Devil’s Advocate

August 14, 2017 Comics Comments (0) 946

(Click panels to embiggen. Get the comic in a single image here. Click here for more comics.)


I am, as has been stated many, many times elsewhere, personally a hard-liner on the First Amendment. Nazis do, unfortunately, have the same right to speech and assembly as everyone else, and that is as it should be. It is, as the saying goes, the high price of freedom — because any effort to legally stifle hate speech will inevitably be exploited to harm the people it seeks to protect.

However, there is a time and a place to argue for free speech. If you are the ACLU, maybe that time is “always.” If, however, you are a decent human being seeking to engage with other human beings on the Internet, the time to argue for free speech may not be the immediate aftermath of a Nazi rally that killed three people. Sometimes it’s good to say “Yeah, Nazis are bad.”

You may not sound like the greatest intellectual in the room, but you will also avoid sounding like a complete asshole.

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Republi-Con to the Rescue

July 27, 2017 Comics Comments (0) 1149

John McCain gets his turn in the Republican super-hero persona Republi-Con. The Press is very impressed.

(You can click here to get the whole comic as one image.)

More comics here.

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You are one person, and your brain can’t handle the whole world.

February 2, 2017 Featured, In The News Comments (1) 1273

As the resistance to President Trump approaches its third week, one of the most frequent comments I hear from protesters, in person and online, is how overwhelming this feels.

Every day there’s some new horrible thing — no, scratch that. Every day there are ten new horrible things to worry about and oppose, and the harder we fight on one front, the more likely it seems that something else will slip through the cracks.

It’s a lot. More, I think, than any human is really designed to handle. So even as you keep up the good fight, you need to be kind to yourself and know your limits.

Fieldstone Cottage

Doesn’t this look cozy and relaxing??

Humans are incredibly social animals. Our brains are pretty much entirely dedicated to social interaction, and for most of us the entire world exists in the social interactions with our peers and neighbors. Most of the incredible infrastructure and technology we’ve developed ultimately serves to further our social interactions, and there is no other animal, as far as I know, that will end its life because another of its species rejected it.

It’s important to recognize the power that has over us — and also to bear in mind that we are not evolved to have all the world’s problems delivered to us in real time, the way modern media makes possible. We’re evolved to have relatively small lives, focus on a finite number of family members and friends, and handle the occasional threat or crisis.

Think about humans a hundred and fifty years ago; most had no idea what was happening in the rest of the world. Even their newspaper was likely focused on local happenings, with a few stories of national interest. They hadn’t a clue what was happening in Mexico, let alone China or Pakistan or the Sudan.

Even just a couple of decades ago, most Americans got everything they knew about the world from the morning newspaper and the evening news. Yes, they knew more about the world, but it wasn’t a constant bombardment of push notifications and tweets and breaking news alerts.

Sure, we’re capable of more than that, but to care for yourself and protect your mental health, it helps to compartmentalize, and give your brain what it’s evolved for.

Find your little world, and focus on that.

Imagine for a moment that all your electronics vanished. Who and what would be left in the world around you? That’s the world your brain evolved for.

Take time, periodically, to focus on your family and friends. Get away from TV and Internet, set your smartphone aside. Play a board game, or a video game. Talk, face to face. Hug one another, take in sights and smells. Make memories.

For me, it helps to remember that even in the worst crises the world has ever known, people have found solace in their closest relationships: their family and friends. Don’t lose sight of that.

If you can, get out into the wilderness. A nature walk in your neighborhood is great, and very soothing. Even better is to get out into a remote part of the mountains or the forest, so far from civilization that you don’t even get phone signal. Camp out if you can. There’s a certain primal instinct that activates when you feel like it’s just you and the natural world. To me it’s almost like pressing the reset button on my brain. Nothing puts my life in perspective like a weekend deep in the woods.

Spend time with animals. If you don’t have pets, go to the zoo, or a farm. The crazy thing about animals is they have no idea all the big dramatic problems humans are stressing about. I worked at a zoo in 2001, and I very clearly remember taking a walk around the grounds on September 11 and realizing none of the animals had the slightest clue about the crushing shared trauma I felt. There was a certain peace in that.

My theory: Don’t get your news from a person on screen.

I don’t get any of my news from the television (or any video medium) and I recommend you follow that example. I have a theory that watching and hearing an actual human on screen tricks your brain into feeling like you have a relationship. You unconsciously pick up the emotions of the speaker, and that adds to your stress — it makes your world too big.

I don’t think the same thing happens when you read or listen to the radio or a podcast. Those things certainly stimulate emotional response, but I don’t think it triggers the same degree of social stimulation that TV does.

Mind you, I have no scientific research to back this up. It’s just my own pet theory.

I’m not saying don’t watch video — just don’t get your news that way. Video can be great for escapism, and when times get really stressful I like fun, frivolous entertainment. When I’m feeling stressed, I’m particularly fond of watching Hannah Hart’s My Drunk Kitchen on YouTube. Hannah’s fun and funny with just the right does of insight and perspective. She makes you feel like you’re friends — in a very good way, unlike your TV friends Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly, who are constantly freaking you out.

When I was in college, and dealing with crushing (undiagnosed) anxiety disorder, I found a TV show called “Acorn the Nature Nut” on Animal Planet. On each episode, an Edmontonian named John Acorn would explore the wildlife in his back yard, and talk about animals like slugs and tiger beatles. It was incredibly soothing — I can’t find any full episodes on YouTube, but you can watch the intro song if you’d like:

For you, maybe it’s episodes of Mister Rogers (another personal favorite) or Bob Ross, or a sporting event. Maybe it’s home movies.

The point is, as important as this fight is (and as much as you may feel like the world is burning down while your back is turned) it’s critically important that you focus on the small, immediate world in which you exist.

That’s what your brain is designed for. And you aren’t going to get very far without your brain.

Images from Wikimedia Commons

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Inside the Mind of the Alt-Right, the Internet’s Nihilist Nazis

February 2, 2017 Featured, Politics / Religion, Pop Culture Comments (4) 1645

A friend and I recently spent an hour or so dissecting the mind of the alt-right. Brian is a good workout buddy not only because he gets me to the gym, he also shows up with interesting topics.

This time around, he said he’d just had an epiphany: The members of the alt-right are frustrated pick-up artists whose misogyny fills them with hate.

In my experience this is pretty accurate, but I don’t think it’s quite that specific. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, pretty familiar with the alt-right. This is thanks to my early Internet adoption (when Usenet was one of the few interesting places), and several years of morbid fascination with 4chan.

My read is that young men (primarily) are led to the alt-right by a particular blend of toxic masculinity, animal instinct, and frustrated entitlement. Members of the alt-right are struggling with the very feelings of powerlessness and disillusionment they project onto left-wing “snowflakes.” It’s their chosen solution, a performative embrace of cultural talismans of power, that makes them pawns of fascism.

It all starts with the rules.

Let’s back up. First, what’s the profile of your typical alt-right troll?

Male. White. Intelligent, but not TOO intelligent. Just a bit above average. Young — usually not older than 30, and often too young to drive. Tech savvy; gamers and programmers are over-represented. This may be a product of the alt-right’s primary recruiting channels (4chan, Usenet, and Reddit) or it may be something deeper. Notably, I do not believe sexual orientation plays a prominent role — in my non-scientific observation, there are just as many queers inside the alt-right as outside.

There are certainly exceptions to this profile. There are certainly women, older men, and people of color inside the alt-right, but they are far less common, and I believe them mostly outliers. In my theory they are drawn into a community created by angry white men, motivated by a sense of tribalism and a desire to belong.

As an intelligent white male who generally understands how systems work, your future alt-right member grows up feeling like the world should pretty much give him what he wants. They regard themselves as masters of the world, in a way. They know the rules, they understand how things work. My theory here is that programmers are especially prone because they’re especially rule-oriented. They write code, which dictates how the world operates today.

This is where stuff like “Seduction” arises. If you regard the real world as a sort of Matrix with underlying program you can manipulate, then it stands to reason there are cheat codes for stuff like social interaction and sex. A peacock, three negs, then going caveman should unlock the next level as surely as the Konami code.

When it doesn’t — when knowing the rules doesn’t pay off the way it should, in love or money or fame, and our future alt-right member feels he isn’t getting what the world owes him, the result is a powerful cognitive dissonance, frustration, and anger.

The alt-right is about performance, not belief.

Clearly, none of this functions without a baseline of toxic masculinity. But toxic masculinity in itself does not forge the alt-right; most, if not all men in the United States grow up with toxic masculinity. The path to the alt-right, like the path to the Dark Side, originates with how one handles that cognitive dissonance.

The alt-righter’s response is to blame the rules. Maybe they decide their failures stem from cultural bias in favor of women and people of color; maybe it’s just that the rules are inconsistent and unfair. One way or another, they decide they will no longer obey those rules. They are above the rules, outside of them. They’ve taken the red pill; they can see the Matrix.

This is why a key aspect of the alt-right is the performative aspect. It’s not sufficient to sit at home and quietly hold alt-right beliefs, or even to join like-minded conversations on Internet forums. No, to truly embrace the alt-right, one must troll social networks and confront strangers. With your pepe avatar and a ready arsenal of memes, you unload racist invective and display your lack of empathy like a peacock spreading his tail.

The motivation is pure ego defense. Rather than process feelings of inadequacy and failure, the alt-righter grasps onto some alternative iconography that makes him feel powerful; some stimulus that will generate a predictable response and restore his feeling of being in control. There is nothing in American culture that fits this definition more than bigotry.

This is why trolling is a definitive aspect of the alt-right. The specific content, the argument itself, is totally unimportant. The only important thing is to keep their attention and make them behave the way you predict. Specifically, to make them angry.

