The nail-biting election night drama, reconsidered

Every time there’s an election I am always amazed at the bizarre language used by those on TV who do the “live coverage.” They act as though they don’t know two key facts about how elections work and what, exactly, they are “live” covering.

First, people seem to forget that when the polls close, the game is actually over. It’s done. There is nothing more that anybody can do.

But you wouldn’t know that by the live coverage. The pundits will often speak of how “Clinton needs to turn Michigan” (a common refrain last night). How many times did the panelists I watched (Global TV) say, “She has to turn this state,” or “at this point Clinton has to turn three states that are leaning to Trump?”

Actually, Clinton can do no such thing. In fact, there is nothing more that Clinton can do at all. The votes have already been cast, and the polling stations are closed. There is nothing more her volunteers can do. All that’s left is for the people counting the votes to finish counting the votes. The game is actually over, the drama has already been written, and the “live coverage” is just media’s way of making the insanely boring task of vote-counting look interesting.

One of the panelists on Global TV would occasionally remind himself of this fact, almost with a tone of “why are we talking this way?” It was kind of amusing. Yet he just turned back to that language again and again. Habit?

The second key fact people often forget is who actually gets to declare a winner. It will often be said, “such-and-such news network has declared XYZ the winner.” With all due respect, news networks don’t get to make that decision.

Similarly, the candidates will come out and make a concession speech, conceding victory to the other candidate. No, even they don’t get to decide.

As far as I understand (the American election system is… interesting) the “electoral college” is who gets to make the decision and confirm the results. Of course, the system as a whole works in such a way that what the news media reports about the electoral college is pretty much guaranteed to always align with the electoral college decision itself, but at the end of the day we need to remind ourselves that a news media “calling the election” (especially when not all of the votes have been counted) is nothing more than an extremely educated guess. A guess that is virtually always right, but still a guess with absolutely zero political authority behind it.

The panelists I watched remembered back to the Bush / Gore campaign where certain networks would declare a winner, then rescind their declaration. Then declare the other guy the winner, then rescind again because the vote was too close.

Such a contrived drama might be interesting, but at the end of the day it’s not their decision.

No matter how many elections I watch, Canadian or American, I always get a small chuckle out of these misleading conventions we all seem to casually accept so that election night can be more interesting than just “go to bed and the vote counters will tell us in the morning.”

[And don’t get me started on how frequently news media references social media, like twitter. Can’t they find enough qualified people to interview; they need to descend into the Hellish depths of social media to keep us entertained?]

And because I’m sure all four of my readers are desperately curious for my take on the election…

I found myself rooting for Trump, and simultaneously scratching my head as to why in world I would be doing so. I haven’t followed the election closely, but from what little I saw (even if you strip back the inherent mistrust of all things Republican that inevitably taints coverage of American politics) I don’t particularly care for the guy. My impression is that the Republicans – heck, America as a whole – can do a whole lot better than him.

And I don’t particularly care for Clinton either, yet my rooting for Trump was not based on the idea that he’s the lesser of two evils. In fact, he might be worse! Again, I didn’t follow it close enough to have an informed opinion, so take that for what it’s worth.

I think I found myself rooting for him because I find something deeply gratifying about having “experts” put on such public display for being so utterly wrong. Experts are wrong way more often than we care to admit, but most of their egregious errors go unnoticed; rarely are they wrong in such a public and quantifiable manner. So when their errors so frequently go unnoticed and blindly accepted, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from pulling the blinds back and exposing what so often remains hidden and, I dare say, blindly accepted.

When Trump first put his hat in the ring for the Republican nomination, he was laughed at; “surely this is a joke,” the experts opined.

When Trump started gaining in popularity, “He doesn’t stand a chance of winning the Republican nomination,” the experts predicted.

When Trump won the Republican nomination, “well that pretty much destroys the Republican’s chance of winning this election,” the experts declared.

The polls from days before the election called for a Trump loss, by a sizable margin in fact, the experts prophesied.

And yet, here we are. Trump won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote by the slimmest of margins. The Republicans also won the senate, the house, and governors. Not only did Trump beat Clinton, he beat all the naysayers, experts and critics who mocked him as a joke and dismissed him as an impossibility. For better or worse (and I fear it may be the latter) he proved them all wrong.

Such a Republican sweep at all levels makes me wonder if the election was less about Trump vs Clinton and more about Obama / Democrats-in-general.

But don’t listen to me, I’m no expert…

It is rumored that after Truman’s electoral victory in 1948 the Washington Post sent him a cordial invitation to a “crow banquet” during which the press and other such experts would be served crow. Why? Because they, like all the experts of the day, predicted a Truman loss, and they so were horribly wrong in their prediction.

I wonder if Trump will be invited to a similar banquet in the months to come.

I also wonder if these same experts, who predicted such dire consequences that would inevitably come from a Trump victory – disaster for America, chaos elsewhere in the world; more or less the end of civilization – will be proved wrong four years from now? Will history vindicate Trump, or the “experts.”

Time will tell.