Biden’s most important task

So I was listening to this podcast, talking about the rise of neoliberalism and opining that it is likely in its last gasps. A poorly named philosophy, neoliberalism is actually better named neoconservatism. It’s the idea that freedom comes through markets and that the more we orient society to enable entrepreneurs and free markets and clip the government’s wings, the more everyone’s boat rises and freedoms expand.

The opposite of course has happened. Income inequality is now at record levels. What new growth there is goes almost entirely to the rich. The only mystery is why it was hung on to for so long. It hung on in part because there are a lot of shysters out there. Its most recent example is Donald Trump, a so-called populist who pulled the wool over the eyes of his supporters so well that they still support him, even though he has systematically tried to impoverish them.

Remember the Trump who was going to do all these magical things like give us something better than cheaper than Obamacare, and almost instantly, and was going to bring back jobs to the United States? You got to hand it to Trump, though. Right now, he is still picking the pockets of his supporters, still getting them to send his campaign money, even though he has lost the election. Most of these donations goes to an entity which allows him to channel it right back into his pocket. These loonies though are still smitten with Trump, still convinced our election was rigged (but only against Trump, apparently) and have no problem with totalitarianism to keep Trump in power. If he somehow succeeded though, based on his track record, he would just find more ways to fleece them and the rest of us. That’s his biggest skill.

In 2016 Trump sounded a lot like Bernie Sanders; it’s just that Sanders was the true populist. People followed Trump because he told them stuff they wanted to hear. You know his base wants a lot of progressive policies; after all, Florida voted for him while also approving a $15/hour minimum wage. Many progressive ideas are popular with Trump supporters. They just get lost in supporting class warfare. They can’t seem to figure out that by supporting it they are undermining their own prosperity.

Anyhow, if this podcast is true, neoliberalism is in its last days. The reaction to Trump’s defeat is strong evidence that his supporters are coming apart at the seams because they can’t get their way. Is a new, more progressive era at hand?

I’m hoping it is and there are certainly signs that time should prove this true. The hard part is getting from here to there. One constant has been the obstinance from red states, who seem to be all for white supremacy and income inequality. It’s just that red states are becoming fewer. Georgia is looking purple and may start to look blue if both Democrats win their runoff races next month. There’s more early voting in Georgia for these races today than there was before the presidential election. Polls proved unreliable in the November election, but what polls there are in the Georgia Senate race suggest Democrats Warnock and Ossoff have slim leads.

I spent more than thirty years in Virginia and watched it moved from red to purple to consistently blue. Arizona is definitely looking like a purple state. North Carolina and Wisconsin seem to be becoming purple too. You have to look hard for a state that is bucking the trend. I can only see Ohio trending more red.

The challenge of the moment is keeping our fragmenting country together. The Trump base has never been a majority, but they are a large minority and they apparently have few limits. Republicans in general have been playing a high stakes game for decades, methodically investing the time and resources to turn things their way. Now though it seems like they feel it slipping from their grasp. It’s this anxiety that is driving crazy stuff, like violent Proud Boys marches in Washington, D.C. Their tactics though only work as long as they work. With voter suppression losing its edge, and states moving slowly toward less gerrymandered districts, the extremes are feeling marginalized. In the past this would be a sign to expand their coalition by moving toward the middle, but Trump won’t let them.

President Elect Joe Biden has many things to tackle once he assumes office. But arguably the most important task will be to restore our democratic republic. Rule of law must reflect adherence to our actual law. Our government needs to function again.

How many years has it been since Congress not funded government through continuing resolutions? Congressional committees used to have real power; now most are fig leaves. The real power in Congress rests in its majority leader in the Senate, since he seems to control everything, most importantly its agenda. The situation in the House is not much better. Nancy Pelosi too is exercising powers largely beyond those traditionally granted to the Speaker of the House. So we get crazy things like an omnibus spending bill where members have two hours to read it before voting yea or nay and no opportunity to debate it. Agencies get by from year to year on continuing resolutions with little changing of their priorities and missions as a result of Congressional deliberations. Congress needs to do its job in the way it was set up to do it. Most of those in Congress though are arguably superfluous, since their power amounts to electing their majority leader or speaker, done every two years at best.

If we can’t run the government the way it was intended to be run, if power can’t be shared more equitably, if its members can’t even agree to a modicum of respect and compromise, things will only unravel more. Joe Biden at least seems to understand this. Let’s see how much he will actually be able to accomplish.

Time to draw a line in the sand on Republican traitors

Before the election in a number of posts I said that the time between Election Day and Biden’s inauguration would be one of the most challenging constitutionally for our country we’ve ever experience. I outlined many scenarios on how it could play out which I placed in many posts. There were too many variables in the election to know precisely how it would play out, but so far, I at least feel vindicated in my general assessment of this interregnum – not that it was too hard to figure out.