Spend some time on 4chan, and you will find threads in which young trolls share screenshots of long trolling sessions, which generate a collective laugh. The longer they can keep a conversation going, especially if the target of their trolling responds with escalating anger, the more powerful and successful the troll.

Within alt-right culture, the worst thing to do is show an emotional response to provocation. This grants power to your tormenter. Strength comes from stoicism, from being the first who can accuse the other, “U Mad, Bro?”

The alt-right worship the anti-hero.

Brian mentioned a letter he’d read from an alt-righter, praising the film Taxi Driver and suggesting its creator would appreciate the alt-right movement. My question to Brian was whether he thought the letter’s author recognized Travis Bickle as an anti-hero, or related to him as an ordinary protagonist.

Alt-righters worship anti-heroes, but especially those anti-heroes who express a declarative philosophy that puts them outside society. Heath Ledger’s Joker looms large, and alt-right memes and artwork often place members of the movement in the role of “wanting to watch the world burn.” There is no greater hero to the alt-right, however, than Fight Club’s Tyler Durden.

Rarely do members of the alt-right recognize the inherent tragedy of anti-heroes. Brian asked me whether I believe they even understand what an anti-hero is, or if they outright mistake them for the protagonist. Here he and I diverge; he thinks they know full well what an anti-hero is, and choose to embrace them. I think many of them mistake sociopathy for bold individualism, and (like stockbrokers quoting Gordon Gekko) completely miss the point.

From what I can tell, the alt-right recruits most followers when they are young. Very young. It begins during the early teens, when emotions and sex drive both run their hottest, and when feelings of shame and failure and inadequacy are at their most powerful.

The alt-right as chimps in a bonobo society

Brian drew a parallel between rape and alt-right membership, the thesis being that both are attempts to reclaim power after sexual rejection. That got me thinking, as often happens, about humans as animals and the influence of our baser instincts.

A dramatic and interesting contrast exists between our two closest animal relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Chimp society is violent, and stresses on chimp tribes often lead to brutal attacks. Bonobo society, in contrast, is entirely non-violent but hyper-sexualized. Introduce any stress to a bonobo group (a newcomer, a food source, or any other social disruption) and the response will be a literal orgy. They have literally replaced violence with sex as a means of social sorting.

Bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

This leads to a question I’ve seen some raise: Are humans more chimp, or bonobo? We have traits in common with both. Look at the murder rate among our primitive ancestors, however, and an interesting trend emerges. Experts place the murder rate among the earliest true humans at a level consistent with most other mammals, but as our species evolved that rate shot up to 30 percent, extraordinarily high but consistent with other primate species — except bonobos. That rise in the murder rate correlates roughly with the concept of property ownership — the point at which many experts say humans turned from a matriarchal, free-love society to one where men expected to own access to reproductive resources (ie, women).

I’ll phrase that in a shorter, simpler way: When men decide they own women, they either get the sex to which they feel entitled, or they turn to violence. To be clear, I’m speaking of animal instincts here, so it should not be interpreted to excuse any behavior. We also have an instinct to shit wherever we stand, but to maintain a society we learn to use the toilet.

Here’s where we come back to the alt-right. See, that instinctive behavior, the idea of men owning women, the braggy, chest-puffing machismo is something American society, what some would describe as liberal society, has worked hard to purge. As a culture, we have deemed that unacceptable, but it retains a power over our animal instincts and urges. Humans will always be vulnerable to the political strongman for exactly that reason.

To the alt-right, that social compact by which we devalue machismo in favor of egalitarianism is just another rule they are above, one more aspect of the Matrix that those of us who are “blue pilled” cannot see. Thus they embrace sexism and male domination (“Gorilla Mindset,” if you will). They embrace tribalism in all its forms — racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia — and reassure themselves that anyone who claims otherwise is only pretending, only trying to abide by the rules.

This is not an especially new phenomenon; Rush Limbaugh is an early example of an alt-righter, with his screeds against the “Feminazis” who were “Pussifying” American society, and his rants about how liberals value consent above all else. Rush never particularly cared about what he was saying, as long as he could keep the attention of his listeners, and as long as their anger made him powerful. His politics were never defined by classical conservatism, but a performative display of lack of empathy. He, and his listeners, are classic alt-right.

From 4chan trolls to fascist pawns


Given this background, it isn’t hard to understand what attracts the alt-right to fascism and totalitarianism. Beyond a simple reinforcing of those base animal instincts, fascists are dedicated to the rules. By instituting draconian policies with no exceptions, the alt-right can reassert their mastery and control of the world they believe they understand.

Interact with them enough (hard as that can be) and you’ll gradually realize that their primary objection with liberals is that our compassion leads us to inconsistency. Because bleeding heart snowflakes are so concerned with people’s feelings, we make all kinds of exceptions that make the rules no longer apply.

Affirmative action gives people of color an unfair advantage over white people. Immigration is allowing outsiders access to limited resources that should go to real Americans. Women’s equality runs counter to the natural order and denies alpha men the sex to which they are entitled.

Way down deep, at the heart of it, is the same consistent theme of ego reassurance: The world hasn’t been fair to me. I haven’t received what I believe I deserve. I don’t want to feel like a failure.

This is, to me, the defining feature of the alt-right, the thing that sets them apart from conservatives, Republicans, true fascists, white nationalists, and the rest of the Right. It is perhaps ironic, perhaps predictable that it’s the exact accusation they most often level against their perceived enemies: They are special snowflakes who haven’t received the participation award they think they deserve.

The problem, of course, is they also become useful idiots for more nefarious forces — the true fascists, whose interest isn’t ego defense so much as actual power, or wealth, or racial purity. Your true motive is irrelevant when you’re embracing and voting for fascism and white nationalism; the end result will be the same.

Is there a practical lesson here?

So if we assume my theory holds — and I’ve done my best to sell it here — is there anything we can learn to undo the power of the alt-right?

I’m honestly not sure.

There are certainly lessons in how to deal with an alt-right troll:

  1. Don’t take anything he says as an actual argument, but understand that the central goal is (a) to show you how he’s outside the rules, and (b) to feel powerful by taking up your time and triggering your emotions.
  2. When an alt-right troll responds to something you say by demanding you “prove it” with links to news articles or other sources, understand that the motivation is just to waste more of your time and keep the conversation going. Nothing you link will prove anything.
  3. Understand that the ultimate reward for the alt-right is a strong response of any kind. Milo Whathisname isn’t upset when his speeches are cancelled by massive protest, he’s delighted — because he made that happen, and it makes him and his followers feel powerful. 10,000 people got mad, bro!
  4. Know that the best way to deal with the alt-right is to ignore them. Their deep insecurity and desire to feel powerful means something like an on-camera punch in the face will traumatize them, which is satisfying — but their need to reclaim power means such public embarrassment will motivate them to terrible ends. Were Richard Spencer not in the public eye, I would fully expect his next action to be a shooting spree or bombing.

As to preventing their rise? Keep an eye on your kids, I guess. If the primary motivator is avoiding feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, then our best hope is to teach our children how to process those feelings in a healthy way.

I guess what I’m saying is we’re all counting on those Feminazis to Pussify the country before it’s too late.

Disclaimer: I wrote this in a big hurry and I’m pretty tired, and I sure hope it makes sense. If you liked it, I’d love if you would follow me on Twitter and consider supporting my work at Patreon.

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Cartoon: The Democratic Resistance

January 25, 2017 Comics Comments (0) 900

Ken Klansman is actually the LEAST offensive of Trump's nominees.I won’t have time in the next couple of days to do a proper cartoon, so I had to do this one in a hurry on Post-It notes. The Democrats are doing a great job “resisting” Trump’s agenda by confirming all his cabinet appointees.

Oh and I guess it’s not 2016 any more. Oops. I guess in between panel one and panel four I lost track of the year.

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What Hillary Clinton Could Learn from Charity Fundraisers

January 23, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 450

[Up front, a disclaimer: This is not a “why Hillary Clinton lost” post. I’m as sick of those as you are. This is sharing some thoughts on a lesson I think we might learn, and improve on in the future.]

In addition to my various creative endeavors, in my day job I’m a nonprofit fundraiser. I don’t talk about it much because, frankly, I don’t think most people would find it especially interesting. But I’ve been doing it for about 15 years, and I’ve learned a lot of things.

The most important lesson I’ve learned as a fundraiser, I think, is talk with the donor about the donor. A lot of people, when they want to convince someone’s support, they start listing great things about the organization. How long they’ve been around, the great staff, the many people they’ve helped, and so on. But that’s wrong.

People want to hear about themselves, not about you.

Donors don’t want to support an organization, they want to do something good for the world. When you see a hurricane or a flood, you don’t give to the Red Cross because you’re worried about the organization. You give because you want to help the victims.

In that respect, philanthropy is a selfish act. Donors want something from their donation–they want the knowledge that their gift is doing good, and the feel-good feeling that comes along with that. For that reason, a good fundraiser doesn’t talk about how great the charity is. They talk about how great the donor is. Don’t talk about “me,” “we,” or “us.” The important word is always “You.”

Credit is due here to Tom Ahern and Jeff Brooks, from whom I learned this rule. In Brooks’s book How to Turn Your Words into Money, he goes so far as to present a template for a fundraising letter that is just the word “You” over and over again. From there, says Brooks, you fill in the blanks.

What can successful politicians learn from fundraisers?

So why do I bring this up now? Because I’ve been reflecting on the 2016 Election, and how Hillary Clinton failed to follow this rule.

One of the most common complaints I heard about Hillary was that she was “too ambitious.” This was from both Trump voters who hated her, and reluctant Democrats. Now, I will not discount the role sexism plays in this assessment. It’s classic sexism to regard ambition as a negative quality in a woman.

