Saturday, November 19, 2016

WTF Part 1: The Jurors Have Spoken

In May of this year, I had the honor of doing three jury trials in Racine and Milwaukee. It is unusual for me to have trials three weeks in a row, and in the process I got to see and interact with many prospective jurors in a short period of time, interested and committed to their communities enough to extract themselves from their busy lives to perform that essential civic duty.  And I've had several other trials before and since -- I've talked with hundreds of jurors this year.

The people who do what I do -- defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges -- have a unique opportunity to engage with the kind of somewhat random people that show up for jury duty. Pollsters and focus-group consultants would kill to have access we have to these kinds of honest, concerned citizens. That's a large part of the reason representing clients in jury trials is my favorite part of my vocation -- I get to talk to real people about very real charges, facts and law, having a very real human impact.  I am always amazed and impressed how seriously jurors take their responsibilities. It gives me hope and pride in the citizenship and community most don't get a chance to see.

We don't talk politics when picking a jury.  But, after those three weeks in a row and with Trump on the march all year, I sometimes thought: what were they thinking? What did those people in the jury pools think about the state of politics in this historically-strange election year?  And, more importantly, what were they going to do about it?

In the courtroom, they promised to be honest arbiters of facts and law, doing the best they could in a courtroom while the battle for their political hearts and minds raged outside; working toward one verdict here while the nation and the world awaited their verdict there.  Outside of the courtroom, they were targets for campaigns -- demographic stereotypes, slots in a grid, check-offs on a phone list.  Here, once selected, they had all of the power in that small space of alleged victims and the accused, one of twelve charged with working toward consensus to judge the State's case. In the world outside, they had just the power of one ballot on one day, one lonely anonymous vote among millions.

Some might wear their political heart on their sleeve, but, for the most part, these are not activists or talk-radio callers, as far as I could tell. They are too busy for that -- with family and whatever jobs they can put together in this limited economy.  In jury selection, we do ask them about their employment, and most of them have pieced together a "career" -- or an income stream, anyway -- from the broken threads of the social contract that Corporate America abandoned in the interest of the pursuit of profit, virtually unfettered in the last 20 years.

Where their mothers and fathers may have worked at A.O. Smith, the post office or a brewery for 35 years, with no-cost health insurance, a pension and the rest, they are left to their own devices, making do in two-income households with contract IT, health care industry office support and delivery jobs -- whatever they can piece together.

Sure, there are professionals -- doctors, lawyers, professors -- young students and a few (less than you'd think) unemployed. There is more diversity ethnically than there used to be, but minority communities are still under-represented in the pool to judge the State's case against my usually poor-and-minority clients.

But, for the most part, the jury pool is struggling-but-stable white working class.  Many have family members or know people in law enforcement, or their dad's a retired cop, etc. They have seen the city and their communities change through the years. They are pissed, frustrated, exhausted -- but dedicated to their families and, above all, resilient.

And, if they care enough to show up for jury duty, they care enough to vote. So what, my dear jury poolers, did you make of the choices for president that the major parties presented you with this year?

I can only imagine, still, but I have a pretty good idea.

I think they looked at Hillary Clinton -- even recognizing her sincerity, her experience, her competence, her consummate preparedness -- and roll their eyes. "Oh no," they thought. "Not this again." Hillary represented to them a bad status quo, an economy that does not move enough, the jobs with no raises and fading benefits, and, yes, an uncomfortable number (for too many of the white people) of increasingly diverse people all over their increasingly complicated world.

Never mind that very little of this has anything to do with politicians or what they do.  The economy wasn't broken by the politicians patronized but laughed at behind their backs by the Masters of the Universe.  The economy our parents knew was destroyed by Corporate America, bent on breaking unions, driving down wages and job security and replacing as many American workers as they can with obedient robots here and cheap and even slave labor overseas.

They were going to do that anyway, regardless of any pipsqueak politicians that might have pretended to have the power to stand in their way. But as long as politicians pretend like they have something to do with making things better, they will be blamed for the results when they don't. For all of President Obama's under-appreciated progress, the steady-as-she-goes-but-let's-do-better Clinton approach fell mostly flat in a populace, once again and apparently forever, wanting Change.

Into this Breach of Frustration came professional con-man Donald Trump, a TV celebrity, pretending that he could take the reigns of power and bend Corporate America to his will.  He told Big Lies about bringing back the jobs that were gone forever, reviving the coal and fossil fuel production that are as dead (and climately dangerous) as the dinosaurs they came from, reopening plants long since flattened or converted into 21st century industry. Oh, and by the way, those Mexicans all over the place in restaurants and such, yeah, he'll do something about that. And Muslims...nothing is as scary as that which you don't understand.

If Trump wasn't such a Silver Spooned spoiled brat and Big Dumb Dick, this kind of message might have been an easy one for a lot of those jurors, even if it was a bunch of bullshit, which it is. His obvious and disgustingly-exposed leering misogyny, outright sexual assaults and dog-whistle racism, I thought, would be too much for even the most butch CCW permit-holder this side of alt-right prepper-ville.

But, in the end, Trump's disconnected non-humanity made it harder for these folks -- but not impossible. I guessing most of those jurors I was wondering about took a flyer on Trump or stayed home.  I also think many of those who actually voted for Trump were doing it as a protest or just to feel better somehow, already resigned to the then-inevitability of Hillary and the Same Old Shit. And then THIS happened. How many of those would like to have their vote back?

There are many things we can and will say in the post-mortem about what Hillary and the Democrats should have or could have done to prevent the shitshow we are just getting into.  But I think it is silly to say that we did not try hard enough to reach the Angry White Working Class.  Deep in Hillary's position papers, I'm sure there is a 20-point plan on how to bring back jobs and opportunity throughout the devastated economy.  We had Biden and Bill and all kinds of surrogates reaching out and reaching in to those areas.

The real problem with these folks is -- they are not listening.  They long ago drifted into an alternate-reality information environment built on the omnipresent Fox News and talk-radio.  They already tuned out the "lamestream media" that was -- legitimately and honestly -- screaming with its hair on fire at the very prospect of a Trump presidency since the Access Hollywood video.  They would no sooner listen to anything Hillary said than they would the Latino immigrant milking their cows, even if they could understand what he was saying.

Even with all the racist pandering and con-job lies, Trump only matched Romney's totals in Wisconsin and didn't even get close to doing that nationwide.  For all the societal destruction Trump caused with his desperate screeching, if Hillary could have just held the votes Obama got in 2012, she would have romped in more than the popular vote.

So why didn't she? Welcome to my next planned post. Here's a hint: that wasn't her fault either.