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Bill Straub: Don’t assume, don’t assume, don’t assume; presidential race undecided in very bad year

I was a 15-year-old high school student in 1968, the year often cited as the worst in modern history, if you consider anything that occurred 52 summers ago within the realm of modernity.

It had everything, a veritable little shop of horrors – the assassinations of two great men, vicious rioting, street protests over an unjust and immoral war, police going berserk in Chicago, families torn asunder.

For long periods it really felt for all the world like the nation’s political infrastructure was crumbling and the grand experiment initiated by the founders was experiencing a slow, painful death before our very eyes.

But America, as it has always done, even after experiencing turbulence like a Civil War and a Great Recession, displayed the necessary resilience to rebound. While it has never really captured the sacred promise of equal rights and justice for all, it reassumed its spot as the greatest nation on earth.
Which brings us to 2020, the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Believe it or not, as someone who lived through 1968 and hopes to survive 2020, I maintain that, in many ways, the present American experience is darker than the period we staggered through 52 years ago.

Back then, the overwhelming issue was Vietnam. It was the catalyst to a lot of the conflict we associate with that era – massive protests, violent acts of sabotage by groups like the Weather Underground and the Days of Rage during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago were all spawned from that dirty little war.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

There were other issues, of course, primarily race, another matter the nation persistently has refused to address, which is now regaining momentum through the Black Lives Matter movement and those members of law enforcement who insist on shooting unarmed African-American men for no apparent reason.

But the Vietnam War was ephemeral, it ended. The wounds were serious but the affair eventually faded into the historical mist. This time, in 2020, it’s a battle over culture, which is never-ending. White people are feeling threatened, their superior status in jeopardy, and they’re waging what might be characterized as their own Battle of the Bulge — a last-ditch effort to maintain what they embrace as the nation’s core values.

That is why the door remains open to another four years of President Donald J. Trump.

It bears repeating that a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Four years ago, when the white vote constituted 70 percent of the total, Trump received an astounding 63 percent of the white male vote and 53 percent from white women – the latter a particularly surprising total since Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was the first female candidate to lead a presidential ticket.

The problem for this particular sector is the white voting monopoly is ebbing. According to the Center for American Progress, the electorate in 1976 was 89 percent white. By 2016 that figure had been reduced to 70 percent and it appears it will fall even further, to about 66.7 percent, this year.

Eventually, the Census Bureau places it at 2044, people of color will comprise a majority of the country’s population and the voter rolls will reflect the change accordingly.

More and more white voters are feeling squeezed. The culture is changing around them and they don’t like it. While Republicans derisively maintain Democrats are practicing “identity politics” because their policies are often directed at Black and brown people, it’s actually the GOP that’s catering to a specific group – white folks – sympathizing with what has become referred to as white grievance.

The north star for these disaffected white voters is Trump, who, at any other time in the nation’s history would be laughed off the political stage as unworthy – a conclusion easily reached given his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Without placing too sharp and edge on it, President Donald J. Trump is a liar, a huckster, a xenophobe, a racist, a misogynist, a sociopath, a man looking to squeeze every last penny from the U.S. Treasury to his benefit.

That’s not name calling. Those are facts. I know it, you know it. And he will still gain a substantial majority of the white vote because they idolize him for seemingly protecting their cultural interests.

Trump is the falling-down-drunk father who insults the new in-laws at the wedding ceremony, the loudest, most obnoxious guy at the end of the bar, the geezer you see pawing at some poor woman who just wants to be left alone.

And they made him the president.

There stands a good chance, I fear, that America, and the world, for that matter, may be stuck with this loon at the head of government for another four years, raising a legitimate question – whence America?

Heading into Labor Day, once the traditional start of the political season before 24-hour news outlets created the never-ending campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger, does indeed seem well-positioned. The RealClearPolitics average has him with a seven-point advantage nationwide – 49.5 to 42.5, a substantial edge against an incumbent less than 70 days before the election.

But, as we learned in 2016, that’s not the whole story. What counts is the Electoral College. Trump lost the popular tally by almost 3 million votes four years ago yet gained 304 electoral votes, substantially more than the 270 needed to plunk him in the White House.

That has something to do with an Electoral College map that, in its current state, favors Republicans.

Regardless, Trump can afford to lose several states he won by small margins in 2016 – say Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa – and still claim sufficient electoral votes to squeeze out a victory. And if he loses them and a couple others, pushing him below the 270 mark, he can still win if he picks up a state or two that Clinton won narrowly, say Minnesota, Nevada and/or New Hampshire, all of which are currently seen as toss-ups.

The idea that Biden, with a seven-point lead is on a glide-path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is a fool’s notion. The race will almost certainly tighten – they always do – and it’s been estimated that Biden will have to win by at least three percentage points in the national vote to assure an Electoral College majority.

The door remains open to four more years of chaos, mayhem and licentiousness. Frankly, despite the tut-tutting that they occasionally emit over Trump’s crudeness and rudeness, it seems his supporters really enjoy it since it generally is directed at those they despise.

It was Milton, in Paradise Lost, who wrote: “The infernal serpent; he it was whose guile, Stirr’d up with envy and revenge, deceived The mother of mankind.”

And that’s where we are in the year of our lord, 2020.

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