Crude Observations

November 629th 2020

Dear world. It has now been 1327 days since the US presidential election on November 3rd. And we find ourselves strangely waiting and waiting and waiting for a resolution of some kind. And you know what they say – idle hands do the devil’s work or something like that.


In the case of the candidates, this means they are unable to move on.


Donald Trump, watching his re-election prospects fade with every mail-in ballot discovered in a storage room in Philadelphia or under a bridge in Atlanta or in a potted cactus on the Arizona State University campus in Maricopa County or in janitor closet at the Trump Hotel in Vegas , is stuck making baseless and unfounded accusations about how the election is being stolen from him by nefarious and nameless forces, calling into question the integrity of the electoral system in a country he has led for four years.


Joe Biden, who thinks he’s going to win, is stuck at his house in Delaware and emerges from his lair every once in a while to give a measured and rational speech about trusting the process, counting every vote and, likely, fine-tuning his transition plan and getting briefings about the laundry list of economic, social and health problems he is about to inherit.


The rest of us? The least productive days of our lives, spent updating Twitter, looking at memes, arguing on Facebook and otherwise twiddling our thumbs and complaining about how a largely volunteer group of ballot counters in Fulsom County Atlanta Georgia is holding up the results of the election and needs to get going so we can have CLOSURE DAMMIT!


And me? Well I had a great blog. But you’re going to have to wait for it. I sent it to Nevada to get edited and they told me they would get back to me. Eventually. When they are good and ready.


But… All that said, at press time, it su8re looks like Joe Biden is the President-Elect of the United States even if the assembled media is too chicken to call it themselves.


But I will. Crude Observations calls the election for Biden. So there.


And in true lazy blog fashion, I have some takeaways, which are a bit tongue in cheek but also conciliatory because I know everyone is a bit emotionally spent right now and doesn’t want to be lectured, again, by anyone, ever again.


Elections can happen in a Pandemic


Are we all forgetting the pandemic is currently raging across the United States? The fact that an election with historic turnout has been pulled off without a major hitch (unless you’re Trump, the hitch of course being losing) says something about the sanctity and integrity of the electoral system and the dedication of the thousands of people who put themselves on the line to make sure it happened. This needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. What an accomplishment. Note to Trudeau though – don’t get any big ideas about trying to one-up the US – NO ONE IN CANADA WANTS AN ELECTION RIGHT NOW.


Counting is Hard.


That’s right. It is hard. It’s especially hard when you have so many mail-in ballots. But think about it. More than 150 million people voted and more than half of them voted early. And a lot of them voted by mail. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s millions. Each mail-in ballot consists of two envelopes. That need to be opened. And the ballot taken out. And flattened. And checked. And stacked. And counted. And recounted. And resorted and restacked. And then likely counted again. That’s a lot of work for just one ballot. Can you imagine the band-aid budget for this election cycle? How many paper cuts there must have been?


Combine that with a desire to get the count right and make sure every legitimately cast vote is accounted for and you have every reason to understand where the delays come from.


And let’s be honest – it’s not like the counting hasn’t been happening like this for decades. We just never hear about it because a) the media usually declares a winner and the loser concedes and b) the stakes are different this year, so extra care is being applied. Go figure. Trump may complain about ballots being still counted but in his epic, massive, greatest of all time victory in 2016, votes in Michigan were still being finalized well after Hillary conceded. Counting takes time. The victors in states are declared based off trends and what are perceived to be insurmountable advantages. California ballots are going to be counted for weeks. Is anyone screaming about fraud there? No, it was a wipe out. How long will it take to count all the ballots in Ohio? Weeks. Is there fraud there? No.


Mail-in Ballots work.


That’s right. I said it. Repeat after me. Mail. In. Ballots. Work. Some states in the US have been using mail-in ballots exclusively for decades. It’s simple. You ask for the ballot to be sent to you. You fill it out (correctly) and mail it back or drop it off. And you can track it! Online! Absentee ballots, which are mail-in ballots, work the same way. We have the capacity to do this here. Early-voting, mail-in voting, in person voting on election day. All these things work and are designed to ensure that everyone gets a chance to vote, not a way to game the system by having a whole bunch in reserve to move the election in some corrupt way after the polls close. If you think that, you don’t understand voter rills, technology and how the system works.


