Now Republicans no longer believe in republicanism

I can understand if Republicans have an issue with the democracy thing. True democracy is direct rule by the people, which you can still find here in many towns here in New England. Those who show up at the town meeting get to vote on pressing local issues, which around here include weighty matters like whether to buy a new backhoe for the Town of Hadley.

Democracy won’t work on the national level, so our government was formed as a republican (representative) democracy. In a republic, democracy becomes indirect. You elect someone who reflects the will of the majority of voters (or a plurality, in some cases) in the district or state.

Democracy and republicanism are so fundamental to our country that our two major parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. Based on many egregious actions by state houses in Republican-controlled states though, the Republican Party no longer believes in its presumably founding principle: the virtue of a republican government.

Granted there’s been plenty of evidence this is true for many decades. It’s resulted in voter suppression laws and gerrymandered districts. All have one aim: to minimize the number of people Republicans don’t want voting and the power they could wield.

In Georgia though Republicans went crazy. A new law signed in by their Republican governor includes these way over-the-top voter suppression efforts:

  • It’s now illegal to give food and water to voters waiting to vote, a practice only made necessary because the state reduced polling places in minority precincts
  • It allows unlimited challenges to voter registrations
  • Mail in voting requires attaching a copy of your driver’s license or other state issued ID
  • It’s against the law for any group to mail you an absentee ballot application
  • Mobile voting sites are illegal
  • Voting out of precinct is illegal before 5 PM on voting day
  • Vote drop boxes must be inside facilities, not outside them
  • Their secretary of state no longer chairs the state’s election board
  • The same board can temporarily suspend county election directors if they feel their elections need review. That way the counts can be added up “correctly”.

Georgia is but the most egregious and latest example of extremely alarming changes to voting rules by Republican-controlled states. These changes are actually signed into law now, while queues of other restrictive voting laws are being introduced in other states.

One state legislator in Arizona filed a bill that would have allowed the state to appoint its own electors to the Electoral College, which decides who will be president. Fortunately that was dropped, but a total of nineteen changes are being considered. In Pennsylvania, at least fourteen voting changes have been proposed that amount to new Jim Crow laws. The same is true in Michigan and many other states.

In short, Republicans are fine with people voting, as long as they can guarantee they will be elected. And if they can’t be, at least some Republican states are exploring allowing their legislatures to overturn the will of the voters, at least when it comes to who will receive their state’s electoral votes.

The animus of all this is hardly new: racism. Here it is 2021 and in these states they are still freaking out that people of color have voting rights! Moving toward the political center is apparently out of the question. They must have their cake and eat it too. They cannot compromise.

I fear where all this is heading. The long overdue response to all this is H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which Democrats have introduced. It would outlaw most of these voter suppression and gerrymandering tactics, and set uniform voting standards across the various states. It would in effect enable true republicanism, something that is increasingly anathema to actual Republicans! If this becomes law, it’s not hard to see what some states will prefer instead: open insurrection and a new civil war.

The bill is a five-alarm fire for the Republican Party. No wonder Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is sweating bullets over possibly getting rid of the Senate filibuster. For more than a hundred years, the primary use of the filibuster has been to control people of color and make sure they have fewer privileges than the rest of us. It appears the thing that Republicans fear most is not those they don’t like getting power, but having to compromise their racist principles in order to get power.

The For the People Act is not necessarily great news for the Democratic Party either. By outlawing gerrymandering, it could end up actually serving the aim of Republicans to put Democrats in the minority. What it is likely to do though is to break the gridlock by electing slews of moderates who are now largely locked out of Congress. This act could actually make government work again.

That’s a price this Democrat is happy to pay.

Hold onto your hats on January 6th

It sure would be nice if it were January 20th already. Unfortunately, we still have more than two weeks to go. To no one’s surprise, Trump isn’t going quietly. In the interim he plans to make things as dangerous as possible for our country. It’s also likely that once out of office he’ll spend most of his time trying to undermine the Biden Administration, aided and abetted by plenty in Congress who in the meantime will make one last quixotic attempt to overturn the election on Wednesday.

Wednesday is when Congress counts the electoral votes submitted by the states. Like on the day electoral votes were cast in state capitals, Trump plans to make mischief. He is urging his supporters to protest in Washington, protests that have effectively carried on for about a month as his supporters seem to have taken up long-term residence at the Hotel Harrington. Members of his party in both the House and Senate are planning to object to the votes submitted by certain states that gave Biden a majority in the Electoral College. They are alleging numerous ballot fraud issues, none of which have passed the muster of state or federal judges or various recounts (three times in parts of Georgia) where the alleged voter fraud took place.

Since the House will be controlled by Democrats, it won’t go anywhere but the process may take a couple of days to play out, since votes for each state can be challenged and each challenge requires two-hour meetings by both houses of Congress. You can bet Trump is working the phones to get more Republican senators to fall in line in this doomed effort. All this plus the planned protests on Wednesday raises the likelihood of violent protests.

