Blue skies

What if this wasn't the election you thought it was?

Jason Stanford

I’m going to be traveling this weekend, so just to be safe I am sending Sunday’s newsletter on Thursday. Whatever you do, don’t read it until Sunday. Seriously, don’t spoil it.

If you woke up the morning after the 2016 election and felt happy about who won, this is not for you. Skip down to the clips, because it was a particularly interesting week of reading, and I saw a movie I love that you might enjoy. But this next bit is just for those who feel beset by a consuming madness, powerless against what has happened.

This week I am talking to you, Eomer, King of Rohan. You are convinced that you are old and weak. You’re ignoring the evidence around you and listening as a faithless adviser talks you into a funk.

I am talking to you, George McClellan. You are convinced your adversary is larger in number and enjoys imaginary advantages. You’re ignoring your training, your experience in combat, the army that has risen under your command, and your Commander-in-Chief. You let your fears talk you into inaction.

I am talking to you, my friend E.H., for whom every bit of bad news portends doom, and every bit of good news is as suspect as a salesman’s flattery. In the runup to the 2018 midterms, his constant refrain was “we’re gonna mess this up,” and now he’s convinced Trump will win re-election because Democrats are doing everything wrong. E.H. is no ordinary Democrat, though many of his partisans feel the same way he does. He has a desk in the room where it happens, and he has the spreadsheets that say where the money is being spent. He thinks we’re all doomed.

It’s hard not to feel confident in one’s despair simply because Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. He puts the prima facie on a deep sense of unease that if Democrats couldn’t stop him last time then what hope is there to beating him now that he enjoys a great economy and the power of incumbency? The very sound of his voice triggers a fear that something is irrevocably wrong, that we cannot come back from this whole and intact if at all.

I am talking to you, because I think it’s possible that the sky is not falling. It’s possible that the clouds are parting, even that they parted long ago. The sky is not falling.

The sky is blue.

A trend is emerging: A majority of Americans say they will not vote to re-elect Trump, including 60 percent of women (including half of all white women). In 2016, Trump won seniors 53%-44%, and now Pew research says 53 % of seniors are already decided to vote against him in 2020. In June 2016, Trump was better off; back then only 48 percent said they would definitely not vote for him. Now, it’s between 53-58 percent, depending, which explains another poll showing Trump losing to every Democrat they asked about, even Cory Booker who until recently I kept forgetting was running.

OK, OK, you can say it’s early, which is true, that polls were wrong last time (shut up, they weren’t, don’t say that, I don’t want people to think you’re not smart), that a lot can change… Can they? FiveThirtyEight has established that the congressional generic ballot question is a good predictor of congressional elections this far out from Election Day, and we saw that last year when Democrats came into November with a big lead in the national polls (about 8-9 percent) and ended up with a lot of wins.

They wanted to know if the same is true for presidential elections, i.e., how does the generic ballot question the year before a presidential election correlate to the presidential result? The answer is that since 1996 the generic ballot is a good indicator of the presidential election result, and right now while I write this the Democrats have a 6.2-percent lead. A wave election is at least 7 percent.

So what we have is a President whose position has eroded by around 6 percent to an extent where women, seniors, and in fact most Americans want nothing to do with the man. And we’re running in an environment in which Democrats enjoy a 6-percent advantage.

So why is it that a recent poll found that “likely Democratic voters are currently feeling emotions of … frustration, overwhelm, and doubt, whereas likely Republican voters are feeling relatively more excitement, pride, and happiness”? The same survey found that a lot of Democrats are supporting Joe Biden not because they actually like him but because they are terrified of losing, and that if you ask them who they support “absent considerations of electability,” then Elizabeth Warren is your frontrunner at 21 percent, followed by Biden, Bernie, Buttigieg, and Harris in the teens.

There are some non-Americans who read this (who are different than our un-American readers and I know who you are!), so please forgive the sports reference. In American football when a team has a big lead and is on offense, they “run out the clock,” because when the clock runs out the game is over, which makes sense but is boring. Likewise, when a team has a lead but is on defense, they play a more forgiving style of play that gives up territory in hopes of preventing a scoring play. This is called a “prevent defense.” This is also horrible to watch. What the Democrats are doing combines the worst of both of these scenarios. Democrats, scared to lose and unsure of their advantage, are running a prevent offense.

The worst part about this scenario is that people are now figuring out that Joe Biden’s highest and best purpose is not that of a leading man but a sidekick, as some pointed out months ago. He only looks like the safe choice. Bad things happen when Uncle Joey B tries to be in charge. Joe Biden would have thrown from the one with Beastmode in the backfield — and he would still be resentful that anyone questioned the decision.

When you’re crestfallen, you look down. It’s only natural. Look up. The sky is blue. Do not be afraid of losing. Be afraid of not trying to get the future you really want. I’ve said it. You’ve said it. The constant refrain of this election is an affirmation of voting for any Democratic nominee* because beating Trump is the most important thing. But that is not the election that is shaping up around us. If any Democratic nominee* could beat Trump, who would you want to be president?

