer look. As the mother of a daughter of a child on the autism spectrum, her pandering to anti-vaxxers turned my stomach. Though I appreciate some of her activism, her policies are broadly implausible. Her desire to bring political satirists to heel was the height of absurdity. She is incapable of leadership.

I found myself in a place where I was seriously planning on writing in my 8 year old daughter’s name for the presidency. It didn’t really matter, I rationalized. I live in Illinois. It’s a deep blue state. It’s not like my vote was going to give Trump an edge.

Still, over the past several months, my horror over a potential Trump candidacy has swelled. We knew he was a joke when he came down that escalator, but the joke turned cruel and twisted and the primary wins mounted and his rhetoric (and supporters) grew more and more violent.

He was racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic, misogynist, and dangerously incompetent. He was an unabashed sexual assailant. Even more terrifying? There were millions of people across the country who were cool with a man like him taking up the mantle of leader of the free world.

But, again, I was in a deep blue state. It didn’t matter if I didn’t vote for Clinton. She was going to get the electoral votes anyway. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. It became a mantra wearing thinner by the day.

Two nights ago, though, while perusing my Twitter feed, I came across a series of tweets from Feminista Jones that changed things for me. She’s a fearless activist who I have a lot of respect for, so her words were always going to pack more of a punch. But the way she framed the discussion about voting for Clinton just made sense.

 

 

Her point was simple: if you’re voting in a predominantly white nation, there is no such thing as a candidate who does not prop up a white supremacist system – yes, including President Obama. We can argue about who is least likely to do harm, but there cannot be a perfect candidate because every single candidate participates in systems of oppression.

Under a Trump presidency, there are so many other issues at stake, much of them rooted in vacancies on the Supreme Court. The lives of immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community quite literally hang in the balance. With him at the helm, we are one Twitter spat away from another war. And this man is intractable. He can be confronted with video of him saying something, and insist it never happened.

At a bare minimum, Clinton is susceptible to public pressure. That alone should put her ahead of this man.

This is about more than policy, though. It’s about who we are as a people. I don’t want to believe that our country is so cruel and mindless that Trump would actually be elected president. It’s given both me and my daughter actual nightmares. I cannot even fathom what it must be like for others more directly targeted by Trump’s vitriol.

To be clear: I still think he’s going to lose. But I am no longer content to see Clinton win by a small margin. That will only embolden the trash Trump brought out of the woodwork.

I want to see a full-throated repudiation of Trump and all he stands for. I want to see the GOP lose in spectacular fashion, to see them shamed for their obstructionist, bigoted grandstanding. I want us to send a message to all future candidates and the rest of the world: he is not who we are. The American people are done with this nonsense.

So today I will take my daughter with me to vote for the first woman president in U.S. history. We will talk about the significance of this milestone. We will talk about how important it was to strike this blow today. And we will talk about the work ahead, because there is much to be done. It starts tomorrow.

But today, I’m with her. And I hope you are too.

Marina Lanina

We Did It For The Likes

“She got caught up in the likes,” he said.

We all know that sentiment in some capacity or another: the ego boost of a well received profile picture, the righteousness of an applauded political sentiment, the satisfaction derived from giggles surrounding a clever meme.

But that’s not how Marina Lonina got her social high back in February. No, she got that buzz from broadcasting the rape of her friend on the social platform Periscope. As the New York Times reports:

The teenager, Marina Lonina, 18, faces a spate of charges as severe as those facing the accused attacker, Raymond Gates, 29. Both have been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and pandering sexual matter involving a minor.

[…]

On the evening of Feb. 27, all three were gathered at a residence in Columbus where Mr. Gates pinned the 17-year-old down and raped her as Ms. Lonina used Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, to live-stream the attack, the authorities said.

A friend of Ms. Lonina’s in another state saw the video and contacted the authorities.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty on Friday.

The defense is arguing that Marina is just as much a victim as her friend. She’s only 18 years old, after all. He was ten years their senior, after all. He had plied them with vodka, after all. And as she told the police, she was simply trying to preserve evidence.

Bullshit.

Was Marina herself being exploited by an older man? Arguably yes. But was she an innocent bystander as her boyfriend raped someone she called a friend? Not remotely.

