A former colleague of mine who works with market research and opinion surveys identifies a group of people who don't vote because they have given up on American democracy. His observations explain a trend I have witnessed.
As the erstwhile keeper of party membership lists and voter records for a county party, I have been aware on a local level of what is a factor in the sharp decline of registered Democrats in South Dakota. Attrition is, of course, a factor. People die and move away. Of those who moved away. many just did not like the political or cultural climate of South Dakota. I was also aware that a number of people found politics so offensive and hopeless that they withdrew from participation.
That latter factor emerged in 2010 when I was involved in trying to recruit someone to run for the U.S. Senate against John Thune. The group I worked with identified some very qualified and capable people who all declined. A major reason given was that they all had families and did not want to expose them to the kind of campaign John Thune ran against Tom Daschle. An underlying reason is that a people defines itself by the kind of people it elects to represent them, and the election of Thune defined a kind of society that the potential candidates did not want to represent or even live in. The social and cultural character of a place is a determining factor in the kind of people it attracts or repulses.
That experience relates to a point that my former colleague made about a frequently cited poll question during the last election. The question asked the respondents if they thought America was on the right or the wrong track. Most people thought it was on the wrong track. The problem, my colleague points out, is that the polls did not further ask what was considered the wrong track. Republicans, he said, would opine that the Democratic presidency of Obama would be the wrong track. Democrats would opine that the obstruction of the Republicans in Congress indicate the wrong track. The news accounts did not dig into what the "wrong track" meant to the various respondents.
A further exploration of the motives behind the dissatisfaction would have revealed a segment of people who have given up on American politics. It would explain the Democrats who did not go to the polls and cast their votes for Hillary.
The former colleague said some preliminary focus groups he was aware of had people express the opinion that if Hillary won the election she would be faced by the same obstruction that Obama dealt with, only intensified. He said many conversations he had with knowledgeable friends and colleagues revealed the same kind of reasoning.
Hillary Clinton has been the subject of constant investigations ever since her husband took office. They include White Water, her husband's blow jobs, Travelgate, Benghazi, the personal e-mail server, and a multitude of others. Trump and the GOP promised during the campaign to intensify the investigations and seek criminal convictions against Hillary. No charges have every been substantiated through past investigations. In fact, some Republicans who participated in the investigations admitted no substance has been found to the accusations. Many people saw these threats in the context of the GOP obstruction of Obama.
Although Obama led the nation to a recovery from the Great Recession over the attempts of the Republicans to thwart it, many people do not feel they have been able to participate in the recovery. The GOP has tried to blame Obama. But the sluggishness of the recovery was the work of the Republicans. They voted against and did everything possible to thwart his recovery measures. While the recovery, nevertheless, progressed and corporations realized burgeoning profits, they refused to invest those profits in expansions that would create more jobs or in improving wages. The people were not left out of the recovery by negligence of Obama, but by the deliberate designs of the Republicans and their corporate cronies.
To many people who have bothered to track the facts of the recovery, GOP congress members and corporations have shown that they could not care less about the general welfare of the country. Their only interest is in maintaining power and thwarting any attempts of Democrats to facilitate benefits for the people. To those people, the GOP has successfully sabotaged American democracy and effectively ended the America which has strived to make manifest the ideals of its founding documents. The moral divide between Americans is permanent, because Americans have lost respect for each other and see no common ground upon which to base compromise.
TV anchor Joy Reid has stated the situation:
You’ve lost the morality card. No longer can the U.S. go around lecturing the world about democracy, because, in our democracy, the person who got the most votes will not be president Nor does the party that got the most vote control the House of Representatives. Again, we’re required to accept this affront to democracy, because that’s our system. But our acceptance doesn’t make it any less democratic.
You have also lost the notion of an exceptional America. Because as it turns out, We’re just another western nation into the ethno-national forces sweeping and swinging across Europe… We, as it turns out, are not so different at all.’
You have ratified Trump’s vulgarity, his crassness. You saw exactly who and what he was and you chose it. You are going to have to own that. If the incoming president makes you feel proud, I am very happy for you. But please don’t tell the people who are afraid that they have no right to be.My friend sees the protests against Trump's election as the beginning of a movement that will embrace the Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders supporters. It may, he says, be just the factor that can draw those who have given up on American democracy back into an active role. What do they have to lose? he asks.
He sees parallels to the kind of protest that convinced Lyndon Johnson not to run for the presidency in 1968. But he also sees more ominous aspects. He reports that some researchers he works with have seen a revival among extreme left wing groups that do not share the non-violent approach apparent in the protests so far. They have embraced the NRA meme that the Second Amendment is in place so that citizens may resist the government if it comes to take their liberty and their guns away. Only this group sees the government to be resisted as that of Donald Trump.
It will be difficult for a peaceful resistance not to be characterized by those who see a chance to foment a violent revolution. And those who have given up on American democracy will simply watch from the sidelines because they have no dog in the fight.