We are amidst the curse of living in interesting times. One of the challenges though of times like today is to figure out how to successfully navigate them so that better times (rather than chaos) lay ahead.

I figured we’d be in the streets at the moment, but right now it’s Trump supporters who are in the streets … and in the courts. Thousands of Trump supporters are in the streets of Washington, D.C. as I write, shouting for four more years of Donald Trump. It’s their constitutional right to protest and providing their protesting doesn’t lead to violence they should vent their spleens. They are protesting because they believe that Trump’s loss was stolen from them, even though after fifty lawsuits not one of them has produced any evidence that judges could accept. Just yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court in a unanimous decision seemed to put an end to it all, refusing to hear a case from Texas asking the court to overturn the results in four key states that voted for Joe Biden.

But of course, that won’t quite be the end of it. Monday the Electoral College votes in the fifty states plus the District of Columbia and certifies their electors. One of my fears is that Trump would put the U.S. military around some of these state capitols to keep the electors from doing just this. We’ll see if this happens. But it’s likely when Congress opens the votes on January 6, 2021 there will be objectors. This ain’t over until it’s over. Like Nixon’s helicopter scene, we won’t really know Biden is president until he is sworn in and a military attaché with the nation’s nuclear codes is by Biden’s side.

But it probably won’t be over even after then. We don’t know yet the results of Georgia’s two senate seat elections, but it’s likely if Republicans maintain a majority of senators that Mitch McConnell will be pressed to obstruct as much of the Biden Administration’s agenda as possible, possibly including refusing to vote on most of his cabinet and other choices. Indeed, Trump is likely to try to run a shadow presidency from Mar-a-Lago or wherever he ends up. I’ve suggested it might be Russia once the lawsuits and criminal charges are filed. Trump will demand attention and it will be up to us and the media to keep granting it to him or not.

Friday’s Supreme Court decision tossing out Texas’s case, joined by more than a dozen Republican state attorneys general and 120 Republicans in Congress, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the bulk of Republicans don’t want democracy and would prefer an autocracy where they are in charge instead. By signing on to this suit, they publicly engaged in sedition against the United States. It is this action that I think must be challenged. An implicit line in the sand was drawn that was stepped over when Republicans joined wholeheartedly in this effort. Now another and enforceable line in the sand should be drawn: The House of Representatives should not seat any member of Congress that seditiously joined in this lawsuit.

It’s been done from time to time. My brother today reminded me that we have a great uncle who wasn’t seated in the U.S. Congress in 1869 after the Civil War because his loyalty was questioned as a Democrat. The House, like the Senate, sets its own rules and it can simply refuse to seat representatives by a majority vote. Most of these representatives are already in Congress and won reelection. All of them, like Donald Trump, swore to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Their actions of sedition and treachery though prove through their signatures that they didn’t live up to their sworn oaths when it mattered. So, I say, refuse to seat the whole lot of them! Let that be democracy’s line in the sand. Let that be how we rise to the moment.

It can be done. Democrats control the House, even though they lost seats, so if Democrats stay united on this it can happen. The U.S. Constitution specifically allows each house of Congress to set their own rules. The rules for the current Congress have been set, but the rules for the next Congress have not. Refuse to seat them and require that governors of the many states send interim replacements, but only those who will swear fealty to the Constitution of the United States and publicly avow that they will not subvert the will of the people expressed through the voting process.

Of course, I’m not unmindful of the backlash this would cause. It’s hard to believe that it would be much worse than what we’ve already endured. But we need to think of the future and protect the most important thing of all: our republican form of democracy and our constitution and the many laws derived from it, including our freedoms. This is no time to be weenies about our democracy. It’s a time firmly avow by taking all necessary action to ensure nothing like this can happen again. In 2024, it should be simply unthinkable because of the emotional shock that we inflict now.

The most charitable workaround would be to seat those members who publicly disavow their actions at the House podium and promise to never subvert the electoral process or our constitution again. But I wouldn’t want this. I think they should all be permanently unseated. The price of their treachery must be borne. They should feel lucky if the least that happens to them is that they never take their seats. I would hope the Justice Department would look into seeing if any criminal charges apply and if so to go after these miscreants aggressively.

Republicans no longer find democracy convenient

So our Supreme Court has decided not to hear a case from a Trump supporter to overturn the results of the election in Pennsylvania and award its Electoral College votes to Trump. That’s good and should not be a surprise given that the Constitution allows each state to decide how to award its Electoral College votes. It’s simply not a matter for the U.S. Supreme Court. Like almost all states, Pennsylvania decided to give all its Electoral Votes to whoever wins a plurality of the votes cast.

Still, you never know and it’s unlikely the court has received its last plea to change the election results. Now Texas wants the court to overturn the four swing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia) electoral votes too, and hopefully that’s as unlikely to get a hearing for the same reason.

