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Column: With Trump we lost the democratic system envisioned by our founders. With Biden we could get it back

President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden
President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden
(Associated Press)

If Joe Biden really has been elected president, then we truly can begin to “Make America Great Again.”

This country was great until President Trump was elected, running on a once-inconceivable demagogic message that the USA’s days of greatness were behind her. He then steadily proceeded to prove his claim, fracturing the nation and sullying its image overseas.

One of the best things about the election — regardless of whether Biden is victorious — is that a majority of American voters decided that incivility, bullying and lying were not acceptable in their president. We demand common decency and, at minimum, a passable role model that our children can look up to, regardless of politics.

The worst thing about the election — only to be outdone if Trump somehow manages to triumph — is that the majority is slim. More than 69 million Americans at last count — including more than 4 million Californians — apparently decided that the president’s abhorrent behavior was not very important to them and was tolerable.

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“Seeing this guy in action for four years lying, verbally brutalizing people, mocking people with [disabilities] how could nearly half the American voters say, ‘That’s fine with me?’” asks Democratic consultant Garry South.

“A lot of people don’t like the way he behaves, but they believe he is better for them,” answers Bob Shrum, a former Democratic strategist who now directs the Center for the Political Future at USC. “They are willing to tolerate him because their stock portfolios keep going up.

“They think he’ll be a better steward of the economy.”

That’s certainly what I constantly hear from Trump supporters.

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But, come on. At one of the most sacred times in our democratic system — election night — this president goes on TV and calls the vote counting “a fraud on the American public…an embarrassment to our country.”

America’s authoritarian adversaries must have been celebrating.

Even if Trump is ousted from the Oval Office, it was not the exhilarating election night that many Democrats had anticipated. They had envisioned a Biden landslide that would sweep in Democratic control of the Senate and add seats to the party’s House majority.

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But Republicans could retain Senate control and chip away at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s slim House majority.

The GOP also seems on the verge of winning back two or three House seats in California that it lost two years ago. Democrats, however, have apparently added to their massive majority in the state Senate.

But how did Trump add to his rock-solid base, debunking the Democratic thesis that his support couldn’t grow beyond its 2016 level?

“Trump was able to identify supporters and get them out to vote in sort of an old-fashioned way,” Democratic strategist Bill Carrick says.

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Those big campaign rallies with all the unmasked Trump zealots that many Democrats belittled as no longer needed in the era of social media? They worked by energizing voters.

But national polling didn’t show it.

Shrum believes that many people polled were “shy voters who didn’t think it was socially correct to say they were for Trump.”

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“In retrospect,” South says, “it may have been a mistake for Democrats across the board to make this election all about health insurance. About 92% of Americans already have health insurance — about 68% through their employers. Democrats act as if half the American population is uninsured. They’re preaching to a crowd that is already insured. People ask, ‘What does that have to do with me?’”

In 2018, running on healthcare worked for Democrats. But campaign consultants, like generals, often make the mistake of fighting the last war.

The Democrats running against Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic did seem to work.

During the presidential primaries, however, the Democratic candidates’ liberal yacking — although not by Biden — about “Medicare for all” probably scared off voters, especially when Trump bellowed “socialism.”

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In California, the national hesitation to side with Democrats was reflected in the outcome of five ballot propositions.

Two measures placed on the ballot by the Democrat-dominated Legislature were rejected. One was Proposition 16, which would have repealed the ban on affirmative action in public education, contracting or employment based on race, ethnicity or gender. The second, Proposition 18, would have allowed many 17-year-olds to vote.

Voters passed Proposition 22, which repealed the major part of a bill the Legislature passed to require many companies to reclassify independent contractors as employees. The measure will allow ride-hail and delivery drivers to keep working independently, a major defeat for labor.

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In rejecting Proposition 25, voters scuttled legislation that eliminated the requirement of cash bail for release from jail before trial.

Proposition 15 would have raised commercial property taxes and was trailing by roughly 3.6 percentage points at last count. It was sponsored by labor unions and strongly supported by Democratic leaders including Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Sacramento Democrats ought to be asking themselves whether they’re out of step with Californians,” says Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, a “never Trumper.”

“On policy stuff, California is not as liberal as some of the California leaders,” asserts moderate GOP consultant Ray McNally.

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Regardless of the Democrats’ weaker than expected showing nationally, Biden still beat Trump by roughly 2 to 1 in deep blue California.

But one-party rule can be dangerous. In Sacramento, Democrats need to discipline themselves against veering too far left of the electorate — as they did with those ballot measures.

For America to become great again, we need to revive the democratic system envisioned by our founders. That system encourages politicians to compromise, gradually improving our opportunities and conditions while being a beacon of freedom to the world.

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We lost that with Trump.


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