However, I think there may have been something else at play here as well. Hillary Clinton talked about herself a lot. I wonder if this created a perception that her campaign was about her, rather than about the voters, and if this might be what some voters meant when they said she was “too ambitious.”

Obama, and even Trump, talked more about the voters

I’ve been trying to recall how often, during his first Presidential campaign, Barack Obama even mentioned the fact that he would be the first Black President. I’ve asked friends, Googled, watched some old speeches, and I don’t think he ever mentioned it once. Other people did, certainly, but I don’t think Obama himself ever addressed it.

Hillary, by contrast, mentioned her opportunity to become the first woman president quite frequently. If it came up in every speech, that would not surprise me.

I don’t fault her for that, any more than I would fault Obama for mentioning his own historic opportunity. I mention it not because of his race, or her gender, but because that focus made Hillary’s rhetoric more self-oriented than Obama’s. Even the slogan, “I’m with Her,” put the focus on the candidate herself, rather than the people she sought to serve. While it would lack the clever double-meaning, “She’s with You” may have worked better, from that perspective.

In some respect, Hillary’s experience might have worked against her. Yes, she ranked among the most qualified candidate ever to run for President. And yes, as a woman she was under an unfair obligation to state her qualifications. But every time she recited her remarkable resume, she was talking about herself instead of talking about the voters.

The remarkable thing here is, if we analyze the rhetoric of Donald Trump, narcissist though he is, he did better. When Trump took the podium at any of his rallies, he talked a lot about the voters and his promises to them. I lack the resources to count the number of times each candidate used the word “You,” but I bet Trump far outpaced Clinton.

The candidate as cipher for voters’ hopes and dreams

There’s a particular similarity some commentators have pointed out between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. I’m paraphrasing here, but the similarity is that supporters of both candidates tended to attribute views neither candidate ever actually expressed. Each was, to some extent, a policy cipher onto whom voters could map their own wants and desires. In 2016, I had a Facebook friend explain to me how Donald Trump was going to eliminate the federal deficit and pay off the debt–during the same period when Trump himself promised to build a wall across the southern border and deliver massive investments in infrastructure.

I suspect part of the reason Trump and Obama presented this opportunity is because they talked more about the voters than about themselves. In contrast, by presenting so many concrete policy positions, Hillary won the allegiance of voters like me, but she also clearly defined herself. That stripped voters of the ability to attribute their own values.

At least I think that might be the case.

It’s possible that political strategists already embrace the same rule as fundraisers. Certainly, in 2016 fundraising is a priority role for political candidates–if not their primary responsibility. But it’s not something I’ve heard pundits comment on. I suspect it’s something to which candidates and strategists may want to pay closer attention.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Nate Silver swung the election. He should admit it.

January 20, 2017 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 587

It’s a simple but unfortunate fact that most humans don’t understand probability. It’s not our fault, exactly. Our primate brains are not designed for it. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy: If a coin flip comes up heads nine times in a row, you should bet on tails, right? It’s due, right? Well, no. If you’re educated you probably know the odds are still 50/50. But the multi-billion dollar gambling industry is built on how terrible our brains are at probability.

This is why it’s so infuriating to hear Nate Silver, patriarch and spokesman for data journalism, insist he didn’t swing the 2016 Presidential election.

The REAL Real story of 2016

Since Trump’s win, Silver has done innumerable interviews in which he disavows any responsibility. He’s prone to a judgmental tone about the way people treated polling data, and a blasé, even willfully obtuse response to suggestions that he had a role.

Yesterday, Nate Silver published a long analysis, titled “The Real Story of 2016,” in which he begins with a question: “Why, then, had so many people who covered the campaign been so confident of Clinton’s chances? This is the question I’ve spent the past two to three months thinking about.”

To his credit, Silver does acknowledge the role of polling data, and FiveThirtyEight specifically, but his analysis seats responsibility squarely with FiveThiryEight’s readers, and journalists who “lumped together” their model with other, differing forecasts. There is no recognition that the way Silver and his fellow data journalists represent their findings might be inherently misleading. No recognition that the winding path the election took might have been shaped by a certain hourglass-shaped graphic.

Data journalism changes how our elections work

Data journalism is young, and Silver’s model of compiling and analyzing poll data to produce a single projection has been with us for only three Presidential elections. Following his success in 2008, many (myself included) began treating Silver as some kind of wizard. Revisionist history will likely forget the absolute confidence with which many regarded FiveThirtyEight’s prediction pre-Trump.

In the months prior to the 2016 Election Hillary Clinton’s win seemed predestined. Journalists, talking heads, even candidates themselves tended to treat her as if she were already President. It is highly likely that strategic decisions were informed by that perspective, both within the Campaign and outside.

What might have been different, had people not assumed a Hillary win? Would the Obama White House have moved faster to let the nation know about Russian interference? Would FBI Director James Comey have sent his infamous letter to Congress? Would the Clinton Campaign have invested so much into states like Texas and Arizona, and so little in Michigan and Wisconsin? Would the mainstream press have focused so intensely on Clinton’s email “scandal,” or turned their attention to more intense scrutiny of Trump?

All of this is down to speculation, of course, but it stands to reason that some of the elements that shaped the outcome might have been different. In a few cases, dramatically so. Strategists live and die by polling data, and in 2016 Nate Silver was inarguably the forecast most people followed.

There is an argument that data journalism distorts our understanding of polling data. In October, following the final Presidential debate, polls showed Clinton with a four- to seven-point lead on Trump. That’s a sizable lead, but still a close race. FiveThirtyEight put Clinton’s odds at 88 percent. The Upshot said 89.

Silver’s front page projection is the core of the problem.

In interviews, Silver invariably defends himself by citing FiveThirtyEight’s disclaimers about polling errors. And that’s fair. It’s in the headline of this piece from November 4, and as a regular reader I will attest that this point was regularly included in their reporting. But direct your browser to FiveThirtyEight and you aren’t met by a nuanced analysis. You see this.

The 71 percent forecast comes from just before the election. By that point, it was too late for strategic shifts. A month earlier, Clinton’s odds were near 90 percent.The Upshot employs a similar presentation. Ignore the yellow bar here, that showed up only on Election Day.

“Who will win the Presidency?” asks FiveThirtyEight. “Who will be President?” says the Upshot. Then a simple percentage. No mention of polling errors, no disclaimer about margins. Not unless you click through to more detailed analysis. I can’t access internal traffic reports for either site, but I’m willing a small percentage did so. And that sets aside the way those numbers are reported across other outlets–though in fairness to Silver, that plays to his point about other journalists misrepresenting his work.

Nate Silver understands probability. He doesn’t understand people.

The fact is, the projection model pioneered by Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight shaped the way Americans, including election strategists and the candidates themselves, understood the Election. Arguably, it was the single most influential factor. Yes, there are many other polls to take apart, and in past decades that’s what analysts did. But having a single projection is much neater, and easier for our primate brains to understand.

85 percent. Good. So Hillary will win.

Statisticians like Silver, who are better than most of us with probability, don’t see it that way. On Twitter, I’ve personally been chastised by people who say people should never have regarded Silver’s projection as “deterministic.” Which, again, is true, but it shows a failure on the part of data journalists to understand how bad most humans are with odds.

Personally, I still like Nate Silver, and I like data journalism. I don’t believe such projections should not exist. In the wake of what happened in 2016, however, I do think serious consideration should go toward how it’s presented. I do think a single projection, presented as a thermometer at the top of the front page, is harmful. It distorts the way people view the election and its likely outcome, and in doing so it shapes the election itself.

I’d like to see that change, but even more, I’d like Nate Silver to acknowledge his responsibility. It’s pretty obvious that when it comes to statistics, Nate Silver’s brain works better than most. The same does not appear to be true when it comes to human nature.

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The Electoral College Must Go

November 29, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 544

(This is a long essay that originally appeared as a five-part series. This version has updated figures where appropriate, as well as minor revisions for clarity.)

Back when they thought they were losing, Donald Trump and his supporters were fond of calling the 2016 US Presidential Election rigged. At rallies around the country, Trump advised conservative voters to keep an eye out for voter fraud: “Because you know what, that’s a big, big problem in this country and nobody wants to talk about it.” Voter fraud is incredibly rare, of course, far too rare to have any meaningful impact on election outcomes.

Then came Election Night, the night cable news likes to brand “America Decides,” and America did decide. A large majority of Americans, more than voted for any candidate in history except Barack Obama, cast ballots for one candidate. And the other candidate won.

Because it turns out the system is rigged, tipping the scales in a way even widespread voter fraud never could; rigged so effectively that twice in the last 16 years it has denied American voters the President they favored. While Trump and his partisans fretted about voter impersonation, an antiquated system, created by racists who believed only wealthy white men should vote, meant that some voters effectively voted more than three times each.

America’s electoral system is rigged by the Electoral College, an antiquated and broken system that stopped serving its intended purpose a mere decade after its invention.

This essay will demonstrate why the Electoral College, which survived 240 years as a vestigial and generally harmless remnant of a bygone era, must be abolished. It will show how the Electoral College is on its face racist and antidemocratic, how it is incompatible with the reality of modern American life, how many arguments in its defense contradict history, and why abandoning the Electoral College will not harm the American electoral process in the manner many Americans fear.

Part One: The Electoral College is Anti-Democratic

The Electoral College gives some voters multiple ballots.

“One person, one vote.” It’s a simple phrase often associated with American democracy. So how does a candidate elected by at least 2.3 million more Americans than her opponent (a margin credible estimates predict will grow to more than 2.5 million) lose the Presidency?

Put simply, the Electoral College makes some votes worth more than others. Because of the formula by which electors are awarded to states, the ratio of actual, ballot-casting American voters to elector varies by as much as 2/3 from its average of around 422,000:1. The impact is that individual voters in small states, like Wyoming and Vermont, have much more influence over the Electoral College, and therefore the election, than those in more populated states.