You don’t live stream an assault to stop it. You have a phone that’s capable of live streaming in your possession? Good. Then you’re probably also in possession of a phone capable of calling 911 or texting someone in search of immediate help. You don’t broadcast the assault to an audience in no position to intervene. It took the actions of someone in another state for the authorities to become involved. That the police were eventually contacted doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the young girl being raped at that moment. It didn’t stop a thing.

Is the recording now being used as evidence against the assailant? Yes. And in a world where rapists are rarely convicted, that’s a potential silver lining here. But if you have a phone that’s capable of live streaming, you also have a phone that’s capable of collecting such evidence without broadcasting it for public consumption. It is, believe it or not, entirely possible to record something without sharing it with the world. To be fair, her SD card could have been full from all the nude photos she’d snapped of her vulnerable friend the night before. Was that about evidence, too?

Marina wasn’t trying to stop the rape. She wasn’t trying to collect evidence. She did it for the likes.

There is no denying that social media has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, shrinking the world through connection and information dissemination. It can educate and inspire and entertain. It can provide support and solace. When used by a collective, it has the power to do a lot of good, as evidenced by associated movements like #BlackLivesMatter.

But in the never ending quest for attention, it can also be a dangerous drug. Marina is just one very obvious cautionary tale.

Too often, we become obsessed with projecting the “right” image, losing ourselves in the process, losing sight of our self-worth along the way. We do it for the likes.

So frequently, we bypass meaningful conversation on important topics, leaning on one liners and gifs and emoji, losing an opportunity for understanding, losing hope that things can improve. We do it for the likes.

More and more, we collectively shrug at the offensive and ignorant and vile, clicking hide and unfollow instead of calling it out, losing our shot at making the world a better place, losing our chance to do our part. We just can’t sacrifice those likes.

I get it. I’m guilty of it too. It’s a one-click affirmation world. We’re just living in it. And we’re not like Marina, so it’s all good. Right?

But listen: even if you believe Marina was trying to stop the assault, even if you applaud her attempt to gather proof of the attack for an eventual prosecution, you cannot ignore the power of the almighty like in this story. You cannot look past the views and the hearts and the chats that frame this crime. So even if you’re uninterested in discussing Marina’s culpability, let’s talk for a minute about our own, because maybe, just maybe, we’ve been doing it for the likes for so long that we’re missing the forest for the trees.

Face facts. A young woman’s assault was turned into a social experience with an eager audience. A video of a young girl begging the man on top of her to stop and crying out in pain still might not be enough to convict her rapist. It’s an ugly reality, an ugly world. But none of this should surprise you.

After all, it’s a world where our fond memories of a television character outweigh the voices of dozens of women.

It’s a world where our admiration of an athlete’s performance has us dismissing the pain they inflicted.

It’s a world where our love of a man’s musical contributions has us propping up conspiracy theories so we don’t have to face the suffering they’ve created.

It’s a world where our religious institutions are fighting legal reform that would offer justice to traumatized victims because they know it will hurt the Church.

It’s a world where our partisan priorities have given way to a leading presidential candidate who can openly degrade women and still soar in the polls.

It’s a world where our cultural icons advance the idea that young women should be taught to assume their attire, their bodies, and their existence is to blame for the criminal behavior of helpless men.

It’s a world where our media uses sex and rape interchangeably while discussing allegations of assault.

It’s a world where any attempt to discuss these problems, to really expose the depth and breadth of rape culture in our society, is met with derision and laments of political correctness run amok.

Though the headlines might be fresh, none of this is really new. It is, however, made more dangerous by the connective power of modern technology and how we use it. In this sense, Marina was inevitable: the product of a digital era desperate for validation and comfortable with the normalization of sexual violence.

It’s our world. We created it. We live in it. We consume and deflect and accept and tolerate and laugh and promote and share and retweet and reblog and like and like and like and then act surprised when Marina is more interested in entertaining a perverse audience than the safety of her friend.

She did it for the likes. But from where I’m sitting, there’s not much likable about the world in which she did.

Iowa.flag_

Breaking Down Iowa: Your Guide to Tonight’s Presidential Caucuses

 

This is it folks. Today marks the kickoff of the glorious political playoffs that come around every four years, and I’m nerding out in a big way. But it’s not just because the primaries are starting; it’s because today’s results have so many important and fascinating dynamics that it’s impossible not to geek out over. Let’s break it down.

