Little did we know when Donald J. Trump delivered his inaugural address four years ago that when he spoke of “American Carnage” he was setting an aspirational goal. He succeeded.
We have 400,000 dead Americans thanks to his incompetence and indifference to putting measures in place across the country that could have effectively stopped or certainly slowed the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. In days, we will pass the number of Americans killed in World War II. Before it is over, we have a shot at surpassing the 675,000 Americans lost in the 1918 flu pandemic. What a proud record.
Trump fomented racial division and supervised the rise of white nationalist and other supremacist groups throughout the country. Where these groups existed in the shadows in the past, they are now front and center in American politics and a threat to many of us who despise their values. We have Q-Anon believers as Members of Congress. We have governors as the focus of kidnap plots to try them for “treason” because Trump told them to take back their state from the “tyranny” of having to wear a mask and social distance. As he said after the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville in 2017 that resulted in fighting in the streets and the death of a counter-protester, “there were good people on both sides.” A clear signal to those groups that he supported them. He further encouraged them with his statement in the fall debates in front of a national audience when he said to the Proud Boys, “Stand down and stand by.”
The list can go on and on. I often wonder how one person and one administration can be so incompetent, uncaring, feckless and destructive. One has to work hard to cause as much mayhem as Trump has created. I cannot help but sometimes think that given his relationship with Vladimir Putin that perhaps Trump did work hard at causing so much trouble and nearly causing our country to collapse under the weight of his singular focus on working only for his own power and riches.
His crowning achievement for the title of the Worst President Ever came two weeks ago when he attempted to overthrow the government. As we learn more and more about the events surrounding the attack on the capitol on 6 January, we come to realize that it was a very close thing for the survival of our republic and our system of government. Organized groups were, it seems, ready to kidnap and probably kill Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Other Senators and Representatives barely escaped the mob’s wrath and probably would have been severely injured or killed if the mob had gotten to them. In my view, if the seditious mob had succeeded in destroying the legislative branch of our government, I have no doubt that Trump would have accepted the result and used it to keep himself in the presidency. As we now know, the mob missed their targets by less than a minute. It surely would have been a horrific blood bath as the Secret Service would have fought to protect the Vice President and the mob would have reacted with even greater fury. We were so lucky as a nation. As it was, the “peaceful demonstrators” beat a police officer to death and their actions resulted in four others dying at the capitol during the melee.
Their blood is on Trump’s hands as it is on the rest of the Sedition Coalition made up of a few “Republican” Senators and over two-thirds of the “Republican” Congressmen and Congresswomen that voted to overturn the most fair and free election in the history of our country. (But don’t take my word for that last statement. It was so judged by those in Trump’s Administration tasked with protecting the election, confirmed by the Attorney General, reinforced by states throughout the country led by both Republicans and Democrats, and upheld by over 60 court cases that were dismissed or laughed out of court for their frivolousness and remarkable lack of evidence.)
It is the lowlight of the Bizzaro world that we lived in over the last four years.
Now called “The Big Lie” by many, it was a concerted effort — months if not years in the making — for Trump and his soulless allies to make millions of Americans think that the election was rigged, or unfair or otherwise set up to deny Trump his “landslide” win. It really started in 2016 when Trump shouted from the rooftops that the election was rigged in Secretary Hillary Clinton’s favor. Even he was amazed when he won. None-the-less, he claimed that he lost the popular vote because of fraud. He created a commission to look into voter fraud and to find the fake votes. You may remember that the commission quietly stopped its work a few months after its creation because they were unable to find any evidence of any fraud that changed the outcome.
Throughout 2020, Trump claimed that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged and massive fraud occurred. Rally after rally, speech after speech he spewed this same lie over and over. Millions of his followers believed him. His enablers and cohorts in Congress reiterated the same message. And now we are here.
Even as I write this piece, Trump has yet to admit that President-elect Joe Biden won the election. Trump goes home a loser in every way possible. Likewise, his accomplices in the Senate and House refuse to acknowledge that the 46th president was duly elected by the will of over 81 million Americans. Shameful. Somehow they stick to their blind loyalty to Trump out of fear of some political or personal retribution. They pledge their true faith and allegiance to a wannabe dictator rather than to the Constitution of the United States. They disgrace their oath and their personal honor. If Trump is such a political “kingmaker” then please explain how the Republicans, during his watch, lost the House, the Senate and the presidency. Some kingmaker. I hope they do as well into the future.
The consequences of their seditious actions and continued defiance will be felt long after the inauguration tomorrow. Those same seditious Representatives and Senators — and other elected Trumpists — claim that to try Trump after his impeachment would be “divisive.” They argue that it is now the duty of Democrats and President-to-be Biden to bring unity to the country — this as they continue to argue that the election was not valid. It would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. The pure unmitigated gall of these people! Do they think that all Americans are so gullible or short-sighted or fooled by their sleight of hand? Apparently. Or do they have further plans to rile up the Trump base to wreak further havoc on our republic?
At this moment, news reports indicate that some of these “patriot” lawmakers are seeking pardons from the president to absolve themselves of responsibility in the attacks. If this happens, they surely must be removed from the Senate. Such shining examples of leadership they are!
Try them all! Trump should be convicted in the Senate for his crimes against the state. The counts in the indictment could have been volumes long, but the House leadership wisely focused on his seditious actions in sending a mob to destroy the capitol. It cannot stand without punishment. I know there are numerous arguments pro and con about doing so — along with Constitutional concerns that have yet to be tested in court — but I cannot imagine that his actions over the months leading up to the insurrection should be allowed to go unpunished. Think of the precedent. A president can foment any illegal act that he or she desires near the end of their presidency and feel perfectly comfortable that they will get away with it. If no one is above the law in the United States of America then a president cannot pardon himself and he is liable for impeachment and conviction for actions in office even after they leave. The president wouldn’t even have to wait until the end of a term. Commit any impeachable offense and then resign with the knowledge that in this case, actions do not have consequences. It seems no different than retired military officers who are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for the rest of their lives.
I cannot believe that we can begin to heal until those that fomented the attacks on our fragile state are held accountable. The FBI and other agencies are tracking down and charging the domestic terrorists that stormed the capital. Those that encouraged them to take those actions should be equally accountable. Senators that voted against verifying the Electoral College results should be censored and removed if they don’t resign, but they most certainly will not. If criminal charges are appropriate under the law, they should be held to account. Likewise with the roughly 147 Representatives that voted not to verify the results. Remember, these votes came after the attack on the capitol.