Of all the 50 states (and Washington DC) it’s the voters in Florida who are most harmed by this system, with 29 electoral votes and 14.6 million eligible voters. A Florida voter can therefore be treated as a baseline by which to measure the impact of the Electoral College. Voters in Wyoming, with 3 electoral votes and only 431,000 eligible voters, make out the best in this system: Thanks to the Electoral College, a single voter in Wyoming is worth 3.5 Florida voters.

The national average is about 1.19 Florida Votes per voter — if you’re curious, that’s the exact value of a single vote in Louisiana. Voters in 21 states are worth less than the average, while those in 28 states (and DC) are worth more. Among the winners are voters in Vermont, also worth more than three Florida voters, while those in Alaska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Delaware, and Washington DC are all worth between two and three Florida voters each.

Among the losers are voters in New York and California, as most would expect, but interestingly the bottom four also include Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina: All three perennial swing states, as well as a state newly considered a swing in 2016.

In fact, of the 13 states considered “purple states” in 2016 or expected to become so in the near future, voters in only four (New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa) exercise better than average influence on the Electoral College outcome. The other nine (the aforementioned plus Virginia, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Michigan) all fall within the bottom fourteen — which suggests that swing states may be less a product of centrist populations, as conventional wisdom holds, than of a fluke in Electoral College math.

Voter Turnout Intensifies Electoral College Impact.

The numbers presented so far are based on electoral votes and eligible voters, but the effect is further intensified by disparities in voter turnout; the number of actual votes shrinks, but electoral votes stay the same, further tipping the scales.

In the 2016 election, for example, those voters in Wyoming wound up being worth 3.83 Florida voters each, thanks to 60 percent turnout (Florida voters were still worth the least, by the way, even with 66% turnout taken into account). Voters in Hawaii, Utah, West Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and Oklahoma all picked up 1/5 or more of a Florida voter thanks to low turnout, while voters in Minnesota, where 74% of those eligible cast ballots, each voter lost 13% of a Florida vote in influence.

Astute readers might pick up on a disturbing trend: If swing states are those where individual voter influence on the Electoral College is lowest, then it follows that state legislatures can “shore up” a majority for their party by reducing the population of eligible voters and increasing influence per voter. In other words, the Electoral College incentivizes voter suppression and disenfranchisement more than would a nationwide popular vote.

In fact, the two states where felony disenfranchisement has the greatest impact on electoral influence (Georgia and Texas) are among the most recent to “turn purple.” In both states, the number of voters disenfranchised by felony convictions was greater than the differential between Trump and Clinton; when one considers the disparity in racial makeup among felons, and the tendency of minority voters to support Democrats, disenfranchised felons alone likely could have swung both states for Clinton. Notably, the percentage of voters suppressed due to felony convictions was more than twice as high in states Trump won (1.6%) as in states Clinton won (0.7%).

The Electoral College has a disproportionate racial effect, and does incentivize voter suppression and disenfranchisement, all of which will be explored in greater depth in Part Four.

The Electoral College Makes Half of All Votes Meaningless.

One might assume the disparity in vote value created by the Electoral College is its greatest harm, and the solution is therefore to adjust electoral apportionment to the states. But even though Trump benefitted more from disproportionate impact of individual votes, it wasn’t enough to win the election. Converting all individual votes nationwide into “Florida votes,” Hillary still comes out ahead, albeit by a smaller margin.

How can this be? Because the greater evil of the Electoral College is not the disproportionate weight of votes alone. It’s that the Electoral College functions as a nationwide gerrymander, effectively erasing more than half of American voters by adding them onto, or burying them beneath, arbitrary regional majorities.

To illustrate this point, imagine for a moment that instead of 51 electoral bodies with discrete majority votes, we divided the nation into three: The East Coast, the West Coast (to include Alaska and Hawaii) and the Heartland. It’s easy to see the problem — with the majority of Republican voters condensed in one single district, the Democrats would have a lock on the Presidency without contest in every election.

Now back to reality. Consider that California and New York, undisputed Democratic powerhouses, were home to the third- and sixth-most votes for Donald Trump. A total of nearly 7 million votes, more than eleven percent of all votes for Trump, came from two states he never had a chance at winning. Meanwhile, 8.4 million votes for Clinton, nearly 13 percent of her total, came from voters in Texas and Florida.

In fact, roughly half of ballots cast by Americans for Hillary Clinton came from voters in states where she lost; the same is true of a third of ballots cast for Donald Trump. Both candidates received about 30% of their votes in states traditionally considered a lock for the other side. These are “lost” votes.

Next consider “meaningless” votes; meaningless because they pile on to large majorities in states where a candidate was expected to win. Meaningless votes consumed 14 percent of all votes for Donald Trump, and 16 percent of those for Hillary Clinton.

Adding the lost and meaningless votes together, 71.4 million American votes were erased by the Electoral College — more than half of all votes cast in the 2016 election.

If more than half of all votes are lost or meaningless, then does it follow that the Electoral College suppresses turnout? There is some evidence: Turnout is notably higher in swing states (64%) than non-swing states (57%). Consider that 35.5 million voters cast ballots for a candidate they knew couldn’t possibly win their state — and 70 million Americans outside of swing states didn’t bother to vote.

Note that these numbers are now outdated (both popular vote counts have since grown) but the principle holds true.

In the end, the most important figure is this: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by at least 2.3 million votes, 64.8 million to Trump’s 62.5 million. However, when that is adjusted for votes lost and rendered meaningless by the Electoral College, she loses — by more than 11 million votes.

Part Two: The Electoral College is antiquated, and was never intended to work as it does today.

The Electoral College is anti-democratic, erasing half of all voters and allowing those who do count to stuff multiple ballots each election. But that’s how it was intended, right? The Framers meant the Electoral College to give more weight to small states, and encourage Presidents to campaign more broadly. Right?

In a word, no. The Electoral College was never intended to work the way it does now. Not only that, it stopped functioning as intended only a decade after it was implemented.

The Electoral College was not meant to encourage candidates to campaign in small states, because the Framers didn’t want Presidents to campaign at all.

For starters, the Electoral College was certainly never meant to encourage Presidents to campaign in small states–because according to the people who designed it, Presidents were not supposed to campaign and voters were not supposed to vote for President. As any Hamilton listener will know, campaigning for President was considered vulgar by the Founders. A candidate was to be nominated and elected by his peers, and expected to act as if he didn’t want the office. Meanwhile, individual voters cast ballots for only one national office: Representative. Senators and the President (or, more properly, Presidential electors) were named by state legislatures.

In fact, the federal government looked completely different to the men who designed the Electoral College. The Presidency was designed as an administrative and diplomatic office, the weakest of the three branches of government. There were no federal agencies, no national tax policy, and no standing military. Today, the Presidency is arguably the most powerful of the three branches, with powers unanticipated — or, where anticipated, feared — by the men who created the office.

The Electoral College is a vestigial remnant of a bygone era, one that lingered for centuries primarily because it was harmless, and did not change election outcomes. However, twice in the last five elections it has awarded the Presidency to the less popular candidate. It has to go.

What was the Electoral College Really For?

To understand the impetus for the Electoral College, one must remember that the Constitution was a second attempt at national unity, after the first (the Articles of Confederation) failed. The Constitution’s framers, the Federalists, believed the solution was a stronger central government, but met opposition from the Democratic Republicans, who envisioned the United States as a loose affiliation of independent state governments.

The entire structure of American government is designed as a compromise between the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans, especially around one specific issue: slavery. Among the Federalists were several outspoken abolitionists, and southern states refused to join a union that threatened their way of life. So the Constitution sought to protect state sovereignty through several mechanisms.

The right to name Senators and Presidential electors was reserved to state legislatures, which were free to use any process they chose. Only members of the House were elected directly by voters–who, at the time, included only white male property owners.

Every state had equal representation in the Senate, but slave-owners in the largely agrarian South feared larger populations in the north would give abolitionists the advantage in the House. The result was the 3/5 Compromise, in which slaves (who, like American Indians, were not counted as residents for census purposes) were counted as 3/5 of a person for Congressional apportionment.

In the Electoral College, this inflated the voting power of southern states (and the legislators who controlled them) because the number of electors is equal to the sum of senators and representatives in Congress. This would have been a relatively minor concern at the time, however, since the President wielded little domestic authority compared with Congress.

In the election of 1792, only two states (Pennsylvania and Maryland) held popular elections. In all others, electors were named by state legislatures.

Instead, the Electoral College served another important function, named by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, Number 68: To reserve the powers of President to a handful of elite individuals seen as “fit” for the office, while protecting against corruption and collusion. State legislatures would name their nominees, but it was up to the electors–who were barred from holding state elected office, and barred from collaborating with electors from outside their state–to make the final decision; or nearly final, anyway. If the electors came to a tie, the choice of President fell to the House of Representatives.

That has happened twice. The first time, in 1800, there were 138 state electors and 17 Representatives in the House. Today, those numbers are 538 and 435, respectively.

More importantly, however, the Electoral College never once served the purpose of protecting the people from their choice. From the beginning, convention held that electors in states that held a popular vote would respect the choice of the people. Only once in history have so-called “faithless electors” threatened to change an election, and that was for the office of Vice President. Today, the majority of states have laws requiring electors to vote according to the popular result, but such laws have never once been enforced. Convention alone has been powerful enough.

1911: The Math Changes.

By basing the number of electors on total representation in Congress, the framers gave a small boost to very small states; though their population might not warrant two Representatives in the House, they were guaranteed two Senators and therefore at least three electoral votes. Beyond that (and the 3/5 Compromise), however, apportionment was relatively equal nationwide.

