One week after Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow joined a panel of NYU Law experts to consider the ongoing impact of the election. Moderated by Dean Trevor Morrison, the event also included Samuel Issacharoff, Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law; Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program and leader of the Voting Rights and Elections project at the Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice; and Richard Pildes, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law on Leave.
Pildes, who provided counsel to the Clinton campaign on Election Day in Pennsylvania, offered stark statistics indicating the large proportion of counties that were won by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but by Trump this year. “The white working class, which is more than 40 percent of the electorate, abandoned the Democratic Party in this election,” he said. “Hillary Clinton was Mitt Romney in this election to those voters.”
The Brennan Center’s agenda in the election’s aftermath, Pérez said, includes protecting and preserving minority rights, working to instill confidence in the election system, and pursuing reforms to increase voter participation, which she characterized as far too low. It was crucial, she argued, to discern where democracy’s infrastructures had failed.
“We had from all corners of the country a general distrust and lack of confidence in our system,” she said. “In addition to the ‘rigged’ rhetoric, we were dealing with the Russian hack scare. One, that’s not the kind of thing that we should be dealing with, and two, it is not going to be inspiring people to participate or to trust the outcome.”
For Issacharoff, the election raised issues related to the erosion of longstanding institutions. After almost two centuries of channeling politics through two major parties, he argued, the dynamic has shifted: “There were outsiders to the parties”—Bernie Sanders and Trump—“who basically took them over, who found that they were shells that couldn’t protect themselves.” Parties once controlled money, civil service jobs, and the nominating process but have lost considerable power in all those areas, he said, resulting in diminished influence.
The decline of the private-sector union, another formerly robust institution, has also weakened the traditional Democratic Party base, Issacharoff suggested, as white working-class supporters with social views diverging from those of the party become increasingly alienated without organized labor as a unifying force.
Maddow was mindful of her own profession’s weakened state. She pointed to the nature of online news content that results when Google ad dollars go to the pages that receive the most traffic, whether the information is accurate or not. “If that’s going to be the way we curate our media now, it’s like taking a drink out of a puddle. Sometimes it’s fine,” she said, leaving the audience to complete the thought.
Pérez said she worried about prejudice against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities that could arise from populist ire. “My fear is that folks are going to stoke that anger rather than try and solve it,” she said. “Folks are going to be able to go straight to the easy scapegoating rather than actually thinking about the policies.”
Maddow voiced a parallel concern in her reaction to reports that Trump might continue to hold rallies as president. “If he keeps up the kind of personal attacks that he has on individual Supreme Court justices like Justice Ginsburg, if he continues to attack the legitimacy of protest against him, if he then starts holding intimidating mass rallies of his own supporters, we’re into a different lane of American politics than we’ve ever seen before.”
Pildes offered some broader perspective, speaking of the thousands of lawyers in every part of the federal government who place constraints on potential executive overreach when a Congress of the same party might not. The Supreme Court, too, he said, could well play a similar role.
“My concern there is less about the Court but what Trump might do in response to that,” said Pildes, “because any time any institution has stood in his way, he’s tended to try to delegitimate that institution. If he does that in the sense of not following a command from the US Supreme Court, then we are really in the realm of massive constitutional crisis. But right now there are all the worst fears of what a Trump administration might be, and there are much better scenarios about what that administration might be as well. We have to see which direction this goes.”
Watch the full video of the event (55 min):
Posted November 17, 2016