Setting the Scene

For starters, the political process unfolding in Iowa is distinctive. Iowans aren’t going to be filing in and out of polling stations across the state all day. Instead, declared party members will gather in precincts across Iowa at 7PM CST and talk about the candidates. Once supporters have made the case for their candidate of choice, participants will separate into groups based on which candidate they back. If one of the candidates fails to garner support from at least 15% of the participants, those who supported them will re-sort themselves into the other candidates’ groups. Once the dust settles, those caucusing will elect delegates to represent their selections. Those numbers are then tallied, and we get the results of the Iowa caucuses.

Caucus

Obviously, the main result we’re waiting for is who wins, but winning Iowa doesn’t guarantee a damn thing. Remember when Santorum won in 2012? Or Huckabee in 2008? Remember that time in 1992 when Bill Clinton only garnered 3% of the vote in Iowa? Today’s results will not be a crystal ball telling us who’s going to be crowned at the conventions this summer, nor who will be inaugurated next January. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they will.

But when you look at who wins, and by how much, and by whom, and relative to whom, Iowa matters in so many ways. The best way to understand this is by looking and what’s happening with each party.

State of the Republican Field

The GOP and Iowa are in an interesting position right now. With so many players vying for votes, many of the traditional election dynamics seen in past cycles are out the window. There’s more than one way to win and more than one way to lose this year.

The first person to look at is Trump. He’s held the lead for weeks and leads heavily among those who would be first time caucus goers. A win is expected, with Nate Silver saying he’s got a 46% chance of coming out on top — significant odds given the number of candidates competing.

Trump and Falwell

Right behind him is Cruz, who has tried desperately to paint himself as the religious, far right candidate of choice for Republicans in this cycle. That narrative took a hit when Jerry Falwell Jr. and Sarah Palin endorsed Trump, but Cruz has taken that disappointment and pumped it into an aggressive ground game. Though he trails behind prior Iowa champs Santorum and Huckabee in the number of events he’s done in the state, today he will be completing what’s known as the “Full Grassley” — an attempt to get up close and personal with voters in all 99 Iowa counties.

Senator Cruz and Senator Grassley

Cruz and Trump are within five points of each other, with Marco Rubio coming in ten points behind Cruz in the latest poll by the Des Moines Register — often regarded as a solid predictor of the caucuses’ outcome. Carson trails with only 10% and Rand Paul rounds out the top five with a mere 5%.  Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and John Kasich are all floundering below in single digits.

What happens if these polls accurately reflect the outcome at the end of the night? The answer is different for each side of the spectrum.

Though a huge loss in Iowa might have prompted candidates to drop out in past election cycles, those at the bottom of the list now are unlikely to do so. With so many candidates duking it out and money flying around wildly as influencers try to place their bets in what’s proven to be a very volatile electoral season, there’s just not a big incentive to pull out.

This is particularly true for five candidates. Santorum and Huckabee are well known for staying in races far past their expiration date. Paul is hoping that his ground game with younger voters will surprise people in a fashion similar to the Sanders surge. Kasich is hoping that all the candidates trying to out-conservative each other will leave him as the last reasonable (hah!) man standing. Bush has a war chest so big and backers with pockets so deep that Iowa won’t be enough to push him out.

In other words, a lot of the candidates are thinking that in a campaign this wild and unruly, you might as well stick around and see what happens. There are three candidates, however, who might consider dropping out if they crash in Iowa.

The first is Fiorina. Despite surging in popularity during early Republican debates, she has since plummeted in the polls to the point of near obscurity. If she’s really the shrewd business woman she says she is, she has to know the writing’s on the wall, especially if Iowa goes the way it’s looking like it will.

The second is Christie. He’s doing better than Fiorina in most polls, and has shown up in a big way in recent GOP debates, but no matter how many shining moments he accumulates, he can’t seem to pull ahead. Though his stated policies are extreme, his record is at least somewhat pragmatic. He makes decisions that make sense for his own survival. A poor showing in Iowa may cause those survival instincts to kick in, making him realize it’s time to bow out.

The last is Carson. Yes, he’s polling in the top 5 right now, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. His fundraising momentum is dwindling. The supporters that do back him aren’t what you’d call enthusiastic. He’s had a rough couple months, being criticized by his own advisers for being clueless about foreign policy and faced a staff exodus in December. If he gets beaten by margins even wider than what the current polls show, he could be done for.

