November 8th, 2016

When it comes to trusting politicians, don't go with your gut

    In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that Americans' trust in our government is dismally low, with only 19 percent of respondents saying they trust our leaders all or most of the time. A year later, it's hard to imagine things are looking much better. With less than a week to go to before Election Day and dirt on the candidates piling up at lightning speed, whom should voters trust, and how can we reverse such widespread cynicism?

    Most political marketing revolves around trying to erase trust and confidence in one's opponent. Thus, Donald Trump tries to paint Hillary Clinton as "lying Hillary" and Clinton suggests that if Trump can be "baited by a tweet," he should not be anywhere near nuclear codes. In each case, both candidates seek to make the other seem unreliable.

How to Rig an Election

    It’s almost over. Will we heave a sigh of relief, or shriek in horror? Nobody knows for sure, although early indications clearly lean Clinton. Whatever happens, however, let’s be clear: this was, in fact, a rigged election.

    The election was rigged by state governments that did all they could to prevent nonwhite Americans from voting: The spirit of Jim Crow is very much alive — or maybe translate that to Diego Cuervo, now that Latinos have joined African-Americans as targets. Voter ID laws, rationalized by demonstrably fake concerns about election fraud, were used to disenfranchise thousands; others were discouraged by a systematic effort to make voting hard, by closing polling places in areas with large minority populations.

    The election was rigged by Russian intelligence, which was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails, which WikiLeaks then released with great fanfare. Nothing truly scandalous emerged, but the Russians judged, correctly, that the news media would hype the revelation that major party figures are human beings, and that politicians engage in politics, as somehow damning.

For Kenyans who survived post-election violence, US race feels like déjà vu

    A firebrand populist positions himself as the savior of a marginalized segment of the electorate. He whips his supporters into a frenzy, implying that a loss at the polls would mean the destruction of democracy itself. Then he rejects the outcome of the election as rigged and acts surprised when some of his supporters resort to violence.

    Could the story of Kenya's disputed 2007 vote, which ignited a bloody melee that left more than 1,000 people dead, be a harbinger of America's future on Election Day? The parallels are clear enough to have inspired a trending hashtag: #RailaAnotherTrump is a jab at Raila Odinga, who ran for president in 2007 and is still the leader of the political opposition. But it's American voters who may find it the most painful to read.

    "Raila and Trump, the presidential candidates who believe the media is rigged and elections will be rigged too," writes one Twitter user.

    "Trump inciting his poor & uneducated whites to bring fracas if he dose (sic) not win, just like Raila does with his minions!" writes another.

The Post-Truth Presidency

    We can say with absolute certainty that the Chicago Cubs ended a 108-year spell of futility and won the World Series. The Curse of the Billy Goat is dead. We also know with absolute certainty that on the dawn following the last out, the sun rose over Chicago, my dad’s hometown, at 7:26 a.m.

    But with nearly everything else, we choose to believe what we want. Segregation lives. Reality no longer bites — it sorts. This coming Election Day, separate theaters for red and blue voters will open so that viewers can get their political news inside the comfort of their own fact bubbles.

    Of all the concerns facing a Madam President, governing in a post-truth environment may be the biggest challenge. Perhaps a third of American adults now believe a few Big Lies. And those Big Lies may be nearly impossible to dislodge, because in the course of this awful election, even fact-checking became suspect.

Voting machines aren't rigged, but they are flawed

    Interference by hackers is just one of the nightmare scenarios that worry computer scientists about the upcoming election. The other is a race so close that calling the result is beyond the capacity of today's voting technology.

    Experts who've delved into the accuracy of these apparatuses -- from punch cards and mechanical levers to electronic voting machines -- say that no system is perfect. In most cases the error rates are unknown, or are only measured in artificial test settings and not as they would be used in the real world.

    Computer scientist Douglas Jones of the University of Iowa, who co-authored the book "Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?," came to realize that voters usually blame themselves when something goes wrong in the voting booth -- a tendency that could mask intentional hacking or equipment error. When Jones set up experiments with electronic voting machines rigged to switch votes away from the subjects' choices, the people casting ballots assumed they had done something wrong. "People tend to trust the machines," he said -- even when the machines don't work.