Tomorrow is a new day. Thankfully. President Biden has a huge job ahead of him. It will not be easy to conquer the pandemic, restore the economy, re-establish our leadership role in international affairs and accomplish all the other tasks ahead needed to clean up the mess Trump leaves behind, all while those that he must work with continue to push the canard that he is an illegitimate president. It could take years to undo the damage. Only with the help of those on the right side of history can he succeed. I trust that like many former members of cults, once his followers no longer have to drink the Kool-Aid of divisiveness, grievance and lies that they will come to their senses and help to restore the America we thought we knew. Some will. Some will not. As an optimist, I hope that more will than will not.
It will not be an easy road. We have a long way to go. Bringing those that sought to intentionally destroy our country to justice will help us to make our way. They must all enjoy the full consequences of their actions to the fullest extent of the law. This includes an ex-president and his family.
On to a new chapter in our history!
Most of us watched yesterday’s events in the nation’s Capitol with horror, dismay, and sadness. It was a terrible day for democracy. First, Trump loyalists in Congress worked to overthrow an election that was won by President-elect Joe Biden with over seven million more votes than the incumbent. That in itself was appalling. Yet, at the same time, and in an effort to overthrow the election and prevent Congress from certifying the results, the President of the United States committed treason by inciting his followers to riot at the Capitol. Not since 1814 when the British burned Washington D.C. during the War of 1812 has our Capitol building been assaulted and ransacked. This was no exercise in First Amendment rights, it was a full-fledged mob intent on deliberately wreaking havoc. These were domestic terrorists.
What did Trump do while the attack was underway? He posted a video hours after it began rehashing his alleged grievances, perfunctorily asking the rioters to go home and then closing by saying “We love you.” In other words, Trump was happy that they did what they did. His sidekick Rudy Giuliani also riled up the crowd by telling them that they needed to undergo “a trial by combat” at the Capitol. Not content with that bit of rabble rousing, the president’s sons Don and Eric also told the crowd to “stop the steal” and declared that “This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party!”
I want to know why they have not been arrested, the whole lot of them. They sent the mob on its way to do harm. Four people lost their lives in the melee. Those responsible need to be held accountable. The terrorists inside the Capitol were clearly proud of what they were doing. Most of them took selfies and videos of themselves. Others clearly knew that security cameras were capturing their actions. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies must track these people down and hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
Trump must go. There is no way that he can remain as president. Between his criminal phone call to Georgia election officials and his speech yesterday that incited violence he has broken enough laws to be impeached or otherwise removed. The House could vote today to impeach him. All they need to do is play the tape from Saturday and his speech from yesterday and they would have all of the evidence that they need.
For those that argue he “only” has thirteen days left in office, I would point out that yesterday morning he only had fourteen days in office and we now know what havoc he can create without shame or remorse. He is a desperate man willing to do anything to keep from having to face the reality that he will be just another citizen in less than two weeks. As with any other citizen, he will be subject to prosecution for past and present crimes. He has a lot to worry about. He must be removed before his next attack on our democracy.
Equally despicable are Trump loyalists in the House and Senate that continue to defraud Trump’s supporters by challenging the validity of the election. The whole bunch should be fired but the pure naked, raw power play perpetrated by Senators Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX) deserves special scorn. Even after Congress reconvened following the attack, they continued to challenge the results of the election in Arizona and Pennsylvania. I hope that the good citizens of their states hold them accountable. I trust that the other Senators will shun them. They deserve all of the scorn that can be sent their way.
Today there are members of Trump’s cult in the Congress and in the media (I’m looking at you Fox News) that are spreading more lies by claiming that the rioters really were not Trumpists. They claim that the rioters were “radical leftists” dressed up as Trump supporters to make them look bad. These Trump enablers will stop at nothing to install Trump as a dictator, otherwise there is no explanation for the scurrilous statements that they make. They continue to try and destroy our democracy. Lies, lies, and more lies. It feeds their narrative and undermines truth and authority. If you don’t know what to believe you can believe any old thing that suits your own narrative. The lies start at the top. Trump is now at about 30,000 provable lies since he took office. According to the Washington Post, he told 500 lies on the day before the election alone. He is an effective liar as well. If he knows nothing else, he knows how to tap into people’s fears and grievances and stoke them until a mob is willing to do his bidding. Even if it means overthrowing the government.
This raises another question. Why was security so lax when Trump had been promising for weeks that his thugs were going to do bad things in D.C.? Before the insurrectionists arrived at the Capitol building Trump had already given his marching orders to wreak havoc. Why wasn’t there a response to reinforce the flimsy, business as usual, deployment of law enforcement officers? It seems fishy to me. The rioters got into the building way too easily. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist looking for things that do not exist, but given all of the circumstances it just does not ring true to me that the only explanation is that the Capitol Police were overwhelmed by the crowd. In individual cases I am sure that is true. My concern and suspicion is focused on the larger picture of why security was so lax. Where were the units from the Department of Homeland Security? Where were the National Guard members activated for the days surrounding the counting of the Electoral votes? Where were the Department of Justice special units, especially those from the FBI? There was no federal presence to prevent an attack and their response to the attack came several hours after the assault began.
Take any Black Lives Matter demonstration from this summer, including in Washington D.C. and you will see hordes of uniformed people from the “alphabet soup” of federal agencies with law enforcement officers, many of them trained in handling riots and urban violence. For the BLM marches there were rows upon rows of National Guard personnel deployed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, for example. Our Capital should be one of the most secure places in our country, and yet it was easily overrun by a mob intent on fomenting a coup. Could it have been because the rioters were mostly white “decent folk”? Anyone that wants to know why black lives matter rings true for most of our African-American neighbors, all one has to do is compare how the mostly peaceful demonstrations of the BLM movement were handled with how this mob was handled. Only fourteen arrests were made in the Capital. Watching the coverage on TV, I could see the police helping rioters up and down steps. There was just a more relaxed vibe and method for many of the police officers outside the building. It was different than the actions surrounding many BLM demonstrations. Which is to take nothing away from those officers inside the building that truly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the Members of Congress and the others that work there.
Here is my take away from yesterday’s events. Trump’s primary appeal, and certainly to those attempting the coup, is to those that believe white, Christian men should run the country. Period. All others are “outsiders” that may or may not be allowed to live in this country depending on whether they stay in line and acquiesce to those that “deserve” to be here. I was struck by the nonchalant attitude of those on camera. They were mostly at ease, relaxed and acting as though they owned the place. They showed no respect for the solemnity or symbolism of the halls, chambers and offices. Rather than “if you break it, you own it,” they seemed to have the attitude that because we own it we can break it. When you are supposed to be the rulers of the world, you can do pretty much anything that you want. It was that attitude that struck me the most. I am still shaking with anger and with sadness that one man and his lawless supporters can attack our democracy with impunity and without regard for the damage to our country that they are causing.
