Tag Archives: voting patterns

A Socially Distanced Franchise?

While I was phone banking in Texas, Nevada, and other states in months before the 2020 election, I fielded a surprising number of questions of access to absentee ballots and mail-in voting, as well as being assured by many voters that they had refrained from mailing in ballots, and were planning to drop their ballots off directly in polling stations, or brave the lines, to ensure their votes counted. I’d like to think they did. (The woman I reached in Texas who had moved from Nevada and was awaiting an absentee ballot to arrive two days before the election, past the deadline of registering in Texas, may have not.)

Since the election, we have entered into a weirdly protracted attempt to game the electoral map, long after the tallying of votes ceased. A range of recounts, hand-counts, investigations of absentee ballots and even querying of the legitimacy of voting machines have been launched to challenge the representational validity of the electoral map. In querying the functions of the map as representation–by querying the tabulation of votes that comprise the electoral map–Trump has stoked tensions in representational democracy. With a disquieting sort of abandon, Trump stoked national tensions by refusing to acknowledge he did not win the election, and indeed raise eyebrows of Preidential decorum. His deep resistance seems rooted in the exceptionalism of claiming the election not “over,” as if unfamiliar with someone else seting the parameters for television attention, or stunned at a narrative unfolding that shattered his conviction of his inabilty to lose, that “in the end, I always win“–and a deep reluctance to admit losing.

But the almost cognitive resistance also reminds us of the confidence that Trump seemed to have had in the preservation of the red map, a confidence that seemed almost born from his ability tot game the electoral map yet again, and overcome the polls even after they pollsters had tried to recalibrate their predictive strategies and demographic parsing of the body politic. The very close margins voting margins suggest we narrowly escaped an alternative history of a second Trump term, and can explain the tenacious grip that Trump seems to have had on an alternative outcome, an outcome that he has tried to game in multiple ways and strategies that eerily echoes with the strategies of gaming the electoral map that seems to have occurred through the orchestration of telling postal delays, delayed returns of absentee ballots, and the strategic gaming of the distribution of a distanced franchise. It forces us to contemplate the counterfactual history of the far darker reality of a scenario where his expectations came true. Indeed, it should make us consider the closeness of overturning democracy.

It had almost happened. In Trump’s White House, a boisterous watch party was underway, crowded with FOX anchors, watching the big screen that FOX results showed to the audience, anticipating the reality of a second Trump term. But all of a sudden, Trump was so incredulous he refused to admit seeing Arizona called at 11:20 as a Biden victory, shouting to no one in particular, “Get that result changed!” Hoping to calm her triggered boss, who must have been catapulted into alternate scenarios of having to leave the White House where he had expected to encamp, former FOX employee Hope Hicks fretted about the newsfeed. Trump seemed unable to not insist on his ability to manipulate the news, and to stay the center of attention, and was uncertain at what endgame remained.

Trump’s every-ready servile son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hurried to place a direct call to none other than Rupert Murdoch, to rectify the FOX call, promising to send better data to the network directly from Arizona’s COVID-denying governor, Doug Ducey (R), in order to rectify the electoral map. IF Trump recognized the danger a flipped state posed to hopes for another red swath in the maps Trump used to give White House visitors since 2017 to commemorate his victory–before framing a version. Even if if it distorted the popular vote, Trump hoped the red heartland would shimmer in the 2020 electoral map forming on the flatscreen televisions tuned to FOX, to offer a similar illusion of consensus that seems to obscure all dissent.

Trump’s outrage reflected the proprietorial relation Trump long cultivated to Arizona in particular in the 2016 electoral map–Trump had after all only recently boasted to Arizonans of the benefits of two hundred and twenty miles of “wall system” of enhanced surveillance capabilities, spending billions on preventing a flow of immigrants from entering Arizona, the state went blue. To be sure, the polls of possible voters predicted two weeks out from Election Day, in a projection from Josh Putnam that reflected the fissile nature of the State of the Union as Election Day 2020 approached.

With the benefit of hindsight, we would do well to distance our mapping of the results of the election in ways that might better map the State of the Franchise than the State of the Nation as an electoral mosaic: long a fan of the purple map, rather than a sharp contrast between red and blue, The Decolonial Atlas took to social media reminding us how the nation might be better understood not only on isolated counties, but by attending to the ludicrously close margins of the vote.

All the better to dismantle the mediated conceit of “blue” and “red” states, a better map revealed a nation not riven by dissensus but “just a bunch of purple states full of people who don’t know their neighbors.” The map of margins among votes cast reveals not a divide magnified by electoral votes, but the number of voters whose ballots were effectively distanced from the franchise—distanced not by COVID-19, but rather by several”battleground states” where the election was waged in 2020, with margins not only of less than 5% of the electorate, but indeed less than a single percentage point.

This was the landscape in which the votes can be gamed, Trump hoped, and where the absence of consensus could be manipulated and exploited. As the Decolonial Atlas put it blithely in the legend to another map, the dark purple mediated how Trump viewed the electoral map: Trump voters living in a swing state popped out, and needed to be reclaimed in the electoral college: it placed the Trump voters in blue states, who were pragmatically irrelevant, or those Trump voters red states, whose votes could be taken for granted, or anti-American deep blue states, the targeted audience was clear, whose electors needed to be heard: and for all the concerted phone-banking that I had done in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, the map of the Decolonial Atlas, “The Electoral College according to Trump,” suggested that a concerted strategy underlay the quite targeted slew of emails, visits, text alerts, and triggers by which Trump’s campaign had targeted the electoral bounty of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan and Wisconsin–the new “red wall” to defend his sovereignty.

The Electoral College according to Ttrump/Decolonial Atlas (2020)

The first results appeared to be loud and clear, early in Election Night, as non-metro votes seemed to flow in on election night. Before votes were fully tallied in western states, a reassuringly familiarly red landscape seemed to unroll, casting the bulk of the heartlands of narrow margins red–big prizes like Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan, going red. Rudy Giuliani claimed to have turned in for the night, assured to sleep soundly, all but assured of a repeat of 2016, based on initial electoral returns.

First states called in 2020 Election, according to Politico Map/New York Times

Rudy described it as if he had only stayed up later, the results would have been preserved: he more likely prematurely beleived in success, before battleground states tilted blue later that night, as folks in western states were pleased to learn before they turned in for the night–if able to get any needed shut-eye amidst tense electoral tallies.

And if Rudy imagined that he could stop time, to prevent the “stolen” election from occurring later in the night, with the passage of time and a growing tally of votes and absentee ballots not allowed to be tabulated or opened in several of those battleground states until Election Day by law, the alternative newspaper of unclear consensus, The Epoch Times, did him better and tried to turn back the clock, and adding their own symbology to the electoral map as it stood at eleven o’clock Pacific Time, introducing icons that suspended the arrival of information, by adding icons to designate sites of recounts–Wisconsin and Georgia–and contestations yet to occur in court–Michigan; Pennsylvania; Arizona–to blanket the map with uncertainty, and create the unprecedented additional map signs in an electoral map affirming an alternate reality where the red expanse seemed to dominate the country, and Trump have more electoral votes than Biden, to achieve the desired outcome by suspending time, Miss Havisham style, to the better world “before the lying media called it for Biden”: “recount” and “lawsuit” subtracted four states from Biden victories, literally distancing the franchise further than one ever expected mail-in voting would achieve.

Epoch Times, on Facebook, via Politifact

Rather than present the results of the map in a declarative fashion, intended to resolve the protracted Presidential campaign in a new consensus, Trump supporters as Echo Times issued an altered electoral map on Facebook, qualifying the Biden victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that were declared by AP, by introducing a new symbology to the map, suggesting the continued suspension of any set conclusion by both three lawsuits, and two recounts of ballots, that Trump insisted would, once “all the votes are counted,” show the red plurality reassembled.

Trump would of course do his utmost best to generate consensus for a narrative of the “stolen” victory that the Trump team tired to construct alternative narratives about for the next two weeks, entertaining varied strategies to preserve how the map was “stolen” by a media that had ceased to wait on Trump’s word, and weighing the possibilities of refusing to give up his Presidential position..