The Capitol is a very secure building but even it is under potential threat. I haven’t read any news stories about what if anything is being done to add extra security to the Capitol. I sure hope it’s quietly being done. Presumably all the Capitol Police will be there. If I were DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, I’d be quietly putting all DC police on this beat too, and have DC’s National Guard ready and waiting. The game here might be to shut down Congress so no counting can finish. It technically wouldn’t keep Trump in power as his term expires at noon on the 20th and would leave Nancy Pelosi as the acting President. But it could spark the large-scale civil unrest that many groups like the Proud Boys seem to want to unleash. A government in anarchy is at least not one controlled by Democrats, or anyone else for that matter.

We’ll see how much of this worst-case scenario unfolds, but it’s all because Donald Trump is incapable of accepting his defeat. And that’s because he suffers from malignant narcissism, a condition that is seemingly shared by many of his supporters. With a few exceptions like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, those supporting Trump in Congress know their protests are pointless and won’t change the outcome. This is just a flanking maneuver for the one thing they truly care about: being unchallenged in a 2022 primary.

So, my worst-case scenario seems to be happening much later than sooner, but is underway nonetheless. The process is designed to sort through these issues much earlier, which is in fact what occurred. It was just that Trump was incapable of accepting the results.

What if anything should be done in response? What’s playing out, on a macro level, is really the reaction of Republicans realizing they are moving toward a permanent minority status. Unable to broaden their coalition because compromising their principles is a non-starter, all they have left that they haven’t tried is to unconstitutionally wrest power away from those to whom voters have granted it. In other words: to break the law and perhaps start a new civil war in the process. The mere idea of permanent minority status is unacceptable and it appears any means necessary to keep it from happening is okay with them. As for Trump, it’s all about protecting his fragile ego which can’t abide with the shame of being certified a loser.

But things may get worse before Congress counts the electoral votes. If voters in Georgia elect two Democratic senators on Tuesday, control of Congress passes narrowly to the Democrats (with a split Senate and with Vice President Elect Kamala Harris the tie breaker), effectively one-party government. A lot of this may be self-inflicted. Trump himself has already suggested these Georgia runoff election outcomes will be illegitimate. Many of his minions have urged Republicans not to vote in the election, apparently blaming Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims, making this scenario all the more likely.

The uneasy and tacit rules of governing seem to be becoming unglued. Democracy itself appears to be breaking down in the United States. All this feeds the outcome that Trump supporters seem to clearly want. In other words, chaos is not a bug in their system, it’s now a feature. Even if they don’t prevail this time, by breaking precedents they are creating a future where they expect to get their way regardless of how the voters vote.

This should be and is terrifying. Hold onto your hats.

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.

In 2021, Democrats need to make good trouble

Like many Americans, my heart sank Friday when I learned of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. I wasn’t surprised that before her body went cold Senate Republicans would move on and press a case to replace her as fast as possible. Both Trump and the Republican Party have every incentive to do so. For Republicans, what’s not to like about a 6-3 conservative majority, particularly since they sense they will lose the Senate in the upcoming election? Also, for them, wielding power means forcing people to do what they want. They lust for overturning the ACA, for a court that makes denying coverage for preexisting conditions illegal, and for overturning Roe v. Wade. For Trump, the impetus to get a replacement on the court before the election is vital to his plans to corrupt the upcoming election.

George W. Bush infamously found a path to 270 through the Supreme Court. It’s now a far more partisan institution, so getting a justice Trump considers a loyalist on the court before November 3 means that when his inevitable court cases challenging results come before the court, he is likelier to prevail. It will be 2000 on steroids. Recently Trump opined that he could issue an executive order not allowing Biden to take office. Trump never asks permission; he just goes for it and sees what happens. It’s not even clear that if the Supreme Court ruled against him that he would follow their ruling. In any event, a 6-3 conservative majority makes it less likely that they would.

The only consistent thing about Republicans in Congress is that if they can take an inch, they will take a mile instead. It’s all about maintaining raw political power. They are heedless to the consequences of doing so. A government controlled by a minority cannot be considered legitimate indefinitely.

Which is why if we get through this election, Biden wins the presidency and Democrats control Congress, it’s time for Democratic retribution. I’m dubious we’ll get it, as Biden promises to listen to both sides and stupidly thinks Republicans can be persuaded. But retribution by the majority is long overdue.

As it turns out, it’s not that hard to put Republicans in their place. Democrats though just have to show some spine. They will also have to clean up the messy mountains of trash left by the latest Republican administration. We need functional government again too.

To start, the Senate filibuster needs to end. It’s largely dead already, so it wouldn’t take much to make it die officially. The filibuster is not in the Constitution. It ends with a simple majority vote, presumably at the start of the new Congress when rules are agreed to through a simple majority.