Trump has never been held accountable for any of his outrageous actions. He must be held accountable now. If the Vice President and the Cabinet fail to act under the 25th Amendment within the next 24 hours, then the House must immediately begin the impeachment process. I say this with a heavy heart as it will inevitably make a bad situation worse as his supporters will rally to his side and inflict violence across America. Unfortunately, Trump may cause that to happen anyway. Therefore, we cannot wait to take action. It is time for our national leaders in the government, the House and the Senate, regardless of party, to stand up for America rather than for themselves or a cult leader.
Our proud nation has taken a heavy blow. It will take action and time to recover. With the next president we will have a chance to heal and to restore sanity to our national discourse. The change cannot come fast enough for me.
First, the good news. Vaccines to combat the pandemic are on the way. They are successful and people seem to be taking the shots. Let us all celebrate these holidays in our own way. Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Enjoy Kwanza! Happy Festivus! And stay safe.
Unfortunately, the real world raises its ugly head in the form of a bin full of cartoon characters that are trying to destroy our country. In any other context it would be known as treason or sedition. Last night the worst president ever and impeached one-term president put out another of his rambling screeds about the election in a video once again shot at the White House at taxpayers’ expense. He also pardoned or commuted the sentences of 20 of his bedfellows including convicted war criminals that killed fourteen innocent Iraqi civilians and includes rotten politicians and businessmen that scammed the public for lots of money. You know, his kind of people. He also threatened to veto the stimulus relief and government funding bills (it isn’t clear that he understands that they were wrapped together and that there are different provisions in each).
Before I could post this piece, in a fit of pique because of some relatively minor provisions, Mr. Trump vetoed the massive defense spending bill. The bill originally passed with bicameral and bipartisan support sufficient to override his veto. However, the bill must pass before the new Congress forms on 3 January 2021 or they will have to start over.
All of that is more work than he has done in weeks if not months. He has given up on the pandemic entirely. Not one word from the president as we pass 320,000 Americans dead. His only nod in that direction in weeks was to warn journalists away from giving any credit for the vaccine or its distribution to the incoming administration.
So what to make of all that? Should we worry or just shake it off and hold our breath until President-elect Joe Biden takes office?
Let’s address them in reverse order. By declaring the Covid-19 relief package a “disgrace” he did a terrific political favor for the Democrats. They have been pushing for increased payments to suffering Americans since May. When Mr. Trump declared he would accept nothing less than $2,000 for each recipient, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi jumped right in and offered an amendment to the just passed bill to add that in. Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell really only allowed the bill to go to the floor to help his Senators in Georgia claim that they were looking out for the state’s citizens, he finds himself in a dilemma. He and many of his party did not want any kind of individual payments. The current $600 payment was a fig leaf meant to sound good but of little use to most Americans in financial distress. Now his party must decide for the first time in memory whether to support the president or vote against the increased payment and unmask the fact that his party really does not want to help the economy at all. They can look more hypocritical than usual, put it on record that they really don’t want to help the economy, bring down the wrath of Trump on their heads or use some legislative legerdemain to avoid the whole thing. Perhaps all of the above. To me, Mr. Trump has no real interest in any of these bills be they Covid relief or funding the military. He is angry and wants to upset the apple cart and make some kind of point to Congressional Republicans that they must be loyal to him and support his efforts to overturn the election, or he will make life very hard for them.
Mr. Trump continues to break all of the norms. Whenever we think that we have hit rock bottom, he shows us that there is no bottom. This is true of many of his actions, but it was demonstrated clearly with his latest round of pardons. The list of twenty includes three jailed Congressmen, Medicare scammers and others with connections to Mr. Trump or his influential friends. A few were convicted on drug charges that resulted in excessive sentences. Two pleaded guilty following the Mueller investigation and reflect Mr. Trump’s efforts to undo everything connected with that inquiry. The most troubling pardons were for the four military contractors working for the now defunct Blackwater security company who killed seventeen people in the Nusoor Square traffic circle in Baghdad. During their trial, they were convicted of killing fourteen of them including women and children and wounding many more. The first to open fire was sentenced to life in prison. This follows a pattern for letting convicted war criminals out of prison when they are politically connected or a Fox News personality takes an interest in the story. In this case, Pete Hegseth, a favorite of Mr. Trump on Fox News, advocated for them. Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, another Trump advocate, and he is the brother of Betsy DeVos the current Secretary of Education.
As we see the way Mr. Trump’s mind works, and following reports that he plans to award a blanket pardon to himself and his family, one wonders how far this could go. Is it possible for a president to order the killing of a political rival and then pardon the killer and himself? This was something I would never ever have thought about in the past, but we now know that Mr. Trump will use any loophole or power at his disposal to benefit himself. The next Congress should take a hard look at this unfettered Constitutional power to see if it can be codified in a way that allows for some form of oversight for preventing its abuse.
We are now in Never Never Land with the outrageous lies surrounding the election results. Multiple news sources report that Mr. Trump is shutting out even his most fervent and loyal advisers and instead listening only to a bunch of crackpots that are pushing all kinds of theories as to how to over turn the election that Mr. Trump lost in a fair and open way. Perhaps the most despicable of all of these crackpot advisers is Michael Flynn, the former Army Lieutenant General and National Security Adviser who confessed twice to lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russia. He is advocating the imposition of martial law and having the Army re-run the election in the swing states that Mr. Trump lost. By all accounts Mr. Flynn (I cannot in good conscience call him “general” anymore) was an outstanding military officer and leader. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am bewildered as to what happened to him but now he is a certified nut job. He should also remember that retired military officers (they are still being paid by the government as opposed to veterans who did not serve a full career) are subject to recall to active duty at any time and are thus still prosecutable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). He should look up Article 94 pertaining to mutiny and sedition.
Worse still are the 126 Members of Congress that sought to join a case before the Supreme Court in an attempt to over turn the election in four states that went for Mr. Biden. The Court threw out the case hours after the briefing was completed. (Interestingly in this Through the Looking Glass world, several of those petitioning the court were from the states that they wanted overturned. Does that mean, by their own argument, that they should not be seated when the new Congress forms in January?) None-the-less, they are persisting. There is now a plan to protest each of the Electoral College slates from six swing states when the results are to be certified by Congress on 6 January 2021. The House has enough members pledged to mount the challenge (it only takes one), but while several Senators have toyed with the idea, none have yet to come out and say that they will do it. The closest Senator to do so is the Senator-elect from Alabama. Tommy Tuberville, the former football coach, thinks it is a viable idea. Of course Mr. Tuberville also thinks the three branches of government are “you know, the House, the Senate, and the Executive.” (Maybe we should have our elected officials take the naturalized citizen civics test.) Again, they only need one and via Twitter (where else) Mr. Trump seems to think he will be the guy.
