The aura that once surrounded Sarah Palin, the most famous of Alaska polebrities, is now officially dead, and that of former President Donald Trump appears to be fading for the same reason the pandemic has died in the minds of the masses:
Extreme emotional states are not sustainable.
Fear fades. Love mellows. Hate softens.
This is the way our species is wired.
When Dr. Robert H. Lustig, an endocrinologist at the University of California San Fransisco, caught the essence of Trumpism in a 2018 essay at Medpage Today titled simply “This is Your Brain on Trump,” you could see this coming.
Trump, Lustig observed then, had done a masterful job of appealing to the “lizard brain” driven by floods of dopamine, the desire or “greed” chemical as Lustig called it, and cortisol, the fear chemical, in the brain.
“I would argue that Trump has turned our brains reptilian,” he wrote. “These two neurophysiologic phenomena have conspired to change human behavior throughout the millennia, and have previously been harnessed by demagogues in the name of populism. The difference now is that the message can be ‘weaponized’ by the digital targeting of those who are most likely to respond to manipulation. In fact, these two phenomena are now at work on both sides of the aisle.”
Homo sapiens are not, however, members of the class Reptilia, and thus cannot live like lizards forever.
This is the nature of our species. We are governed between a lust for war and a hunger for peace in much the same way the physical world is driven by the pull between order and disorder. Palin and Trump thrived on war.
The woman who went “rogue” to become a national celebrity in the wake of an unsuccessful bid for the vice presidency, provided Trump the road map to the entrance to the White House:
Tap the emotions of the tens of millions of Americans feeling betrayed by the self-proclaimed “progressive” elite, the members of the ruling class wanting to display their nobleness by championing the cause of every conceivable kind of minority while ignoring the collective, day-to-day struggles of the masses living paycheck to paycheck.
Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaign was little more than an appeal to them to return to a world where “Made in America,” meant something; where jobs were secure, not ever-changing; where companies provided reliable pensions, instead of leaving workers hanging; and where the government took as much interest in the masses as the minorities.
It was the cornerstone of Trump’s call to war on the ruling elite. It powered the electoral wave that put him in office, and the results of the last election would indicate the wave has crested.
As of this writing, it remains unclear how many of the Trump-endorsed candidates lost national elections, but the count is into double figures and includes some high-profile players like Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has already conceded in Pennsylvania, and Palin, who was buried in Democrat Mary Peltola’s House of Representatives landslide.
The latter results does come with a footnote that might matter in Alaska but nowhere else. To most of America, Palin is now just another loser even if she lost in a race where the deck was somewhat stacked.
Under Alaska’s new “ranked choice” voting scheme, Republican conservatives Palin and Nick Begich ran neck-in-neck on the ballot and accounted for 51 percent of the vote. Peltola, at this time, lacks the 50 percent or greater margin needed to win the election outright but is fully expected to maintain a victory margin after all of the second, third and fourth choice votes are tallied.
In the special election contest to fill the seat of dead Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, Peltola collected only about 40 percent of the vote in initial polling, but when second, third and fourth choices (which zeroed out the votes for Begich) were counted, she was declared the race winner with 51.48 percent.
In the wake of that outcome, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., labeled the Alaska system “a scam to rig elections,” Tweeting that “60% of Alaska voters voted for a Republican, but thanks to a convoluted process and ballot exhaustion – which disenfranchises voters – a Democrat ‘won.'”
Going into the general election, however, it appeared most Alaskans understood the system well enough to recognize that they would have to rally behind either Palin or Begich to give a conservative any chance of victory. That didn’t happen.
But the House race isn’t the biggest mess surrounding Alaska’s ranked choice.
The state Senate race now holds the potential to generate even more controversy about ranked-choice voting. In that bitter battle, conservative challenger Kelly Tshibaka leads incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, by more than 3,000 votes, but the second, third and fourth choices among the 26,000 votes cast for two other candidates could well tip the election in favor of Murkowski who has been widely labeled a “RINO” – Republican in Name Only.
Prior to the primary election, the FiveThirtyEight website observed that Murkowski had “better ratings among those who identify with the opposing party than among her own. The survey found that 62 percent of Democrats approved of her, while 23 percent disapproved. By comparison, 41 percent of Republicans approved of her versus 46 percent who disapproved (she ran about even among independents).
“Murkowski very well could have faced another defeat in a traditional party primary this year if not for the 2020 voter initiative that altered Alaska’s electoral system. But instead, all 19 Senate candidates will run on the same ballot in the state’s Aug. 16 primary, and the top-four vote-getters will then advance to the November election, where ranked-choice voting will determine the winner. (Perhaps not coincidentally, her allies promoted this change.)”
Murkowski won 45 percent of the vote in the Republican primary with Tshibaka the leader of 18 candidates splitting the remaining 55 percent. In this week’s general election, almost 90 percent of the votes went to Republicans, but the race could well be decided by the second choices of the 20,180 voters who favored Democrat Patricia Chesbro. It is thought most of their second-choice votes will go for Murkowski.
If Murkowski wins, Tshibaka will go down as another Trump-backed Republican candidate who failed, albeit in a less-than-typical situation.
Elsewhere, they were going down the old-fashioned way in head-to-head battles with Democrats while Republicans who avoided Trump and made it through their state primaries appeared to be doing better than those Trump embraced with Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, Republicans both, among the biggest winners.
DeSantis has been considered Trump’s major rival for the Republican presidential nomination for 2024, and Rubio and Trump have never had a very good relationship.
“‘It’s been well-documented that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump on his failure to articulate policies and many of the things that he has said, especially about women and minorities,’ told Politico in 2016, ‘mentioning Trump’s name unprompted. ‘And so, I’m prepared to be a senator that will encourage him to make the right decisions, but also stand up to the bad decisions and the bad policies if he’s elected president.'”
Rubio and Trump were regularly at odds in the years that followed. Desantis, a staunch conservative, got along better with Trump, a Florida resident, but suggestions the Florida governor might challenge Trump in the Republican presidential primary have not gone down well with the former president.
Trump on Tuesday suggested to Fox News that he had some dirt on DeSantis and would dish it if the governor entered the presidential race, claiming “I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering. I know more about him than anybody other than, perhaps, his wife.”
With many of America’s media talking heads now speculating on pressure on candidates to move “toward the middle” to win the election, DeSantis does, however, seem to have positioned himself as less partisan than Trump by hammering away at “wokeness” rather than Democrats even as Democrats try to portray the Florida governor as a Trump in sheep’s clothing.
An optimist could look at the big picture here and see the hope for a cooling of America’s culture war, but a pessimist might have a harder time envisioning that possibility. Conservative and progressive media hardly seemed to be reporting on the same election on Tuesday, though both did note the apparent desire of voters for less partisan candidates even if the commentators didn’t appear to have their hearts into that idea.
Journalism now, unfortunately, is largely built on and financed by partisanship, and it might have a bigger interest than the pols in keeping the culture war running hot.