In fact, “Safe Harbor Day” (December 8) has passed, meaning Congress must presume the certified Electoral College votes from the states are not to be questioned. This means, absent a coup, Joe Biden will be our 46th president. He’ll be it because (duh!) he won a majority of the Electoral College votes, or will when they are officially cast on December 14th in state capitols. It would seem then that if you want your party to win the presidency, you should figure out how to lawfully collect a majority of the Electoral College votes cast in free and fair elections.

If this were eight years ago, the Republican Party would do a post mortem and would figure out what it figured out then: we need to expand our base and maybe move toward the middle so we attract more voters. Of course, in 2016, the Republican Party did just the opposite but won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by three million votes.

In 2020, the Republican Party seems to be even more obstinate. It’s clear they won’t try to broaden their coalition since compromise and coalition building cannot be tolerated. Instead, their take away seems to be they must cheat instead. They did their best in this election but somehow it failed them. The most likely lesson that they’ll take away is to double down on the cheating. For one thing, their conservative courts are not nearly conservative enough since a large number of their judges, particularly in the hinterlands, haven’t gotten the message and have (gasp!) followed the rule of law instead.

The lesson they seem to be taking away is that they can’t allow democracy to happen unless they can ensure they control democracy. In that sense they have plenty in common with the Chinese government and also Henry Ford, who famously declared you could buy his Model T in any color you want, as long as it was black.

This seems to be the enduring legacy of Trumpism: a party that will no longer feel the need to be moored to the Constitution because, well, their being in charge ultimately trumps a silly constitution. Unless things fracture within the party, as I hoped, that seems to be their driving concern: to take by force that which they believe must be theirs, because they can no longer stand the idea that they can’t be in charge.

God help us.

Republicans don’t believe in either democracy or republican government

It’s taken two and a half weeks, but things have finally reached the totally alarming phase of our post-election madness. With just a couple of exceptions, all Republicans in our federal government seem to be aiding and abetting the corruption of our election and ending our democratic government as we’ve known it.

The good news is that Trump and the Republican Party’s tacit acceptance of his tactics stand little chance of achieving the goal of somehow reversing who will be our next president. The bad news is that if we harbored any illusions that Republicans were not a wholly corrupt party, it’s been blown away by recent events.

Today, Trump has members of the Michigan Republican legislature at the White House to persuade them to somehow give Michigan’s electoral votes to him instead of Joe Biden, who won a majority of them. In reality there’s not much Michigan Republicans can do. The same is true in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, all key states whose votes would need to somehow swing into Trump’s column to pull off this electoral coup. To do what he wants done would have required mendacity and a lot of preplanning. Trump has plenty of mendacity, but almost no ability to plan anything.

The same can’t be said about Republicans in general and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular. For more than thirty years they’ve executed an arguably brilliantly devious and mendacious plan to give Republicans disproportionate electoral impact. It’s been done through gerrymandering to the extreme, wholesale voter disenfranchisement strategies, and abetted by a conservative Supreme Court that said those predominantly southern states didn’t need preapproval by the federal government anymore before changing their voting laws and apportioning legislative districts. The Supreme Court said it was a relic of the past. What Trump is doing today in the White House is proof of how catastrophically wrong this decision was. Our courts have gotten so conservative principally because the Senate has been largely controlled by Republicans and Mitch McConnell, and they won’t approve any but the most conservative jurists.

Democracy is the direct rule of the government by the people. You can still find it here in New England, where major decisions are made by whoever attends periodic town meetings. Republican government means allowing the people to vote for representatives, who hopefully reflect their will in local, state and federal legislatures.

Gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement have been extremely effective in muting the powers of certain voters. It takes extraordinary civic engagement, like we saw in the recent election, to overcome its effects. The Electoral College offers an additional hurdle by giving rural states disproportionate power to select our president.

As Trump’s actions today prove, even that high hurdle is not a bar too far for our president and Republicans in our government to corrupt. Trump’s efforts though are very last minute. A more mendacious future Republican president or presidential candidate won’t make these same mistakes.

I had hoped that this election would bring the end of the Republican Party. I’m likely to be proven wrong on this. Instead, the election is demonstrating just how deeply polarized our country is and how for most Republicans there is no bridge too far for them to cross to achieve their goals. The so-called Law and Order party has no respect for the law, and the only order they will allow is order they declare.

All of this points to how fragile our system of government actually is at the moment. It also shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Republicans don’t want a republican form of government. They want total control. They don’t want to brook or allow any dissent. They are completely happy with an autocracy, as long as the autocrat is one of their own. Apparently, Trump will do fine.

All this points to a nation that is likely to become increasingly ungovernable as there will be virtually nothing both parties can agree on. The job of one party will be to wholly obstruct the other. And at least for Republicans, rules and the law be damned. It’s all completely fair as long as it works to achieve their aims.