In the Election of 1792, which followed the new nation’s first-ever census in 1790, the House featured approximately one Representative for every 34,000 “persons,” with little deviation. Only two states, Delaware and Vermont, deviated by more than four percent from that ratio — because both had joined as states after the 1970 census.

If the House had continued to grow at a constant rate, the most powerful state vote would be worth only 25% more than the weakest.

Compare that with 2016. Today, Montana sends just one Representative to Congress, representing nearly one million state residents. That is nearly double the ratio of residents to Representatives in Rhode Island, where the ratio is smallest.

Why has that variance grown so? Because the Apportionment Act of 1911 fixed the number of House seats permanently at 435, where it still stands today (it was increased briefly when Alaska and Hawaii became states, before Congress reduced it back in 1962). In 1911, the population of the United states stood at 94 million, less than a third of the 309 million Americans counted in the 2010 census.

Certainly, to let the House of Representatives continue growing would be unwieldy–with its 435 members, many say the House already is–but by fixing that number as the country grew, the Apportionment Act of 1911 set the Electoral College to move further and further from the popular vote.

If, hypothetically, the House had continued to grow at a constant rate of one Representative for every 35,000 residents, as in 1790, we would currently have an 8,833-member House and 8,952 Electoral Votes. The most powerful individual vote (in Missouri) would be worth only 25% more than the weakest, in South Carolina.

Even if the House had kept growing at 1911’s pace, one Representative for every 216,000 people, while the number of Representatives would still be unmanageable, the value of a Wyoming vote would be only 1.75 times the value of a Florida vote, instead of 3.5 times as much.

The Nature of the Presidency has Changed.

The Framers of the Constitution saw the President as a primarily administrative office, overseeing the work assigned to him by Congress. Both the Senate and the President were to be elected by state legislatures, because the vision of the Framers was that most legislating would happen within the states, and the federal government would oversee mainly foreign affairs, and a handful of domestic issues.

What made sense then does not make sense now. In the 1790s, the life of an everyday American was most impacted by the laws passed in the state legislature. Over 240 years, however, the role of the federal government, and especially the Presidency, has greatly evolved.

To the Framers of the Constitution, the idea of a national military was almost offensive. The Continental Army had been disbanded immediately following victory over England, because the Framers feared the tyranny that might rise from a strong central military. Instead, military defense was left to the individual state militias.

Today the United States Government is the largest employer on Earth, with the Department of Defense alone employing 3.2 million people. The President as Commander in Chief holds the fates not only of the military and military families, but all Americans. The Electoral College predates the very concept of “total war,” in which all of a nation’s citizens and resources are mobilized in warfare, as well as the kind of military weaponry and tactics that pose an existential threat to a nation. To the Framers of the Constitution, war was something that might threaten the a few strategic cities that might be blockaded and occupied, not something where a single atomic weapon can end millions of lives.

The Electoral College predates most of the powers of the Executive Branch, including all federal agencies. It predates the very concept of federal preemption, which says laws passed by the federal government supersede those in the states. In fact, the Executive Branch predates the very idea that the Supreme Court has the authority to review and strike down any laws, let alone state laws.

The Electoral College predates not only political parties but the concept of the gerrymander, which secures party power in state legislatures and the House of Representatives. At the time the Constitution was ratified, states elected Representatives at-large. It wasn’t until 1967 that every state sent Representatives from single-member districts.

The Electoral College predates federal regulation of business, federal income tax, combined presidential/vice-presidential tickets, and state primary elections. In short, the federal government and the office of President today look almost nothing like they did when the Electoral College was instituted. Senators, once named by state legislatures, have been elected by popular vote since the Seventeenth Amendment passed in 1913, and yet the President is still elected by the same method designed in 1789.

Part Three: The Electoral College is incompatible with modern American life, and makes it easier to buy or steal an election.

The Electoral College survived as long as it did because it generally didn’t alter election outcomes. As American culture has shifted, however, the Electoral College has become more dangerous, and made it easier to manipulate the outcome of our elections.

Our Population is Growing More Urban.

As a nationwide gerrymander, the Electoral College erases more than half of all ballots cast in the United States by lumping them into statewide elections. Residents in all but a handful of swing states see their votes either lumped onto an existing majority and made meaningless or buried beneath a majority for the other party.

This was never the design of the Electoral College; rather it is a product of the way American culture has shaped our geography. For years now, the United States has been growing more urban. More than 80 percent of Americans currently live in urban centers, and that number is increasing. The 2010 Census revealed that urban populations were growing well ahead of the national average (12.1 percent over ten years, vs 9.7 percent nationwide) while rural areas were growing at a much lower rate.

Moving is directly and consciously related to politics. In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, Aaron Blake examined the way Americans “self-gerrymander” by moving into communities that share their politics. Blake cites a Pew study that found 77% of liberals preferred to live in urban communities, while 75% of conservatives preferred rural living. This effect was more pronounced among people who said politics was important to them — and notably, both liberals and conservatives who identified as strongly political said they felt it was important to live among people who were politically like-minded.

As Americans condense into cities, the Electoral College will put more and more relative power in the hands of a small number of older, whiter, and more conservative voters.

The implication here is that liberal voters are likely to move into major cities, most of which are in blue states where their votes will be condensed into an existing and irrelevant majority, while conservative voters will do the opposite. Pew found that Republicans are actually more likely to move in the interest of politics.

However the migration of Americans to urban areas is not solely a choice. The reason the majority of Americans give for moving is to find a job, and unemployment in rural regions of the country far outpaces that in urban centers. As we have grown more urban, the United States has also famously moved from an industrial, manufacturing economy to a service and technology economy — and jobs in those sectors are most often in major cities.

This illustration, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the change in state GDP in the first quarter of 2016. Note how “red states” generally fared worse than “blue states.”

Not only that, but many Republican political initiatives are associated with greater unemployment — as in Kansas, where governor Sam Brownback promised to use his power in office to fix unemployment, and instead decimated the state’s job numbers, or in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker brags about a job rate that has increased at a slower pace than the national average. These kinds of policies would intensify the exodus of young, more liberal voters from the state as they seek jobs elsewhere, and ensure a solid voting base for the same politicians who drove jobs away.

As our population continues to condense into major urban centers, the Electoral College will put more and more relative power in the hands of the voters — older, whiter, and more conservative than most — who chose to remain in rural states.

In theory, shifts in American culture would be reflected in our politics — but this is not the case. In every recent election, Democrats have claimed a majority of votes, and yet the House, Senate, and Presidency all belong to the Republicans. Why? Because that majority of Democratic votes come from a handful of densely populated states and counties. In the Senate, intended by the Framers to be the least democratic house of government, this is almost intentional. In the House, the GOP majority originates with the gerrymander. In the Oval Office, it is the Electoral College we have to thank.

Is it possible that the growth of urban centers within red states will flip them and undo the harm of the Electoral College? Conceivably. The fastest growing urban centers in the country are in Charlotte, Austin, and Las Vegas. Nevada, once considered a purple state, now appears to be solidly blue; North Carolina and Texas are expected to turn purple in the near future.

The trouble is that the Electoral College also makes it easier to tamper with election outcomes through nefarious means like Voter ID and felony disenfranchisement, and to swing election results through investments in advertising.

The Electoral College Makes it Easier to Buy an Election.

If it wipes out half of all voters, who does the Electoral College actually benefit? Candidates and donors, that’s who.

Imagine a United States where the President was elected by popular vote. Imagine a GOP candidate campaigning in upstate New York and California’s Central Valley, and a Democratic candidate venturing into urban counties in Alabama and Kentucky.

By making the contest smaller, the Electoral College allows candidates to effectively ignore voters in the majority of US states and invest their time and money in just a handful of “swing states” where the election outcome is not already decided.

It’s true that rigging a US election by hacking or voter fraud is very difficult–but thanks to the Electoral College, rigging an election by keeping certain voters away from the polls is disturbingly easy.

In the 2016 general campaign, Donald Trump made 14 visits to North Carolina, 12 to New Hampshire, and 12 to Ohio. He received around 5.5 million votes from those three states combined; meanwhile in California, New York, and New Jersey he got just short of 8 million.

It’s not just the candidates who save time — those Super PACs everyone has been angry at since the Citizens United ruling can make their dollars stretch further by targeting ad buys in just a small number of counties within those swing states. Instead of spreading a message to her millions of supporters distributed across the nation, Hillary Clinton could gather celebrities for a multiple-night get-out-the-vote effort in Philadelphia.

In an era when wealth is more uneven than any other in our history, and most Americans agree that big money should get out of politics, the Electoral College makes it easier to buy an election.

The Electoral College Makes it Easier to Steal an Election.

During the pre-election controversy about voter fraud, many experts remarked that America’s state-by-state election system makes it difficult, almost impossible, for any single entity to rig an election outcome.

This is true in the given context: to rig an election by stuffing ballot boxes or hacking voting machines is borderline impossible. Thanks to the Electoral College, however, rigging an election by keeping voters away from the polls is disturbingly easy. All you need is a complete lack of integrity, party control of a state legislature, and cynical contempt for the right to vote.

Take Michigan, for example, where Donald Trump won by a mere 10,704 votes. Ahead of the election, activists in Michigan sued the state over new voting regulations they said disenfranchised 300,000 or more voters, disproportionately minority voters who were likely to cast ballots for the Democrats. If you’ve any doubt that party politics motivates voter ID laws, one need only look at Texas or North Carolina, where courts found that voter ID laws were clearly racially motivated — or take it from Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania legislator and architect of that state’s failed voter ID attempt, who openly stated that it was intended to help the GOP win.