I’ll tell you how to make sure mail-in ballots don’t work. Spend the six months before a general election telling your rabid supporters that mail-in ballots are a giant problem and rife with fraud and that they have to vote in person. If I’m Donald Trump, I need to own this colossal blunder. The only reason there is such chaos now is that Republican legislatures in these states under question wouldn’t allow measures to allow the mail-in ballots to be counted before the election. Like they do in, checks notes, Republican controlled Florida. Hmm. I heard an interview yesterday with a non-partisan election process think tank and the nice lady said that for the last 20 years the GOP has been tirelessly trying to socialize its base to mail-in voting because the party leadership considered it to be the most effective way to up participation rates and commitment to vote in a party that was perceived to be on the decline number wise. In 6 months, Trump threw that out the window and set their efforts back a decade. And didn’t tell anyone he was going to pursue this ridiculous strategy.


If the Counters in Nevada are also the gambling regulators…


The way the count is unfolding in Nevada is nothing short of ridiculous. In a state with a relatively small population, you would think they would be able to pick up the pace, especially in a city where activity runs 24/7. Maybe the counters are leaving their windowless rooms every hour to watch the Volcano at the Mirage. Or maybe the state legislators are worried about the mob coming in and running the numbers the way they want so they have only one or two super trustworthy dudes doing the counting. Or maybe they are waiting for the Trump Hotel tax bill cheque to clear before releasing results that might be negative to him.


Regardless, in a town that is all about numbers, sharps, odds, counting and the like, this is ridiculous.


We all now know WAY too much about the US electoral system


I’m serious about this. Obsessing about the subtle nuances of the Electoral College and how two states like Maine and Nebraska do it by congressional district instead of winner take all and how the allocations were originally made because the slave-owning states realized that because black people were not allowed to vote they were at a disadvantage is one thing. But to top it off by knowing the subtleties of how each different type of vote is counted on a state by state basis and then being able to rattle off the various counties that can swing an election one way or another is Cliff Claven level trivia nerdiness.


I mean in all seriousness, did Gabriel Sterling, Voting System Implementation Manager for the Georgia Secretary of State ever anticipate in his wildest dreams that he would be come a folk hero at the Stormont offices in Calgary, Canada? Heck no! But he is. Gabe (can I call you Gabe?) – we appreciate you, we respect your honesty, your laptop to podium move was sublime and your sarcastic takedown of a reporter who asked about the accuracy of your count was otherworldly. In a different time, you and I would have a beer and talk about actuarial tables. Now? You are legend.


As Canadians, we now know more about the US electoral system than we do about our own. Well done.


Canadians really don’t understand Americans or America.


Here in Canada our elections are generally pretty boring. They are typically very civil, run under national standards and are governed by well understood and articulated rules. So when we see the chaos unfolding in our meth lap downstairs neighbour, we are of course become extremely alarmed and bemoan the death of democracy. Then in true Canadian fashion we find ourselves being extremely smug. Part of that smugness is manifested in the proclamation of horror – how can people vote for “that guy” without realizing that a similar percentage of Canadians actually support our much quieter and less demagogic version of “that guy” on a regular basis. Come on, we’re all guilty of electing our own slates of kooks and hobgoblins. Does everyone in Uber-liberal Toronto have collective amnesia about the Rob Ford years? Which have now been followed by the Doug Ford years? Separatists in Quebec? Religious extremists in Alberta? Grant Devine in Saskatchewan? William Lyon MacKenzie King?


Party loyalty, such as it is, is a powerful thing. And it is trebly so in the United States. They have a true two-party system so the choice is binary, it’s one or the other. There is no mushy middle or relevant national third rail option to place an all-important vote. And you are forced to choose both a leader and a legislative representative. It’s complicated. And the platforms of the two parties are fundamentally different, which makes it hard to vote for the “other guy” just because he’s a nicer person. That’s why the 5%-10% of independent voters, with no formal party affiliation, matter so much in each and every election cycle


And it’s important to understand that once you remove the clowns and bad actors at the top, you still have a party with a more than 150 year history, legacy, depth and scale. And when the dust settles here, the result of the US election will actually be the removal of “that guy” by a pretty significant margin, the popular vote bears that out. And the results of the election in a number of districts show that there was a lot of strategic voting happening. For example, in one district in Virginia, Joe Biden got 51% of the vote and won while a GOP congressional candidate got 58% and won – implying that a whole bunch of Republicans crossed the street to support Biden but still wanted their local guy. That’s a vote for change in my books.


