I started this post right after the election. But then school got in the way and I never had time to finish it. The election is getting to be a little while ago, though, so I thought I'd just put up what I have.
Here are some things I've been thinking about, in no particular order, since Donald Trump shocked everyone by defeating Hillary Clinton about three weeks ago.
- Like pretty much every other field, politics and journalism admit of an large and influential contingent of those who who believe that Big Data has changed everything. Best exemplified by the insane levels of enthusiasm for Nate Silver's 538 blog and others like it, this dynamic suggests that many have come to believe that the lessons of Moneyball can successfully be transported to the political realm. But this statistics-based approach got the election completely wrong: on the eve of the election, all of the polling, number-crunching sites of which I am aware estimated Clinton's chance of winning as at least 70 percent. (So far, the polling aggregators themselves are having a hard time acknowledging any serious problems with a method that predicted the wrong winner with a pretty high level of certainty.) The Clinton camp was supremely confident in a definite, but narrow, victory while the establishment continually mocked the Trump people for visiting the "wrong" states. I don't know if Trump and his staff had an insight that others lacked, or if the candidate's intuition and ego simply turned out to coincidentally be correct. But the fact is he got it right and everyone else got it wrong. I hope that this might help all of us put the polling and statistical models in a bit more modest place.
- We really need to abolish the electoral college. In two of the last five elections now, the winner of the popular vote has not won the presidency. I don't see anything to argue about here. Unfortunately, the chances of this happening are pretty low.
- But that does not mean that Trump is not the legitimate president. The rules for determining a victor are terrible rules, but they were clearly established. Everyone knew them going in to the election, and everyone designed their strategies accordingly. (When the Clinton people thought that Democrats enjoyed a "blue wall" of states and that Trump had virtually no conceivable "path to 270," they were not complaining about the injustice of the electoral college.) Nearly 4 million people have signed a petition to ask the electors to vote for the candidate who did not win in their particular state. Some Clinton supporters have taken to the slogan "not my president." Perhaps this is nothing more than an expression of emotional anguish at a difficult time. But to the extent that it has any content at all, this amounts to a secession of one. That kind of talk has never really led to anything productive in this country's history. "If the election doesn't go my way," it says, "then I do not have to accept its results." Taking my ball and going home is the height of childishness. Before the election, it was Trump making the idiotic suggestion that he might not accept its results. His opponents were up in arms, correctly suggesting that this seemed to imply treason or some sort of a coup. Finally, of course, refusing to accept a difficult fact simply does not make it any less true. Clinton dead-enders need to accept the new reality and move on.