To illustrate the way the Electoral College makes voter suppression immeasurably more effective at stealing an election, we need not suppose that Michigan’s voter suppression tactics erased 300,000 votes. We only need to suppose that it kept away 10,705 more votes for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. Clinton received (at time of writing) 2.27 million votes in the state of Michigan, and in an nationwide popular election every one of those votes would count toward her majority, as would Donald Trump’s 2.28 million. Instead, because of the Electoral College, it is possible that suppression of less than 11,000 voters erased all of Hillary’s support in the state.

Voter ID laws, and reports of related irregularities, factored in other states including North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But one need not look only at Voter ID — the actual impact of which can be difficult or impossible to measure — to see how states keep voters away from the polls. Felony disenfranchisement has a demonstrated impact on US election results.

The Electoral College incentivizes voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person convicted of a felony. It doesn’t have to be a murder or robbery — let’s say you got caught with a beer when you were 19, or got in a fistfight outside a bar after a football game and a drink too many. Each of these is a felony offense, and depending on what state you live in, you may never get to vote again.

According to the Sentencing Project, more than 6 million Americans have lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction — and states are wildly different in how they treat voting rights for convicts. Two states (Vermont and Maine) bring ballots into their prisons so that convicts can vote even while serving time. Eleven states strip felons of all voting rights, for life. The majority of states fall somewhere in between, denying felons the right to vote while incarcerated, while on probation, and/or while on parole.

Felony disenfranchisement has been shown to have dramatic racial disparities: The Sentencing Project says one in 13 African-American voters has lost their voting rights to felony disenfranchisement, compared with one in 56 non-black voters. In the context of the Electoral College, the impact becomes even more stark: The list of states with the harshest felony disenfranchisement laws includes Wyoming, Delaware, Nebraska, and others where individual votes are weighted most heavily.

Florida has by far the worst felony disenfranchisement laws in the nation, with more than a million and a half voters (including nearly a quarter of all African-Americans) denied their right to vote based on felony convictions.

After the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study that showed Gore would have won Florida if felons had been allowed to vote. Florida is not alone; based on actual 2016 results, the number of felons denied the right to vote exceeded Donald Trump’s margin of victory in three states Trump won (Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia) and two won by Clinton (New Hampshire and Nevada) as well as Michigan, where Trump holds a small lead. In Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan the number of disenfranchised felons is double or more Trump’s margin of victory.

Because African-Americans are disproportionately represented among Americans convicted of felonies, and overwhelmingly voted for Clinton in 2016, it’s entirely reasonable to suppose that different laws would mean different results in those states, and therefore in the Electoral College.

Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia all have Republican-controlled legislatures. In fact, harsher felony disenfranchisement laws are generally associated with Republican lawmakers, notable when one considers that left-leaning voters are dramatically overrepresented among felons. One need not make a leap to suppose that at least some of the motive for such laws is partisan in nature.

And yet, in a nationwide popular vote such efforts would fall short of delivering reliable results. It is only thanks to the Electoral College, which makes it possible to negate the will of millions of voters across a state by suppressing only a few hundred thousand — or less — that such tactics are effective. It might still be difficult to steal a US election, but the Electoral College makes it much, much easier.

Part Four: The Electoral College is Racist.

Shocking, right, that an institution built into our Constitution to placate slave states would have a disproportionate racial impact? But that is in fact the case.

So far we have established that the Electoral College:

  1. Is anti-democratic, weighing some individual votes far heavier than others to the extent that some voters are effectively casting almost four ballots each;
  2. Is antiquated, and never intended to function the way it does today; and
  3. Is incompatible with modern elections, and actually makes it much easier to buy or steal a US election.

In each of those effects on US elections, the Electoral College currently favors white voters over non-white voters. Recently, Vox published an analysis in which they concluded the Electoral College shifted the balance considerably in favor of white voters — and they left out several ways in which the Electoral College harms non-white voters.

White Voters have more powerful votes and are more likely to count.

I remind you of our “Florida vote,” a base unit by which we can measure the impact of any one voter on the Electoral College. In 29 states, individual votes get a boost. In 21, the impact of a single vote is diminished. Guess where non-white voters are more likely to live!

Of approximately 69 million non-white people who live in the United States, 52.8 million (three quarters) live in states where the value of an individual vote is lessened by the Electoral College. Collectively, non-white voters lose about one percent of their electoral impact through this phenomenon alone, while white voters gain around one percent–which may not sound like much, but in the 2016 election it was equivalent to about 2.7 million votes.

We also established that the Electoral College, by functioning as a nationwide gerrymander, erases more than half of all ballots cast in any American election. Non-white Americans are more likely to see their vote erased, by about half a percent.

In the eleven “swing states,” on which the Electoral College effectively bases nationwide results, non-white voters are underrepresented: Non-white voters make up about 20% of the population in swing states, versus 23% of the population in non-swing states. Once again, 3 percent may not sound like much, but that’s 6.8 million eligible voters, and based on 2016 turnout, about 4 million actual votes.

Those figures, however, are based on population demographics, and assume that white and non-white voters are equally likely to be eligible voters. As you will see in a moment, that is most definitely not the case.

White Voters are less likely to lose their right to vote.

As we covered in part three, the Electoral College makes it much easier to steal an election, not by stuffing ballot boxes but by turning certain voters away from the polls, and that a go-to technique for doing so is felony disenfranchisement. It’s likely no other phenomenon harms non-white voters as much as this one.

It’s a fairly well-reported fact that non-white Americans are over-represented in our criminal justice system. White Americans make up about 78% of the US population, and yet only 59% of felony convictions. According to the NAACP, Black Americans are six times as likely as White Americans to be incarcerated, and Black and Hispanic Americans make up nearly 60% of the current prison population, while less than a quarter of the overall population.

If every state had laws like Vermont and Maine, it is likely the United States would not have had a Republican President since 1996.

In part three we discussed the range of state laws pertaining to the right of felons to vote. In Vermont and Maine, all people can vote regardless of felony status, even including people currently incarcerated. In 11 other states, meanwhile, felons lose the right to vote for life, regardless of what the felony was; 19 percent of all non-white Americans live in these states, versus 18 percent of white voters.

Add in the 19 states where felons lose voting rights as long as they are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole (the second strictest type of felony disenfranchisement) and you’ve covered more than 56% of the non-white population, versus less than 54% of White Americans.

So non-white voters are dramatically more likely to be convicted of a felony, and significantly more likely to live in a state where that felony will strip them of their right to vote. Do the math, and you begin to understand why the NAACP, Sentencing Project, ACLU, and other organizations view felony disenfranchisement as a civil rights crisis. The Sentencing Project estimates that 1 out of 13 African American voters has lost their voting rights to felony disenfranchisement, compared with 1 in 56 non-black voters. Again, in Florida, nearly a quarter of all African-Americans have permanently lost their right to vote.

In general, felony disenfranchisement laws are harshest in Republican-controlled states. 22 of 30 states with the harshest laws went for Trump in 2016. When one considers that non-white voters, and especially Black voters, tend overwhelmingly to vote Democrat, it’s not hard to see how such laws might have a partisan motive. That becomes even clearer when one considers that three states Trump won (Georgia, Florida, and Wisconsin) would likely have gone to Clinton if people convicted of felonies were permitted to vote. In fact, if no states denied convicted felons the right to vote (ie, if everyone followed the laws in Maine and Vermont) it is likely the United States would not have had a Republican President since 1996.

As a reminder, the only reason such voter suppression efforts are impactful in Presidential elections is that the Electoral College divides the nation into 51 separate elections, most of which can be won or lost based on a small margin of votes. If not for the Electoral College, it would be much more difficult for voter suppression to alter the election outcome — especially when the losing candidate received 2.3 million more votes.

Felony disenfranchisement is far from the only method by which non-white voters are denied their right to vote. That tendency to vote Democrat has made non-whites, and especially African-Americans, a prime target of voter suppression efforts in many GOP-controlled states, whether through Voter ID laws with disproportionate impacts, targeted purging of voter rolls, the end of Sunday voting (very popular with Black voters in recent years) in many states, the closing of more than 800 polling places across predominantly Black precincts in the South, intimidation at polling places, or other techniques.

The Electoral College is racist in its impact, and adds incentive for states to employ racist voter suppression tactics. It has to go.

Part Five: Ending the Electoral College will not break American elections the way many people predict.

In parts one through four, we covered the many reasons the Electoral College must go: It’s anti-democratic, outdated, doesn’t serve the purpose it was designed to serve, makes it easier to buy or steal a U.S. election, disproportionately lessens the electoral power of non-white voters, and incentivizes voter suppression efforts like felony disenfranchisement and “voter ID” laws.

But what about the arguments in favor of the Electoral College? Any time the debate arises, there’s always someone eager to argue that only the Electoral College keeps voters in small states relevant, and without it our President would be chosen by New York and California. These arguments are false, based on myth and stereotype. In fact, ending the Electoral College would only be good for American democracy. Here’s why:

In a nationwide popular election, state lines are irrelevant.

The most common argument in favor of the Electoral College says that New York and California have huge populations, and because they vote Democrat a national popular election would mean a permanent Democratic lock on elections, rendering the concerns of small, rural states irrelevant.

In a popular vote, instead of a handful of battleground states, elections would be decided by voters with similar views on the issues.

There’s a huge problem with this logic: It misses the fact that state borders are irrelevant to a nationwide popular vote.

With the nationwide gerrymander that is the Electoral College ended, votes that have traditionally been erased would suddenly matter: Large blocks of Republican voters in places like Upstate New York and Long Island, the farmland if Illinois, and rural California could help elect their candidate. Liberals in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama would actually have an impact on the Presidency, and never again would we see a candidate preferred by more than 2 million Americans lose the Presidency simply because those Americans live too close to one another.

