War & peace

Then Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin checking out battle armaments in Kuwait in 2007/Alaska National Guard

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.

As singer-songwriter Bob Dylan put it in a line in With God on Our Side, “the Second World War came to an end; we forgave the Germans, and then we were friends, though they murdered six million….”

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.

‘Going Rogue’

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.

The system is complicated, and it is possible if not probable that Peltola will win without ever achieving a majority of the first-place ballots. The system has drawn criticism for this.

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.

Losers win?

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.

Too partisan

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.”

There have been suggestions Trump could sometime this month announce a second run for the presidency. 

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.







24 replies »

  1. Love your coverage (which I just found, hence the late comment) but I respectfully disagree with your implied premise that RCV produces a result that’s somehow not representative of voter preferences.

    “You don’t see anything odd about a blue candidate who collects the minority of the vote representing the people of a predominately red state?” No, I don’t, because people voted for candidates, not colors (or at least enough did so to affect the outcome). If the majority were strictly ‘voting red,’ then either Palin or Begich would have gained a commanding majority (assuming a “red” voter would pick one of them as their first choice and the other as their second). As it turns out, 7,477 of Begich’s nominally red voters preferred Peltola over Palin *in spite of* her being the blue choice. At the end of the day, with other choices gradually eliminated, Peltola’s version of “blue” ended up with 15,000 votes more than Palin’s version of “red.”

    That also points out another problem in the argument about “the minority of the vote” – it’s only true for the first-choice tabulation, in which *everyone* got a minority. With the least-popular candidates removed in a de facto head-to-head race with Palin, Peltola had a majority.

    The results also give reason to ask exactly how “predominantly red” Alaska really is. Alaskans *have* elected blue candidates to statewide office, so it’s not unprecedented. Of course, candidates who look “blue” in Alaska might match better with the “red” ones in a lot of other places, so take it all with a grain of salt, right?

    Personally, I think the results of both the House and Senate races indicate that, given a choice between relatively extreme and more moderate candidates, a majority of Alaskan voters in this election preferred the moderates (at least after peeling away the less-popular choices one at a time).

    • Karl: Your conclusion that the system favors moderates appears supported by the evidence. The question then becomes whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Moderates tend toward protection of the status quo. That can be good, and it can be bad. Protection of the status quo kept slavery in business in this country for roughly 80 years; it allowed monopolies to flourish for almost a hundred; it prevented women from voting for more than 100 years. Sometimes the extremists of their day – in this case abolitionists, trustbusters, advocated for women’s suffrage – are a good thing.

      But I expect, with the way politics works today, that at the end of the day the people in the business of raising money and figuring out ways to get people elected will find a way to game the new systems as well as they gamed the old system, and thus RSV won’t change much in the long run.

  2. The old system did not require a majority to win. The usa constitution does not require a majority to win. The US senate system is not based on majority rule. Where RCV favors 50%+1 so I really have no idea what folks are talking about 🙂

  3. Primaries only work well when they are closed. Only then do the party members elect someone to represent them in the general election.
    Open primaries where voters (independents and members of party A) can cross over and vote for the weaker candidate in party B, made the primary system dysfunctional and subject to gaming long before ranked choice voting came along.
    Let me rank my system preferences from best to worst:
    1. Closed primaries
    2. Ranked Choice voting
    3. Open primaries.

  4. Rank voting needs to be eliminating as soon as possible. This system of voting was foisted upon us knowingly to confuse and compromise the election process. Furthermore it was done so in violation of the law, AS 15.45.040(1) states that “the bill shall be confined to one subject” Anyone who actually read the BM knew that BM2 was three separate and distinct subjects. To this day the authors of BM2 break it in to three distinct subjects; Dark Money, Open Primaries, and Rank Voting. The fact that the AK Supreme Court approved this illegal BM doesn’t mean that it’s legal, it means that our courts are operating outside of the law and doing so for political purposes.