So, I expect we will be marching in the streets. It’s just going to happen later instead of sooner. We’re going through a slow-motion national train wreck. And we’re doing it as the worst possible time, with one party wholly corrupt, with a court system holding but teetering, with a pandemic rapidly worsening, and a president who will obstruct any action that would allow for a peaceful and planned transition of government to Joe Biden.

God help us.

Six days later and my stomach is still queasy

I figured I’d be out in the streets pretty soon after the election was called, not necessarily to celebrate Joe Biden’s win, but because we’d see violent actions by right wingers trying to foment insurrection, civil war, revolution or all of the above. That hasn’t happened, which is good. But I’m not at all convinced it won’t happen.

For now, Trump is hoping for a Hail Mary outcome that is unlikely to happen. Even if somehow, he could flip the results in a couple of states, which is almost impossible, Biden’s likely win with 306 electoral college votes means one or two states wouldn’t matter. So far Trump hasn’t egged on his right-wing fanatics, perhaps mindful that doing so would expose him to criminal charges once out of office. So far though the consequence of his actions hasn’t seemed to deter him. So, this may be a card he’s holding close to his chest, waiting for a special moment. Perhaps that day will be December 14, when the Electoral College meets in each of the fifty states, or January 6, 2021 when the votes are certified in Congress.

In the meantime, Trump’s acts are worrisome. He’s so far playing the wannabee dictator’s handbook. He fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, presumably because he publicly said the armed forces would not support a coup attempt. Attorney General Bill Barr has told the Justice Department it’s okay to look into election fraud issues, even though none were found. If you were going to try to carry out a coup, you’d want your toadies in all the key posts. He’s got the Justice Department in his pocket, hopes to have the Defense Department in it too and is making noises like he’s about to fire CIA Director Mark Esper. The FBI technically reports to Bill Barr, but it would be good to get rid of its director too, Christopher Wray. Trump’s got experience firing FBI directors, and he’s not enamored with Wray, so it’s not unrealistic to think he’s going to get ousted soon.

A real coup would be hard to pull off without the National Guard supporting it, and it’s pretty unlikely he can pull that off. In any event, there are chess pieces in play. Until January 20, Trump controls the government, so a coup would depend on how actively his government takes steps to pull one off. We may get half-hearted measures or a huge new Saturday Night Massacre as many levels of government leaders rebel.

Or it could all be worry for naught. Trump is notoriously distractible. Staff could keep him playing golf at one of his many resorts while he stews and tweets. It’s unlikely that right wing militias would do anything without his egging them on. After all, he told the Proud Boys to “stand down and stand by”. Good soldiers as they are, they are waiting for his orders.

Meanwhile of course he is continuing to deny reality and is ordering the government not to let a transition proceed. He still is tweeting but he’s keeping a low public profile, which is unusual for him. You can get a sense of the state of his mind by his tweets, which are now predominantly in uppercase.

In short, expect to stay on pins and needles until we see Biden sworn in and our armed forces fall in behind him. I do hope Biden appoints a presidential photographer and makes his first assignment to hang out at the White House. If Trump has to be bodily evicted, it should be captured for posterity.

Whence then for Trump? If you read me regularly, I expect him to flee this USA. I’m actually hoping for it, as he’d only do it if he figures he might get arrested. The cases against him and the Trump Organization are mostly civil, but it’s certainly possible the Manhattan District Attorney or the New York State Attorney General has a criminal case or two ready to prosecute on January 21.

It would be best if Trump left the country permanently and was always afraid that if he returned he would be indicted and possibly hauled off to jail for fleeing justice. If Trump is guilty of criminal charges, I’d love to see him in prison. But it’s probably better for our country if he stays away permanently. It’s like sending Napoleon to St. Helens. He won’t be wholly neutered but he’ll be mostly neutered, particularly when he violates Twitter’s terms of service. Not being president, his account will be easy to shut off. Twitter recently turned off Steve Bannon’s account after he called for beheading Tony Fauci.

Even with Trump out of the picture, our democracy is in a very fragile state. The seventy or so million people who voted for Trump implicitly are okay with ending democracy and having an authoritarian of Trump’s ilk ruling by fiat instead. There is a cancer on the Republican Party that I don’t think can be cured and many have noted Trump’s success and will imitate his tactics in future campaign. However, they are unlikely to be as ineffective. The Republican Party deserves to die, but right now I don’t see a split within the party severe enough where this can happen, although I predicted it would. Maybe I will be vindicated with time.

Real rule of law needs to return, and structural reforms are urgently needed to shore up our democracy. Unless Democrats win two Senate seats in a Georgia special election, it has virtually no chance of happening before 2022. There are so many issues that need fixing all at once and insufficient political capital to do them that the long-term prospects for a functioning government in our country seem bleak. Biden’s election brought us a ray of hope, but it’s just a ray. Biden’s plan for unity and comity are likely to go nowhere. If Republicans retain the Senate, their agenda will probably be party line obstruction on all levels. There is simply no incentive for them to fix our systemic issues, as they are likely to lose more power if they do. Past initiatives to broaden their party have fallen on deaf ears.

