Election 2016: What If the Bridge Goes Nowhere?

Steve Russell

The duel of metaphors in the 2016 elections is between those who want to build walls and those who want to build bridges, those who see diversity as strength are alarmed by those who see it as a debilitating disease. And vice versa.

This does not break down cleanly by Democrat and Republican. The Democratic Party harbors racists, sexists, and other kinds of xenophobes. The Republican Party is still political home to people who associate the GOP with the birth of civil rights law under Abraham Lincoln and legal control of rogue corporations under Theodore Roosevelt.

Both parties claim sane adherents but the question those of us without a political party to call our own have to ask is who is running things?

I was reminded of bridges v. walls when Rachel Hoff, the first openly gay Republican to serve on the platform committee, failed to stop the planks to defy the SCOTUS on gay marriage and to defy the medical establishment on the treatment protocol for gender dysphoria. Hoff was reduced to begging for a plank to denounce Islamic terrorists for targeting LGBT people in Orlando. Politico reported her plea:

Can you not, at the very least, stand up for our right not to be killed?

They could not.

It’s hard to recognize the party of Lincoln and Roosevelt in the modern GOP, which claims to love America while making laws that do purposeful harm to great swaths of the country.

Some of us are old enough to remember that this party working to destroy all the remedies for violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was key to passing it in the first place. Ever since WWII, the Dixiecrats had bottled up civil rights legislation in the senate with a filibuster. In 1964, the Republican leadership teamed up with the mainstream Democrats to win a cloture vote and the Civil Rights Act became law.

Few people living now remember the Republican Roosevelt creating the National Park System, but you don’t have to be old at all to remember Republican President Richard Nixon creating the Environmental Protection Agency. Now it’s part of the GOP gospel that environmental laws and the regulations to enforce those laws are “job killers” that must be repealed. Expanding the national park system is now a “federal land grab” not authorized by the Constitution and must be stopped.

Indians often get spared direct attacks because we are so few. We get caught in the prop wash of brown in a no brown zone laws and voter suppression laws, but we are seldom direct targets. That would change under a President Donald J. Trump.

When George W. Bush famously remarked that “state law reigns supreme” over Indians, he had just never read the Indian Commerce Clause. His attempted recovery by stating that Indian tribes had been “given” sovereignty was an error too subtle for somebody so ignorant of Indian affairs.

When remembering those remarks, we would do well to remember that ignorance is not malice so that we can know malice when we see it.

Trump, unlike Bush, has an opinion of tribal sovereignty that was on the record long before he ran for office. He even has a coherent theory to support his self-interest in the repeal of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, even if he lacks the legal knowledge to understand that IGRA limited tribal authority rather than expanding it.

Trump understands sovereignty as a threat to his interests even if he does not fully understand where it comes from. President Trump will not hurt us accidentally. He will hurt us on purpose and he’s said so whenever asked.

Why worry? Hillary Clinton is leading in all the polls in enough states to win and Bill Clinton was not an Indian fighter. We should worry because Trump has already defied the laws of political gravity. He stands for change in a change election even if he refuses to explain the nature of the change in concrete terms.

The voters are in no mood to read the white papers Clinton posts on her website. Her detailed proposals come off as wayward wonkery. Learning what Trump is about is as effortless as learning the specifics is impossible:

Who is going to pay for the wall? Mexico!

I’m going to take care of our veterans.

I’m going to end those bad trade deals and negotiate good trade deals.

I will defeat ISIS and do it quickly.

I am going to rebuild the world’s strongest military, maintain Social Security benefits as they are, and cut taxes.

Go ahead and laugh, but it’s Trump’s election to lose.

So far, he’s been doing a great job of losing it, and it’s worth pointing out he’s probably the only candidate the GOP could put up that would have a chance of losing against Hillary Clinton. She poses no threat to Indians but she is extremely unpopular.

There is no current in politics deeper and stronger than a change wave.

Ms. Clinton can pull it out if and only if (1) she runs a perfect campaign and (2) Trump continues his run of unforced errors.

Do you realize how lopsided the spending has been to date? She has been spending circles around Trump and the swing-state polls were flitting around the margin of error until Trump attacked the family of a fallen soldier and accused President Obama of founding ISIS. This is how a political death spiral begins.

I have never in my life seen an election where the voters are incentivized by negatives rather than positives and I don’t see how that can change in three months.

So it’s comes down to voter turnout and the anti-Trump voters think exactly what you are thinking, that there's no way this country would turn the nuclear football over to a bigoted Cheeto who claims that we are living in the world of Mad Max. It’s not a real contest, so why bother to vote?

The anti-Clinton voters feel the hounds of hell breathing on their necks. Those hounds are named globalization and demographics. Neither can be stopped and deep down the unskilled white males know it, but never underestimate blind panic.

The election is—or was—Trump’s to lose. His death spiral is gathering speed and therefore inertia by the day and Clinton is expanding her definition of “swing state,” going in for the kill.  He’ll probably manage to lose it, but I hate to bet the farm on that.

It’s easy to see how a nation being fed terrorism video from the entire world all around the 24/7 news cycle can be made fearful of something less likely than being struck by lightning or being bitten by a shark. It’s easy to see how a demagogue fans fear into hatred and fools enough of the people enough of the time to persuade them to choose the wall over the bridge.

If that happens, it won’t be Mexico paying for it.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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