There are a number of scenarios that could play out once the slates are challenged. One includes Vice President Pence as President of the Senate substituting the “alternative” Electors put forward in several states in place of the official certified slates of Electors. As much as Mr. Pence does whatever his boss wants him to, with little to no thought as to how ethical it may be, it is a stretch for him to even consider doing such a thing and in the end, it would not work anyway. Mr. Biden will be certified has having won the election.
The point is that there are elected officials of the United States that are actively trying to over turn an election and install Donald J. Trump as dictator, Dear Leader, autocrat, whatever it is that they think he will be for them. This is a direct and threatening assault on our democracy. We need to hold these people accountable. Many news organizations have published the names of the House Members that supported over turning the election. We need to throw the bums out at the first opportunity. By the way, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy forfeited his right to ever be the Speaker of the House regardless of any turnover of the House to Republicans because of his active role in trying to overthrow the duly elected future 46th President of the United States.
In fact, I hope that the attempt to overrule the American people does go to a vote. I want it on record for all to see and for history to note, who those elected officials are that think that loyalty to one man is more important than upholding their oath to support and defend the Constitution.
More worrisome for me than these Congressional shameful shenanigans is that Mr. Trump is becoming increasingly desperate and unhinged. Serious consideration should be given to invoking the 25th Amendment. I am serious and this is a serious issue. Mr. Trump is not a well man. Surrounded by others that have seemingly lost their grip on reality, all kinds of bad things can happen. So far our democracy has survived this very severe stress test. We have identified weak areas and laws that need to be strengthened, but we came closer to losing our democracy than I think most people recognize. It was not a sure thing. Thank goodness we had state and local officials willing to stand up to the bully in the White House. We may not have those same good people in the future. Now is the time to strengthen our democracy against future wannabe despots.
In the meantime we have about four more weeks to go. Despite all the public hand wringing, I think that a year from now Mr. Trump will be fully in the rear view mirror and fading into history. I do not see him as a force in the future. Meantime, we need to get through this transition period. I am not sanguine about this period. Mr. Trump and his cultists can still cause a lot of mischief before he leaves. We need to keep our guard up and our focus on the future.
I for one am looking forward to the new year.
On 27 February 1933 the German Reichstag (parliament) building burned down. The cause of the fire is still not definitively known, but the Nazis are suspected of setting it. They then were able to exploit the situation by claiming that the Communists were behind it as the beginning of an uprising to overthrow the government. They convinced President Paul von Hindenburg to allow the Nazis under Chancellor Adolf Hitler to issue an emergency decree the following day. Popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree it allowed the suspension of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and allowed for the arrest of political opponents, the dissolving of political organizations, the ability to overrule state and local laws and the power to overthrow state and local governments, among other rights previously enjoyed in Germany. The following month the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933 effectively making Adolf Hitler a dictator.
Thankfully, we are not in such dire straits here in the United States. But we are inching ever closer to a total collapse of our democracy. As I mentioned in my last posting, the Texas Attorney General brought a suit to the Supreme Court asking the court to throw out the entirety of the ballots cast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Oddly, it seems that the only election problems in the country are in swing states that Mr. Trump lost. The desired effect would be that Donald J. Trump then becomes president for another term. (And I will say more than one if this gambit succeeds.) Legal experts far and wide declared such a lawsuit a total travesty and predicted that the Supreme Court will not take the case.
I hope that the experts are correct, but even if they are, very un-American developments indicate further trouble ahead.
In the past few days, seventeen other states joined the suit supporting the Texas claim. Six others are in the process of joining. As of this writing, 106 of the 196 “Republican” members of the House have signed on to officially support the suit in court. This includes the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Trumpist – CA). Senator Ted Cruz (Trumpist – TX) volunteered to argue the case before the Court.
Think about that for a minute. Nearly half of the state Attorneys General in the United States are actively working to overturn a fair and free election and disenfranchise millions of our fellow citizens. Roughly 25% of all the members of the House and 55% of them in one of the two major parties think it wise, prudent, and legal to ignore their oath to the Constitution and instead pledge their allegiance to one man — a cult leader that wants to undo our democracy by claiming without evidence that the election was stolen from him. They explain away the lack of evidence, and the fact that “Rudy’s Travelling Circus” already lost more than 50 court cases trying to undo the election, by saying — and I wish I was kidding — that the fraud and deception was so masterful that they (whoever they are that perpetrated this heinous crime but the words “liberal socialists” comes up a lot) did not leave a single clue as to their nefarious deeds.
On Wednesday Mr. Trump himself dropped all pretense of what he was doing and moved on from claiming a fraudulent election to just plain saying that it needs to be overturned. He started the morning by Tweet saying simply “OVERTURN.”
It is just too scary. Anyone that wonders how otherwise educated populations can watch democracy get stolen and replaced by an autocrat need not wonder anymore.
So what happens when the Supreme Court throws out the suit? Your guess is as good as mine, but clearly no one in his party seems to be bothered by anything that Mr. Trump does no matter how harebrained, incredible, or illegal it may be. Mr. Trump only can take away one thing from this debacle. He can get away with anything and the majority of his party in leadership roles will support him or look the other way. He was more prophetic than we knew four years ago when Mr. Trump said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.
The essence of our democracy is that we fight hard for our principles and policies, but that when the election is over, we put away our differences long enough for a peaceful transition of power. We honor the results of elections. For the first time in our history since at least the election of 1860, that is not happening. There is now a stark division in our country. There are those that believe in the power of democracy (Democrats, many independents, and the remaining real Republicans) and those that believe that if the election does not turn out in your favor, you change the result through any means necessary (Trump cultists). This is how democracy ends.
I remain steadfast in my belief that Joseph Biden will be sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. However, I shudder at the damage that may be done to our country in the remaining six weeks before then. How can our government govern after January if a significant number of those in Congress refuse to recognize the legitimate transfer of power? How far will they take it? Will the Trumpists refuse to consent to Mr. Biden’s cabinet choices? Will they freeze all legislation to undermine the economy to make life as difficult as possible for the Biden Administration? The list could go on and on.
Our way of government ultimately rests on trust. Trust in our elections and their results are the foundation of our way of choosing officials and for them to govern. That trust is being deliberately threatened to suit the whims of one man. This is some bad stuff.
My reference to the Reichstag Fire is not me setting my hair on fire or yelling that the sky is falling. Not yet anyway. It does, however, have some frightening parallels to what is happening now and stands as a stark reminder that dictators and ruthless regimes don’t just show up out of nowhere. They grow from misconceptions, ruthless propaganda, and a population that goes along or chooses not to get involved.