Second: pack the court. The constitution does not specify nine justices. All it takes is a bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law, which will be in Democratic hands. With a 6-3 conservative court we will need at least three more, but let’s make it four for a clear liberal majority. It’s been done many times in the past. Republicans invented all sorts of reasoning for their tactics. So can Democrats. Here’s one: we’re a country of 330 million people now and too much power is in the hands of too few justices. This would more evenly distribute power making it harder for a minority to control a majority.

Third: pass a constitutional amendment that allows the Attorney General to be elected. Trump shows exactly what can go wrong when the Justice Department reports to a lawless president. I propose like the president we elect an attorney general to a 4-year term, every four years. Like the president, there would be a maximum of two terms that could be served by one person. To make it more interesting, run the Attorney General race during non-presidential voting years. It would give us a reason to vote. The amendment should provide that the Attorney General will control the budget of the Justice Department and directly submit appropriations to Congress, outside of the Executive.

Fourth: appoint an independent prosecutor to look into and prosecute potential crimes by Trump and his administration. To avoid the appearance of partisanship, he or she should be a diehard Never Trumper with a proven commitment to impartially upholding the rule of law.

Fifth: keep working with the states to pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. When we have states representing more than 270 electoral votes passing laws agreeing to this compact, the Electoral College is effectively dead, because these states will award their electoral votes by law to the winner of the popular vote for President of the United States. Currently states with 196 electoral votes have passed this legislation, and it’s pending in states representing another 64 electoral votes. If those states passed legislation, we’d be just 11 electoral votes from getting rid of it for good. All it does it increasingly make it likely that our president won’t represent the majority of those who voted for him or her. Biden should make this his cause, and personally coax state legislatures to give it impetus.

Sixth: expand Congress. With Democrats in charge and with no filibuster, there’s no reason not to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states. DC would still have more people in it than Montana, which gets two senators. But let’s also expand the House. With 435 seats, one representative represents more than 700,000 people. That’s too many people. We need a House that changes size based on population. This too can be done with legislation: no constitutional amendment required. The number was last raised in 1929. In the first congress, one representative represented about 30,000 people.

In the words of the late Rep. John Lewis, Congress needs to make good trouble. This is all good trouble. We’ve seen a lot of bad trouble these last few decades. We need a Congress that proportionately represents us, not disproportionately conservative states.

Our likely coming post Election Day nightmare

It’s not hard to predict that Joe Biden will win the presidency. It’s even easier to predict that regardless of what the votes are, Donald Trump will dispute the results. It’s also easy to predict that voting will resemble something of a fiasco.

It will be a manmade fiasco. Those who can will want to vote by mail. I know I will. But most states don’t have much experience with vote by mail, and certainly not at the level likely to be seen in this election. It’s unlikely that there will be any money in a next bailout for this effort. But even if the money is there, time is running short for states to put good operational plans in place. We are less than three months until Election Day.

And of course you can count on states that are controlled by Republicans will pull out all other stops to suppress votes from people they don’t want voting. Expect fewer polling stations in communities of color. This is a well-practiced tactic, but there is likely to be even fewer such places this year. And if it’s possible to purge voter roles, Republicans will do so. Trump’s new postmaster general is already prohibiting overtime, leading to delays in the delivery of first class mail. In most states, ballots received after November 3 won’t count. Mail in voters will need to allow for extra time for ballots to be received. Many polling places are in schools, which are likely to be shut down due to covid-19. That will be another excuse Republicans will use to reduce the number of polling places.

Obviously worried, Trump is already busy being proactive. He claims vote by mail will be fraudulent, and claims there is a distinction between it and absentee voting. There isn’t, unless absentee voting means going to city hall a week or two early and voting there instead. That’s not what it meant to Donald Trump, who voted absentee by mailing in his ballot. Trump is already being selective. In states where mail in voting favors Republicans, like Florida, Trump is not concerned, but where it favors Democrats, like in Nevada, obviously that sort of voting should not allowed. Many states have mastered mail in voting, such as Oregon, but obviously their successes won’t change Trump’s opinions.

So what’s likely to happen is that Trump will dispute the results, mostly in swing states where he lost. This will involve two tactics: inciting his supporters to take action legal or illegal (expect lots of paramilitaries trying to occupy certain state capitols), but also through lots of litigation. He will also try to whip up Republicans in Congress to claim that the election was fraudulent. Ultimately though it is up to each state’s Secretary of State to certify the results of its state’s electoral college, which will generally meet in the state’s capital in early December. In 2000 this is what happened in Florida, after the case went all the way to the Supreme Court and sealed the election for George W. Bush.

Past that point the scenarios get scarier. If you remember what happened in 2000, the results of the Electoral College are announced in what amounts to a joint session of Congress, overseen by the president of the Senate, at the time Vice President Al Gore. You may recall the irony of Al Gore declaring George W. Bush had a majority of the Electoral College votes after each letter from the Secretary of State was opened at the session. Gore made Bush’s presidency official.

The scarier scenario is that Trump tries to prevent this from happening, perhaps by surrounding the Capitol with armed troops so Congress can’t meet. While all this is going on, there would be huge protests across the country, but most importantly in Washington D.C.