Anyway, there is a whole swath of the United States, starting in Florida and running West and North through the “heartland” that are traditional Republican voters, fearful of big government and just wanting to be left alone. Peel out issues like the 2nd Amendment and the scourge and legacy of systemic racism and you will find, demographically, that this bloc of voters looks very similar to the Canadian conservative heartland that starts in the Toronto suburbs, stretches through rural Ontario and runs west to the Lower Mainland of BC.


The United States is a big, diverse, messy, ever-changing, chaotic, occasionally angry and dynamic melting pot of people and micro-economies. Getting everyone in the US to go in one direction is virtually impossible and usually requires a galvanizing external event like a 9/11 or a world war, not a mutual dislike of a political leader, and even then it never lasts long. It’s way harder than herding cats. But if you dislike Trump, then the voters did their job. 50% plus 1 is actually a landslide. He’s gone. He apparently won’t go easily, but he’s gone.


Donald Trump is never going to run again


There is a school of thought that Donald Trump is never going away and that a grand master plan is already in place for him to run again in 2024. At the risk of being hung out to dry on this in four years’ time, let me say unequivocally, there is a less than zero chance this ever happens. Donald Trump may be a sore loser and it may take a small-scale invasion or Sean Hannity led intervention to get him to leave the White House, but he is very brand aware. He has a limited time to take renewed advantage of whatever fame he still has left.


Even assuming he stays out of jail and doesn’t spend the next four years trying to fend off attacks from tax authorities, aggrieved lenders and Trump Organization victims, Donald Trump is about nothing if not himself. He has been president, he won’t have conceded and will consider himself having been robbed of the election until his last breath, but he will move on, because that’s where the money will be. He can exploit his rabid base and create a media empire to rival Fox, he can use his residual power and skeletons in the closet to get projects and deals done across the globe. When he’s gone, he won’t be out of the spotlight because he will try to own the spotlight, but as an active participant in politics his time is over.


And please, stop with the nonsense about Don Jr. becoming some kind of standard bearer for the Republican party. He has none of his father’s charisma, self-promotional skills or political acumen and is unlikely to get much support from daddy for a run that will ultimately crash and burn. We aren’t talking about Bush’s or Kennedy’s here. We are much more likely to see Chelsea Clinton back in the White House than DJ.


Making certain of this will be the Republican Party. They won’t allow Trump or his offspring to come back and taint them a second time. They were complicit in his rise and will bear that for generations, but they got what they wanted – judges and tax cuts – and will in short order scrub themselves clean of whatever stains they feel the Trump era has left behind. There have been a couple of loud voices that are supporting Trump now – Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz come to mind – but they may have chosen a particularly ill-advised hill to actually see their political ambitions die on.


Finally, I just don’t buy into this notion of Trumpism as some kind of malignant and permanent political force. The majority of the people who voted him into office did so because he was the Republican candidate and that was the choice they had to make. A minority supported him because they liked the celebrity and the crazy and then the fringe supported him because they were able to reflect their nutbar conspiracy rage off his divisive and establishment bashing rhetoric. Four years of sleepy Joe Biden isn’t going to whip these supporters into some kind of raging frenzy. It’s going to be four years of competent government. America is lucky. It’s going to be boring again and the nut jobs are going to fall asleep in their basements. The next Republican candidate is going to be as whitebread and establishment as you can find. We probably don’t even know his name yet. But how about a Larry Horgan, governor of Maryland? Or my buddy Gabe, from Georgia.


Final Thoughts


Last week I predicted that Biden Harris would win and they have. It hasn’t been announced by the chicken networks yet, but it will. The popular vote wasn’t close and the eventual electoral college count is going to be around where I thought, give or take a North Carolina even though some of the races were tighter than they needed to be.


Trump and his non-stop parade of crazy will eventually be gone and, while that is going to be fabulous for the psyche of the United States in the long run, I have to confess to a bit of wistful sorrow on my part. And that is mainly because as someone who writes a weekly missive, I always appreciated that he provided great fodder for broad topics or that when I was stuck for a subject, I could always find one by asking – what did Trump do this week? So I may find myself missing him on that score and the blog thusly diminished.


Fortunately, Canadian politics, as boring as it is in comparison, does allow for the odd article or two, especially here in Alberta. War room audit anyone?


At any rate, I have been informed that going forward, I have to get back to writing about energy and business stuff, so that’ll be next week. Probably about the massive consolidation that is unfolding in the Canadian energy sector and what that means for the future of our industry.


You know, small stuff like that.

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