, 10.27.2020 09:16 AM

My latest in The Spec: Will voters forget Trump’s sins?

Two years ago, in a limitless and sunny August when a global pandemic seemed like an impossibility, my daughter and I knocked on doors for the Democrats in Portland, Maine.

We were using a list of registered Democrats living in a tidy West Portland neighbourhood. The houses weren’t terribly big, but nor were they terribly small. They were average. Middle America.

The people behind the mostly-unlocked doors were uniformly nice, and prototypically Democrat: single-Mom nurses, retired male government employees, nervous-looking new American citizens with pronounced accents and little kids swarming around their knees.

My daughter and I loped from door to door, a couple Canadian progressives intent on finding mid-term American progressives who detested Donald Trump, just as we did. What we encountered surprised us. Worried us, even.

We had thought it would be easy. Trump had been in the news two years ago, as he always is, threatening to take away American birthright citizenship. Or scheming to gut the Affordable Care Act. or shrugging off allegations of Russia-Trump electoral fraud, then still a live issue.

But the folks we met on the doorsteps didn’t want to talk about any of that. One elderly fellow, his grown daughter at his elbow, said he was a proud Democrat, “up and down the ticket,” as the Americans like to say.

“We’re Democrats. But don’t keep telling me what Trump has done wrong,” this man said, as his daughter nodded vigorously. “Forget it. Tell me what you’re going to do.”

“Forget it.” After a few such encounters, my daughter and I retreated to the sidewalk. She had the best assessment: “It’s not that they don’t dislike Trump,” she said. “It’s like they’ve just forgotten all the millions of bad things that he’s done.”

The Democratic thinker David Shenk had a name for this phenomenon: data smog. Every day, via the Internet, regular folks — like the ones found in that Portland, Maine neighbourhood — get bombarded by hundreds of thousands of words and images. It is overwhelming and relentless, and in the Trump era, it has gotten even worse.

So, Shenk postulates, people — voters, in our case — just tune it out. There’s too much information, too often. It’s data smog. So they turn it off.

And then they forget about it.

On a recent Sunday, the New York Times filled an entire 10-page section of their newspaper with a stirring editorial about Trump’s myriad crimes, political and legal. I scanned it. There were so many of them, I had forgotten about most. There are too many to list here, even partially.

The Times editorial board acknowledged this reality. “The enormity and variety of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds can feel overwhelming,“ they wrote. “Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars. This is the moment when Americans must recover that sense of outrage.“

When I ran winning war rooms for Jean Chrétien and Dalton McGuinty, I would always tell the youngsters who worked there the same thing, over and over: “We have a national memory of seven minutes,” I’d tell them. “The job of any good war room is to remind voters about the bad things the other side did. Because they forget.”

It’s not that voters are dumb. In my quarter-Century experience of running political campaigns, my conviction remains that voters are always smart and intuitive and aware. Always.

It’s just that they’re, well, busy: ferrying kids to hockey games and ballet practice, trying to get across town to work or an appointment, catching up on sleep after worrying all day about mortgage or rent payments. They’re busy.

And in the midst of a brutal global pandemic, it’s gotten even worse.

So they don’t scrutinize political parties’ shiny multi-page election platforms. They don’t listen to speeches. They barely watch entire debates. And they forget things.

It’s normal, to forget. It’s human. It’s a survival mechanism.

In the Trump era, we forget things even more. The terrible things he has done, in particular.

Because there have been too, too many.

If Donald Trump somehow squeaks out another victory — thereby throwing America into further chaos and division, hastening it’s end, and further destabilizing a world in disarray — it will be mainly because of one insight about voters, about humans, that he knows better than anyone else alive: We forget.

Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator

27 Comments

  1. the real Sean says:

    This is one of the problems with democracy. “Tell me what your guy will do.” Really. As if it matters this time around…. When the other candidate is well established as the most odious bag of filth ever to be on a ballot in an American election. Who gives a shit what Joe Biden would do, as long as he behaves like an adult. ANY plan that can be articulated is better than what they have now.

  2. WestGuy says:

    Not to defend Trump but it’s not like a lot of Canadians didn’t do a whole lot of forgetting in 2019 before they cast their vote.

    • duojet says:

      West Guy – you got it all wrong.

      When the alternative was a dim witted climate change denying, hand in the till social conservative named Andrew Scheer (remember?) the choice was easy.

      I held my nose when I voted, but it wasn’t a contest.

    • WestGuy says:

      So a blackface-wearing, reporter-groping, justice obstructing, (twice so far) ethically charged corrupt diverter of tax dollars to friends and family is way better than social conservative?
      I get it, you’re a liberal. As long as the corruption is being done by your guy, it’s a “nothingburger”

      • The cost of climate change and not dealing with poverty and homelessness far exceeds the cost of Trudeau’s supposed corruption.

        (Of course voting NDP solves both problems.)

        • Darwin,

          I live for the day when Jagmeet — or anyone else — in the NDP can credibly explain the NDP’s twenty seat drop in the last election. And by some strange political fiction, they foolishly think that by keeping this Prime Minister in power, their seat total is going to go up next time? Not in a month of Sundays.

          Most of us outside the party consider them the NDP. For their part, they are way too busy fashioning themselves as the Liberals/NDP, or to use Conservative parlance, Liberal-Lite. Beyond stupid.

          • The NDP’s drop in the last election was because loss of support in Quebec from not having a leader with Quebec roots and strategic voting to block the Conservatives.

            Forcing another election risks a majority which will leave the NDP powerless even if thier seats increase.

            I’m sure what you where saying in your second paragraph.