So, while I am obviously glad that Biden and Harris were elected, the odds against them are Herculean. We narrowly won an initial battle, but winning this war against democracy looks iffy at best. At least we should get some breathing room.

(Preliminary) Election 2020 post-mortem

It’s probably safe to say our election wholly satisfied no one. For political prognosticators, including amateurs like me, it was frustrating. Based on polling, this had all the hallmarks of a blowout election for Democrats. But it wasn’t. Polling was way off, suggesting that pollsters have to fundamentally rethink polling science. Was it off due to shy Trump voters? The pandemic? Inability to find representative samples of voters simply because most won’t talk to pollsters? We really don’t know and the challenge is made much harder because due to the pandemic exit polls don’t mean much as they predominantly capture view of Trump voters.

Biden looks likely to squeak by with a win. Getting rid of Trump was of course the most important task, and it looks like we’ll succeed there. But we’ll likely not gain the Senate, we lost a few House seats and with a new round of redistricting occurring soon and a deliberately botched census aided and abetted by our courts, Republicans will continue to wield disproportionate power. Republicans marginally improved their hold on state legislatures, which suggests plenty of gerrymandering is in our nation’s future.

Biden’s hope for political comity looks hopelessly unrealistic. With Mitch McConnell expected to retain his title of Majority Leader in the Senate, it’s not hard to see him doubling down on what looked like a winning strategy from this election. He’s likely to stall confirming new judges, and any Supreme Court vacancy is likely to be deferred yet again. McConnell never reaches for the center and always plays the hardest game of political hardball. It’s not hard to see him unilaterally refusing to even bring up for a vote in the Senate any cabinet and agency nominations insufficiently centrist. His base will love him for it.

It’s all quite bleak, unfortunately. The best we can say is that we avoided the disaster of a second Trump term, and the likely authoritarian state that would have resulted. We haven’t saved democracy or our republic but at least the election did not end it. It’s quite clear that perhaps a plurality of Americans is quite happy to remain divided and maybe prefer an authoritarian system of government.

And most of a Biden agenda is likely out of the window too. Public option? Forget about it, along with repealing those huge tax cuts for millionaires. Biden’s power amounts to controlling foreign policy and issuing a lot of executive orders, mostly to repeal those that Trump ordered. If you like government gridlock, more of the same is on the agenda.

Still, there are sprigs of new life out there. America is bluing, just very slowly. If Biden retains his slim lead in Georgia, that’s one southern state that Republicans can no longer count on, two if you consider Arizona a southern state, which Biden looks likely to carry. In addition, Arizona should have two Democratic senators. That seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. It is slowly getting harder for Republicans to retain an Electoral College advantage. But so much depends on who gets nominated.

Trump looks likely to be defeated and at least so far it appears that the Supreme Court won’t overturn the election and that civil unrest resulting from his loss will be minimal. Trump looks despondent and may be coming to accept his loss. It is likely he will want to give it another try in 2024, but it’s unclear if he will be able to. I still expect him to flee the country before Biden takes over. There are too many civil and criminal cases coming his way to risk staying in the country.

So, I’m not happy with the election and most Americans probably aren’t as well. Republican senators though can be reasonably happy. Keeping Trump in the White House was unlikely, their majority will likely be narrowed to a single seat in the Senate, but they are hardly out of the game. Still, they cling to the tiniest majority in the Senate. Any sudden retirement or death in their conference can upset their apple cart.

It’s unlikely, but still possible that Democrats may ultimately control the chamber. Jon Ossoff now seems likely to have a runoff against David Purdue. In Georgia’s second senate seat, Raphael Warnock won a plurality of votes, meaning that seat could flip too in early January. So, a tied Senate and two new Democratic senators in Georgia is not impossible, but unlikely. This would give the Vice President effective control for Democrats. In general, things have been breaking Democrats way as mail in and absentee votes get counted, often by the slimmest margins.

So not much hope, but there is still a slim possibility that Democrats can make some hay from all of this before the next Congress seats.

Breaking the egg

If your stomach isn’t churning right now, you probably aren’t an American. I’m willing to bet though that much of the rest of the world has a churning stomach too as they too wonder how our election will turn out. Like it or not, our election affects virtually everyone. It’s pretty clear who should win the presidency (Joe Biden) but it’s less clear whether he will succeed in actually taking office.

I am one of many pundits that proclaimed the next likely steps. In the past you could count on the loser graciously (sometimes with arms twisted) conceding, thus smoothing the path for the winner. (Obviously 2000 was an exception, but Al Gore did concede when the Supreme Court effectively voted Bush into office.) The peaceful transition of power has been one of the hallmarks of American democracy. That’s likely now about to change.

