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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Dysfunction junction

by John Brummett | November 8, 2020 at 7:51 a.m.

Any presidential election provides a rare and rich opportunity for commentary on our condition and trends.

But this one beats all.

Supposedly a presidential race identifies a prevailing national mood. This latest zany chapter established that the prevailing national mood is that there is not a prevailing national mood.

What prevails is a deep, harsh and embedded divide, a head-butting of approximately co-equal incompatible moods, long existing but now intensifying. It favors Democrats over Republicans by 51-49 or a little more nationally. It favors Republicans by 65-35 in Arkansas. And it runs pretty much in a dead heat in the electoral college.

Most likely, the federal government seated in January will remain split among Democratic and Republican control. That will further the cycle of partisan perpetuation and dysfunction.

It will be fine as long as interest rates remain ground-level and we can print money when real needs arise. We will depend on international economic interdependence to let us get away with that. We'll rely on our state governments to spend the money with some degree of competence and efficiency.

In this election, the divide was vividly revealed in attitudes about the pandemic.

Election-night returns looked good for Donald Trump because, generally, day-of-election voting machine ballots get tabulated first and quickly, and the day-of-election voters were heavily Trump fans. They were virus scoffers believing a little so-called pandemic is no reason to stop partying, getting out to vote and making and spending money.

In the days after, Joe Biden took control in posted returns. That's because states were arduously hand-processing the uncommon numbers of absentee and mailed votes from persons respectful of the virus and disdainful of Trump's irresponsibility while hopeful for Biden's empathy.

The clearest trend shown by the returns is about suburbs.

Originally, they were white-flight havens for people fleeing the cities for a conservative life that was heavily Republican. Now, they and their exurbs, at least in the vast metropolitan centers of the South and Southwest, have become relocation meccas for professional people allowed by their careers and technology to move from states perhaps colder or deemed too onerous by taxation or regulation or something else.

These people are apt to be of any political leaning, but perhaps more naturally center to left than right, and of diverse ethnicity.

There are three hotbeds for such in-migration. They are the greater regions of Phoenix, Atlanta and, in between, the big cities of Texas--Houston, Dallas, San Antonio.

The political effect is that those three states are trending red toward blue into purple. And that threatens to change perhaps for a decade or two or longer an electoral college that previously favored Republicans, awarding them two second-place presidents this young century.

I have been advocating--some thought whimsically, but I was serious--that, in our mobile and virtual society, Democrats quit bunching up in a few states and, instead, redistribute themselves smartly among other states to fashion an electoral college advantage.

That appears to have happened by natural migration.

Meantime, it may have been less a trend than a reflection of current reality, but Democrats underperformed expectations in congressional races because of their heavily burdened association with terms such as "defund the police," "socialism" and "shut down the oil industry."

That scared away swing voters and inspired right-wing voters to turn out, putting Democratic candidates at the plate with two strikes in vast areas of the country.

Finally, here in Arkansas: White rural Arkansas Democratic state legislators are nearly extinct.

There was a time, not long ago, that a conservative or moderate local person in rural Arkansas, popular and respected in the community, could get elected to the state Legislature as a Democrat. This election cycle ended the last vestige of that.

Conservative to moderate Democrats in rural Arkansas, whether incumbents or challengers, and even if possessed of solid military, church-

going and family-values resumes, got wiped out.

It was largely because of mailers from state Republican headquarters reminding these candidates' neighbors that these candidates were members of a party advancing the socialistic likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the uncompromising liberalism of Nancy Pelosi.

It's not that these neighbors believed their friends and fellow churchgoers to be baby-killers or gun-confiscators. It's that these neighbors were given to wonder why their friends ran on the ticket of a party filled with

baby-killers and gun-confiscators.

One banker Republican running for a legislative seat in south Arkansas--which he of course won--scoffed at the notion that the retired brigadier general and Bosnia/Afghanistan veteran against whom he was running was different from Pelosi.

"They're Democrats. They're all liberal," he said.

The once-viable idea that an Arkansas Democrat could be liberal on public education and human services without being liberal on defunding the police or a Green New Deal... I think it fled Arkansas and wound up in some place like Chappaqua, N.Y.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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