It’s likely that many of Trump’s paramilitary forces will try to go postal. It’s not hard to envision armed conflict between Trump supporters and protestors, governors trying to use the National Guard to keep order in their states and Trump trying to use his powers as Commander in Chief to overrule them. It’s also hard to see how the Supreme Court does not get involved somehow. Given that Trump is already not bothering to follow court orders, most notably on DACA, it’s unclear whether he will even go along with the Supreme Court’s decision, which is likely to go against him.

The best that Trump can hope from the Supreme Court is that it sees the certifications by certain states as likely tainted and tries to delay the selection of the next president by the congressional process. There are some wild scenarios where a deadlocked Electoral College means that Congress chooses the president instead of the Electoral College, with each state voting as a block. Republicans currently control twenty-six legislatures. This is potentially could be a way for Trump to stay in office, but only if the Electoral College deadlocks, which is unlikely.

Which ultimately leaves the issue to the constitution and law. If the Electoral College has not decided on a president or vice president by Inauguration Day, the Speaker of the House would be the acting president. This will almost certainly be Nancy Pelosi. And she will have to try to clean up this constitutional crisis, likely while our country descends into something resembling low-level civil war. Ultimately it will be our military and whether soldiers follow their sworn oaths that will make the difference. Regardless, Trump’s current term ends January 20 at noon Eastern Time.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this. It’s clear that Trump won’t accept any results where he loses. The time between Election and Inauguration Days are likely to be the most fretful and constitutionally challenging on our republic’s history. What it will amount to is whether enough Republicans follow rule of law to force Trump’s hand, and betting on that happening is likely to be a bad bet.

Preventing future presidents Nixon and Trump

In my sixty-one years I have watched two disastrous presidencies implode. Nixon’s ended in an abrupt resignation following the Watergate scandal. Trump’s implosion is currently underway. It’s unclear how it’s going to end, but I’m reasonably confident he won’t survive a first term. It’s also unclear if our nation will too, at least in its form where branches of government keep a check on each other, which is already not happening.

Both Nixon’s and Trump’s presidencies qualify as national crises. Over the decades too much power has shifted toward the Executive and Congress has largely failed in its role to check the Executive’s power. Moreover, because the presidency has become so powerful, it attracts people drawn to power including people who should really not be president. Trump is the obvious poster child.

Given that about forty years spanned Nixon and Trump, it’s not too hard to predict that if nothing changes we’ll endure another disastrous presidency within a few decades.

One way of checking executive power has already been enacted: we passed the 22nd Amendment limiting a president to no more than two terms. Unfortunately, eight years gives presidents plenty of time to muck of the mechanics of government.

Time is revealing some flaws in our constitutional system. How do we fix things? These suggestions range from the idealistic and unlikely to the practical. They don’t necessarily guarantee another Nixon or Trump but make them less likely. Of course I am hardly the first one to suggest some of these solutions.

Elect a national attorney general. Many states do this already. It allows the people to decide who should impartially administer our laws. Being a constitutional office, this person could not be fired by the president but would take an oath to impartially administer the laws of the United States and would be in charge of managing the Justice Department. Because presidential election years are too consequential, I propose we elect an attorney general during midterm election years. The term would be for four years. Nixon and Trump demonstrate that you can’t count on a president to ensure that justice is fairly administered, particularly when the Justice Department has to look into the executive branch. The executive needs its hands constitutionally tied from managing the impartial administration of justice.

Get rid of the Electoral College. Presidents should be elected based on the popular vote. Of course, twice recently it didn’t happen. Had Al Gore and Hillary Clinton (who won the popular votes) become president, it’s unlikely that we would have invaded Iraq or had to worry about a lawless chief executive. Obviously a constitutional amendment is a steep climb given that it’s not in red states’ interests. Still, initiatives like the National Popular Vote would guarantee electoral votes to the popular vote winner nationwide by committing a state to assign all its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. These state laws are written to take effect only when enough states that comprise a majority of the electoral votes pass state laws. 12 states are currently onboard representing 172 electoral votes. We need states comprising 98 more electoral votes to make this a reality. No, it’s not unconstitutional because the constitution empowers states on how they wish to apportion their Electoral College votes. Most states have a winner take all system.

Require presidential candidates release their tax returns to get on the ballot. The constitutionality of some proposed state efforts has been questioned, which is probably while this has been introduced in a few state legislatures it hasn’t passed in any. However, Congress could pass such a law with no issues. Obviously, this has been a problem with Trump, who still claims the IRS is auditing his returns, which is false. Even if it were true, there is no law prohibiting a candidate from releasing his tax returns while being under audit.

Split the presidency into two positions: head of state and chief executive. Arguably the U.S. president has too much power, as he/she is both the head of state and the chief executive. As a practical matter, doing both competently is virtually impossible. Most other democracies split these duties. For example, Israel elects a president that represents the nation but has few powers, but can speak for the nation. Its prime minister is the chief executive. Great Britain has the Queen as its head of state. Presidents tend to be politicians, not statesmen. We need both, not one or the other. The head of state should be the moral voice of the country. They too could be elected in “off” years.