1. The stubborn resistance to accepting the map led to an attempt to rewrite the electoral distribution from a direct rendering of popular concuss, or at least concensus among the states. The refusal to admit to the electoral map that showed hi with a viewer number of electoral votes to his opponent led him to resist the declarative function long given to the electoral map as a declaration of the victor of the Presidential election. Moreover, the attempts to gloss and qualify the results of the election that were recorded in the electoral map openly threatened to undercut the representational nature of the map: the way that the transparency of the electoral map was undermined by Trump and his circle echoes the belief of the Trump administration to rewrite the census, and indeed the gerrymandered redistricting of many states. The udnermning of the representational function of the electoral map is the subject of this post, which examines how the electoral map was long tried to be gamed, and sees the “frozen” electoral maps as interventions seeking to dislodge the actual vote, delegitimizing this electoral map’s representational function.

The contested nature of the franchise can hardly be seen in the map of how voters’ preferences translated into electoral numbers, or an electoral mosaic salutary in abandoning a national dichotomy of red versus blue.

This was a new narrative in the electoral map, unpredicted in many ways. But it was also a vindication of a representational system, in a sort of teaching moment for the nation, that reaffirmed the representational nature of the electoral map. But the fear of subverting the representational function of the map of the election was so strong, and indeed so tangible for the Trump campaign, that the persuasiveness of the scenario of a “stolen election” incorrectly called by Associated Press seemed all but the logical conclusion of a presidency committed to calling out the Fake News.

Politifact Factcheck, November 12 2020: Trump Does not Have More Electoral Votes than Biden

This was not only a “what if” map of conjectural history but the landscape that was supposed to be. For the map was not supposed to break as it did, given the attention that members of the Trump cabinet had so energetically devoted to shoring up electoral votes of battleground states, and indeed the careful protection that voter turn-out ensure a commanding lead, the night of the election, that allowed the American public to have their president on election night. Trump had of course prioritized border security and cautioned the state about the dangers of an illegal vote: but rather than touching on the question of illegal voters, so central to GOP claims of dangers of election fraud in earlier years, a narrative Trump returned to in tweeting “IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION!” a few days later, he argued the data had been manipulated or was wrong: many wanted to turn back to that world of initial electoral returns showing Trump ahead; Trump seems to reveal his data illiteracy in arguing that late votes were improperly skewed Democratic–an argument that effectively destabilized the tabulation of votes and voting process.

Arizona Called on Fox News with 84% Vote Counted

The relation to Arizona was particularly sensitive for Tump. He promised packed arenas of megachurches in that state he would prioritize hard-line border security, as if to ensure a lynchpin to his electoral strategy. Trump seemed to exercise his proprietary relation to the electoral maps, which had served as props for his rule: after passing out copies of the maps to all visitors to the Oval Office, he displayed the 2016 map in the West Wing, counties he had won shaded to obscure a deep national divide.

Voter Density Distribution in 2016 Electoral Map

The distillation of the electoral map was a sort of alchemy that Trump treasured as confirming what he called a “landslide” drew on fewer votes. But the disinformation around the tallying of votes, their arrival, and the counting that created their tabulation was more than dangerous: they were intentionally nontransparent. Trump’s public comments on the election seem intended to bait his base. But as much as cultivate his audience, in ways that emulated his pre-election “call-ins” to Fox Mondays, they give life to a candidacy at is not over–or “un-dead”–and never has to end, suggesting a means to generate funds and contribution for an ambition for “legal defense,” no matter how immaterial was his actual case for fraud.

The results suggest the fragility of elections and democracy, that effectively push the franchise farther and farther from the election, and the election farther from conclusion. For even weeks after the election, strategies were rolled out to reclaim the electoral map, as if it were the property of Team Trump, and had no business turning blue. How to explain the tenacity of the pursuit of this illusion but that Trump was convinced he had gamed the map fully, as best he could, and that the red states would reassemble at his command, ensuring the second term of a man who looked longingly at the title President for Life, mid-way through his first term, in March 2019, and then made it something of a stock line on social media, after conceding that maybe he’d just stick around for six years?

Trump’s taunts have had a way of revealing dark specters in national politics, and the notion of stepping aside so that the nation would get used to a robotic Vice-President Pence, or give space to Don, Jr., might have had some appeal. But the lust for perpetuity led him to view the map as a bedrock of Trumpets support on which he could surely game a sense of victory. There is a sense that this deep sense of being haunted by dreams for a red expanse turned into the horror film as Rudy Giuliani held it up as a model for the nation, in almost apocalyptic terms, just days before Georgia declared its electoral votes would be for Vice President Biden.

The troubling dissonance between the objective truth of the map, and the map this behind the scenes anecdote of Election Night reveals reveals a deeply dangerous undermining of the difficulty of the objectivity of the map that is the subject of this post. For the declaration of Arizona as a Biden victory must have seemed a deep personal affront–not only as it came from FOX, but he had promoted not only the construction of the “most comprehensive border wall structure anywhere in the world” that June in Phoenix, which Biden excoriated as “expensive, ineffective, and wasteful.”

Trump’s base-baiting speech acts may well reveal a dark political reality–as well as create deep divides. His rejection of the current electoral map, and the victory of Joe Biden, has tried to subvert public trust in the very nature of elections, black-boxing voting machines and the tallies of absentee voters’ ballots, as if they were not translations of a popular will, but vulnerable at several points to the subversion of the voice of Trump voters, dependent on human error, or duplicity, and not accurate tallies but based on machines and multiple vulnerabilities that proliferated in the very indirect routes of voting that seemed exposed by early voting and the rise of absentee voting that was necessitated by COVID-19–tampered ballots; vote harvesting; votes that arrive after the deadline independent of postmarks; votes erased by tampered computer tallies–as the vote was cast as having been undermined by the very practices of health safety. Yet if the summer seemed somewhat quiescent for some in DC, the acceraltion of cases of COVID-19 before the election, after those hot summer months, seemed to bloom–perhaps starting from that North Dakota rally on July 4.

Trump had gained the current electoral map as best he could, loading the dice so the the states might again allign in a sheet of red, it may well be that the spread of COVID-19 infections to which he had so brusquely turned the other cheek disrupted gaming in its the virulence of its contagion, even as its spread wrecked a violence on the political body of the nation.

The pandemic provided a disruption Trump could not game even as he sought to focus attention by gaming of the electoral map again by which he hoped to reproduce the red state-blue state divide. If the distribution was glossed, analyzed and discussed since 2016–and of which this blog was also guilty–to seem permanent in the nation, it could not be recreated. Trump had long gamed the system, but was unable to game the electoral map in the face of massively mismanaged disruptions of the coronavirus, often in formerly red states, even as emissaries form his cabinet tried to assure voters he was managing the economy, energy industry, schools or law and order. As the very counties that afflicted with severe job losses due to coronavirus moved away form the red column, areas with high job loss voted for Biden, the rapid acceleration of rates of unemployment, reshaped the electoral landscape as an act of God.

2. Donald Trump has elected, as if trapped in a broken record, to prolong his attempts to game the situation again over the final days of his Presidency, dedicating himself to distorting the tabulation of votes either to save face or to distort the commanding narrative. By deferring concession and tauntingly entertaining his base with images of an alternate reality of his inauguration for a second term by undermining the direct reporting and consumption of electoral maps. Trump delights repeating the potential for alternative outcomes as if this were the script of a new Reality TV show job uncertain ending, of which he was in charge–unveiling votes subtracted or reassigned in Michigan; destroyed ballots in Georgia; corrupt processing of the ballots in battleground states; rumors harvested off the dark reaches of the internet–as if to suspend election night over multiple days, a week, or even more, as if to raise the specter that the conclusion of the Trump Presidency will never end, creating alternate maps of the election and false claims to victory, and claiming that legally cast ballots should not be counted. His base even charges the deception of voting ballots through offshore servers, as if the vote was distorted by foreign-made machines.