Speaking of margins, when you look at the top of the spectrum, that’s what may matter most. While Trump is predicted to win, the amount by which he wins could play a substantial role in the money given to Rubio or Cruz in the coming weeks and months. It could also significantly influence who gets endorsed by candidates exiting the field. Those margins will send a message, however flimsy the backing may be, about who is best positioned to beat Trump — one of the driving concerns of establishment Republicans. At this point, they’re just hoping it’s not Cruz. Rubio seems to be the trending pick, quite the upset for the prior heir apparent, Bush. Tonight will decide if that trend continues.

rubio

In interviews today, Rubio has come off as quietly stoic, as though he’s not expecting to win, and that’s probably pretty fair. Cruz, on the other hand, is fighting hard, and if his efforts are successful, he may deal one helluva blow to Trump. Though Trump has been really good at drumming up excitement, one of the concerns has been that he doesn’t understand the ground game or the mechanics of a solid campaign. If Cruz wins, it will be because he knows how to play and played well, which would add steam to the narrative that Trump is a caricature and not a candidate. In the end, this is about turnout for both Trump and Cruz, with the central question being what works better: hype or hoofing?

Turnout in general will be interesting to watch for Republicans, who have historically turned out in smaller numbers than Democrats to caucus in Iowa. The heat associated with this electoral season could bring out many more voters to caucus than ever before, which could have larger implications for the general election, where turnout will likely be a deciding factor in which party gets the presidency.

Even more interesting will be the demographics of those voters and the ways in which they align. The party is frequently seen as being what Rand Paul has referred to as, “lily white.” Will more minorities show up? What will the age split be? Who will these different segments of the population support? The answers to these questions may be extrapolated to implicate the size and scope of the base for upcoming primaries and the general, and shift electability conversations surrounding the candidates that stay in the game.

Perhaps the most important demographic for the GOP at this moment is the Religious Right. The conservative faithful have been a force to be reckoned with since the days of segregation, and in the past, they’ve backed the most religious candidates in the field; Santorum and Huckabee’s wins, for instance, are largely credited to the evangelical pull in Iowa. But in this election, Trump — despite having a religious message that can be described as discombobulated at best — is polling very well with religious conservatives. If they back him as substantially as the polls indicate, this may be a wake-up call for campaigns like Cruz’s who have been banging the Bible in hopes of waking voters.

State of the Democratic Field

The Democratic field, on the surface, may seem downright dull in comparison to the circus unfolding on the right. But it might be more accurate to say that the competition is more about depth than breadth. There are technically three candidates in the ring, but O’Malley is so, so, so far out of the realm of possibilities that I’m not even going to go there.

The Des Moines Register poll speaks to a two horse race between Clinton and Sanders, with Clinton holding a 3% lead over Sanders. Other polls, like the Quinnipiac poll, have Sanders in the lead, but there’s one thing that’s consistent across all of the polls: Sanders and Clinton are within the margin of error of each other. That’s how close this thing is.

On paper, the two candidates don’t have a lot of differences. Indeed, it’s unlikely that concrete issues will determine how the vote swings this evening. Instead, it’s likely to be sentiment regarding which candidate can be trusted to get things done.

Clinton may seem to have the advantage here. She fought ferociously on health care as First Lady, served in the Senate, and though she lost her presidential bid in 2008 to Barack Obama, she did end up as Secretary of State. It’s an accomplished resume, to be sure. Speaking last night in Iowa, her passion was the highest we’ve seen from her on the campaign trail yet.

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The Sanders resume isn’t light either, though. He was a civil rights activist in his youth, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and actually getting arrested in Chicago for opposing segregation. He served as Mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989, then in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007, and then headed to the Senate in 2007 where he’s been ever since.

Though the Clinton campaign has insisted experience is the central question in the election, that’s really not the case in fact or sentiment. What it comes down to are the impressions generated by their experience.

Clinton is dogged with questions regarding her trustworthiness. Most Democrats roll their eyes at the theatrics of the Benghazi investigations, but the subsequent email scandal may have teeth, not necessarily because she used a personal email address, but because she may have been giving favor to influencers who contributed to the Clinton Foundation. Others feel uneasy about her ties to Wall Street and the Washington elite. Still others have a bad taste in their mouth from her husband’s tenure; one of the more slimy comments passed around is that she stayed with her husband out of political convenience.