Decentralize first-use of nuclear weapons. It’s quite frightening that Donald Trump has the power to launch nuclear weapons against any country he wants at any time, given his impulsive nature documented in Bob Woodward’s latest book Fear. In general, this is a dangerous power with massive implications for the nation. Congress should pass a law that prohibits the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States without the consent of Congress. Since such a decision might clue in potential adversaries, such a decision should require agreement by the president, Speaker of the House and both the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate.

Reinstate the full Voting Rights Act. We need a law that explicitly overturns Shelby County v. Holder (2013). The case removed constrains on certain mostly southern states with a history of suppressing minority votes from enacting voter laws without a preclearance from the Justice Department. If we want to be non-discriminatory, make all states get preclearances. When a day after this decision, Alabama passed a Voter ID law you know this will be a problem for the foreseeable future.

Obviously I am against political or racial gerrymandering. I would like to see federal voting districts drawn impartially by federal judges, as is true in most republican forms of government. This effects the composition of the House of Representatives and state legislatures, so it’s off topic here. It has no effect on the national popular vote for president.

The tyranny of the minority

I’ve written so much about our gun problem in the nearly fifteen years my blog has been around that I pretty much have said it all. In a sense this week’s rampage that killed 59 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas was fated to happen.

Sensible people wonder why we can’t seem to do anything about it, given that sensible gun control legislation is supported by a majority of Americans. It’s easy to say it’s because the NRA owns enough legislators to keep it from happening. In reality it’s a symptom of a much larger and possibly intractable problem: the tyranny of the minority.

It’s so big a problem that it is hard to see. I confess I did not fully understand its dimensions until I read this op-ed in the Washington Post by E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann. While the op-ed talks about gun control, its implications are staggering. It explains why according to a recent poll only 25% of the country says we are on the right track. In this country the tail wags the dog.

The tail in this case is rural states. Remember that in the Senate all states are equal. So Montana with roughly one million people in it has the same clout in the Senate as California, which has 39 million people. Ending the Senate’s filibuster rule would likely make the tyranny of the minority even worse. As the author’s point out:

Ending the filibuster would not solve the problem; in some cases, it might aggravate it. As The Post’s Philip Bump has noted, if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16 percent of Americans could overrule those representing 84 percent.

We have a federalist system. In theory each state within our union is an independent nation. Each state has voluntarily ceded some of its sovereignty to the federal government. The Senate is the institution that recognizes this sovereignty by making each state equal within the body. In short, the Senate has a rural bias. In the beginning the difference did not mean too much. But as new states emerged the implications became clear. For example, at one time there was to be a state called Dakota. The people living there realized though that they could double their impact by applying for recognition as two states: North Dakota and South Dakota even though the two states are very homogenous.

The depressing part is that there is almost nothing we can do to change the Senate. It would take a constitutional convention. It’s hard to see why rural states would voluntarily relinquish more of their power to make the system more “fair” so a majority could actually govern. It takes two-thirds of states to call for a constitutional convention (34 states). Twenty-eight states have already called for such a convention. Since most states represent rural populations, a constitutional convention would likely rewrite the constitution to give rural states even more power, furthering the tyranny of the minority.

Gerrymandering is the other aspect of the tyranny of the minority. Gerrymandering though is a bit different. It empowers pluralities rather than minorities within a state. For example, Texas is a conservative state in general. By creating highly partisan voting districts, Texas has created districts where a plurality of conservatives in the district are more conservative than normal, and minority districts are more liberal than normal.

Those most affected by gerrymandering are not necessarily minorities, although onerous voter ID laws certainly depress minority participation in elections. As I pointed out before, moderates are the biggest losers in gerrymandered states.

The impact of gerrymandering is easy to see in Congress but also in state legislatures. It is feeding partisanship in these chambers because there are so few moderates to form a sensible center, making compromise increasingly unlikely. This more than anything else probably explains why only 25% of the country says we are on the right track. Essentially we’ve “elected” legislators that vote against the interests of a majority of their citizens. Curiously, it is this frustration at not being heard that fed the rise of Donald Trump. Citizens seem to want someone to change the status quo and shake things up. Trump is certainly making waves, but he cannot change these fundamental mistakes in our system of government.

And that’s what they amount to: mistakes. If the decks were not already stacked against the majority, the Electoral College makes it worse, leading to presidents who lose the popular vote by three million votes (Trump).

The irony of all this is that those calling for a constitutional convention amount to rural states that want more power. They already have the nation by its scrotum. They don’t have complete control. The president is generally elected by a majority of its citizens, but recent elections in 2000 and 2016 suggest an emerging trend of presidents losing the popular vote but still winning the election.