Someone out there has a box of matches and is willing to use them. We must not let those that swore an oath to protect and defend our country give up our Constitutional rights in the name of one delusional wannabe dictator.
What is it with the former Republican Party? Even as I write, they continue their assault on the foundation of our republic. Likely, this will cause permanent long-term damage to our country. Tens of millions of people in the United States think, thanks to the rantings of Donald J. Trump and the continued efforts of national Republicans, that last month’s election was riddled with fraudulent practices and was rigged in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. To what end is this lie continuing even as the Electoral College is preparing to cast the majority of their votes for Mr. Biden on Monday 14 December?
Mr. Trump is nearly out of legal moves to dispute the election and is moving on to illegal attempts to change the outcome of the election. In every sense of the word, he is attempting a coup. Within the past week he twice telephoned the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House to pressure him into calling a special session of the legislature to replace the duly elected Electors with a slate pledged to Mr. Trump. This is the third state that he directly and personally meddled with trying to get them to change the results or overturn them outright. (The other two are Michigan and Georgia.) Last night a leading Trumpist Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina went on Fox News to berate the Republican Governor of Georgia to “not sit on your a**” and to call a special session of the legislature to challenge Mr. Biden’s victory in the state.
To date, state officials, Democrats and Republicans, are holding the line, upholding the law, and refusing to cave to Mr. Trump’s demands. However, pressure is mounting on Congressional Republicans to challenge the Electoral College results when they are certified on 6 January 2021. Two Republican Congressmen say that they will challenge the results. Under the 12th Amendment and the 1887 law known as the Electoral Count Act, the word “certifies” is not well defined. It takes only one Representative and one Senator to object to certifying a particular electoral slate. The objection must be in writing and signed by each. The House and Senate then decides separately on how to resolve the issue via a vote. (Normally they confer and often use a Joint Committee to resolve any issues.) The last time a slate was challenged was in 2005 when there was an objection to Ohio’s electoral slate. The issue was debated and quickly resolved.
More foolishness came today when the Republicans on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies refused to vote in favor of saying that the inauguration was for Mr. Biden and his running mate Ms. Harris. They argued that the process was still playing out and yet to be officially resolved. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a law suit today with the U.S. Supreme Court against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin claiming that those states “used the Covid-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws.” Over the weekend the Washington Post released the results of their survey of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate asking if they accepted that Mr. Biden won the election. Only 27 said that they did. Two claimed that Mr. Trump won. The other 220 said that it was too early to say or refused to answer the question.
And on and on. What in the good name of democracy is going on? Why aren’t more people upset by this direct assault on our most fundamental right as American citizens? What inspires national Republicans to stay in this cult of personality and with unwavering loyalty bring down our democracy in the process?
I have heard a variety of explanations. They fear him, still, even as a loser. That he will run for president again in 2024 and they want to be on his good side. That if they don’t support him they will be “primaryed” by someone Mr. Trump supports. That they are letting him work through the various stages of grief until he realizes that he is a loser. There are lots of driveling excuses floating around. None of them make any sense any longer. Even if they did make sense once, c’mon man, it’s over! Let’s follow the norms and traditions that make this country great.
Reflecting on why we are in this situation it occurred to me that possibly, maybe probably, none of those answers trotted out by the pundits are accurate. There may be elements of truth in them, but that is not the main motivator of their abhorrent actions.
The real reason is that the true believers like what he is doing.
Some may be cynical in that they believe their own political self-preservation depends on Mr. Trump remaining in power. Others may have the same autocratic tendencies that Mr. Trump daily exhibits. Some may just believe that Democrats in government, all of them — every one — are so inherently evil that they have to do everything, and that means everything, in their power to stop them from taking over the government. Any end is better than that.
With that epiphany, it is not that the Republicans are afraid of Mr. Trump and have lost their spine. They are not. They want him to succeed. Think of that. One of the two major parties in our democracy would rather see an election overturned by unethical and un-American methods rather than give up power. Autocracy? They are down with that. For four years I have tried to figure out why they go along with absolutely every crazy thing this president does, even if it goes directly against everything they said they stood for in the past. The explanation was actually quite simple. They like it, they like the power they have, and they don’t want to give it up.
If they have learned anything from Mr. Trump, they have learned that if you have the power you can do anything. There really are no laws or Constitutional limits to what you can do if you are just nervy enough to do it. Who can stop the president? It turns out that if you just ignore subpoenas, hearings and inquiries nothing happens. Impeached? Who cares if you have a Senate that wants to keep you in power no matter what. Pack the Supreme Court? Sure. You need a little luck through resignations or deaths but if you are in charge you can set any rules that you want. Hand out pardons to your political cronies and dirty tricksters? No problem, no one can stop you. Staying in power is paramount. Once in power, you are in control. Of everything.
Here is where it gets scary.
The national Republican Party is selling the same bill of goods to their supporters that Mr. Trump is selling. There are millions of people in the country that are convinced that Mr. Trump will be sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. Convinced. As the Wisconsin conservative pundit Charlie Sykes said recently, the realization that Mr. Trump is no longer the president will be such a shock to their beliefs and world view that their actions will be totally unpredictable. We already had armed protesters over the weekend show up at the home of the Michigan Secretary of State in a pure move of intimidation. When the true believers realize that they have been lied to, they are not going to take it out on Mr. Trump. They will default to the Trumpian explanation that their votes were stolen, the election rigged and that democracy is dead. There are both short and long-term dangers in that explanation and the fact that millions of people will believe it.
Add to that sweet mixture the many white nationalist groups that have long had a goal to start another American Civil War. This could be their pretext to take to the streets. There is a clear and present danger from domestic enemies willing to foment violence. That would give openings for our foreign enemies to take advantage of the situation. It is a dangerous time. It is not a game that those Republicans supporting Mr. Trump’s lies are playing. They are playing with fire. I am very concerned that real people will be injured or killed as Mr. Trump continues to incite violence in barely disguised rhetoric as he continues to live in fantasyland.
Is such a scenario inevitable? I think not. The rule of law and the Constitution can still prevail. My concern is that Mr. Trump is becoming increasingly desperate and cares not a whit about democracy or the country’s well-being. Therefore, it is well past time for Senate and House Republican leaders to state the obvious. Make clear and unambiguous statements that the system worked, it was tested in the courts, the law was upheld, and the results of the election are undisputed. Unless they do that, Mr. Trump and millions of Americans will think that they were robbed.
