New Old Sarum

Donald Trump has been mouthing off about the upcoming elections claiming that they are a set up:  “… stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election”.

There is an element of historical truth about the crookedness of US elections, but on both sides of the political aisle.

lbjLBJ muscled himself into power, gaining his seat in the Senate by 87 votes in 1948 in part using dead voters, and repeated the ballot-stuffing in 1960 to ensure Kennedy won Texas, the South and the presidency. From the the review in the LRB of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV: The Passage of Power by Robert Caro:

Johnson brought to the ticket his well-honed skills in vote rigging (the skill being not so much the rigging as the getting away with it)


The Bush family and the Republicans got away with it in Florida in the 2000 elections for the 43rd President. Butterfly ballots, discarded ballot papers, Bush v Gore, a suppliant Supreme Court, and the refusal to allow a recount are dissected in a John Nichol book Jews for Buchanan. Did You Hear the One About the Theft of the American Presidency? 


Once in the Oval Office Johnson ensured that the Civil Rights Act (1964) passed, along with the Social Security Amendments Act (1965), which introduced Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act (1965), to correct racial discrimination in voting – not least voter registration. Johnson predicted that this act would in effect deliver the South to the Republicans as former white conservative democrats switched party and newly enfranchised minorities registered as democrats.

Voter’s rights have been under threat ever since. Much of this is basic racial and local political gerrymandering.

These restrictive laws and practices, all invoked by Republicans, have the purpose and effect of reducing turnout disproportionately among racial minorities and the young, populations that are more likely to vote for Democrats.

And some appears to be nothing less than an elite or corporate attempt to undermine representative democracy, whose legitimacy is in any case weakened by widening inequality.

The approach has been to turn the rotten borough concept inside out; the voting process is apparently democratic, but the majority vote is used by the corporate patron(s) in their interests. Since the Chartists the propertied class have been horrified with parliamentary democracy. But as Bukharin foresaw the state has became ‘the executive commitee of the ruling class’ but one constantly looking over their shoulders. This commitee is subject to periodic changes (elections). But they remain really worried about resistance from below: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a similar free-trade deal between Canada and the EU, are now both in doubt (& President Obama unexplained support for such deals does much to besmirch his achievements). It is better that Hillary Clinton wins but is it more than a sideshow?



How to Rig an Election



Nate Silver is describing the current state of the US presidential election as a blowout, with a pronounced gender gap in voting intentions.

Clinton leads Trump by 15 percentage points among women while trailing him [Trump] by 5 points among men.

But the contest has been one-sided from the start with Clinton´s chances of winning widening continuously as shown by Predictwise.


With more Republican (24) than Democratic (10) seats up for grab in November, and many of the former seen to be vulnerable, a Trump effect could lead to Democrats regaining control of the Senate (a 72% possibility). The 30-year trend from 1985 (the 99th Senate) to 2015 (the 114th) is shown below.


The current balance in the Congress is 246 Republican and 186 Democratic voting members. A swing to Clinton should translate to more seats in the Congress helped by net Republican retirements but muted by some gerrymandering of Democratic seat boundaries. It might depend on how much Republican congressional hopefuls can distance themselves from Trump´s misogyny. But a substantial reduction in a Republic majority would make Clinton´s job much easier than that faced by President Obama during his two terms.


But what would or could a President Clinton do with this apparent advantage?

Misogyny is one – albeit especially nasty –  feature of rising economic inequality and insecurity, exclusion and public disengagement, driven largely by the neoliberal orthodoxy over the past 30 years, and by a political and business elite in the US as in Europe that are seen to have lost their legitimacy. A new social contract that demonstrably reduces poverty and injustice is needed. Can the Clinton Presidency put together such a new deal coalition?