Actually, Trump is Pretty Easy to Beat

I watched the last democratic debate on Wednesday night and one of the subjects brought up over and over by every candidate was “we need to choose a candidate who can beat Donald Trump,” with each making their own case for why they’re that person. The way each candidate talked was in line with how most liberals I know (or follow on Twitter) seem to view this upcoming election, as a very difficult one against a candidate who is uniquely hard to defeat. It’s easy to understand why they feel this way: we all got cocky last election thinking Trump had no chance, he seemed immune to scandals or deficiencies that would sink other candidates, and of course, he won and is now an incumbent. But increasingly I think people fundamentally misunderstand what happened last election and as a result are underrating the chances of the democratic nominee, regardless of who it is.

My belief in this is primarily rooted in one idea: that Hillary Clinton was possibly the worst presidential candidate in American history. This has nothing to do with my own beliefs or feelings about her but is instead a conclusion that I think can be reached by clearly looking at facts. Clinton had never shown a particular knack for winning elections and was essentially gifted the Democratic nomination because it was “her turn.” The first sign she might not be a great candidate was when relative unknown Bernie Sanders put a huge dent in her campaign. Hillary had spent years in the public eye being a polarizing political figure, and whether it’s fair or not, people just don’t really like Hillary, as evidenced by her consistently low favorability ratings.

Despite Hillary being uniquely bad, Trump’s victory required a wide confluence of fortunate events. Hillary was a heavy favorite in the days leading up to the election until the infamous Comey letter gradually swung the odds until Trump was (if I remember correctly) about 30-40 percent to win on Election Day according to FiveThirtyEight. Even with the letter (and Russia and sexism if you want to fold in those factors), Trump won by very narrowly defeating Clinton in three swing states while losing the popular vote, and my guess is if you simulated that Election Day a million times he probably wins less than 50 percent of the time.

In addition to that evidence, there’s just the reality that all of us witnessed Trump bumble his way through the campaign, beat a clown car of incompetent Republican frontrunners in the GOP primary, run into a constant string of scandals, and get crushed in every debate by a not particularly great debater. Of course, he has a base of people who like him and Republicans who will put up with him, but that isn’t enough people to turn him into an electoral powerhouse. Now running as an incumbent, he doesn’t have that “let’s burn this whole system down” angle supporting him, but instead will be forced to defend the status quo of his own presidency, which rates as highly unpopular in every poll, putting him in the same company as past incumbent losers like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Every potential democratic nominee (except for Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, who objectively suck) will likely be favored over Trump in a general election. People my age don’t really like Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar much, but they’re each skilled politicians who know how to win elections and are generally liked. Bernie Sanders, the current frontrunner, has consistently high favorability ratings, is pretty much scandal-free (outside of media-created pseudo-scandals like “Bernie Bros” and concern over his age), and has an enthusiastic base with a message that emotionally resonates with a wide range of people. Elizabeth Warren could potentially unite those two sides of the party, winning over some of the less extreme Bernie supporters while also appealing to moderates and independents. Regardless of your own leanings, it seems really obvious to me that these choices are far better than Hillary Clinton, who was widely hated and only created enthusiasm among those weird people on Twitter who thought she was Daenarys Targaryen or something.

And note that this is coming from me, someone who is cynical to a fault and has essentially no faith in humanity to ever do the right thing. I’m fully aware that the majority of voters just pick who they like most in a very lizard-brained way. That’s part of why I think one of the popular democratic nominees, especially someone like Sanders who has likability and authenticity, is likely to win over a widely despised incumbent. Basically, I don’t think Trump is an effective campaigner just because he barely won one election against a horrible candidate, and this time he will face a much stronger candidate in a far less favorable context. This doesn’t mean it will literally be an easy campaign or that he can’t possibly win again, but other than PTSD or Russia conspiracy theories, there is no real reason for liberals to be so scared of this guy. Right now, the biggest thing liberals need to overcome is their own defeatist mentality.

 

Please Don’t Sing About Donald Trump

Two years into his presidency, musicians have formed a consensus about Donald Trump: he’s a subpar president whose style of governing leaves much to be desired. Most of them don’t seem to care for his behavior one bit, and I don’t blame them. I don’t like to get too political, but heck, I’ll just say it: I don’t really enjoy Donald Trump as president either. I’ve been underwhelmed by much of his decision-making and have yet to really be blown away by anything he’s done. In fact, I think there’s a very real chance he’ll go down in history as one of our least great presidents.

Right when Trump got elected, there was a lot of chatter about how great it would be for art, as all of the brave artists would rally to “stick it to the man” and make their best work while suffering terribly. I was a bit more skeptical. I don’t think a bunch of assholes running the country is the sort of thing that spurs creativity and I’m familiar with how artists get when they feel like they need to “speak their truth” about current events. So I knew what we were really in for: a lot of songs that preach to the choir, pretending to be really daring while having an ineffectual “Trump stinks, maaaaaaaannnnnnn” tone. When I hear songs like this, I understand for a moment why the GOP is so passionate about cutting funding to the arts.

Everyone knows I’m not the type to rip into specific artists and mock their craft. That isn’t what this blog is about, and I would never use this space to add more negativity into the world. So I won’t bash specific artists (like, say, The 1975) for making music that I feel is about pandering to people with obvious talking points. Instead, like always, I want to focus on the positive: an artist who has managed to make music about these times that resonates without resorting to condescending lyrics and false bravado.

The album I’m talking about here is Julia Holter’s Aviary. When it came time to rank my favorite albums at the end of the year, this was the hardest one to peg because it had so much going on and it was hard to tell if I liked the music or just liked the process of listening to the music (I have no idea if this makes sense). Clocking in at a ridiculous 90 minutes, it’s an album that clearly is making a point through excess. There is an unreasonable amount going on even in each song, they all seem to run a little too long, and there are way too many of them. It’s not quite impenetrable, but it asks a lot of anyone listening to it.

This is all reminiscent of what living in 2018 is like, where there is a lot of overstimulation and it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what matters, particularly when it comes to political news. Her twist is to turn all that mind-numbing chaos and noise into something beautiful so that the album also functions as an escapist fantasy world, similar to Björk’s UtopiaAviary has a lot to say about life right now, but it always shows the listener instead of telling. All of its moods are conveyed through sound and feeling.

What I come back to with Holter’s album is how it challenged the listener and rewarded them for putting in the effort. Because it was this mountain to climb, I wanted to keep listening and thinking about it until I made it to the top. Music that is explicitly about Trump could never hope to accomplish that unique feeling because the artist has chosen to anchor themselves to the type of tired commentary heard on Saturday Night Live. An album like Aviary, on the other hand, understands there is no value in telling people what they already know.

The appeal of the obvious topical music is that it is perceived to be offering a window into these times and capturing a certain mood of the populace. I have never really bought into that as a reason to praise music. Every artist is living in the present and on albums like Aviary, those traits organically came out because she was channeling her experiences and mindset into art. That holds true for every artist, even if they’re making shoegaze music with no discernible lyrics. There are many more ways to comment on life and society than quoting Trump’s Access Hollywood tape in your song.