Sanders, on the other hand, is often derided for being too extreme. A self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, he is aggressively progressive, and has often alienated potential allies by being a vocal critic of both parties. His campaign has him looking a lot like Howard Beale in Network, with his supporters hanging out their social media windows to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Sanders

The Clinton campaign has seized on this trend, saying this election comes down to evolution or revolution. Brass tacks? Clinton contends that a more centrist approach of building upon the successes we’ve already won is the only path forward in such a polarized political environment. Sanders argues that while those successes have been positive, they form an unsteady foundation, and the challenges we face today require a far bolder approach than the one Clinton is willing to embrace.

Sanders says he can change things, Hillary says he can’t. But that’s why Iowa matters so very much for the Democrats. The turnout demographics will help answer who’s right on this question.

While Sanders and Clinton are neck and neck among Democrats in general, Sanders is miles ahead among Millennial voters. Most recent Millennial polling with Reuters shows a gap that’s swung from a virtual tie at the beginning of 2016 to Sanders dominating Clinton at the end of January.

Millennial lead

Convention electoral wisdom would indicate this doesn’t matter, because younger voters tend not to vote, especially not in primaries and particularly not in a caucus setting. This assumption would appear to be validated by polls conducted in the past couple of years showing how “apathetic” Millennials are.

The Sanders campaign is premised on the the idea that it’s more complicated than all that. It’s not that Millennials don’t care about the issues; indeed, their social behavior demonstrates intense concern about issues like LGBT rights, abortion, healthcare, and the economy. The problem has been that there hasn’t been a candidate who they felt adequately reflected their values, so they haven’t been very excited about the political process. Sanders, with his intensely progressive campaign, is aiming to change that, and betting that if they can get Millennials to vote, they can help usher in a more progressive Congress to advance his more progressive agenda.

IF Millennials show up tonight in Iowa to give Sanders the win, it says a lot about what’s coming down the pike. It would demonstrate that Millennials are more engaged than conventional political wisdom would suggest, which weighs heavily in Sanders’ favor, not only in terms of primary results, but in terms of drumming up support among more establishment Democrats. It sends them the message that they don’t need to run from progressive ideals to win. Plus, if he can bring out Millennials, he’s not only suddenly electable; he also has the ability to bring some serious heat for down ticket election Democrats. To be fair, if Millennials show up in lower numbers but Sanders still wins, the news is less likely to spark that revolution he’s hoping for, but it will still speak to his competitiveness. Tonight is incredibly important for Sanders.

In either case, Clinton can’t afford to lose. Her trajectory up to now is already mirroring what happened in 2008. For her to be beat by another upstart of sorts right out of the gates despite the massive power of the Clinton machine behind her would be devastating, especially since it appears that New Hampshire is already out of reach for her. If Millennials pour in and show Sanders love, it would echo something made clear in Clinton’s loss to Obama: she’s not great at youth outreach, and never has been. It’s almost worse if Millennials don’t show up and she loses, though, because that shows she doesn’t even have a firm grip on a base that many assumed would be handing her a coronation.

And here’s the other thing: even if Clinton wins, she may still lose. If the margin of victory is as small as it’s likely to be if she wins, it’s still an embarrassment. She’s got better infrastructure and bottomless pockets behind her, and somehow the political equivalent of an old man yelling at people to get off of his financial lawn is within striking distance of her? The optics aren’t great. The best case scenario would be her coming away with a decisive win, but that’s incredibly unlikely, so she’s got to hope she at least eeks it out. If she can do that, slim the gap between her and Sanders in New Hampshire, and capture the minority vote in Nevada and South Carolina, she may just come out on top.

But taking a step back here, let’s be fair. While momentum out of Iowa could certainly change things, Sanders still faces an uphill battle. A victory would counter the narrative that he’s unelectable or would cost the Democrats if nominated, but Clinton still has a lot of support and is widely seen as the most likely nominee. For him to get the nomination, the reaction to Iowa has to be substantial.

The Third Party Voter: Weather

To caucus in Iowa, you have to declare a party, but Mother Nature doesn’t play by the rules. Snow is in the forecast for this evening, and though most think it shouldn’t hit until after the caucuses have wrapped up, fear of a storm may keep some voters away. It’s anyone’s guess who that impacts most. On one hand, you could say that inclement weather would keep people who are not dedicated participants in the system at home. On the other hand, you could say that first time participants are so fired up that they’ll show up come hell or high water.

So there’s that.

Personally, I’m not willing to make any calls about what’s going to happen tonight except to say it’s going to be interesting, which, for someone like me, is as good as it gets.