Is it possible that projecting such nefarious errors conceal an even darker scenario in which incorrect tabulation and counting of absentee ballots would serve to game the electoral outcome to Trump’s advantage? Already in April, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, travels of Alex Azar to swing states grew in ways that privileged the campaign above the nation: HHS Secretary notoriously waged a public messaging campaign of “Health versus Health” as he traveled to key battlegrounds of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, at Trump’s request to direct public debate of the issues of managing national health: the theme that overriding focus on the needs to socially distance was creating public health issues across the nation of well-being was similar to Trump’s disconcerting concern for economic fall-out or sacrifices of public liberties: praising Republican governors for reopening, the visits were tantamount to a campaign of public disinformation more than news, a wag the dog paradigm of undermining public health.

Immediately after July 4, more cabinet members fanned out across the nation to the pivotal battleground states of the coming election, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Florida, on the heels of thirty visits from cabinet members from the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to defend local agricultural interests in a global economy, EPA Secretary promised clean-up projects of the Great Lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin to end Harmful Algal Blooms, even as the administration canceled public health priorities in earlier years. We could detect a concerted strategy for massaging local issues to undermine national health in the trips of Trump’s cabinet members on public dime: they reflect careful study of the electoral map to secure the stability of a “red state” terrain, strategically placing visits from administration members who served as advocates across the country.

Not only did cabinet members travel to appear on the base meagaphone of Fox News and Fox Radio–like DNI Director John Ratcliffe appeared on Fox News, as National Economic Counselor Larry Kudlow and Secrtary of Energy Dan Brouillette on Fox Radio. To be sure, the EPA Secretary, Interior Secrtary and Energy Secretary went to conservative talk radio in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida to shore up votes in swing states. But cabinet officials were treated as campaign proxies, as the Interior Secretary jetted to battleground states to tout Trump farm programs in Iowa, the Energy Secretary vouched for local investment in fracking and other projects of infrastructure Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina, or Education Secretary boosted there-opening of schools in Michigan to shore up crucial votes in an electoral map. A different demographic of swing states were addressed as Medicaid Services chief administrator Seema Verma addressed elders in Raleigh NC; Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue traveled to farms in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Florida. Was this not tantamount to a campaign strategy?

If so, it seems to have not served the public good. Trump had long used the members of cabinet for gaming the Presidency, and his political future. As well as crossing ethical lines shamelessly, Trump adopted the imperatives of public messaging on an electoral map to dispense cabinet members emissaries of pro-Trump news in the service of Trump at taxpayers’ cost: provided an alternate storyline to one of a health crisis, and even to paint Trump as providing a needed national infrastructure, touting Trump’s investment in local infrastructure, as the national health infrastructure collapsed and Rome burned. Trump’s Energy Secretary flatteringly compared the President’s qualifications to discuss the infrastructure to Dwight Eisenhower, whose Highway System Trump used as the standard for a Border Wall; the visits of cabinet members to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida asserted an attention to infrastructure to the conceal lack of an infrastructure of testing or public health. As Public Health Secretary Alex Azar put it, “I’m traveling around the country to . . . get the message out that thanks to [Pres.] Donald Trump’s historic response to this crisis and work with our national governors, we need to reopen.” “We haven’t had a President better qualified to talk about infrastructure and the need for investment and problems people have encountered as they’ve tried to invest in communities . . . since Eisenhower created the highways.”

Yet the national highway system and bridges, much as the national readiness for the pandemic, lay in utter disrepair.

Districts with 46,100 Structurally Deficient Bridges, 2019
American Road and Transportation Builders’ Association, Bridge Report

The imperatives and logic of the electoral map created new imperatives of public messaging. The cabinet was increasingly complicit in Trump’s gaming of the electoral system. We might well map visits of Trump’s cabinet members who fanned out to swing states as a use of public funds, but tracing the many cabinet members who left Washington over several months would create a multi-colored set of arcs from Washington, DC across the country to conceal the lack of the chief executive to the nation, as his executive functions declined: the many trips to promote Trump were not only in blatant rejection of the Hatch Act, but gamed the electoral map in visits to swing states on which the campaign centered: sixty violations the Hatch Act in October alone show cabinet members benefitting Trump’s campaign at taxpayers’ expense, gaming a system for needed electoral votes

The logic of the electoral map dominated not only the visits of government officials, but the attack on distance voting, this post suggests, following an increasing atomization of the nation with a GIS laser-precision. For in plotting out itineraries of cabinet members over the summer and fall to address local interests with almost tactical military precision, the planning for the electoral victory took a precedence that terrifyingly replaced the true danger of COVID-19 that was facing the nation at the same time, and was downplayed as Trump’s Cabinet members took up the work of surrogates of defending the electoral map, that increasingly eclipsed the map of infections from COVID-19 that was undermining national safety. Although the military as a result carefully integrated best practices to mitigate the spread or contraction of COVID-19, from the initial isolation of all recruits to distancing and mask-wearing, no mandate for wearing masks or distancing was announced in the nation.

Projected Risks of to National Defense of COVID-19 Outbreaks at Military Bases
Govini Risk Assessment to Military Bases in United States, March 2020

Trump downplayed the coronavirus as a national threat: his attention to the electoral map, rather than coronavirus infection rates, is shocking. The Army had developed safer Personal Protective Practices, as the nation did not.

Arianna Drehsler

The disruption of the pathways of a socially distanced franchise by failing to secure needed funds to secure timely mail delivery provided a parallel specter of national disaster, provoked by Trump’s appointment of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General on the eve of the Presidential election. When DeJoy was appointed to run what historian Winifred Gallagher called “the central nervous system of American democracy” and of the new nation-state, by securing the pathways across often contentious colonies that guaranteed each citizen access to the news. If the expansion of the postal system had proved particularly well-suited to th expansion of an information network across the western states after the U.S. Civil War–here the foundation of a post offices from 1865-1882–

Geography of the Post in the Nineteenth Century, Western States of the United States
Cameron Blevins and Jason Hepler, Stanford University

–the communicative network seemed in danger of being undermined by limiting the franchise in a spectacularly selective underhanded way.

While DeJoy was named the successor of Benjamin Franklin presided over the uniform dissemination of uncensored opinions as the basis to guarantee an informed electorate had atrophied with the migration of news online. DeJoy’s appointment in May 2020 was on the basis of expertise in shipping logistics that was argued to streamline the loss of money in what had been originally understood as subsidizing the informing of an electorate to allow the experiment of elections: the fears that the appointment betrayed a single-minded purpose of removing sorting machines that were the central nervous system of the pseudo-network of mail collection threatened to delay arrival of mail-in ballots in ways that would subvert democratic intent. For the delays of mail-in ballots that often were refused to be counted if they arrived after election day appeared unprecedented gaming of the electoral map by adjusting tallies of votes on election night: delaying arrival of Democratic votes disproportionately voted by mail in a socially distanced franchise raised the specter of a historical reversion of the mail system as a “commons” as much as a communication system able to unite regions of the country geographically distant, as the spatial system linking  whose 75,000 local offices across the continent allowed the nation to survive the Civil War as a communicative network, whose spread was greater in expanse than any other democratic nation. If the post defined relations of center and periphery in the post-Civil War period, the fault lines of red and blue states exposed in 2016 threatened to re-emerge in 2020 by a disrupted communications infrastructure to undermine consensus.

The threat of disrupting the very network that allowed the embodiment of the nation in the decennial census, income tax system, and banking system seemed able to disrupt the coherence of voting–and, with it, distort the electoral system that was an already troubled inheritance of democratic consensus. But the marginalization of the postal system as a foundation of a representational government seemed increasingly easy in a nation virtually interlinked, in which the post office seemed a white elephant. DeJoy gained attention in supporting Trump’s suspicious refusal of funds to accomodate the processing of mail-in voting by additional funding of the Postal Service. While included in the Coronavirus Relief Package, DeJoy gained attention by refusing additional funds to prepare for voting by mail–and then disabled sorting machines that may have served to delay mailed by an identical logic of electoral maps.