    Rank voting was designed to confuse people, and it did just that. I understand how the rank game is played but the average Alaskan does not. Some people only ranked one candidate, because they do not understand the game of mockery that rank voting is and so they’ve become disenfranchised voters. Some people didn’t vote at all because they do not understand the game of mockery that rank voting is and so they’ve become disenfranchised voters. Some people ranked people they did not want to rank because they do not understand the game of mockery that rank voting is and so they’ve become disenfranchised voters. Rank voting disenfranchises voters by design, it preselects those casting votes and how they will cast their votes at a population based level to help achieve a predetermined result.

    If Sarah is somehow able to pull out a victory then we get what we deserve, our elections are a shit show, why shouldn’t our elected politicians also be a shit show?

  5. Current Rank choice voting = theft of choice .

    Desantis possible option. Still imperfect.

    Statements regarding trumps endorsements failed are oversimplification.
    Current polarized environment regardless of trump is hard for republicans to win in democrat strongholds . Easy to loose regardless of trump .
    Anyone who expected a red wave in this environment was misinformed.

    Mehmet oz is a great example. ( he was a borderline democrat and substandard option against a totally disfuntional radical option- fetterman)
    Pennsylvania currently apparently would elect a turkey if it had a D in front of it) especially if it was running against anything remotely republican or libertarian. Regardless of Trump’s input.

    The fact remains our population is polarized regardless of trump. Trump had the courage to let the sun touch the issues.

    The most viable solution i see is ,long term fact based information and hard efforts to balance news coverage/ social media and help people recognize most news is formulated by globalists and government propagandists then put on a megaphone by emotionally charged voices.

    Somehow there must become an emphasis on using our critical thinking skills.

  6. I always look forward to your take on the issues, Craig, but suggest that you need an editor to take a look at basic spelling, grammar, etc. Keep up the good work!

    • I can only make apologies for the many typos in that story and offer the weak excuse of battle fatigue from staying up late flipping between TV channels watching national election coverage. Sometimes it appeared they were talking about two different elections. And it was a little scary that Fox at times actually seemed more “balanced” than MSNBC and CNN.

      P.S. Feel free to cloud edit any time by pinging me. I think I have most of the story fixed now.

  7. Craig Medred jumping on the political bandwagon…guess mindless journalism is everyone writing about the same thing at the same time.
    No one wants to bring up how Julian Assange is rotting in a dungeon over “free speech”… better to continue the ruse that “your vote counts” toward democracy.

  8. Really? You quoted a California professor on what he thinks of Trump. Such a crock. I think the media, and apparently now YOU, are simply trying to swing the narrative TO Desantis and his big leftist donor Ken Griffin. Not gonna happen. We don’t like Trump in a populist way, we like what HE DID as president and WHAT HE PROMISED (promises which he kept) when he ran as a candidate for 2016. “Mean tweets”, I mean really the left calling anyone mean after the bioweapons, riots and false flags they have dropped on us.

    • Actually, if the “California professor” you’re referring to is Lustig, his commentary was largely about what he thinks Trump does to the brains of people who don’t like him. And don’t be silly as to how Trump is liked. It is clearly in a populist way. He was/is a nationalist, not globalist, and that is all about populism.

      As for the rest of it, the issue has never really been about his policies but about his behavior. He was the Lance Armstrong of presidents. I liked his China policy. I didn’t like his attacking the character of anyone who offered a different view. I admit I’m not a big fan of name calling, left or right, because it stifles legitimate debate.

      And yes, many on the left are as guilty of it as those on the right with such nonsense from NBC News presidential “historian” Michael Beschloss in the lead up to the election: “Fifty years from now, if historians are allowed to write in this country and if there are still free publishing houses and a free press — which I’m not certain of, but if that is true — a historian will say what was at stake … was the fact whether we will be a democracy in the future, whether our children will be arrested and conceivably killed.”

      The last time I checked, historians were supposed to be those who studied the past not soothsayers who saw the future, and there is no reason to believe there is any more of a threat from a totalitarian right in the future than from a totalitarian left. In fact, recent history – led by the USSR and China – would point to more danger from the left than from the right.