Some states like Texas sound like they want to secede from the Union. In reality rural and southern states have it good. Overall they consume more federal revenue than they contribute, a product of many decades of these states having disproportionate power in Congress. Secession would actually be a huge problem for them, as they would have to live within their own means. Right now red states are sucking blue states for their wealth and prosperity.

If states are going to secede, logically it should be blue states with large populations and thriving economies, states like California and New York. A couple red and purple states also meet these criteria. Texas has a large population and is thriving. Florida and Virginia also likely apply. More minor states like New Jersey, Ohio and Minnesota would also meet these criteria. I do have to wonder how long supposedly sovereign states like California will put up with this system where they are handicapped and bled dry, with much of their wealth going to other less prosperous states.

Imagine if states like California and New York when on strike, refusing to pay federal taxes until the system is fairer to the majority. Maybe something would change, but most likely it would cause massive national disharmony. And that’s the real problem here: our constitutional framework largely keeps the majority from wielding its clout. That’s why 59 people died and over were 500 injured in Las Vegas by a crazed shooter on the 38th floor of a hotel and nothing will change: because the minority has the nation by the scrotum.

You have to look hard for signs of hope. The Supreme Court is considering a case of partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. In the past the court has been hands-off. Is the gerrymandering in Wisconsin so egregious that they will take action? If they do (and it’s unlikely) it will be around the edges of the problem. If political gerrymandering can be ruled unconstitutional then there is hope that at least in the House and in state assemblies will generally represent their constituents again.

What the op-ed suggested to me is that as bad as our dysfunctional government is at the moment, it’s likely to get a lot worse. The tensions are there for a lot more Las Vegas-like shootings. It’s hard to see but the fabric of our democracy is shredding. Moreover there are few ways we can come together and solve the problem because there are so few people willing to admit there is even a problem, or that it’s in the interest of the minority to cede some of its power to the majority.

If civil war is in our future, it might well come from blue states. They, not red states, are the ones getting shafted.

Mitt Romney for president

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate, was in my dreams last night, and in a good way. Dreams are all about fantasy, and in my dreamy dreamland Mitt became of 45th president and I was ecstatic. I was ecstatic not because I am particularly happy with the idea of Mitt being our next president. I just like the idea of Mitt being president a whole lot more than Donald Trump.

But you are thinking: didn’t we just elect Donald Trump to be our 45th president? That is horribly true unless a number of highly improbable events occur on or before December 19.

In the first scenario, Trump inconveniently dies or gets assassinated before inauguration. Given that he is obese and over 70, it’s not impossible some medical issue will unexpectedly fell him.

In the second scenario, it’s possible that those recounts underway in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will succeed. If Clinton somehow wins these states after all, she becomes our 45th president. This would be fine with the 65.5 million people who voted for her, currently 2.7 million more than voted for Donald Trump (and rising).

In the third scenario, 37 electors pledged to Donald Trump defect and vote for someone else instead. This would give Donald Trump 269 electoral votes, not enough to win, but throwing the decision on who would be the next president to the U.S. House of Representatives. That would not work because each state gets one vote and they would have to choose from the top three vote getters. And since most states are Republican, it’s pretty clear Trump would still win.

Then there’s the Hamilton electors scenario where disgruntled Republican and Democratic electors collude and pick a compromise candidate. This would have to be done before December 19, when the electors meet in their state capitals. In this scenario, admittedly very wacky, Mitt Romney might be their compromise choice. If they hang together and wield their 270 (or more) votes, Mitt would be #45. These faithless electors might face prosecution in many states, but free legal help has been pledged for those electors that put the good of the country first. A handful of electors have already openly stated they will be faithless. (Unfortunately, a number are pledged to Hillary Clinton.)

Obviously all these scenarios are pretty far fetched (to say the least) but they at least had me feeling better at 4 a.m. this morning when I could not get back to sleep after another Trump-as-president nightmare woke me up. In my dreams I kept seeing Mitt’s clean-shaven face and Reaganesque hair. I also kept hearing his calm voice and grammatically correct sentences. The nice thing about Mitt though is he both looks and acts presidential. And he’s a white male, which is very important to Trump’s supporters. You just can’t see Mitt flying off the handle or sending out 3 a.m. tweets. You know that in spite of his prejudices that he’s a sober and respectful guy.

As president, Romney would follow the rule of law probably with obsessive faithfulness. He would make sound judgments. He would consult with politicians and other governments before making any major decisions and probably try to govern by consensus. Yes, he might appoint conservative jurists. But when it came to things like Obamacare, he would be mindful of the implications of getting rid of it. After all it’s based on Romney-care here in Massachusetts. In short, Mitt has a brain, a conscience and is driven by forces greater than simply his own ego like, say, God, with whom Trump has but passing interest.