Trump’s already signaling his next steps: declare an early victory when early results in states like Pennsylvania make him appear momentarily ahead. Declare that votes not cast on Election Day don’t count and claim that those cast by mail were rigged somehow. So, it will quickly be off to the courts (both state and federal) to try to invalidate as many votes as possible.

Meanwhile Trump supporters will try to foment violence. We saw a touch of it over the weekend when Trump supporters managed to delay a Biden/Harris campaign bus on the road in Texas. Needless to say, although it caused two campaign events to be canceled, Donald Trump had no problem with it. Meanwhile, the White House is becoming even more of a fortress, with scale-proof fencing being rapidly installed around its perimeter.

So, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Trump won’t concede, as it would assume civil behavior from a man who has never shown any. Trump is counting on “his” Supreme Court, not to mention the many district and circuit court judges he appointed to come through for him. Republicans have packed a lot of state courts too in the last ten years, so expect a lot of monkey business as we get all sorts of incredulous rulings from these judges that try to put the Republican Party and Trump’s interests above those of the masses. Biden’s margin of victory and the fact that many swing states aren’t wholly controlled by Republicans though mean there are likely too many moving parts for Republicans to ultimately succeed in the courts.

Here in Northampton, Massachusetts we got a taste of what’s to come yesterday. In this extremely progressive city, a bunch of Trump supports waving Trump flags occupied the corner of Pleasant Street and Main. This soon drew counter protesters across the street at King Street and Main. The chanting and jeering went on for a couple of hours. Police managed to keep the groups separated. Most likely these Trump supporters came from the hill towns.

In short, after a years-long campaign, the election is merely an event in a long series of events whose ultimate outcome is unclear. Those wanting it to all go away will be disappointed. The only question is how bad it will get.

One theory is that if Biden wins a huge victory it will suppress the emotions of Trump’s supporters and keep them from engaging in violence. I don’t expect this. Trump will simply goad them on. They are all being used but it’s clear Trump doesn’t care. Thousands who picked up the virus at his many rallies will likely die, but none of that will matter to Trump. Sociopaths simply don’t care and may take pleasure at inflicting pain on others. At some level, I expect that if Trump ultimately loses, he will blame his supporters for not trying hard enough.

I expect I will be in the streets doing my best to peacefully protest, but I expect there will be counter protests and it could get ugly and violent. It will be mostly up to governors and local police departments to try to keep things civil and quell violence. It’s unclear whether we have enough resources to do this.

Ultimately though there may be some good that comes from all this. Americans may embrace democracy again and the forces of radical Republicanism may finally be checked, perhaps fatally so. So much depends though on the majority of us standing up, not just to vote, but to carry on with grit and determination afterward.

Democracies are the most fragile forms of government. If we want to keep it, we’re going to have to work for it. If nothing else, we’re going to find out how vested we are in a civil society.

Trump to flee the USA? I’d bet on it

At one of Trump’s recent rallies he said this:

Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life, what am I going to do? I’m going to say ‘I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics.’ I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country? I don’t know.

This was supposedly said in jest. There’s just one problem. Have you ever heard Donald Trump laugh?

Not me, not once. Trump has no sense of humor at all as best I can tell. That’s because he doesn’t understand the root of humor. What makes something humorous varies from person to person. Mostly it’s about surprise. You expect to hear something but what you get is not what you expect and it’s usually something off the wall, and that’s often what makes it humorous. Would it surprise you at all if Donald Trump left the country after he is badly defeated? It wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, I’m expecting he’ll do just this.

There’s also the benign violation theory of humor. Humor arises in if there is both a violation from civil norms and it’s a non-threatening violation. Leaving the country to live elsewhere (likely a country without an extradition agreement with the United States, in Trump’s case) is definitely a violation of a civic norm. Is this non-threatening? Not to most of us. If Trump committed any crimes, we would like him to be held accountable for them. We’d feel threatened if he put himself outside of the law.

He wouldn’t emigrate unless he felt he would be held accountable for violating the law. It would be humorous if Trump chose to move to, say, Sweden. It would be funny because we don’t expect that Sweden would let him become a permanent resident and because it’s a socialist state. But we already sense Sweden wouldn’t have him, so that suggestion would be funny, but it’s not one that Trump uttered. He’s incapable of making this mental leap and seeing the humor in it. We all know what he’s really talking about: moving somewhere outside of the reach of U.S. law and which would accommodate his lifestyle. Offhand, only Russia comes to mind but he wouldn’t be too happy there. Now Trump moving to Iran, now that would be funny.