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
— Maya Angelou
Following Tuesday’s national embarrassment, a disgusting display of attempted bullying, there is a lot to think about. Probably, Donald J. Trump acted the role of the out of control drunk at the end of the bar because he knew he could not win a debate. He does not have control of the facts, has barely put together a complete sentence in his entire term, and knows that former Vice President Joe Biden has plenty of experience in such a format. Mr. Trump was probably not concerned about criticism for telling more lies — he has already accumulated over 20,000 documented lies since his inauguration — but he was concerned about losing. The answer was to blow it all up, burn the place down, and attempt to look “strong” in an attempt to make Mr. Biden look weak. He failed in every respect and in the process broke the rules of democracy and decorum and deprived the American public of the chance to assess both candidates, their policies, and their fitness for the job.
With all of the outrageous statements and shenanigans, two stand out above all and should alert every one of us to the clear and present danger to our country that exists in the persona of Mr. Trump. We need to look no further than his two statements near the end of the debate. When given the opportunity to clearly and forcefully condemn the antics, tactics and goals of white supremacists, he demurred. (“The Proud Boys: stand back and stand by.”) Indeed by all accounts by those that follow such things, the white supremacist groups took his answer as a call to arms. (Several incorporated the words into their new logos and one leader tweeted out “Standing by sir!”) Even on Wednesday as Mr. Trump claimed he did not know, then or now (really? c’mon man!), who the Proud Boys were, he still passed up the opportunity to publicly condemn white supremacists.
The second issue was his continued declarations that if he lost the election it was only because it was rigged against him. In other words, he will accept no other result than his own victory and explicitly said that he didn’t know if he would allow for a peaceful transition of power should he lose. Tuesday night he said that he is “urging his supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.” If Mr. Trump sees “thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.” When asked about what he meant by that he said “it means you have a fraudulent election.” When asked specifically if he would warn his supporters against “civil unrest” and tell them to keep calm if the vote counting goes on longer than Election Day, he refused.
So let’s put this all together and then see what he, and unfortunately Attorney General William Barr have been saying over the last few weeks.
First, on Tuesday night Mr. Trump gave a green light to white supremacists and other supporters to use violence if the election goes for Mr. Biden. Additionally, he told his supporters to engage in voter intimidation by going to polling places to keep people from voting or to claim voter fraud if they are not allowed into the polls (in most states poll watchers have to be certified and there are rules about their behavior).
Please do not say that Mr. Trump did not really mean what he said or that his words are being overly exaggerated. He knew exactly what he was doing. More importantly, the folks on the receiving end of his message know what he meant and will act on it, regardless of what “he meant to say.” He encourages vigilantes and is a major league fearmonger. There are people that believe him. So get real. The threat to a fair and open election is staring us in the face.
As I have written in this space before, autocrats tell you exactly what they are going to try and do before they do it. Mr. Trump is no exception.
Here is the playbook as I see it.
Mr. Trump’s goal is to make things look so bad that he can claim, as he already has, that he alone can fix it. As the pandemic continues to spread, the economy is ready to take another hit (today alone 35,000 airline employees are set to be laid off), schools are mostly still remote, demonstrations continue across the land, and golly, no one can even rely on the Postal Service anymore. All of this and more creates a sense of crisis.
In a crisis, people want action. By demonstrating that he is not afraid to break the rules — be it holding a political convention on the White House lawn or not abiding by debate rules — he is attempting to demonstrate that he is willing to do anything. Anything. Rules, norms, laws do not apply in a crisis and he is not afraid to throw all of them out the window to achieve “results.” Without a bit of shame as to the illogical nature of his argument, he now tends to claim that things are so bad now (remember, he has been the president for the last four years and precipitated many of these crises himself), he needs a second term to restore order. He argues that Democrats are the real problem and that they want anarchy. “Law and Order” is required to bring back the America you love (read: white male Christian dominated society). Contempt for the law is part of the message. It is necessary to get things done. Straight textbook Autocracy 101.
He knows he is losing, so now he needs to bring it all home by suppressing the vote for Mr. Biden, and claiming that the election was a fraud.
In recent weeks he has railed against any and all mail-in ballots as being rigged. He continually claims that all vote counting must stop on Election Night. The Attorney General went on CNN and claimed that foreign entities were going to counterfeit absentee ballots and other cheaters were going to pay people for their votes, buy up blocks of blank ballots and fill in Mr. Biden’s name. Indeed he even implied that postal workers might do that.
And on and on. The point? They are trying to lay the ground work for a legal challenge to the election results when Mr. Trump loses. I suspect that they will have people try to forge ballots and pay for ballots and send in lots of crudely duplicated ballots in order to prove their point. They are telling us what they are going to do. Add to that some nut cases or groups of nut cases (I’m looking at you white supremacists) that hear that a county election office threw out some ballots (does not have to actually happen, just put it out over social media and they will come) and they storm the building to confiscate the “illegal” ballots.
The number of scenarios are vast. We already know that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have no bottom for shameful and immoral behavior. The only goal is to retain power. Mr. Trump cannot stand the thought of losing — especially since he may end up going to jail in the not too distant future. Mr. Barr is on some bizarre crusade to shape American society in the way that he thinks it should function and Mr. Trump is his blunt instrument to achieve his ends.
All of it sets up the conditions for a legal (yes legal) attempt to steal the election. I am not a Constitutional law expert and I am not an attorney. My understanding is it can work as follows:
- Claim that the results in certain swing states (enough to give Mr. Trump a win) are suspect because of all the “illegal” ballots that were submitted by mail and because of improprieties at voting places. Remember that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have already encouraged voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to vote twice. Those two men know that is illegal, but if enough people try it, it really gums up the works and they can also claim that legitimate voters were turned away at the polls.
- Go to the courts to invalidate the election results in enough precincts to change the state’s electoral outcome. If that doesn’t work, go to state legislatures and claim that the Electors voted into the Electoral College from that state were illegitimately determined. Under the law, state legislatures determine the Electors and certify their validity to the Congress. Many states have laws that the legislature must certify Electors as voted on by the people, but not all. Additionally, the laws are often vague and some experts believe that the courts could decide in favor of legislatures over those voted on by the people. Reports from Pennsylvania already reveal that members of the Trump Campaign have talked to the leaders of the the Republican controlled legislature to do just that.
- If the courts do not rule as to which slates of Electors are the legitimate ones, or the states decide to send the competing slates to the Congress, the Electors seated in the College are determined by a vote in the Congress. The House and the Senate both vote. Although new Representatives and Senators will be seated by then, Vice President Pence will still be the tie breaker in the Senate.