Of course, this isn’t going to happen. As we watch Trump put together his administration, it’s pretty much a horror show. His own supporters should be appalled, given that he is appointing masters of Wall Street to many key positions. It’s mostly a cabinet of white guys with undertones of racism, but he managed to convince Ben Carson to be his Housing and Urban Development secretary, quite a stretch for a guy whose only qualification for the job is that he lived in public housing as a child. His proposed administration is rife with not just bad, but catastrophically bad choices. His national security adviser tweets fake news stories. His choice for U.N. ambassador is a woman (good) but right now is the governor of South Carolina whose foreign policy experience might consist of greeting visiting trade delegations to the state (bad). His EPA choice is explicitly hostile to the agency’s mission (WTF?)

And where is Mitt in all this? Mitt has met with Trump a number of times, and is being considered as Secretary of State. If he gets this nomination, he would be one of Trump’s few good choices. It’s not that he has much foreign policy experience, other than helping to manage the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But he has a good grasp of foreign policy, as he demonstrated in the 2012 campaign.

My suspicion though is that Mitt is being toyed with. Trump is notorious for holding grudges, and Mitt was particularly outspoken against Trump when he was running for the GOP nomination. Trump likes to, well, trump other people: show his power and superiority and then find a way to humiliate someone as thoroughly as possible. Getting Mitt’s hopes up and making him think he’s in the running when he is not would be much more true to his modus operandi. But we’ll see.

Still, I dream of Mitt in the Oval Office, and I find it curiously calming. When it comes to it, all I really want is a grownup in charge of the country and this means I’ve had to lower my standards tremendously. It’s abundantly clear that Trump does not qualify as a grownup, but he will sadistically enjoy shaking down and terrifying America as much as he can for as long as we are unwise enough to give him the reigns.

Election 2016 postmortem, part two

Now that the shock of Donald Trump’s election is some three weeks behind us it’s time for a second look at this astounding election. There has been misinformation about this election that time now allows us to clear up. Submitted for your consideration:

  • Trump has no mandate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and it looks like it will be by about 2.5 percentage points and 2.5 million votes. Assuming no states flip as a result of recounts starting in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump wins the Electoral College 306 to 232. This was achieved by narrow wins in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan by 70,000, 70,000 and 17,000 votes respectively. Had Clinton won these states, she would have won 297 to 243. Trump won by turning out more people in states that mattered, but just barely. In voting terms, he just barely squeaked by. Even if there are no voting irregularities, his election is tainted. He is not the people’s choice. He is the Electoral College’s choice, which has a built in bias that favors rural states. Trump and Republicans should not read too much into this win. This would normally suggest that governing should be done through accommodation and finding middle ground. Of course, the opposite is likely to happen, so most Americans will greet his government with hostility when it dramatically overreaches because of its lack of mandate.
  • Democrats picked up seats. While Democrats failed to win majority in either the House or the Senate, they did pick up 2 or 3 Senate seats (depending on the outcome of a Louisiana runoff). In the House, Democrats picked up 6 seats. When Republicans try to ram through their agenda because they have “united” government they are likely to find that it will breed the sort of resentment that Obama and Democrats experienced after their wins in 2008. Moreover, Trump will not have a filibuster-proof Senate.
  • Republicans picked up just two governorships. Only two states (New Hampshire and Missouri) flipped from Democratic to Republican governors. The North Carolina race has still not been called, but Democrat Roy Cooper has a narrow lead that is unlikely to go away. Considering there were 8 Democratic seats and 4 Republican seats up for grabs, this is not too bad for Democrats.
  • Democrats netted 1 state chamber. Republicans took Iowa and Minnesota’s senates and Kentucky’s house. Democrats shut Republicans out of both houses in Nevada, turning it into a blue state, and flipped New Mexico and Alaska’s house chambers.
  • Republicans made modest pickups in state house and senate races. Across our fifty states, Republicans added 40 state seats and Democrats lost 41 seats. While that sounds like a lot, there are 7383 seat altogether. That’s an overall change of about .55% nationwide.

So by any standard except for the Electoral College, this was not a Republican wave election. So when you hear this pervasive line, challenge it because it is wrong. Republican gains were largely a result of doing a better job of turning out voters than Democrats did, but the result was marginal at best.

The big win (and really the only big win) that Republicans can celebrate is winning the presidency. No doubt this is a huge win and worthy of celebrating if you are a Republican. And that came from squeaking by in a number of states. This win was due entirely to the Electoral College. The wide variance in this election between the popular and the electoral vote points to what is becoming a pervasive failing of the Electoral College. It used to be highly unusual when the electoral vote was at variance with the popular vote. Now it’s becoming almost routine, given Gore’s narrow loss to Bush in 2000.

Both the U.S. House and Senate remained in Republican hands, but by somewhat diminished margins. Republicans maintain a huge lead in control of statehouses and governorships, but the margins did not change significantly in this election.

The reality is that except for the change in the party and the character of our next president, the 2016 election netted out to be very much a status quo election.

The folly of voting third-party for president

It’s post Labor Day and it’s a presidential election year. You know what that means. According to our press, it means people are now starting to seriously pay attention to the upcoming election.