Might it be possible to engineer a delay in mail to shift the balance in high traces in battleground states? DeJoy’s role must be viewed in the concerted strategy of cabinet members to bolster attention to local issues in an electoral context. Paid trips focussed attention on local issues in local media as the number of swing states intensified: Trump’s strategy of catering to specific interests of red states as much as the body politic metastasized as issues of campaigning distracted from the national coronavirus crisis bay supplanting the absence of testing, protective gear, or hospital support across the nation with base issues: instead, fracking, school vouchers and charters, energy projects and agricultural subsidies replaced a national strategy with a slew of push-button local interests. At the same time as Trump pressured his Attorney General and FBI Director to game the news cycle by announcing investigations of Joe Biden and his son, did he also game the electoral votes by the map was gamed both by visits.

Was it even more clearly gamed in an attempt to delay the arrival of electoral ballots of a distanced franchise? As much as DNI John Ratcliffe promoted fears of hacking by Russians or Chinese or Iranians as salient issues of national security, was the arrival of mail-in ballots of a socially distanced franchise exploited as a vulnerability of the electoral process? As the map was a sort of guarantee of Trump’s victory, the logic of battleground states reflected how visits were prioritized to battleground states in anticipation of the election to defend his victory in “red” states: if his travels on Air Force One spread him thin, the fuel ferrying him to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida, his cabinet secretaries followed identical itineraries to play defense on an electoral map at public expense.

President Trump’s Trips to Battleground States, 2020

As the threat of coronavirus grew, and bills for providing economic relief to those affected by work stoppages or protective relief for the infected were stalled in government, the logic of the electoral map, rather than the map of infections, set priorities. If the trips privileged local issues in place of national interests, the national franchise seems to have been undermined by how dedication to strategic dominance of an electoral map seems to have informed an astounding overturning of a universal franchise. While Trump dismissed the role of mail-in voting, and wanted courts to address, was delay of first class mail actually designed to delay–literally distance–the votes that would be tabulated for President in battleground states?

3. Trump hoped the electoral map would serve as something of a confirmation for Trump’s single-minded pursuit of his treasured projects, first and foremost the border wall. Trump avoided discussing the state’s spiking rates of COVID-19, assimilating the rise of the virus’ threat to the arrival of migrants. He conjured fears by charging his opponent for endorsing “open borders” while he boasted to have ended worker visas for the year, conjuring images of illegal voting as he called mail-in ballots “the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” and a “disaster” for democracy. Then democracy caught up–and, more accurately, the disruptions of coronavirus–from job-loss to economic decline to the disruption of daily life–created a pressing reality that the President was failing to address and could not spin.

This election, the narrative turns on the counting of individual ballots, and the preservation of slim margins of a Biden victory after the counting of absentee ballots in a distanced election. With an ever-increasing number of ballots arriving as a result of sweeps of mail facilities, not delivered to the Registrars of Voters before Election Day, the 12,000 votes in suspended animation in states where final votes have not been called for two to five days after Election Day–Nevada; Arizona; Georgia; North Carolina–have led thousands of ballots to be rejected out of hand in Georgia and Arizona, where late ballots were not accepted. And despite the timely arrival of 93.3% absentee ballots processed by USPS, some 7% were not processed in ways that would allow their inclusion, and some 8,000 ballots were not processed on time nationwide. Although some voters who requested ballots may have preferred to vote in person, an astounding–especially astounding given the small margins of victory in many states–existence of 300, 000 ballots for the 2020 Presidential election went missing, scanned as mailed but lacking exit scans, and not processed across much of the lower forty-eight, as they were removed for classified for expedited delivery?

The apparent interruption of the delivery of votes was sufficient to compel a judicial order to sweep sorting stations in twelve processing facilities for missing ballots that was never performed. The numbers are not high given the six million absentee voters in the election, but the suspicious “missing” ballots in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and the Atlanta area, as well as Arizona and central Florida, suggest a potential disruption of the counting of ballots and indeed of the ensuring of unimpeded access to participation in an election of considerable national consequence–and an absence of difficulties with missing ballots in many more less populated “red” states where the election may hang–Pennsylvania, Arizona, the Atlantic area, North Carolina, and Central Florida as well. The “missing ballots” in border areas in California, Arizona, and New Mexico are striking.

The delays that many feared in the arrival of ballots when combined with the close margins of late-tending Biden victories may well make the election have been an even far closer brush with a failure or planned breakdown of democracy in the face of COVID, and a terrifying sense of the fragility of voting practices independently from feared foreign disruptions caused by interrupted power infrastructure, corrupting voting machine tallies, or hacking: the sense of interference with a promise for resumed stability may have come from within, rather, with the subversion of mail-in voting as legitimate, even despite social distancing measure in the Era of COVID-19. So immediate was the worry that mail-in voting was a contingency of possibly determining effect that some that some worried mail in ballots were but a ploy into which Democrats entered into as a trap, destined to be loosened by future litigation–even though mail-in ballots greatly furthered democratic discourse and focus on voter turn out, and created legitimacy of generating a paper record of vote tabulation. Although mail in ballots offered time for reflection on civic duty and encouraged reflection and commitment to voting in a needed public schooling in voting rights, Trump’s sustained attack on mail-in votes terrifyingly dismisses the democratic process.

What were the odds of such tight voting differences in multiple states in the 2020 Presidential election? As ballots counts in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada seemed far narrower than usual, mail system snags may be invalidating tens of thousands of ballots. While we all recall the assurances of Postmaster DeJoy in assuring the nation with unfounded confidence that the ballots would arrive–unwarranted as he had limited familiarity in mailing practices and USPS pragmatics that were thrown off kilter by the destruction or retirement of mail sorting machines–the rates of delivery in postal districts in ten swing states plunged almost six percentage points below the national average in delivery times, hinting at how much DeJoy seems, more than the courts, an accessory in delaying consensus about the victory of the forty sixth President.

Sharp declines below the respectable national average of 95% in a period when timely deliveries were of national consequence. Was this a political stratagem that was barely forestalled, and whose effects can be seen in the late arrival of ballot counts that transfixed the nation–and world–in what seems an Election Day that lasted over five days, and may be protracted in the courts, as the concession of the one-term President is deferred, even without launching a recognized appeal? President Trump, ever a master manipulator, stoked claims for voter fraud that raised eyebrows, but seems to have been done in concert with the delay of votes’ arrival for a nation he believed would demand immediate results on television: watch to see if I am robbed in the tallies of incoming votes, as new ballots are discovered, Trump alleged the engineering of the election.

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Filed under 2020 election, data visualization, Donald Trump, electoral maps, Presidential Elections

Mapping Trump

As news anchors stared directly at the camera on Election Day 2016, they might gesture mutely to the apparent dominance of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, shown the blanket of bright red polygons that took the viewer’s breath away by their sheer continuity affirmed that the people had spoken definitively.  The map was a bit of a total surprise, evidence of the disproportionate appeal of Trump across most states other than the coasts.  And it is an icon with which Trump has taken to celebrate in an almost proprietorial way as the result of his labors and his own hard work that he tried to celebrate in addressing the Boy Scouts’ annual jamboree this year.  Casting a now-forgotten moment of compact between himself as Presidential candidate and the nation, incarnated in a map, and presenting it as a personal triumph, he recalled the electoral map as a definitive rebuttal of a “dishonest” press and media, urging we all “remember that incredible night with the maps and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue; that map was so red, it was unbelievable,” and rhapsodizing how the map struck so many dumb with disbelief so that “they didn’t know what to say?”  The electoral map, for Trump, provided the ultimate confirmation for a “dishonest press” and “dishonest media,” but just how honest was that map, anyway?