Trump raises this because it’s on his mind. As I posited in my last post, he knows he’s going to lose. Moreover, he’s getting desperate. In today’s Washington Post we learn that he’s considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray because he won’t indict Joe and Hunter Biden, like he wants him to do. The lack of evidence doesn’t bother him. The same fate may await Attorney General Bill Barr, who generally has bent over backward to accommodate Trump. Waiting until after the election to fire them though assumes that Trump wins. There’s little chance of that. Firing them after an election he loses is kind of pointless. It won’t change the fact that he lost.

Trump is privy to his actual crimes. Even non-lawyers like me can see there would be no problem filing charges. Once he is out of office, there’s no reason not to, as he is no longer untouchable. It’s likely that New York State has a set ready to file on January 21. Trump though doesn’t want to live elsewhere, which is why I suspect before he leaves office, he will try to pardon himself. If he gets too much heat for the idea, he’ll plan to resign on the condition that Mike Pence will pardon him.

Pardoning himself looks legally dubious at best, but with three of nine justices appointed by him, it’s not out of the question they would decide it’s legal. Actually, the constitution seems to forbid it. The clause is:

The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Trump has been impeached, but not convicted, so there is some wiggle room there. But grant on the other hand has a more specific meaning. In most interpretations, granting is something done to someone else (the grantee) by the grantor. It would take some stretching to interpret it otherwise.

In either event, the safer course for Trump will be to go somewhere else until courts rule in his favor, somewhere outside of U.S. law. So, I can certainly see him holing up in some country like Russia hoping to eventually come home. Better safe than sorry, though.

We’ll just have to see how this all plays out. But if you are looking for someone to say Trump will either try to pardon himself or resign to get Pence to do it, you heard it here first. It would not be surprising in the least. Trump has spent a lifetime dodging accountability, so it’s part of his playbook. And since most of us in our hearts know Trump is likely to do something like this, it’s not unexpected, and also not humorous.

When the extent of his crimes is uncovered, most of us will regret that witch burning was outlawed centuries ago.

Trump is planning to lose

It’s clear to me that Trump is planning to lose the election.

The evidence is hard to miss. His campaign is going broke. He’s not advertising at all in some of the swing states he won last time. To the extent he is advertising, it is down in the Deep South where some states like Georgia look to be in jeopardy. He seems uninterested in debating Joe Biden. His only interest is in holding rallies that only his supporters attend.

He’s also not doing any of the things you would expect a candidate to do to win an election. He’s not moving toward the middle. He’s not telling voters his wonderful plans for a second term; he has none.

But recall that Trump did not expect to win in 2016 either, and saw the campaign as an opportunity to rebrand himself and his image. It’s easier to see now because the New York Times story on his tax returns has documented that he was losing money. The Apprentice gig had dried up and he was piling up massive loans to overseas lenders. He was likely flabbergasted to win as it wasn’t in his business plan at all. From his governing style, it is clear he was not interested in the actual mechanics of governing a country.

The 2016 campaign was a lot of fun, though. He could do what he likes to do best: hold rallies, tweet, yell at opponents and fake enemies and promote himself as the smartest and best person in the world. That’s what he’s been doing during his presidency as well, based on how he is spending his time. Actual governing continues to bore him and he just tunes it out.

So, Trump’s planning to lose should be good news, but in Trump’s case, it’s not. He realizes he’s going to lose the popular vote and the Electoral College massively, but he’s not convinced he can’t stay in power somehow anyhow. He should have “his” new member of the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in place to hear challenges to the election. With a 6-3 conservative court, three of whom he appointed, the odds look better than they should.

He’ll try every possible path to overturn the will of the voters. He’ll try to twist states with Republican controlled legislatures to award their electoral votes to him against the popular vote in the state, a possible but dubious strategy which is actually legal, in many cases. He will spin up all sorts of spurious lawsuits, making the case that the votes were rigged and that only votes cast on Election Day should count, unless, of course, mail in ballots favor him in a particular state. It’s all going to be a huge mess and he’ll hope “his” court will twist all sorts of rules to make him president anyhow. If he succeeds, it will effectively end our republic.

In addition, you can expect him to try to foment civil unrest, unchaining groups like The Proud Boys he told to “stand back and stand by” at the first presidential debate. He thrives in a climate of fear and distraction. but it’s unclear whether much of this will materialize if he loses. In any event, the clock will be against him. The Electoral College meets on December 14, not in Washington but in fifty state capitals. If some states manage to cast their electoral votes for him when they should have gone to Biden, it likely won’t be enough to deny Biden the presidency. Trump’s own foot dragging on his own reelection suggests he’ll bank it all on some last-minute Hail Mary unlikely to work.

Trump is likely to also try tactics tried out in Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon: placing National Guard troops in many cities to control civil unrest. As governors control the National Guard, it’s hard to see how this would work unless he somehow overrides their authority. It’s unlikely that either the National Guard or our active military would do much to occupy state capitols and keep the Electoral College from meeting. If it happens at all, it is likely to be a muted and ineffective response. In any event, if we need the National Guard to quell unrest, it will probably be to quell unrest from right-wing fringe groups like The Proud Bois.