I find this hard to believe. Granted that I am something of a political junkie but it must be a very, very remote corner of Appalachia that hasn’t heard the endless thoughts spewing from the mouth and Twitter feed of Donald J. Trump. He’s the mouth that has roared for over a year now. And Hillary Clinton has spent decades in the public spotlight. We all have firmly baked opinions about her.

Perhaps to stir up some excitement, the press is agog about tightening polls showing Hillary Clinton’s lead dropping. It’s still a rare poll that shows her numbers below Trump’s, at least nationally but polls are generally showing her numbers moving to within margin of error numbers. It’s clear that large majorities of Americans don’t particularly like either Clinton or Trump and wants someone else to vote for. Unsurprisingly some are looking at third party candidates instead: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Those voters who follow through seem to want to make a statement.

And they will make a statement if they don’t mind shooting themselves in the foot. This happened to me in 1980 when I voted for John Anderson for president. I hate to say our electoral system is rigged but when it comes to the presidential vote it certain is and it’s by design. This is because an Electoral College actually votes a president into office and because 48 of the fifty states have laws that whichever candidate wins a plurality of the votes in the presidential race gets all of the state’s electoral delegates.

This means the system is rigged so as to make it virtually impossible for any candidate not in a major party to win. But it also means that if you are voting third party, you are throwing away your vote. The only exception is if your third party candidate wins a plurality of the votes in your state. And while that may garner some electoral votes for your third party candidate, a whole lot of other states have to do the same for your candidate to actually win. In short, you have to bet that both the Democratic and Republican party candidates are so dysfunctional that a wholesale national voting rebellion is going to happen, something that has never happened in our country as best I can tell and probably can’t happen now in our polarized political environment.

In practical terms, this means to a Massachusetts resident like me that if I would have otherwise voted for Hillary Clinton and I vote for Jill Stein instead, I am effectively voting for Donald Trump since it will bump up his share of the votes as a percent of the state’s votes. And if I am a non-racist Alabaman that normally votes Republican but I am so disgusted by Trump’s racism that I vote for Gary Johnson instead, I am helping elect Hillary Clinton.

In my case in 1980 as a 23-year-old voting for third party candidate John Anderson, I was effectively voting for Ronald Reagan, the last candidate I would have voted for. Fortunately in the blue-state of Maryland, it didn’t matter as Maryland’s electoral votes went for Jimmy Carter. Nationwide though John Anderson took 6.6% of the popular vote. Conceivably had Anderson not run and those votes had gone to Carter instead (as research suggests) then that election would at least have been a lot closer. Carter lost by nearly 10% of the popular vote but where it matters, he received only 49 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Reagan’s election was a landslide by any standards, thanks probably to John Anderson’s spoiler effect. As bad as that was the 1984 election was worse. Walter Mondale garnered only 13 electoral votes (his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C.) Reagan got the rest (525) and that was with no serious third party opposition. For a more recent event that shows the folly of voting third party, look at the 2000 election. Had the Green Party votes in Florida gone to Al Gore, there would have been no President George W. Bush.

Trump is right that the presidential voting system is rigged, but it’s always been that way. The Electoral College mess was designed by our founding fathers to get a commitment from southern states at the time the constitution was ratified. Without it, southern states would have probably never been able to elect a president. With slaves counting as 2/3 of a free person for a state’s share of electoral votes, with a few exceptions (like John Adams) for decades it made it virtually impossible for a non-southerner to become president.

So hopefully I’ve convinced you not to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. If still not convinced, consider that the Green Party and Libertarian Party are minority parties because their views are simply not mainstream views. I find a lot to admire about the Green Party but it’s a party of ideologues, not a party of pragmatists. For example, GMO foods are not going away and it’s folly at this time to try. Libertarians are easy to dismiss because it is wholly unworkable. Imagine selling all our roads, sewers and schools. Imagine no laws against pollution. It would be an unmanageable nightmare.

Which leaves you dear voter ultimately holding your nose while you vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (I realize there are some voters, particularly Trump voters who are actually enthusiastic about their candidate. Weird.) The other option is not to vote, but not voting is effectively the same as voting third party. You will effectively give more power to those that do vote.

So suck it up for democracy. Democracy ain’t pretty sometimes and it won’t be in this election. However, you have a duty to perform so do it mindful that the system is not perfect and your candidate won’t be either. If you really want the Green or Libertarian parties to grow, you have to do it the hard way by getting local and state candidates elected. With enough of them they may become a majority party in your state. Then you will have leverage, at least on the state level. Or you can work for a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Electoral College and make it based on actual votes.

Oh, and those polls? I’m still not worried. I think Clinton is still going to win based on state polls, which are the only ones that matter. With a majority of Americans saying they will never vote for Trump, the only way that Trump wins is if a lot of those voters stay home or vote third party instead of voting for Hillary. It’s unlikely but it can happen, and it could happen this year if you don’t vote with the left side of your brain instead of the right side.

I’ll be using the left side and voting for the imperfect Hillary Clinton.