- Should the House and the Senate vote to seat different slates of Electors, then the vote goes back to the House, but with different rules. In this vote, each state votes as a block. One state, one vote. Thus South Dakota has as much power to decide the president as does New York. Even though the Democrats have a large majority in the House, when decided on a state by state basis, currently 26 have Republican majorities (or only one Representative from that state) and 22 have Democrats. The other two are split.
- Meanwhile a parallel effort will go in in the courts. If it makes it to the Supreme Court the result could go either way. However, Mr. Trump specifically mentions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as the ninth justice he “needs” in order to “win” in the Court. In her pre-hearing submission to the Senate answering a host of questions, she indicated that she would not recuse herself from any 2020 election cases that may come to the court.
Many people compare all of this to the 2000 election and the “hanging chads” in Florida. Historically, it is closer to the election of 1876 where Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and came up one Electoral College vote shy of winning that over Republican Rutherford Hayes. The electoral slates of three Southern states were in dispute and the decision came to the Congress. After deliberation and the formation of a bipartisan commission comprised of Representatives and Senators, and the departure of the lone tie-breaking independent on the commission, replaced by a Republican, the disputed Electoral College votes were awarded to Mr. Hayes to give him a one vote Electoral College win. In exchange for giving up their candidate, the Democrats secured the end of Reconstruction in the South. It was a shameful and dirty chapter in the history of our country.
I am concerned that we may face another Constitutional crisis in this election. Barring an overwhelming landslide in favor of Mr. Biden, I think that we may be in for a long final three months of the year full of unrest and probable violence.
Mr. Trump makes it abundantly clear that he has no qualms about ignoring the Constitution and bringing the full weight of the Federal Government to preserve his power. One pundit likened it to the old saying that “if I’m going down I’m taking all of you with me.” In his Attorney General he has an accomplice that will help him bend the law if not outright ignore it in the name of allegedly preserving the safety and security of our city streets.
Meanwhile we have a Republican Senate that has lost its backbone, its allegiance to the Constitution and its voice. The president might Tweet about me!
We must all vote. We must all be vigilant. We must all be vociferous in our opposition to such a blatant attack on our Constitution.
I take solace in the fact that there are still good upstanding Americans in our midst. For the scenario to unfold as I’ve sketched it here, an awful lot of people would have to go along with what is clearly a power grab by a budding autocrat and his cronies. I have faith that enough people along the way will stand up to the bully and refuse to compromise or cooperate.
God Bless America.
Last Friday we learned of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Please take a moment to think of her and her family. She was a great American and a great American success story, coming from humble roots in middle class Brooklyn New York to rise to the Supreme Court. Along the way she was a true trail blazer and a forceful voice for human rights. She will be missed.
Her death opens a seat on the Supreme Court and offers Mr. Donald J. Trump the chance to put a third Justice on the Court. Elections do have consequences. The question then becomes, when do the consequences of an election kick in? In 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans kept an open seat on the Court for roughly a year claiming that no new Justices should be nominated or voted on until after the election of a new president. President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland did not even get a hearing, much less an up or down vote.
The real player in the drama then and now is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Tr – KY). As much as Mr. Trump has pushed and pulled and ignored the norms surrounding the office of the president, Mr. McConnell has done the most to undermine the legitimacy of the Senate and the norms that used to guide our selection of judges to federal courts and to the Supreme Court. Along with unilaterally changing the required number of votes to approve a Supreme Court Justice from 60 — which normally meant that whichever party was in power would have to have some votes from the other party in order to confirm a nominee, thus allowing for more moderate judges to make it on to the court — it now only requires 51 votes which gives each party a chance to approve radical judges aligned with their party’s interests.
Indeed, Mr. McConnell has been so focused on getting judges on to the federal courts that very, very little else has been addressed over the last two years in the Senate. Mr. McConnell put his pursuit of judges over the lives of the now 200,000 Americans dead from Covid-19. He will not address any of the pandemic relief bills so desperately needed to fight the virus and to restore our economic well being. So much for claiming to be pro-life.
Much has been and will be written about the sheer utter hypocrisy of Republicans surrounding the nomination and confirmation of a new Justice during an election year. In 2016 it was a full ten months before the election. This year it is only about six weeks before the election. In fact, some states already have early voting underway. You will see lots and lots of video clips of one Republican Senator after another twisting themselves into more knots than a pretzel trying to explain why it was different then than it is now. Sad. Additionally, please remember that there is no such thing as the “Biden Rule” or “Thurmond Rule” or even a “McConnell Rule.” That is a lot of smoke to hide what is actually going on. There is only the law.
The bottom line? There is no shame in Trumpland. They will do whatever they want and without regard to the lies, hypocrisy and sheer awfulness of it. It won’t change so I won’t waste time arguing it or bemoaning it. To quote the president’s remarks about the deaths of so many of our fellow citizens, “It is what it is.”
There is no shame. It is just pure power politics. In effect, they will steal a Supreme Court seat for the second time.
What action can those that still have a sense of duty do to stop it? Procedurally, not much. The Constitution is vague about this issue. Article III, Section I of the Constitution says merely that:
“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”
Significantly, there is no indication of how many Justices there shall be or exactly what their role should be. Starting with the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress shapes the size and authority of the Court. Of the three branches of our government, the Supreme Court is probably the one that most resembles its origins and relies heavily on custom and tradition in the process of taking care of business. Chief Justice John Marshall, appointed to the court by President John Adams, is credited with shaping the court into the form and substance we know today. The number of Justices on the court varied over time until 1869 when the number became nine and remains so today.
All of this is background as to what means are available to Democrats, and perhaps a few Republicans, to delay the confirmation until after the election and leave the choice to the winners in the White House and the Senate.
Since it now takes only 51 votes to over-ride any legislative maneuvering and to confirm a nominee, the opposition to a hasty process can only come from political pressure. It is an election year and several Republican Senators are up for re-election and find themselves in very tight races. This issue could have a significant impact on who is elected or re-elected. If their constituents forcefully voice their opposition to proceeding without regard to the election, some sitting Senators may find it difficult to support Mr. McConnell’s plan.
So far two Republican Senators have indicated that they do not support moving ahead with the process until after the election. Is it possible more might join them? Possible, but not a sure thing. Tremendous pressure will be applied to every Republican Senator to stay in line. In that regard, when the vote is taken will be critical.
By all accounts, the only thing that Senator McConnell values more than changing the face of the judiciary is retaining his power and prestige as majority leader. He will use everything in his power to keep power. It is conceivable that to protect vulnerable Senators that could be harmed by having to vote for a Trump appointee prior to the election, he will hold hearings before the election to gauge the political winds and hold off on the actual vote until after the election. Those that are re-elected are safe, those that are not have nothing to lose. The question then becomes a matter of conscience as to how individuals may vote, a commodity that unfortunately seems to be in short supply in the current political arena.