  9. “…….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……..”
    Call me a pessimist.The only thing that might cool our domestic culture war is world war, and then only temporarily.

  10. “……Fear fades. Love mellows. Hate softens………”
    Not when they’re promulgated by propagandists.

  11. How is ranked choice voting complicated?
    Or more complicated than a party primary system which seems very complicated to explain to an 8 year old.

    Dad, So there are parties, but no cake or hats?
    Yes, well no, sometimes there are hats and cake, but its no ones b-day, but could be.

  12. A voting system, where groups of people decide based on arbitrarily chosen view points, that they are a “party” and then that party holds preliminary voting to put forth a candidate to go up against
    other political parties seems far more complicated. At times liberals have been conservatives and in other places democrats modern Nazi’s (see Sweden). Republicans in the past were for racial justice and now I gather not? Historically these chosen candidates from each party threw mud at each other-making it complicated to figure out who actually believes what under all the clay and silt sized particles. And then after being stoned these same candidates go up against different candidates-who are also limping from being stoned. Then after all the stoning and mudding an elected candidate might change parties. Perhaps the true complication in any voting system is when people vote by tribal preference and not by individual wisdom.

  13. What is complicated about RCV? I keep hearing its complicated, but that is like saying a can-opener is complicated or changing a car or bicycle tire, or putting on a pair of pants is complicated.
    It is being used as a tell word-not a show word and by simplyvusing the word complicated does not actually demonstrate nor make putting on a pair of pants complicated. Seems to me its a cheap way to attack a voting system that has been in practice for 100’s of years. Is RCV new to government elections in Alaska? Yes, but newness does not equate to complicated. Change does not equal complicated, but many people resist change. I am pro-voting, but have no choices. Now I am pro-voting, but have more no choices on most ballots which is an improvement.

    • It’s only complicated if you’re a voter trying to figure out the strategy that makes your vote work best. If it’s going to be a close election, should I put my second choice second or third in hopes the first cutdown kicks out someone I wanted kicked out and in the second cutdown my candidate needs my help.

      But let’s ignore all that and simply look at the outcome. You don’t see anything odd about a blue candidate who collects the minority of the vote representing the people of a predominately red state?

      There are fixes here, of course. You could change the system to a runoff between number one and number two if number one collects less than 50 percent, or you could restrict the ballot to one person representing each party. That might actually give the Libertarians or the Alaska Independence Party some new life in this state.

      But maybe this system does make the candidate’s behavior once elected more reasonable. Maybe it doesn’t. Who knows. I guess we’ll find out.

      And if it works, maybe the Catholic church should be told to restructure the voting for a pope so a Muslim has a chance of becoming the next one. All in the interest of world peace and harmony, of course.

      Meanwhile, if ranked choice is so great, why do people only get one write in? What if someone wants to write in not only one candidate, but their ranked list of the best possible choices for the office?

      • Most of what ya wrote is about what you or someone does not like about RCV not demonstrating it is complicated. And gaming the system? Oy

        In terms of a blue winning in a red state-The people have spoken-Twice. Is that Fair? Ha is anything Fair?

      • Interesting comment that does raise a fundamental public policy question: Should the government be creating systems that encourage people to game them?

        That said, life ain’t fair, and there is nothing wrong with a blue winning a red state. Kind of cool actually.

        But shouldn’t the system be set up so that if the residents of the state truly want a blue, a majority vote for the blue instead of settling for the blue as their second or third or fourth choice after the majority votes red?

      • “But shouldn’t the system be set up so that if the residents of the state truly want a blue, a majority vote for the blue instead of settling for the blue as their second or third or fourth choice after the majority votes red?” … If that’s what they want, then they should vote that way. As it was, enough people did not want Sarah Palin as a second or third choice that it didn’t work out that way. Why someone wouldn’t want Sarah Palin is a mystery to me ..

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