In a nationwide popular vote, instead of elections being decided by a handful of battleground states where the outcome is in doubt, they would be decided by coalitions of voters with similar views on the issues. Candidates would be forced to message in a way that appealed to like-minded voters across the nation: Republicans would have to speak to coal miners in West Virginia, out-of-work manufacturers in the Rust Belt, and rural and suburban voters in New York and Pennsylvania.

Instead of arbitrarily grouped by state borders, voters would be grouped by issues and lifestyles, and a state like California — with the third most Republican votes in 2016 — could no longer erase a huge portion of the electorate because a majority of its residents disagree.

Without the Electoral College, candidates would visit more states.

After the 2016 Election, Donald Trump tweeted that without the Electoral College, he would have campaigned in New York and California and won an even larger majority. This is an oft-repeated talking point by those who defend the Electoral College: Without it, candidates would only visit states with huge populations, and smaller states would never see a candidate in person.

Let’s begin by taking that apart: First, we’ve already covered that state lines would be irrelevant, so it’s not an issue of candidates appearing in states. Frankly, that’s not been true in some time anyway; if one reviews the history of candidate appearances, they are often strategically located in border areas where voters from several states can attend. It’s not as if a candidate appearing in Cleveland is solely campaigning to voters from Ohio; voters from nearby states will travel to attend — which shows that the US is already divided more regionally than by state borders.

Secondly, it’s worth pausing to question the value of personal appearances in a modern election environment. Yes, the “ground game,” as it’s called, is often cited as a key in driving turnout within battleground states — but remember that battleground states are a phenomenon of the Electoral College, which renders more than half of all American votes meaningless. Certainly the vast majority of votes for any candidate come from people who have never seen the candidate in person.

Also bear in mind that this was never a design feature of the Electoral College, which was designed during an era when Presidents were expected *not* to campaign.

Lastly, it’s already the case that only a small handful of states ever see candidates in person. Appearances are focused on battleground states where the outcome is in question; appearances in other states are generally confined to high-dollar fundraising events.

There is some logic to say that candidates in a nationwide popular election would be inclined to focus on high-population regions like large Northeastern cities or Los Angeles, but there is no reason to think they would ONLY appear there. In fact, we have a long-standing example to show how false that suspicion is: Senate races.

Senators already run in popular elections, only they’re statewide instead of national. Many states offer examples of populations divided between densely populated urban areas and larger rural regions: New York and California, certainly, but also Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and many other states with both large cities and large rural populations. In none of these cases do Senate candidates limit their appearances to urban regions alone, because they understand the need to reach voters in both regions.

The fact is, candidates will design a strategy that allows them to reach undecided voters and drive turnout among supporters. This approach will not lead to a focus solely on a handful of urban regions, where turnout is often higher than average and voters’ minds are already made up.

The Electoral College creates and reinforces stereotypes about states.

Quick: What’s the biggest agricultural state in the country? Kansas? Iowa? Nebraska?

The answer is California. Of course, under our current system California is viewed as a massive liberal paradise, a “blue state” where everyone drives electric cars and insists on green energy alone.

Likewise, New York is full of liberals, and Texans are all conservative. Right?

Well, in a word, no. Nor are states like Alabama and Oklahoma made up solely of hardcore right-wingers. The fact is all of our states contain voters from all lifestyles and interests. Many so-called “blue states,” which come to be defined by their large urban areas, are also the nation’s largest agricultural producers: New York, Washington, and Illinois are all counted among the larger farming states in the nation.

The arbitrary lines around state borders (which date back as far as the 1600’s, drawn by the English monarchy when the states were still US colonies) for the most part don’t relate in any way to the perspectives, lifestyles, or opinions of individual residents. The Electoral College has created a simplified narrative in which divisive stereotypes drive antipathy between states.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose that a nationwide popular election would improve national unity, by bringing together voters with similar priorities from separate parts of the nation.

Ending the Electoral College would increase voter engagement and turnout.

It is demonstrably true that turnout is significantly higher in swing states than in states that are “solid red” or “solid blue,” and there is ample reason to believe that without the Electoral College, voter turnout nationwide would increase.

Never again would we hear “I don’t need to vote, I already know who’s winning my state,” or the opposite “there’s no reason for me to vote, there’s no way my candidate wins this state.” Every vote would count, and count equally.

More than that, though, without the Electoral College there is less opportunity for state legislatures to turn the result of an election through voter suppression. It would be naive to suggest that voter suppression would disappear — indeed, initially at least the nation may see an increased effort to keep people away from the polls — but when states can no longer guarantee a win for their candidate by, say, keeping a quarter of African-American voters from voting, it stands to reason that there may be less motivation to attempt suppression.

Ending the Electoral College might improve party messaging.

Might a nationwide popular election actually improve our politics? It’s possible — one might even say likely — when one considers the current approach relies on turning out the more extreme voters in a handful of swing states.

A nationwide election would put many more voters in play: Again, Republican candidates have long known they could ignore the concerns of voters in Upstate New York, Central California, and most of New England, just as Democratic candidates have not tailored their message to left-leaning residents of Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi or New Orleans.

With all voters in play, the parties and candidates would need to craft messages that appeal to all people who lean to their side. It’s logical to expect that this would push both candidates to a more reasoned, broad approach instead of the relatively extreme views we hear today. Instead of trying to carve a relatively small majority from the tiny portion of American votes that counts (ie, only those within swing states who will actually come to the polls) candidates would for the first time benefit from appealing to the widest possible cross-section of eligible American voters.

It is probably fair to suspect that some of these arguments are idealistic, and at no point in this series have I ventured into the question of how America might go about ending the Electoral College. It does not seem likely under the current system, in which the party that most benefits from the Electoral College also controls all federal branches of government and most state legislatures. That’s a topic I’ve set aside for now, in favor of the many arguments that prove one thesis:

The Electoral College is bad. It’s harmful, it’s outdated and anti-democratic, racially biased, and it wrecks American elections — even when it doesn’t run counter to the popular vote.

It’s time for the Electoral College to go.

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It’s Time for the Republican Party to Abandon its Racist Base

October 20, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 558

As the third and final debate of the 2016 Presidential Election concluded last night, it was clear to anyone that Donald Trump’s collapse was complete. After a performance in which he threatened to end 215 years of peaceful transition of Presidential power, vascilated between condemning and admiring Vladimir Putin, and lashed out at the last minute by labeling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman,” even the most die-hard conservative commentators had to admit that he’d lost.

Except, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani, who has transformed from America’s mayor to America’s greatest sycophant.

But Trump’s catastrophic collapse is not his alone. Certainly the election is far from over, but polling data shows that barring some unforeseen development, Hillary Clinton will win the election in a landslide so dramatic that the Democrats will likely take the Senate and possibly–even in spite of prohibitive gerrymandering–the House. As one could tell watching Bill Kristol practically collapse into tears on Morning Joe, the Republican Party is in dire straits, done in by an identity crisis and a fundamental sickness of which Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Only a scant 22 months ago, the Republicans were picking up massive gains in every body of government, from Congress to Gubernatorial mansions to state and local offices. As the 2014 election set records for low turnout, Tea Party Republicans seemed the only people motivated to go to the polls and signify their disapproval of President Obama and his policies.

But was it really ever about his policies? Trump’s rise provides evidence for something many on the left, myself included, have been saying since the earliest days of the Tea Party: That their energy and anger was never really about taxes or sovereignty or the Constitution, it was about race, white nationalism, and xenophobia. This was clear from the start to anyone who paid attention; people claiming to be driven by tax policy didn’t know anything about actual tax policy; what they “knew” was that President Obama was an African Muslim bent on taking their guns and destroying America.

This is the energy Donald Trump seized, and rode past 17 other candidates, all of them (arguably) more qualified than him, to the Republican nomination, despite the party establishment’s best efforts to stop him.

But why? Why couldn’t the Republicans trust their voters to choose policy and electability over racism and xenophobia, to save them from certain doom at the hands of Donald “The Groping Narcissist” Trump?

Simple. Because Republican policy has been broken for years, so broken that to get voters to support them, the GOP built a coalition of hate and fear. But as the population of people to be feared has grown, and more people added to the list, that coalition has found themselves outnumbered and incapable of winning the important elections.

Republicans knew as early as the 1960s that they could not win elections on the merits of their policies. The roots of Donald Trump’s rise are in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which used coded rhetoric and stoked latent Confederate resentment after the Civil Rights Era to win white racists to the Republican Party. Nixon replaced Johnson’s War on Poverty with a War on Drugs, which was only ever really a war on black communities.

By the 1980s it was Ronald Reagan, telling the story of a fictional “inner-city welfare queen,” playing on racism to get poor whites to vote against welfare programs from which they benefitted; but racism alone was not enough to win every election, so in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Republicans formed a pact with the so-called “Moral Majority,” the American theocratic movement that feared gays, abortion, and atheists.

Muslims, who through the 70s and 80s took a back seat as villains to the Soviets, would have to wait until the end of the Cold War to be labeled as the greatest enemies of the state, and while murmurs of white anxiety about Mexican immigrants were heard, it would not be until the 1990s, when recession made the job-destroying consequences of Republican policy vividly apparent, that white conservatives began pointing fingers at Mexico and the need for southern border security.

But the predominantly white population on which these tactics worked was ever shrinking as a percent of voting population, and as culture shifted and LGBTQ Americans gained mainstream acceptance the GOP lost one of their wedge issues. Republicans had a wake-up call in 2012, and in the miniature identity crisis that followed considered the need to alter immigration and jobs policies to appeal to Latinx Americans, soften on anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and otherwise shift to invite a wider section of America’s increasingly diverse voting base.

