It’s Better When All Pоlitics Is Lоcal

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Hillary Clinton departing on a four-state campaign swing on the eve of the election.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Arthur Brooks: So we finally made it to Election Day, Gail. The apocalyptic campaign is finished, and we’ve been given the Sign of the End Times — the Cubs winning the World Series. Now it’s Judgment Day.

Gail Collins: You know, one thing this election has taught me is the importance of sports. Before Trump-Clinton I never appreciated how, when things are truly terrible, you can always turn on the TV and watch a big game. And the rest of the world just fades away.

Although I guess not if you’re in Cleveland.

Arthur: As a Cincinnati native, are you pro- or anti-Cleveland? That could go either way. But in any case, Clevelanders can’t complain. The Cavs won the basketball championship, they hosted the Republican Convention, and now their baseball team is great. Not every city has done this well. A far cry from the Cuyahoga River catching fire, which is what we knew Cleveland for when I was a kid.

But I’m stalling here. How are you feeling today about — you know?

Gail: I have to admit that I’m a nervous wreck waiting to see how this works out. You’re above mere partisan politics, right? Can you float impartially above the fray?

Arthur: No one is actually above partisan politics, I think. While we don’t announce our votes here on the page, we both have strong feelings.

Something occurred to me the other day, though, while I was traveling on the West Coast. Everyone I talked to went on and on about the presidential election, as if it were going to have a massive effect on their lives. So I started asking everyone, “How will this election affect you personally?” Almost no one could give me a compelling answer. It was mostly how they felt about the candidates, not how their lives would be changed.

Gail: Well, paranoid that I am, I would propose that a trade war, economic meltdown and then maybe a nuclear attack or two would be a game-changer for everybody. But I think I know what you mean.

Arthur: I think we have radically “federalized” our attention to politics and public life. I fear it crowds out attention to local matters and the hometown paper. In politics, people are losing their marbles about Donald Trump, but don’t even know who is running for the school board that oversees their children’s education. It’s like staring out your windshield through binoculars while you ram into the car in front of you.

Gail: Excellent point. I spent much of my life telling people to forget about Washington and pay attention to . Without, I must admit, much success.

Voters who want to keep an eye on their state and local governments get less help from the media every year. The community weeklies are dying off fast. A lot of daily papers have stopped covering the state legislature, or even their local city councils. TV and radio stations have pretty much retired from the whole business of reporting. The new generation of web savants is going to have to figure out a way to fix this, or we’re really in trouble.

Arthur: Ironically, this inattention to local matters has happened at the same time that people have become less and less geographically mobile. In fact, people are only about half as likely to move in any given year as they were when you and I were kids.

Gail: Did not realize that. This is why I like conversing with you so much.

Arthur: People are rooted in their hometowns — maybe even stuck — but not really engaged in them. The worst of all possible worlds.

The result is that they stay in a terrible job market and keep their kids in failing schools, while complaining about the faraway federal government and the national election as if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton were going to make their lives so much worse or better. It’s a weird vortex of self-inflicted futility.

So this is my somewhat tongue-in-cheek Election Day recommendation: Stop freaking out about the silly presidential race. Start reading your local paper. Figure out where City Hall is and go down there with your torch and your pitchfork. And just maybe, go rent a U-Haul and move where there are better jobs and schools.

Gail: Well, if Donald Trump wins the election, there are a whole lot of people who will be talking about renting a U-Haul and moving to Vancouver.

Arthur: I hear Canada is building a wall and making us pay for it.

Gail: Which brings me to a different question. If Clinton wins (please, God), Republicans in Congress are instantly going to open investigations into her emails, her foundation and heaven knows what else. People are already calling for her impeachment! How does she manage to govern?

Arthur: Life will definitely not be easy for Clinton if she wins. She is so freighted with scandal, self-dealing, and the stench of corruption — much of which is of her own making — that it will haunt her early months at least. The whole story about mishandling classified material has wrecked much hope for a mandate.

Her only real hope is to build good personal relationships as fast as possible with Democrats and Republicans, and start to deal liberally with everyone, especially Paul Ryan. If she goes into the White House without a clear mandate after a bitter election, follows an agenda set by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and sticks it to Ryan’s Republicans, we are in for the worst presidency imaginable. Am I wrong?

Gail: We never did get to have a genuine discussion about what the next president’s agenda should be. Personally, I’d like to see Clinton start out with some proposals for real change so Congress could at least talk about it. Then obviously everybody would need to get together and compromise.

But honestly, Arthur, you don’t expect her to walk into the White House and announce: “O.K., I know I’ll be lucky to get anything, so let’s just talk about infrastructure repair.”

Arthur: I think if she hits a relatively nonpartisan agenda really hard and cultivates a lot of nontraditional collaborators, she has a good chance of finding success. So I would propose a bunch of wonky stuff like a revenue-neutral reduction in corporate taxes, an infrastructure repair agenda and other policies that a majority of people think are good and sensible.

The problem will be if more scandal surfaces. For example, if a video of her burying a body in a quarry shows up on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Gail: That might be a problem.

My bet is that she’ll give a let’s-come-together inaugural address. If the Republicans follow up with impeachment hearings in the House and a vow to reject any and all Supreme Court nominations in the Senate, maybe the country will rise up in revolt.

Arthur: She should do that and then she should reach out for real to Republicans with policies they should in theory be able to tolerate. Then we’ll just see what they do.

Gail: As you know better than me, a whole lot of Republican members of the House come from districts that are drawn to be so safe for the party that the only political danger an incumbent faces is a primary challenge from someone farther to the right. So actually behaving in a sane manner would take a lot of political courage. It’s hard to be a heroic moderate.

Arthur: I bet you if she really made an effort to reach bipartisan compromise, the heaviest resistance would come from the hard left (the liberals in safe, gerrymandered districts), not the right.

Gail: We are nearing the dangerous your-side’s-crazier-than-my-side territory.

Arthur: Fair point. But you are reminding me of something else — you don’t actually have to be a moderate to show policy flexibility. Over the past decade, hard-core partisans on both sides have decided that compromise is pure weakness, that gridlock and no progress is better than taking less than 100 percent. God knows, I’m no moderate, but I think that’s really bad business. No one expects to govern in a system where everybody agrees. Most don’t even want that. You gotta make deals, even if you disagree with some of the outcomes.

Gail: No argument here. You have to start with a vision, but then in the end, yeah. You gotta make deals.

Arthur: Before we finish up this conversation and go vote, can we end on a cheerful note?

One thing I am truly happy about, and really grateful for, is our conversations these past months. I’ve looked forward to it every week. We’re not trying to agree on everything — or anything, really — just to articulate our very different views as friends, without bitterness or rancor. In the midst of the election’s craziness, this has been a weekly breath of fresh air for me. Thanks.

Gail: The feeling is mutual. Happy voting, Arthur.

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