A more likely result will be calls from some states to secede from the country. This does nothing to make him president, but does allow certain states to express their dismay about the direction of the country. There doesn’t appear to be the passion for a new confederacy in the South there was at the start of the last Civil War, and any new confederacy would be a much more shrunken version. The only real pivotal event would be some sort of military occupation of the U.S. Capitol to keep the Congress from certifying the results of the election. With no certification though, Nancy Pelosi would become acting president.

So, most likely Trump is checkmated. There are too many loose ends, too many improbable things that have to happen, and too little time to do it. He’ll likely slink out of the White House at the last possible second. All of Trump’s actions so far have been to build a case for why he will lose. You’ve heard many of them: rigged ballots, the deep state, Never Trumpers, etc. His goal is to leave office with the hanging question that the election was illegitimate somehow. Most likely when gone he will refocus his efforts for a run in 2024, God help us.

Which is Trump’s way of winning. The presidency has never interested him, but he is very much interested in saving face, staying in the news and in everyone’s mind. Those of us hoping his defeat will mean seeing and hearing much less from him are likely to be disappointed. The best we can hope for is he spends years fighting civil and criminal charges, maybe ends up in prison, and that Twitter cuts his feed. If a criminal conviction looks likely, I expect he will simply flee the country. He lives by his own rules and won’t be held accountable. He had better hope that Vladimir Putin will be willing to take him in.

In any event we will all need extra antacids after November 3, not fewer.

My election predictions

The conventional wisdom has been that voters on both sides are pretty locked in and there aren’t many of us left who are persuadable. Unless Joe Biden does something amazing stupid, or Donald Trump shows the political savvy to move toward the middle, Biden looks to handily beat Trump.

But conventional wisdom may be wrong. It sure appears that the first and what may be the only presidential debate of the election peeled off a lot of Trump voters and moved them toward Biden. If you watched the debate (and some eighty million of us did) it becomes easier to understand. What we saw was the worst of Donald Trump, the inner child that shows up on Twitter, on full display. It was like the blinders for Trump came off for a lot of people as they realized quite literally that Trump was insane.

It’s either that and/or Trump’s acquiring covid-19, but the trend was noticed by pollsters immediately after the debate. Those queried after the debate told pollsters that they were voting for Biden by a range that increased by about five percent overall. States that didn’t look likely to be in play, like Texas, now look viable for Biden, so much so that his campaign is actually spending money in the state, which is huge and very expensive.

As for Trump, his campaign’s spending continues to diminish driven mostly by donations drying up – donors can sense he will lose and hate to waste their money. States that Trump won narrowly in 2016 now look out of the question this year, including Pennsylvania (where Biden has a ten-point lead), Michigan (ditto) and Wisconsin. If Trump wins Florida it will only be due to voter suppression as recent polls show Biden with a five-point lead in the state. The election is looking like a Biden tsunami.

Worse, millions of people have already voted so they can no longer be persuaded. We voted yesterday. Our ballots came in the mail but to make sure the U.S. Postal Service didn’t lose them I deposited them in the City Clerk’s box on the front steps of City Hall. Early voting is hugely outpacing 2016. The first day of early voting in Ohio saw lines of two hundred or more people deep. It sure looks like people are determined to vote and that voter suppression efforts will be markedly less effective this year. It will be interesting to see how many voters vote. We may reach turnout rates above seventy percent.

Real Clear Politics lets you create your own electoral college prediction map, so here’s mine. I see Biden getting no less than 351 electoral college votes.

My 2020 electoral college prediction map
My 2020 electoral college prediction map

Similarly, Real Clear Politics lets you create your own senate election prediction map. I see Democrats having at least 51 seats, with 3 toss up seats. One Georgia election is basically a primary, so it won’t be settled for some time, but it’s likely Democrats will end up with 52 – 53 senate seats overall, a likely 6-7 seat gain.

My 2020 Senate election prediction map
My 2020 Senate election prediction map

I won’t predict the House except that Democrats will retain and modestly expand their majority.

It’s unlikely that we will know the extent of Biden’s win on Election Night. It may take a week or so for it to become clear. But it should be clear that he has won decisively by the end of Election Night.

We can expect all sorts of dubious court challenges from the Trump campaign. You can also count on Trump to declare the election was massively rigged. A large Biden win may suppress actions by right-wing terrorists to try to foment violence and civil war. But we can expect some of it, and we can unfortunately expect Trump to egg these people on. So a Biden win doesn’t mean that he will be able to govern when he is inaugurated.

But at least the outlines of this election are now pretty clear to me, and if anything, it looks to be a bigger win for Democrats overall than I anticipated.