Instead, the party went the other way, intensifying their rhetoric until they alienated even those relatively few diverse voters who still aligned with them. Rather than work to embrace minority populations (who, combined, now constitute a majority of Americans) the Republicans advanced new voting requirements to prevent those minorities from voting, a desperate and despicable ploy to preserve the power of their alliance just a little bit longer.

Many experts cited Republican fears about alienating their base, and the need to win local and primary elections dominated by Tea Party voters. The implied assumption there, however, and one that I believe is correct, is that softening would not successfully attract new voters because Republican policies are fundamentally flawed. This is why there are no more Rockefeller Republicans, and almost no more of Bush’s “compassionate conservatives.” The only way to get people other than the most wealthy corporate elite to vote against their own self-interest and to support the Republican party is to appeal to their hatred and bigotry.

And so the GOP candidates and party establishment finds themselves now, cursed with a candidate who cannot win–and whose catastrophic candidacy seems poised to drag the entire party down with it–as the inevitable product of a machine they created.

The only solution? If the Republican Party wants any chance at winning major elections in the future, it must evolve. The United States is never going back to the way things were in the 1950s, and it is past time that one of our two major parties stop pretending otherwise.

Our immigration system is antiquated and broken, and voters will embrace realistic, reasonable immigration reform. Closed borders and isolationism are neither practically feasible nor appealing to Americans who embrace our diversifying culture. No more mythology about immigrants bringing crime and drugs; reforming the way ICE approaches immigration enforcement and transforming it into something humane and decent would win a lot of votes.

No more “tough on crime” laws. Mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws are devastating to communities and carry a huge tax burden to enforce. In recent years, the curtain has been drawn back to reveal the ugly reality of American law enforcement. Modern policing is oppressive and incompatible with any party that claims to value a small government that doesn’t intrude in people’s lives. Put forward meaningful reforms on law enforcement, including community policing and sentencing guidelines.

While you’re at it, bring the War on Drugs to a definitive end. The idea is totally compatible with the core values of reducing regulation, shrinking government, and minimizing tax-funded public expense. The War on Drugs costs Americans billions every year, it destroys families and communities, and it doesn’t do anything to prevent drug abuse. Legalize drugs, tax their sales (Republicans prefer use taxes to income taxes, right?) and use the revenues to fund rehabilitation and education that might actually solve drug abuse problems–like the catastrophic opioid epidemic that generally already begins with the legal use of prescription drugs.

Abandon the anti-science stance that allows you to deny climate change is an existential crisis, and bring the same energy and enthusiasm to that problem that the GOP does to all other matters of national security. Stop allowing corporations to pretend carbon emissions aren’t the problem, and instead work with them to incentivize solutions.

It’s time to reevaluate all Republican policies, but especially the most hard-line, because the beliefs to which you cling hardest are the ones with the least rational justification. Trickle-down does not work, that’s a proven fact. Christianity has never been our official religion, and it never will be, so stop trying to force it on us. The Second Amendment affords Americans the right to self-defense, but right now Americans need defense from the Second Amendment.

All of these reforms would change the GOP from an out-of-touch relic that relies on trickery and manipulation to achieve any power, and provide a viable second party alternative to voters who feel frustrated by our broken political system. Would they alienate the racist white voters who have come to define the Republican Party? Abso-fucking-lately they would. The GOP would need to be prepared for a lot of angry phone calls, bigotry, and death threats of the variety those on the left currently receive on a daily basis. You’d probably also see a number of GOP politicians jump ship to become independents or join the Liberarian Party.

But that’s okay; embracing meaningful changes in policy would attract conservative-leaning voters who right now align as reluctant Democrats, or feel totally disenfranchised. In all likelihood, a GOP that kept to conservative principles while embracing science and realistic policy measures would lure bright centrist politicians away from the Democratic Party to replace fringe Tea Party extremists who jump ship.

And perhaps most importantly, such changes would again provide the American voter with two viable parties from which to choose. As a very left-leaning Democratic voter myself, I desperately want a reasonable and attractive Republican Party to force my politicians to work hard and put forward real solutions to our problems.

Will the Republican leadership see it this way? Almost certainly not. For one thing, appeals to racism have been so intrinsic to the party for so long that many of the officials themselves are racists. Others are corporate shills who aren’t interested in doing work that actually benefits the country, just the next rhetorical trick that will keep Americans voting against their own self-interest. My expectation is that the GOP will keep on the same path, maybe even further intensifying their rhetoric, until their victories are limited only to the whitest and most bigoted state and local offices, and congressional districts so gerrymandered they look like the letters of some alien language.

But wouldn’t it be nice if Trump were the last of the racist Republians? If Nixon’s Southern Strategy was finally laid on the ash-heap of history, as they say, and America entered 2017 with two rival political parties ready to face the realities of the 21st century instead of trying to turn back the clock?

Human progress moves slowly; that’s a fact. In government, in the United States, it is almost incentivized to move slower still. But Donald Trump and his catastrophic, embarassing bid for the Presidency is a death knell for the Republican Party. The question is whether it can reinvent itself and rise, or be itself consigned to the ashes.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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New York City’s Naked Hillary Statue is a Misogynist Political Cartoon

October 18, 2016 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (2) 1042

This morning, an artist named Anthony Scioli staged a political protest in downtown Manhattan by erecting a mostly-naked statue of Hillary Clinton near Bowling Green park. The move appears to be a reaction to the naked Donald Trump statue displayed in Union Square in August by an anarchist collective called INDECLINE.

Note: I could find no photos of either the Hillary or Trump statue that I could use without violating the photographer’s copyright; click the links above to see the statues for yourself.

Politically, Scioli has every right to stage his protest. New York City requires a permit for such a display, and counter-terrorism(!) police reportedly told him he had to remove his statue less than three hours after it went up, but not before morning commuters tore it down and engaged in a street-brawl about whether it belonged.

As an artistic and political statement, Scioli’s statue is troubling and speaks to much of what’s wrong with the way Hillary’s critics approach her, especially in contrast with the artistic choices around “Naked Trump.”

Let’s begin with the most obvious and attention-getting aspect of Naked Hillary: Her swollen, naked belly and exposed breasts. The artist who created Naked Trump crafted a very realistic human form that, while overweight, closely approximated Donald Trump’s actual physique. The one (likely) exaggeration was the statue’s obvious micropenis.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, has a body resembling a fertility goddess or R. Crumb cartoon, a grotesque parody of the female form. It bears almost no resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s actual figure. Instead, it is a commentary on the female form itself. The statue’s shape reflects the way Hillary’s critics view her: Burdened and disfigured by her femininity. Were this the artist’s primary statement, one could almost see this as a commentary on the way our society regards women; in combination with the statue’s other aesthetic and symbolic choices, however, such a reading is impossible.

Naked Hillary is posed mid-gesticulation, her arms spread wide as her mouth and eyes expand in wild-eyed frenzy. Once again, the choice contrasts with that to depict Naked Trump at rest, a placid if somewhat self-satisfied expression on his face. Especially when one considers that Trump is by far the more bombastic of the two, this choice again says more about the artist than about Hillary herself. Hillary Clinton is many things, but frenzied is not one of them. Instead, the wild expression and contorted open mouth reflect a primary objection from her critics: She is an outspoken woman.

From behind her belly and beneath her open shirt emerges the glib face and hand of her husband Bill; because god forbid any woman, even the likely first female President, be regarded as an individual human being apart from the man who defines her. It’s not entirely clear what purpose Bill serves; his expression and reaching hand likely hint at his well-known reputation, but in a surprisingly subtle move (considering the other symbolic choices) he is sans-cigar.

[EDIT, 12:30PM: From the photos available earlier this morning I took this to be Bill Clinton, but from later photos, it’s clearly not. It appears to be a banker fondling her and kissing her breast, adding another layer of troubling symbolism to the piece (why must alleged corruption be portrayed via sexual symbology? Because she’s a woman??) but doesn’t much alter the overall thesis as I’ve laid it out here. Just note that it is definitely not Bill.]

Below Bill’s hand, Hillary’s nether-regions are clad in a simple pair of white panties, because even in retaliating for Naked Trump, the artists regard female genitalia as too vulgar and offensive to be exposed in public. From there down, Hillary is transformed into a literal devil, her human legs replaced by hairy goat legs and hooves. Beneath her left hoof is a pile of papers; it’s hard to say with certainty from the photos online, but they would appear to be a mountain of emails. Her right hoof crushes a Google-style marker denoting a location on the map she stands upon, soaking it in blood that spills into the ocean.

Though the map is distorted, it’s almost certain that the marker denotes… wait for it… BENGHAZI.

The Naked Trump statue that made headlines in August was a simple artistic statement: It stripped The Donald of his glamor, of his character, of his bluster and his dignity and depicted him as nothing more than a man. Yes, the representation was distorted in some subtle ways to embarrass him: the tiny penis, the saggy skin and hanging jowl. But the artistic statement was to emphasize his humanity.

Naked Hillary, in contrast, is anything but human. She is a cartoon, so burdened by the symbols of right-wing knocks against her that no actual person remains. The statue’s artistic choices illustrate more about her critics than the candidate herself. Hillary’s attackers see her female-ness, they see the manufactured scandals they’ve associated with her, they see her refusal to sit down and keep quiet, and they see her husband as an intrinsic part of her personhood. The thing they are incapable of seeing is her humanity.

In the end, the Naked Hillary statue shares much with the right-wing movement against Hillary. It is wholly unoriginal and reactionary, exaggerated until it has little resemblance to reality, and based more on an imaginary character named Hillary Clinton than on the actual human politician by that name. It is fundamentally misogynist, and so burdened by decades of talking points and fake scandals that it can’t make an original statement of criticism. It’s less a “protest” than a political cartoon, one that repeats the same tired message Republicans have been reciting for the better part of 30 years.

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