What I’m reading

Most American millionaires support Elizabeth Warren’s tax of 2% on wealth over $50 million and 3% on wealth over $1 billion. Most Americans — including 49 percent of Republicans — think campaigns should not accept opposition research from foreigners, which is a federal crime.

Getting rid of tipping would be better for everyone, but we can’t until everyone gets rid of tipping.

Sunscreen goes into your bloodstream and might mess your hormones. And apparently the sunscreen usage guidelines are really only valid for people of European descent.

Nonconformists so much that they end up conforming, as this funny instance shows.

Budging” might be the latest way behavioral economics “to help inform regulation that budges harmful private sector activities.”

What can we learn from a professor who predicted both Brexit and Trump’s wins? “[T]he relationship between reputation and behavioral outcome encompassing how a person thinks, feels, and acts, is over 80% positively correlated. This suggests that perhaps reputation may be a better predictor of behavioral outcomes than opinion.”

If that’s true, then what do you make of this: More Americans identify as conservatives than as liberals, but the last time support for big-government policies was this high in the states was 1961. That last sentence for dummies — We think we are conservatives but agree with liberals. Our reputation, therefore, is one of conservatism and our opinions are liberal.

Science says you do have a type.

It’s better for your children for you to be rich than them to be smart.

I wish more subject-matter experts covered what politicians said about their subjects. When political writers analyze someone’s housing proposal, for example, it’s usually portrayed through the lens of positioning. Here, an economics columnist sees Bernie Sanders for what he is.

There is an inverse correlation with the number of campaign events presidential campaigns hold in Iowa and polling.

Venmo is not as private as you think it is.

Unilever came up with a unique way to gets its agency to make less-biased ads.

Apple is getting into the movie studio business and it’s starting with Oscar bait.

The UK has a new way to combat sexism — ban it in ads.

Housing is an issue that skews politics, turning many national liberals into landed conservatives, and those who are most in favor of increasing the housing supply are often reliable conservative voters. It’ll be interesting to see how elevating housing to a national issue in the presidential race will affect this.

Most of the money to rebuild Notre Dame is coming from the U.S. in small amounts.

Fruit smuggling is a thing, which means, yes, that might be a banana in your pocket.

There could soon be a stress vaccine.

Americans do not believe the U.S. is the “one indispensable nation” and would rather focus on domestic problems.

I would totally get this.

News avoidance is a thing all over the world, and it’s increasing.

My hometown us restaurant-quality weird.

Well, this is one way to get more women in positions of leadership in tech.

You’ve heard of the Peter principle? Here’s the Barlteby curse.

JPMorgan Chase now says there is a 45 percent chance the U.S. economy will enter a recession soon. At the beginning of the year they put the chances at 20 percent.

The Washington Post’s National Editor Steven Ginsberg sent an all-newsroom memo saying that Biden should not be described as the “front-runner … given the continued volatility among the candidates at this early stage.” 

They’re growing diamonds in labs now that are more perfect than real diamonds.

Wait just a damn minute. The sun can shoot flames at earth and in fact this already happened in 1859?!

Innerstin: “[O]ne of the strongest predictors of success for middle managers was that they held frequent one-on-one meetings with the people who reported directly to them.”

I am not sure this will increase political involvement by Gen Z, but new music is new music, yo.

U.S. sanctions are creating logistical nightmares for Iran’s surprisingly vital art scene.

Thanks to B.B. for teaching me about Simon Sinek’s golden circles.

Food waste produces has a bigger carbon footprint than discarded plastic, at least in Scotland, which is something I learned on the way to finding out just how much thought George Washington put into composting.

A first-of-its-kind neuroscience study found that “influencer ads were 277% more ‘emotionally intense’ than TV ads and 87% more memorable,” so I’ll just be over here on my rocking chair now. Also, here’s how to spot a fake influencer.

France, yo! Y’all are the worst (when it comes to vaccines).

Anyone who tells stories for a living (and that’s a lot of you, I know) should spend some time with this account of what screenwriters taught the founders of a news site about storytelling.

This is one of those big things that doesn’t seem big because how much the business world has changed, but the U.S. Chamber Commerce is now for gay rights.

What I’m watching

My friend Holland was in Gloria Bell, and when she got a great review in the Washington Post (“terrific performance”), I shot it to her. I’ll post her responses here to tell you why you might enjoy Gloria Bell.

That was a prefect review from WaPo... captures the odd excellence of the movie...

It’s almost minimalist. Everything you need to see is there, just not pointed at.. tonally kind of daring but he pulled it off....

What I’m listening to

Bill Callahan used to make music so moody and sad that he called his band Smog. He wrote the mopey anthem in High Fidelity,Cold-Blooded Old Times,” which is about as rocking as he gets. Anyway, he moved to Austin, got married and had a baby, and now he’s happy, and if anything the songs off his new album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is even more ruminative, though the lyrics are happy and smart. There’s a bit about hotel curtains in “Angela,” the lead track below, that really turns a phrase. Also, Bill Callahan giving his take on the #1 singles this year so far is the music criticism I need. He gets deep quickly and sets the rule for a good pop song: It has to break rules. He broke the rules on Shepherd. He wrote happy songs that sound so calm you wonder if he’s really happy.

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*Except Tulsi Gabbard