Even if Trump loses, the 'Populist International' wins

    They share ideas and ideology, friends and funders. They cross borders to appear at one another's rallies. They have deep contacts in Russia - they often use Russian disinformation - as well as friends in other authoritarian states. They despise the West and seek to undermine Western institutions. They think of themselves as a revolutionary avant-garde just like, once upon a time, the Communist International, or Comintern, the Soviet-backed organization that linked communist parties around Europe and the world.

    Now, of course, they are not Soviet-backed, and they are not communist. But this loose group of parties and politicians - Austria's Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the UK Independence Party, Hungary's Fidesz, Poland's Law and Justice, Donald Trump - have made themselves into a global movement of "anti-globalists." Meet the "Populist International": Whoever wins the U.S. election Tuesday, its influence is here to stay.

Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. So do his supporters.

    During five years of research in southwest Louisiana for my book "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right," I came to know many white, older tea party enthusiasts. Nearly all now support Donald Trump.

    It was because of his penchant for conspiracies, not in spite of it.

    Many of the people I met lived in a busy rumor-sphere. One woman told me of a fellow churchgoer who believes the federal government mandated compact fluorescent lightbulbs because the light makes us easier to control. "Personally, I don't believe that," she added, "but about [President] Obama being born outside the U.S., everyone I know believes that." When I asked another woman what she thought about Obama's birthplace, after the long-form birth certificate appeared proving his American citizenry, she shifted the topic: "Yes but why was his father forced to leave Harvard for Kenya?" as if shuffling beliefs around to guard space in her mind for doubt.

Republicans are now vowing Total War. And the consequences could be immense.

    The election is just days away, and something truly frightening is happening, something with far-reaching implications for the immediate future of American politics. Republicans, led by Donald Trump but by no means limited to him, are engaging in kind of termite-level assault on American democracy, one that looks on the surface as though it's just aimed at Hillary Clinton, but in fact is undermining our entire system.

    I know, my conservative friends will say that this kind of talk is just fear-mongering and exaggeration. But there is something deeply troubling happening right now, and it goes beyond the ordinary trading of blows in a campaign season. Consider these recent developments:

Think your vote doesn't count? Then why are people trying to suppress it?

    I find myself in a troubling space, concerned about young people's apathy in voting. College students and young people within my circle of family and friends don't like either candidate and have decided that their votes do not count. As a scholar of African American and U.S. religious history I am compelled to reflect on the politics of voting throughout history and pose these questions to young people considering staying home Tuesday.

    If your vote did not count why would politicians try to suppress it? Why would stakeholders and legislatures nationwide introduce policies to make it difficult for your voice to be heard by the casting of your ballot?

    And why would states across the country, from the period of American slavery to present, pass measures to make it harder for U.S. citizens -- particularly black people, women, the elderly, students and people with disabilities -- to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot? Why, in the early founding of this nation, would only property-owning, white men be allowed to vote?

Clinton needs to learn from her mistakes

    Hillary Clinton's top priority, if she is elected president, shouldn't be enacting an infrastructure plan or pushing immigration reform. It should be -- must be, if she is to succeed on any substantive front -- to combat her own worst instincts.

    To be clear, I desperately want to see Clinton elected, not only because the alternative is Donald Trump and not only because it is time for a woman in the White House. Clinton has the experience, intelligence, skill and discipline to be an excellent president.

    But she has also repeatedly displayed tendencies, overlapping and toxically reinforcing, that could undermine all those positive attributes:

    To believe -- correctly, in my view -- that she is the victim of an implacable political opposition, and to respond by hunkering down and lashing out.

    To believe -- again, correctly -- that she is being held to different, higher standards than others, and, rather than accepting this unpleasant reality and adjusting her behavior accordingly, to rail against it on the theory that nothing she does will ever satisfy the critics.