 

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The map seemed to show a dramatically lopsided margin of victory, but it of course concealed just as much.  It seemed to celebrate red nation, indeed, until one considered the concentration of population, and drilled deeper down into population distributions than an electoral map can reveal.  The map however remained so cognitively powerful that the geodemographics of the 2016 Presidential election seems to mark the return of a landscape of blue vs. red states, and a sense of the self-evident nature of a newly redivided republic.  The promise of national maps to parse the division of the popular vote–a conceit fundamental to the electoral college–however creates a false sense of the breadth of support or the links between an individual candidate and the land–distilling the distribution of the vote into a false if compelling continuity of a sea of bright red.  And it is not a surprise that the map has become a favorite demonstration of the extent of Trump’s popularity, and the myth of a landslide victory not seen in earlier years.  Even if its geodemographic illusion demands to be unpacked, the scale immediately gave rise to the magnification of a margin of victory that is entirely to be expected from Trump.

But for a national figure who has convinced what seem continuous swaths of the nation’s so-called heartland he could speak for their interests, it is striking that despite some considerable variations among voting patterns, the intensity of that red block so clearly endured.  The distribution illustrated the intensity of the affective relation to the candidate, or rather the failure of achieving any deep to Clinton as a candidate–but became a symbolic icon of Trump’s claim to represent the nation’s ‘heartland.’

reference-mapBen Hennig, from results of 2016 US Presidential Election

The geodemographic conceit was not much evidence that he actually did.  Despite the strength of such affective ties, Trump has only slim familiarity with that heartland–and rarely showed much tie to it.  Despite the compelling nature of the geodemographics that suggest Trump’s close tie to the nation’s center, the region Candidate Trump convinced was ignored by the media and press alike was largely avoided by Candidate Trump.  And few of its interests can be said to have been sustained by the President we now have, whose electoral success in the upper midwest will be hard to measure with a feared decline in health care subsidies, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed and Medicare gutted, leaving older working class voters in the cold, as a new tax code does little comfort.

But was Trump ever so tied to the band of red running vertically down the country?  For the region that voted for him is increasingly becoming disaffected, as he qualifies his opposition to NAFTA and his assurances about the need to construct a border wall, in ways that raise questions about his strong showing across middle-America and his identification with the people’s will.  Yet the iconic map itself may have provided for Trump himself a bit of a mirror illusion–as if to trigger a sense of recognition of his identification with the entire nation in ways that came as something as a surprise, it also effectively validated his long-time aspirations to the presidency, not only for the media, but for himself.  To be sure, the notion of a “heartland victory” reflected the growth of a tendency to shift Republican on a county-by-county level, which reflected a targeting of the midwestern states that seem to have been conducted below the eyes of team Clinton in the 2016 US Presidential election; Trump’s vote share substantially grew in Ohio, West Virginia, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri.

 

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By normalizing the same choropleth of Trump votes, or using a color ramp that will foreground the percentages of voting intensity, a recommendation for all future voting maps Kenneth Field rightly suggests, the deep intensity of reds are brought out better, focussed almost in targeted sites in ways that might merit more retrospective scrutiny.

 

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Kenneth Field

But the deep reds of the electoral map were the most compelling to The Donald, and continue to lead him to retreat into rhapsodies, some eight months after the election, in Cedar Rapids IA, about how “Those electoral maps, they were all red, beautiful red.” As much as Trump has seemed to be processing the legitimacy of his victory well past the first hundred days of his term, a framed version of the electoral map infographic is rumored to have been hung, framed, as an icon in the Trump White House for visitors, to which he can point only to ask, as if in desperation,  ‘Aren’t you impressed by this map?’”  The map has become something of a calling card to which Trump seems both boastful and still gleefully processing, perhaps precisely because it was so often broadcast on TV.  The image transformed to a wall-map seems a needed confirmation of the areas that sent him to the White House, and has become a distributed visual for news interviews, as if its presence reminds interviewers that they are engaging with the representative of the real country.

 

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Why post the map on the wall?  The infographic presumably captures those areas of the US where Trump must continue to address outside Washington–and of the disempowerment of the mainstream media–as if to remind him of his ongoing sources of strength.   Trump cannot conceal his pleasure to continue to crow, reveling in his unexpected ability to cathect with voters across so much of the northern midwest if not the silent majority of the national interior, and the map confirms a moment of joy:   the map of a “sea of deep crimson” offered credible needed visual confirmation of the legitimacy his newfound power that responds to continued crises, and a sort of symbolic consolation:  Trump, as if planning a billboard to the nation, requested no one less than the Washington Post run the image on his hundredth day in office, perhaps in hopes to brainwash the nation by the repetition of that apparent sea of deep, deep red.  It reveals, moreover, the very silent majority that Trump had long evoked:  Trump’s skill at resuscitating the Nixonian conceit of a “silent majority” supporting the Vietnam war and rejection counter-culture became a bulwark of sorts against the press; it  was particularly pleasurable as it re-appeared within the very news maps that the media produced which were broadcast on television screens, in ways Trump himself wants to continue to broadcast.  Trump not only holds TV in famously high regard–even if he did not mostly watch television for all of election night–it is almost credible that the iconic electoral map was framed for the White House walls, if distorting , offered a recollection of the magnitude of his margin of victory that must be comforting to show guests.

The considerable shock of the electoral results led many readers to recognize the reduction of support for the Democratic candidate, so well-qualified, to isolated regions near the more diverse and reliably Democratic coasts.  The visualization of disembodied counties for Clinton registers an immediate anxiety in projecting the angst of isolation from the same heartland, as if to show what seem only pockets of Clinton supporters in a very tenuous archipelago with outposts hewing predominantly to the nation’s coasts, as the outliers of the vision of America that Trump was able to propose.  As much as showing the lack of contact of Clinton’s messaging to so many counties in the in-between “forgotten heartland” that the Trump vote seemed so successfully to invest coherence in, the image shows a heartland that is almost abandoned by Clinton voters who seem not to have migrated from the country, but seem exiled from an increasingly fractured nation, in their own filter-bubbles, in which their own place has been rendered up for grabs.

 

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The geodemographic illusion of such fracturing however belies the sharp dissonance that a deeply provincial figure long resident in one of the nation’s largest metropoles felt to much of the country and the nation that he so convincingly claimed he was able to represent.  Trump’s ability to have convinced much of the country he could guarantee their continued safety lies in contrast with the limited presence Trump ever remained in many of the regions that the force of his Presidential campaign so solidly and deeply colored red.  The clear divisions in the country that emerged in the 2016 Presidential election revealed a clearly widening set of divides between islands of populated blue and regions that trusted different news sources, more suggestive of a divide driven by eduction than wealth, using available census data on education from the Data Observatory in a CARTO visualization of the lower forty-eight, to create a more finely-grained record of the distribution of votes that allows the chromatic vacation to pop–

Carto Trump.pngMichelle Ho‘s Carto Blog

While the “split” between “heartland” and “blue islands” pops out better in the above courtesy the Carto dashboard, the surface of a flat map can conceal the extent to which the vote broke among more and less populated counties, as the following sizing of counties by votes received by Clinton (blue) or Trump (red).

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The thin distribution of red dots calls into question the existence of “heartland” in the nation, and how much the notion of a coherent heartland is the creation of a map, suggests the extreme oddity of an election where votes so clearly broke with electoral votes.   Notwithstanding the visualization of Alexis Egoshin being picked up on right-wing sites as a basis to argue for the need to continue the electoral college to represent the mass of land, pictured as a plateau, with which Trump won decisively, and could be called “TrumpLand” as it was so solidly voting in his favor–

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–the thinly stretched archipelago of Tim Wallace might defy geographical explanation, and be rooted as much in media bubbles, fractured politics, anti-immigrant sentiment as it can be said to be geographically determined, and perhaps the tendency that we have to believe that there could be a geographic explanation at the root of the Trump victory, or a definable “Trump” community or constituency might be more tied to the contingency of information economies than anything as easily mappable in purely objective terms.

1.  Trump’s own overly inflated claims to represent the red expanse of the rust belt was, for one, most strikingly undermined, however, by his regular return flights on his Boeing jet to his New York penthouse while on the campaign trail.  For as he campaigned, Trump maintained a remove from much of the country, even as he evoked the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and excoriated the policies that he claimed created them, urging voters to “take our country back again.”

