How a Centrist Won in 2020
After four tumultuous years, the American electorate voted yesterday to end the presidency of Donald J. Trump. The political experiment that lifted Trump to the White House began to sour soon after the 2018 midterms. The economy slowed, and while some Americans could point to gains in prosperity, far more were convinced that they had fallen further behind the accelerating costs of healthcare, housing, education, and energy. As economists sounded the alarm on soaring deficits, as on-going trade disputes created uncertainty and investigations continued to look into corruption at the highest levels, the national mood sensed that “something was irreparably wrong” at the Executive level. As one exasperated voter explained, “Tweeting is not governing.” Despite the well-documented failings of the current administration’s “improvisational leadership,” Americans did not unite behind a traditional politician as many predicted. For the most part, politicians were still viewed with the disdain of a used car salesman reeking of spoiled fish. Who could rally a nation alienated by the politics of divide and conquer? It would take an unconventional candidate with an unconventional vision. It would take a politician not defined by politics. It would take a leader. How did Candidate X, now President-Elect X, do it?
X’s signature issue was the pledge to end partisanship in Washington. “Bipartisan politics can solve every issue in America,” they asserted. To do this, X promised to build a Cabinet that would be equal parts liberal and conservative, with a smattering of independents. X openly advocated that it might be necessary to appoint co-Secretaries from both parties for the Departments of Treasury, Defense, State, Education, and Housing. Invoking the legacy of John McCain, the Candidate argued that diversity of thought and ideas was the only way to maintain a strong government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. X argued that it was a matter of national security, pointing to the rise of a unified, quasi-capitalistic China whose leadership rallied around the central idea of dominating the global economy. “We must be first to market in the arena of global ideas. We can’t allow our leadership to be sidelined because we fail to compromise.” Initially, the promises of bipartisanship were ridiculed by the traditionalists. When an opponent chastised X for wanting to have their cake and eat it too, X replied, “This is America. We’ll bake more cakes!” As X met with centrists from both parties and gained their support, the American people began to cautiously embrace the possibility that the faint light of bipartisanship could actually quell the unbearable floodlight of partisan bickering.
X backed up the spirit of bipartisanship by promising no negative advertisements produced or aired by their campaign. Initially, this was not a winning strategy. Aides complained that polling showed the candidate as weak and unwilling to fight back. Playing on instincts, X began to appear in advertisements surrounded by politicians from both parties and eschewed special interest money. Small donors became the driving force behind the campaign. As the chorus of negative campaigning reached its nasty crescendo, only one candidate remained with a unique message. Calling for a “national time-out from the politics of incivility,” X became the cool, unflappable voice of reason.
X urged Americans to temporarily re-register as Independents. “Send a signal to the political elite that you want bipartisan solutions.” They tapped into a growing perception that voter information was being used to engage in gerrymandering, sold off to advertisers, or used for other purposes. “Keep your principals, but lose your partisanship,” X rallied.
The strategy worked.
As the main political parties saw their registrations decline, and mass targeting of voters became less effective.
On Immigration, X took the “middle high ground.” They invoked the shrewdness of French President, Emmanuel Macron. X made three major points on immigration:
An aging American population needed immigration to prop up economic growth and sustain future pension obligations
Immigration brought global ideas that were critical to American competitiveness in global markets
Nearly half of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. The candidate promised a resolution on DACA, more vigorous vetting of immigrants and a bipartisan solution to immigration in their first year in office.
On Education, X argued for greater funding of charter schools, a state-of-the-art revamp of public school education, higher teacher pay, and free education for college and trade students completing STEM degrees. The naysayers screamed costs and waste. X touted the benefits of a diverse, highly-educated population not only to the business community but for the future of the military as well. As always, X emphasized that personal responsibility was the key to American power. “It is the government’s job to stimulate opportunity,” they said. “but it requires individual responsibility for success.”
Along with bipartisanship, X unequivocally embraced American capitalism and individual responsibility as the fundamental bedrock of wealth and freedom. “Wall Street needs Main Street, Main Street needs Wall Street, and both need a strong middle class,” they said. Industry titans who committed their resources to profits and people were singled out and praised. This happened along with a promise to eschew massive tax cuts for the few in favor of investments in infrastructure and education to rebuild Middle America and strengthen all.
“The United States remains the driving force behind transformative industries that will continue to amplify the prospects of a peaceful and prosperous existence not just in our country, but for all of humanity.” They cautioned against knee-jerk, burdensome regulations as a fix for economic immorality but promised swift consequences for those who profited from ill-gotten gains and schemes that targeted the vulnerable.
With every speech, X peppered their vision for the nation with examples of how cooperative government had fueled progress throughout the nation’s history. X cited the Great Compromise of 1787, which created a proportionally equal House of Representatives and Senate, leading to a model document of self-rule we now call the Constitution. The candidate argued that equal justice for everyone was the stalwart of a sustainable democracy and promised that neither the Federal nor Supreme Courts would be packed with political allies. “When I look at the scales of justice, they are balanced,” mused X. “How can we guarantee the promise of justice if we seek anything other than a 5-4 balance of ideas at our highest court?”
X cited other acts of bipartisanship that strengthened the principles of democracy and enriched the lives of everyday, ordinary Americans. They noted how Republican Senator Everett Dirksen crossed the aisle. He appealed to the opposition party to end a filibuster and guaranteed Civil Rights for all Americans in 1964. The candidate marveled at how Lyndon Johnson rode the wave of bipartisanship in 1965 to pass Medicare and the Secondary Education Act, landmark legislation that benefitted all Americans. X asked if people remembered that NASA was born of a bipartisan effort to create the technology that would counter the Soviet Union’s lead in space, which still fuels technological innovation.
X decried the use of the “nuclear option” in politics, an extreme measure to end debate and force a “majority rule” vote. Again, using recent examples, they reminded America of how seven senators from both parties (“The Gang of 14”), joined together to beat back an unprecedented effort to change the rules of the debate long considered to be one of the strengths of the Constitution. X vowed to ban its use, saying “If an idea is only acceptable by the narrowest of margins, perhaps it’s time to rethink and repair the idea.”
As the rallying cries of bipartisanship began to gain steam, the Candidate painted a stark and recent picture of the cost of political incivility. As early as 2015, the FBI warned that Russia sought to influence the 2016 U.S. election. Over the next few years and beyond, the Russian government infiltrated America’s most important institutions, social media, and regular media with millions of messages of misinformation for both Presidential candidates. Whether or not they sought a specific outcome is debatable.
What is not debatable, X pointed out, is that the hackers’ efforts sought to divide and foster animosity and partisanship amongst Americans. Knowing that they could not overwhelm us with superior ideas or a superior military, they sought to confuse and disarm through a stalemate and national discord.
“Partisanship is homegrown animosity and self-destruction,” warned X. “It is a cessation of the kind of progress that America is uniquely capable of spreading throughout the world. Partisan politics is a moral failure that must be abandoned at every level of government if we are to live up to the promises and birthright of our Founding Fathers.”
X won, and so did America.
X is somewhere out there. All we can do is wait and see who makes their presence known.