          • Darwin,

            Let me put it this way: there are inherent political risks that I personally define as unacceptable for voluntarily joining one’s party to the Liberal hip. It starts by seriously diluting the proud social democratic traditions of the NDP for starters and makes them just look like second-tier Liberals no longer in a hurry. (Shows I’m still Red Tory, eh?)

            How many political orgasms is himself going to have in succession before Jagmeet finally wises up? Hopefully, no more in the immediate or foreseeable future. Wake up Singh before Trudeau outplays you like a well practiced violin in the next election.

          • There haven’t been that many confidence votes since the last election. The Bloc support the Liberal first speech from the throne. The USMCA passed without NDP support. Through the spring and summer the Liberals passed legislation with uniminous consent.

            Only in the last few weeks has the NDP been the party been the one supporting the Liberals. By working with the Liberal the NDP is getting its priorities implemented, while the other parties are passing on the opportunities.

            Also keep in mind many Canadians (40%+) don’t have the blind hatred of Trudeau that some of the people here have and one can point to similar scandals and coverups in the previous administration.

  3. Lee Hill says:

    I haven’t forgotten a lot of Trump’s lies and sins…not because I am better than the average Democrat you describe, but because I have had to live with Trump’s mirror image here in the UK in the form of Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, etc. and the demons they helped spawn in the form of Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins, a la Trump, a mutant graduate of the UK version of The Apprentice. Assuming my prayers, crossed fingers, I-Ching bones thrown, Tarot cards read, etc. all come true and Biden-Harris sweep into the White House, I hope they act like the French Resistance to the fascism of the Republican Party. For starters, stack that Supreme Court NOW. Exterminate the deplorable so to speak.

  4. Jeff says:

    The east forgot all of Trudeau’s last election!

    • Douglas W says:

      The mindless GTA will deliver him 50 seats the next time we go to the polls.

      • Douglas,

        There’s no greater threat to the federation, or to the republic down south than political group-think. In our case, it’s really bad in Ontario, Alberta and PEI. Far too predictable and worse than that, constantly given with a forever permission slip. That’s why I admire Liberals in AB and Conservatives in PE the most. LOL.

  5. Joseph says:

    Warren, that has to be one of the more depressing columns you wrote.
    Why so blue?

    • Gord says:

      I’d like to see more columns like this in the US media. Reminding people of the consequences of not voting. Reminding Democrats and anti-Trump voters that *nothing* can be taken for granted. Complacency killed Hillary last time. Bill was the only one in the campaign who understood the Rust Belt vote was slipping away. Biden and Co. need to keep running as if they’re 10,000 votes behind in every state.

  6. Al in Cranbrook says:

    Just watched Carlson’s interview with Bobulinski.
    You all might want to take in the second broadcast later tonight, or catch a replay wherever…assuming it will be allowed by the usual suspects to be aired anywhere other than Fox.
    That’s all I’m gonna say.

  7. Lorne says:

    Let me preface my comments by saying Trump is a bastard. But he is the leader of a foreign country so I can’t vote for or against him.

    So I find it fascinating to see how broad his support is across America. The past few years every time I have been in the US I ask people’s opinions of him. Only once did anyone say anything negative. This is in Atlanta, Nashville, Savanna, Tucson, San Diego, San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, Las Vegas, Moline, and points in between.

    Only one. Unreal.

  8. Nasty Bob says:

    Oh he will squeeze out another win for sure – count on it !
    Why? Because this is 2020 and that’s the way the year rolls but more importantly because nobody understands the mind of a grifter ( except criminal defence lawyers) .

    All this Trump talk about “mail in voter fraud” is not about a pretext for him to hang on to power, litigation or ultimately a thing to blame his loss on.

    They have already found a few Trump crazed posties ; they’ve approached him/her with an official looking badge and said they were running a top top secret test of the integrity of the postal system. They’ve given them ballots to mix in with the others to see if postal inspectors/ election officials can spot the fakes. They’re told not to tell a soul or it will compromise the test ( and land them in jail). Yes, all are Biden votes but they have been told not to worry because all will be removed if the system works (and as a fail safe they will pull them before they’re actually counted) . “Trust the plan” they’ve been told.

    When Trump wins and every democratic and the media says “ you stole this election “ he will tell them “ you’ve all been saying for months and months -no such thing as voter fraud …but now that you’re sore losers it’s suddenly rampant “

    His stacked court will say “insufficient evidence to overturn the will of the people” and then its Trump Uber Alles forever.

    I wish I was just mischievously seeding a conspiracy theory here but it’s 2020 and that’s how the year rolls.

  9. Canny Scott says:

    I’m interested to understand how you think VP Biden will win. His rally attendees are in the dozens and he seems to be offering a message of the ‘coming dark winter.’ Voters want hope and optimism and the thousands attending President Trump’s rallies seem to believe that message. My gut says Trump wins.

    • Canny,

      I would argue that crowd size is certainly not a reliable indication of who’s ahead in a COVID-19 environment. Democrats mostly get with the COVID program while Republicans mostly don’t. (Maybe some of them will after they head home and kill family, friends and acquaintances and maybe not. After all, most of them are TRUMP Republicans.) What percentage of mask users do we see at Trump rallies? Maybe 20%, if we’re lucky on a good day.

    • I’m interested to understand how you think your reasoning is sound. Rally attendees are a fraction of the electorate and are placing themselves in grave danger by gathering in such crowds. Trump is a blithering idiot and polls show Biden has a decent lead and it is a mistake to assume the same error will happen again. It is as likely that the poll are overcompensating for the problems last time and are underestimating Biden.

      The evidence says Biden wins.

      • The Doctor says:

        I’m waiting to see that study and/or research paper which tells us that the only valid data point that political scientists should pay attention to in an election is the size of a candidate’s rallies (particularly during a pandemic). Don’t recall seeing that yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*