While we are still trying to understand what he meant by “American carnage” save as a way to conjure fear, and a landscape beset by violence and “drugs pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” within an “environment of lawless chaos,” the exaggerations of specters of social threats that proliferate from Trump’s mouth seem to be as emotionally figurative as they reflect actuality, and more a reflection of the America on television news than statistics.  The call to “shake off the rust” appealed, however, by binding themselves to the possibilities of “wistful time travel” that Donald Trump’s candidacy seemed to promise voters, as Zadie Smith has keenly observed.  Who better, in fact, to convince most of the country that he could bring it out of the shadow of threats of terrorist attacks that 9/11 has continued to cast across much of the nation, as if creating a bond of reassurance that stood in for any other tool of manufacturing consent.

And the tie was reified in maps.  A land map magnifying the extent of Trump’s 2016 US election results in the electoral tally was widely trumpeted by right-wing news sites, as well as the nightly news, to proclaim Trump’s was a landslide victory–even though the differences in popular voting was not only decisive, but Trump’s own relation to the nation he now leads is poorly understood.

Trump can be claimed to have converted more far more Republicans to his candidacy than recent Presidential candidates, but Trump was long an outsider.  And Trump’s imaginary tie to nation seems just that, despite some considerable crowing over Trump’s close relation to the American heartland that he claims as deeply tied to and to be the territory that he best represents–

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–although these stark divisions in the distribution of voting patterns disappear in the district-by-district electoral votes map posted by Mark E. J. Newman in clearly contrasting stretches of red and isolated islands of blue with only the occasional all-blue state.

county-map-2016University of Michigan/M.E.J. Newman

But the map of the distribution of electoral votes is only the start of the attenuated relation Trump has to the country.  Trump’s insistence on an alleged “mandate” or a “massive landslide” seems designed to provoke collective amnesia by its repetition–Trump’s own convictions seem born from the illusion of democracy displayed in broadcast electoral maps on TV news.  For the vagaries of the current electoral system meant that a shift of four counties from one state to a neighboring state, data scientist Kevin Hayes Wilson pointed out, would have redrawn the map of the election, and our picture of the nation to a more comforting baby blue–although this tantalizing alternate reality is not to have been, but is in fact not so far away at all:

imrs-1.php.pngKevin Hayes Wilson/Redraw the States

Yet the victory of a continuous stretch of red is so iconic that the mapping of votes by counties is taken as an affirmation of regions of deep scarlet, as if the county is a meaningful unit for displaying voting tendencies:

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The image of “red” states or counties is so potent, however, that the image is taken as evidence of the appeal of Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again”–as if the slogan spoke to the heartland–that converting the map of counties to a cartogram which sized counties by population and voter size seems to be a weaponized warping of the nation for polemical intent, in which the center of the heartland has been stretched into a skein of thing red strands that slighted the region by stripping it of its political voice, as if created by a leftist cartographer who polemically diminished the heartland by rendering it as so much connective tissue in contrast to the prominence of blue cities.

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vote share.pngBenjamin Hennig (detail of Hennig’s cartogram of 2016 US Presidential election)

The rendering of the heartland as a stretched skein of what seem ruts in the American landscape seems the polemic of a leftist cartographer from a metropole, to many, ready to slight the heartland in favor of the magnified cities whose names appear on the map.

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To be sure, the tea leaves of county voting patterns do parse voter populations:  to be sure, Trump did almost twice as well as Clinton in those counties that were at least 85% white, rural (fewer than 20,000 inhabitants), and won huge preponderance of the votes–70%–where less than 20 percent of the population has a college degree.  But the continutiy that one can translate into spatial terms is much less clear, and the county is not the clearest organization or translation of a voting bloc, despite the clearly greater diversity of the cities, and the dominance that Trump exercised in counties that were predominantly–85%–white, in ways that may have single-handedly overturned the electoral map, and were the audiences to whom the visions of prosperity Trump promised most appealed, and where the Democratic candidate’s losses in comparison to Barack Obama were big–and where Trump won almost twice as much of the counties.

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Bloomberg, “The Voters Who Gave Us Trump” (Nov. 9, 2016)

But, by and large, the rhetoric of the red intensity of maps perhaps have originated as pollsters talking among themselves, and against each others’ expectations, as much as the distribution of a close connection to the candidate; the intensity of the red appeared in a contrast of the predictions of the popular vote distribution against the actuality, even if it seemed within a margin of error, as the final actual distribution–

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Beta News

–broke ever so slighty, but so definitively and so strikingly, from their expectations:

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Beta News

2.  Trump’s claims for a personal relation to the nation is far less apparent.  It demands to be scrutinized, as it only seems demonstrated in electoral maps.  Even though seven out of ten Republicans voiced expressed a preference for America of the 1950s rather than that of today, and Trump’s candidacy both entertained and invited such acts of willed nostalgia, it’s hard to believe Trump’s own proximity to the nation’s heartland is based on “lived” experience.  The surprising story of Trump’s campaign may be the alchemy by which he cemented a bond among evangelicals, with the help of his only nominally Catholic running mate, Mike Pence, paired with the poorly thought-out strategy of Hillary Clinton to focus on cities, rather than rural areas or the economically depressed areas that reject the effects of globalization, which could have spread those blues out along the map with far greater surety–a need that the map of Hayes Wilson reveals by the washed out areas of even the states whose delegates she won.

For while growing the share of Republican voters across several states presumed to vote Democratic, including many in the so-called “rust belt”–here colored dark red–

trump-increases-republican-votesBBC

–President Donald Trump seems himself to be quite alienated from the very folks whose economic interests he persuaded he would strongly defend, and less than ready to spend time there, save in his Florida estate, the new Winter Palace, Mar-a-Lago, ensconced as if forever a foreigner to much of the nation.

3.  The familiarity that Trump created with the nation seems rooted in an imaginary, built on the lifestyle of the Trump brand–even though his election leaves us with a shrinking horizon of expectations.  To say Trump ever knew much of the country is not only an exaggeration, but an outright deception that was willfully perpetrated if not orchestrated by his campaign.  Despite the broad appeal of a Trump lifestyle, Trump seems to have little connection for the man in the street or his job.  But his keen sense of playing the salesman for his brand, which promises to be a central part of his Presidency, led him to have so much practice at delivering people’s fantasies and recasting the art of promising anything but the greatest product ever to “innocent . . . exaggeration.”

For his policies betray little familiarity with the nation, beyond empty sloganeering, evident the belief that a repeal of the ACA would help the nation–when it would most likely, as Paul Krugman noted, “send the numbers right back up—[after] 18 million newly uninsured in just the first year.”  And the imposition of punitive measures against American companies who chose to locate their production overseas or in Mexico, and even more punitive tariffs against foreign competitors demand to be called out as instances of economic bullying, rather than anything like a realistic economic policy or plan.  And the notion of a 20% import tax would be passed on not to the Mexican government, but to heartland consumers who would pay for it in their purchases.  And ending the American Care Act would put almost a half a million aging folks off of health care, in ways we cannot yet fully map, but will have deep consequences for the very deep red “heartland” that Trump champions.  And as Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Islamic American-born al-Qaeda preacher, foretold that the “West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens,” Trump has successfully made his prophecy an actuality.  (“You were a nation of ease,” al-Awlaki had addressed the United States ominously, inviting a similar sort of time, but “imperial hubris is leading America to its fate.”)

Although Trump claimed to speak for the country, he was most famous for retreating to the confines of Trump Tower:  he was, confessed long-time political operative Roger Stone, something of a homebody.  His attachment to owning properties in Manhattan and his estate in Mar-a-Lago were so great to start rumors Trump declined to make the White House his regular residence as President.  And when Trump regularly returned to New York City or Mar a Lago, he always kept most of New York at a remove while sequestered in Trump Tower.   While totaling some 276,000 miles in the air by late September since announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency  on June 16, 2015, Trump traveled over half of the days since announcing his candidacy, even while visiting far fewer places than other Republican candidates and fewer than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.  And if one is to judge his familiarity with the country in terms of the cities where he chose to build and promote hotels as evidence for the sites he earlier visited, it is striking that the sites of Trump’s North American properties are located on its coasts, or outside of the very areas where his campaign was so wildly and only perhaps improbably successful.

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For on the campaign trail, Trump buzzed about the country to create the sense of direct contact with constituents even without spending that much time in a single place, but regularly returned to New York, he may have visited places like Brooklyn, where Clinton’s campaign was based, far less frequently–and spending a considerable amount of time on the campaign trail sleeping in Trump Tower, if not resting in the large bed stationed in his 757; tweets from sites on the campaign trail conveyed his endless motion, but many began “just returned from . . .” in multiple tweets during the early days of the primary.

Were the steady accusations of his opponents’ tiredness but projections of his own somnolence or power naps?

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Trump was regularly cast by ABC news as Palm Beach’s Most High-Profile Homebody by the year’s end.  Trump was no doubt tired out by the extensive campaign where he projected his exhaustion first onto Jeb Bush and then, more dramatically, Hillary Clinton:  for two weeks in December, rather than assemble his incoming cabinet, the PEOTUS remained in the sumptuous Mar-a-Lago, rarely leaving the estate for golf and dinner at the Trump International Golf Club, or Christmas Eve mass, and meeting with his transition team just “a stone’s throw from the croquet garden,” before returning to Trump Tower in January to assemble the rest of his incoming cabinet in the nineteen days before his inauguration–and expressed reluctance in leaving his aerie in Manhattan for periods of a week after assuming the Presidency, proposing frequent returns to his three-story penthouse on the 58th floor of Trump Tower for family time during his Presidency.

4.  Even if he has warmed to the White House’ decor and furniture soon after moving in, Trump is a man who has stayed put in his lavish multi-floor apartment for much of the last three decades, and it has provided the perspective from which he looked at the United States–and may offer a perspective from which the strong opinions of his policies were formed.  For a candidate who saw the sumptuous quarters designed in Louis XIV style as a tribute to his creation of his own self-image, was his creation of a time-frame also particularly revealing?  Did his identification with an apartment decorated in 24-karat gold and marble and furniture and tapestries  in Louis XIV style with a Tiepolo ceiling put him in ideal place as a candidate to promise a project of time travel to Americans seduced by his timeless lifestyle–

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so effectively isolated as he was from the changes in the external world over the past twenty to thirty years?  (And doesn’t being called a “homebody” mean quite a different thing for such a home?)  For a man who grown up in a house with four white columns that were adorned with a confected crest and coat of arms and white columns, as a palace set apart from Queens, N.Y., with twenty-five rooms and nine bathrooms, the palatial abodes that he has continued to created for himself and his family similarly stepped outside of time.

The series of luxury hotels with which Trump’s name has been synonymous promote lifestyle packages promote pastiches of European luxury that are, after all, the tricks of the trade of a master hotelier–whose expertise is to offer an escape to a new comfort zone.  Since winning an election for United States President seems to provide only an extension of the art of escapism he has already refined in the political sphere that can translate to the trade of the hotelier, it seems no surprise that recent publicity even integrated the image of the White House facade to a promise of escapism at Trump International located in Washington, DC–even if this reveals something of a conflict of interest or confusion of jobs, or rather imagines the sort of “Suite Escape” in which Trump Hotels specialize the possibility of looking at the photoshopped blanched federal Environmental Protection Agency  through drape-graced windows in utmost Trump luxury, even if it does, as Philip Bump noted keenly, capture the “mess of conflicts of interest” that Trump is now likely to himself face far beyond that hotel.

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5.  For it seems that a large part of the promise of Trump Hotels is to offer to assemble for their eager visitors pastiches of the “finer things of life,” such as the guesthouse in the Blue Ridge foothills, combining a Georgian-style mansion with old-world elegance from Waterford crystal chandeliers, oil paintings, and statuary in surroundings recalling the Tuscan countryside; every one of his Trump International hotels or Trump Hotels is prized for its own thematic program of interior decoration that offer to their visitors.  This is distilled in the utterly escapist residence Trump loves in Trump Tower, whose time-shifting decor to transport one to an idyllic past, free from social consequences or concerns, that might be the emblem of the escape he offers the country.

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The notion of Trump sequestered, as a self-made Rip van Winkle, is somewhat appealing.  Donald Trump rarely travels, and seems something of a homebody, flying home regularly while he was on the campaign trail on his private jet–and asking the Secret Service to follow him home, on an air company he owns.  To the tune of $1.6 million, agents accompanied him on regular return flights on TAG Air, on which he logged some $6 million personally, boasting “I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” as he walked to the bank, even outfitting his own ostentatious Boeing 757 jet at a cost of $1 million that situated his own name prominently in red, white, and blue. Trump often made late night trips back to New York during the Presidential campaign, to sleep in his own living quarters, according to the New York Times.  (The cost of outfitting his plane in suitable luxury may have given Trump grounds to criticize current government contracts with Boeing for the real Air Force One of $4 billion–“Cancel the order!“–although the mechanics of what was entailed in that plane were probably not in his grasp.)

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All those daily flights home on “Trump Force One” to sleep in Trump Tower during the Iowa Caucuses were at first feared to cost him some votes across the midwest.  Trump had regularly returned to his morning view of Central Park and his lavish home quarters, however, and seemed to relish returning with regularity during the campaign.  He didn’t allow any press members to accompany him on these flights, though the staff grew.  But he didn’t hesitate to outfit the luxury jet which was a frequent backdrop for news conferences and televised appearances, at a cost of an extra cost within the 3.8 million taxpayers payed to Tag Air, Inc., to operate the jet which approximated his personal quarters in Trump Tower, from a master bedroom approximated with silk wall coverings, mohair couch that converts to a bed, 57-inch television, home theater, shower and gold-plated toilet on this fuel-inefficient plane–all the while insisting on returning to his penthouse in Trump Tower almost each and every night.  (Trump claimed his flights were funded by checks he wrote to his own campaign, and the sale of MAGA hats and souvenirs at rallies, but the $27,000-$36,000 increase in daily operating costs of such regular flights home–the result of a deep resistance to overnighting outside his home long noted on the campaign trail–left the Secret Service sending a tidy check of $1.6 million for much of 2016 to Trump’s own airplane company.)

6.  The web of financial ties to Trump are far-flung in their nodes, and their ties to members of the incoming Trump cabinet–including Betsy “Ah, Betsy; Education, Right?” DeVos–and seem to stretch to areas only begging to be fully mapped, but which extend far, far beyond the properties of the Trump Organization.

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–in a virtual web of business connections, many concealed within his tax statements.  The ties to much of the nation and newfound legitimacy and recognition of the Trump brand seems undeniable–even if Donald Trump, Jr. dismissed the idea that Donald, now that “he’s got real stuff he’s got to deal with” and “real people’s lives,” is anything but occupied with his governmental duties or realizes the extent to which hid new platform of recognition might encourage the expansion of a luxury hotel chain to new regions of the country.   While scoffing at the “notion that [President Trump] is still running the business from the White House is just insane,” however, the network of hotel chains he has administered provide something like the template for Trump’s notion of his relation to space, as the deals he brokered with construction firms, cities, and property taxes have provided him with the basic tools by which he seems destined to project Presidential authority.  Even as Trump sons Eric and Donald, Jr., the surrogates of his hotel empire, claim “There are lines that we would never cross, and that’s mixing business with anything government,” the inescapable confusion is one from which they will benefit.

Indeed, the range of hotel properties Trump owns are wide-ranging, although notably removed form the African continent or Australia, not to mention an almost entire absence in Asia, restricting interest in South America to the tourist destination of Rio and a planned residential development in Uruguay; and with no properties in continental Europe outside Istanbul–and an avoidance of Mexico which, for the owner of a chain of luxury hotels and hotelier, seems almost to be rooted in something like a deep personal dislike–

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The selective seats of Trump International perhaps befits an entity long styled as “real estate super-brand” and linked to the lifestyle it marketed.   But the absence of Trump’s ability to market the Trump lifestyle and brand of hotel destinations in Europe, save the recent and requisite golf courses in Scotland Ireland, may reveal a long ambivalent attitude to Europe and NATO countries, given the absence of Trump interests outside golf courses in Aberdeen, Tunberry and Doonbeg.  (Indeed, Trump took no time after assuming the Presidency to rail against the EU based on his own experiences from “another world” of business–based on the firm refusal  of the EU to resist a proposed seawall on the dunes of Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland, on the grounds of the environmental protection for endangered animals.  Trump was forced to curtail his planned seawall, the basis for the objection–an endangered snail–post-dates his aversion to expanding Trump International in Europe.

But is emblematic of the disproportionate scale with which Trump seems to view the world.  While mocking local disturbances faced by his building projects as annoying disturbances, he promotes his vision of a single way of life cobbled together from historical periods, providing residents a view from Mumbai at the Park at a remove from the poverty of homeless families who sleep on cardboard on Mumbai’s streets–in an image long suspected to be photoshopped.

58681cd31500002f00e9ddcc.jpegPaul Needham (2014)

The withdrawal of Trump Tower is the opposite of global engagement, but is the site to which Trump seems to invite us all to retreat in an age of global refugees.  Is it any coincidence that the self-confessed germaphobe so fearful of contamination from crowds is most inclined to adopt metaphors as floods, swarms, or infectious to describe the experience of refugees as threats to the social body, metaphorically re-framing their plight at a remove from social, politics or economics–and insisting on our need for better self-protection?  The distorted view from Trump Towers elides the experience of many through the distorting lens of real estate.

7.  Indeed, Trump’s gift for getting his name put on every empty surface known to man–including Trump-themed fiction–seems to have been taken as an excuse for his interest in political representation, which it is not.  But it is no secret that business interactions have most importantly shaped and helped formed Trump’s world view.  And the somewhat striking absence of Trump hotels in much of Eurasia–save residential developments in Seoul, and some under construction in Mumbai, Pune and the Philippines–raises questions not only of the appeal of the version of Trump glitz that they offer, but also of the place of these actual locations in Trump’s current mental map; the distance of the Trump brand entirely from the neighboring state of Mexico is more than clear, and may derive from personal distaste.

The presence of properties under construction in Uruguay, India, and Makati may indicate constraints of the Trump lifestyle, whose limited truck in Europe is not destined to grow in the future.  The relative absence of Trump’s presence in Asia–save Baku–suggests not only a compromised notion of geography for Trump, but an untimely withdrawal from international markets that analyses of the previous administration suggested place millions of jobs at risk.  How can we collectively trust a man with so compromised a notion of geography to can the Trans-Pacific Partnership?  The punitive measures proposed to be taken against companies making products overseas suggest a deeply skewed notion of the place of the American workplace in the global economy, and punitive measures against foreign competitors, suggest a limited and deeply narcissistic notion of global economic transactions, distant from and out of touch with the distribution of global populations.

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The remove of a spatial imaginary of real estate was long prominent in Trump’s mind.  The sharply concentrated and geographically small circuit of properties Trump owns in New York suggests not only a limited knowledge of the huge diversity of New York City but define the notion of the Trump lifestyle he has sold to America as an outer borough boy.  It betrays his narrow range of interest in coveted properties around Midtown and Trump Tower, revealing Trump’s longstanding interest in focussing his sights on Manhattan, despite his father Fred’s disinterest in the far fancier borough–and his open discouragement to Donald for chasing such properties from a firm that had roots from the Verrazano Bridge to the Long Island border, and offered middle-class housing, for hubris in reaching beyond his Brooklyn roots.  Is the focussed expansion of Trump Properties into Midtown, by now long naturalized by its epicenter at Trump Tower, a form of inter-borough envy with roots in the class conflicts of New York City’s urban geography?

Such inter-borough rivalry seem to have guided not only the expansion of Trump properties as it expanded to the area around the future Trump Tower, site of the tony area of Tiffany’s, the Plaza Hotel and Central Park South–

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–but the position in which he sees himself in relation to the world, and the caricature of the populist millionaire that became the conceit of The Apprentice and since become a basis for Trump to sell himself and his brand to the country.

Indeed, the eagerness of Donald to move to the toniest areas Fred Trump disdained, by casting himself from the “streetwise son of Brooklyn’s largest apartment builder,” allowed him to expand his stylized image as a colossus of Manhattan, but to disdain the outer boroughs of New York City as a place to plant the gold-plated image of his name.

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In staking claims to building in such a restricted area of Manhattan, Trump may have used midtown as a sort of arena or performance space to broadcast his identity with such well-polished sheen that it served as a launching pad for Reality TV, long before declaring his Presidency.

8.  More scarily, however, is that the quite limited previous experience Trump gained with world affairs from his perch in New York seems destined to shape the judgements that he shapes on issues of global consequence:  as being in Queens and looking at Manhattan defined Donald’s appreciation and interest in power, the very tactics of aggression that worked for him to launch his brand in New York has become generalized in the trademark launching of hotel facades, and the confrontational bullying of world leaders seems to be the chosen metier of foreign policy, as cultivating allies and personal rapports; divisions between personal space and national destiny seem far closer than in the past, who seems to see foreign policy as conducted in confidence and in tête-a-tête rapports; foreign non-immigrant workers of HB-1 visas are viewed as “cut-rate” bargains, analogous to foreign construction workers; constant commentary on foreign affairs in Twitter permitted; brinksmanship is a working strategy; market negotiations as a primary means of statecraft with overseas partners and adversaries alike.

Trump’s deep need to impress world leaders takes precedence over policy or statements of national interest; tax-cuts are for corporations, whose rate is cut to 15 percent, and tax brackets collapsed from seven to three–while omitting how the US government would be able to afford the cuts.  Trump works on small-scale corporate deals with companies about aircraft, but the big picture seems to slip away.

For Trump’s apparently unremitting focus on staking claims to what he considered higher status in New York City’s real estate market, and to promote his name in doing so, developed with an intensity that led him to continue to stake claims to that status for new arenas.  This began in New York City, greedily and relentlessly, from the West Side Highway where his promise of a waterfront apartment building led the city to permanently close an exit ramp, to Soho, to Wall Street.  This apparent search seeming to chase an image of prestige in the mirror of his own gold-plated marquee, combining deep desire with disinterest in much of the external world, almost desiring only to look in the mirror of the gold reflective surfaces naming the multi-billion dollar towers to which the developer lends his name and the status they take pains to create.  Trump indeed boasted to a biographer Harry Hurt III, back in 1993, about having the best living room view in all of New York City, by virtue of being able to see from his Trump Tower apartment his own name on all sides:  beside the Hudson River in the West Side Yards; on Third Avenue, atop the thirty-nine story Trump Plaza or the fifty-five story Trump Palace.  Hurt compared it all to a child-like fantasy: mirrored in miniature on the ultimate stage of self-indulgent fantasy, as Trump’s name is branded not only on buildings but also “on a Monopoly-tyle board game branded ‘Trump'”, in a sort of ubiquity that needs its own constant affirmation, and itself engenders a desperate need for confirmation of loyalty and admiration.

For Trump seems to have lived in an extended or protracted mirror stage, where the materials of building provide themselves the foil for revealing the “I” that the builder seeks to cultivate, forged in a pre-linguistic stage but continuing as a distorting monumentalization of selfhood that desires to obscure if not obliterates the very map across which it spreads, disorienting the viewer.  The reality of the Trump presidency seems retaining the sheen on the name that seems to gain a greater aura the more that it is reproduced.

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Trump Tower

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But how long can that last?  While Trump boasted that his ability to have “added show business to the real estate business” is an apt characterization as “a positive for my properties and in my life,” is the nation able to be defined as his property, or is he able to fulfill the fantasies of his constituents through inflated promises and empty patina?

Rather than build such bold pronouncements of self without oversight in Washington, DC, Trump seems to offer the nation new ideas of the landscape of governmental authority.  For rather than seeing the role of the Presidency as representing the nation, Trump seems to have relentlessly presented the function of the Presidency as expanding own his personal enrichment at the cost of the nation–and indeed at the cost of the Presidency’s historical prestige.

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