It would be a real insult to our democratic ideals if the Republicans lose the White House and their majority in the Senate but go ahead and confirm a Trump appointee.
There are many scenarios that could play out. I have no idea what will happen. The Republicans have a three seat majority. If three Republicans vote against a nominee, the Vice President would be the tie breaker. The Democrats would need to convince at least four Republicans to vote against a nominee, something that will be difficult to do should the nominee be a truly qualified jurist.
It seems that for the Democrats to stop the appointment of another conservative Justice, thus giving them a 6-3 advantage on the Court, they need to play hardball.
During the last four years the institutions of our government have been abused, even debased, in the pursuit of power by Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell. To play the same game, some advocate for the Democrats to say that should the process ignore the election results that they will expand the Court to include more Justices. The law designating the number of Justices can be changed by a majority vote.
Personally, I think this is wrong. It would never stop as eventually one party loses the majority and the other looks to regain the upper hand. Our system of government has been under assault for four years, messing with the Supreme Court would be the beginning of the end of any restrictions on changing the rules to suit one party and undermining everything we used to hold as important to our fundamental system of government.
It may also backfire in that some voters may vote against the Democrats if they threaten to expand the Court.
There are some twists and turns that could influence the outcome. Two Senate institutionalists are retiring this year. Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Pat Roberts (KS), with no debt to pay to Mr. McConnell, or to Mr. Trump, may put the traditions and unwritten norms of the Senate and the judiciary above party politics. Should Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) stick to their avowed decision to oppose a nominee that would be the four votes needed to stop this move.
Another wild card vote comes from Arizona where Senator Martha McSally is currently behind her Democrat opponent former astronaut Mark Kelly. Since Senator McSally is an interim appointee (she fills the seat that belonged to John McCain), if Mr. Kelly wins the election he would be seated by the end of November bringing down the Republican advantage in the Senate.
Numerous possibilities will be floated in the coming weeks. There are no arguments to be made or scenarios to play out should Mr. Trump get re-elected and Mr. McConnell retain his majority in the Senate. There would be nothing that could, or should, stop Mr. Trump from seating his third appointee. Mr. Trump will campaign on this issue and try to make it a referendum that he thinks will help him win. Of course he wants the campaign to be about anything that distracts from his horrifying dereliction of duty mismanaging the pandemic and the loss of over 200,000 of our fellow citizens.
However the next few weeks unfold, two things are certain. Our nation lost a truly historic presence in the Supreme Court and an already wild and improbable election cycle where anything can happen just got even wilder and more unpredictable.
Events unfolding around the country are the previews for coming attractions, and it won’t be fun. To look at what is happening in Portland Oregon one might see a trial run for more such activity — currently announced for, or underway in, Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque.
Going forward, remember that this is all right from the autocracy 101 hand book. I will explain my thinking in this piece, but two major things are happening. One is that Mr. Donald J. Trump is trying to get video to support his campaign claim that the cities are out of control and that “only I can fix it.” Second, and far more ominously, he is laying the ground work for declaring martial law leading into the election. Mr. Trump and his campaign know that he cannot win solely through the support of his base. He needs to keep people from voting for his opponent — voter suppression — and one way to do that is to intimidate the electorate and to make it too hard to vote. It is an election strategy that comes at the expense of American cities and their citizens. It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.
As a reminder, federal law enforcement units in full combat gear have been on the streets in Portland for about ten days. Theoretically, they are there to protect the federal court house from protesters. In fact, they have been patrolling the streets of the city picking up people that look like they might be willing to foment trouble. Let’s dive into this further.
The federal government has a duty and a right to protect federal property from destruction. In cases such as the court house in Portland, this would normally entail coordinating with the local city and state authorities for a cohesive plan and would amount to a defensive — rather than offensive — effort to keep trouble makers away. None of this is happening. There is no apparent coordination with local authorities — indeed the mayor and governor have explicitly asked those forces to leave — and they are definitely using offensive tactics with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and other agents against the crowd. To be sure, there are trouble makers in the ranks of the protesters. However, the vast majority are peaceful. Additionally, with proper techniques and coordination, peaceful protesters are likely to cooperate in identifying the bad apples in the crowd as it is in the best interests of the other protesters to keep it peaceful and to not provoke an over reaction by law enforcement. By all credible accounts, after weeks of protests, the demonstrations in Portland had settled into a peaceful occasion and were slowly dwindling in size. That is until the federal authorities arrived and began using their storm trooper tactics. In military combat gear, the federal authorities wear no name tags or unit identification badges, only a small generic “police” tag on their camos. Reportedly, they are from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One might ask who is guarding our borders from the supposed hoards coming across from Mexico if they are in Portland? One might also ask what training these particular agencies give to their agents regarding community policing?
If you think it is an exaggeration, look at this video of a Navy veteran trying to talk to some of the agents and getting beaten and pepper sprayed while not even raising his arms or making any threatening movements.
All of this on its own is bad. Very bad. But it portends worse things to come. Remember Mr. Trump’s words earlier this week.
“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”
So, first of all, only Democrat mayors are “bad.” Secondly, there are currently no violent demonstrations in Philadelphia, Detroit or Baltimore or other cities he is going to “dominate.” This is pure, unabashed partisan politics using federal law enforcement agencies for his personal gain.
Additionally, the hypocrisy is all too familiar. The rationale behind the Portland deployment is to protect against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights on federal property. In 2018 Mr. Trump gave full pardons to two Oregonians — father and son — that set fire in 2016 to 139 acres of federal land during Red Flag Warning conditions, endangering firefighters working on another fire nearby. It resulted in a 40 day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters supporting their cause. He considered these men to be patriots. Peaceful protesters in cities are considered to be criminals.
As I have written in this space before, I was very involved in figuring out Saddam Hussein’s next moves during Gulf War I. We figured out after awhile that he pretty much always announced what he intended to do. He couldn’t always carry it out, but he was pretty straightforward in his pronouncements. Mr. Trump is the same way. He announces exactly what he plans to do.
Here is the diabolical back drop to his strategy. In my 8 May piece “American Carnage” I wondered aloud about how Mr. Trump could have so badly botched the national response to the pandemic and opined that perhaps it was deliberate. I am now sure of it. He did not create the pandemic, but he is going to use it to his advantage. Similarly, he will use the Black Lives Matter movement to declare that they are terrorists working to destroy America. He already barely hides his racism in this regard. Yesterday in a speech he blamed Mexico (again) and the BLM protests for the spread of the Coronavirus in the South and Southwest. He repeatedly declares that if the Democrats win the election, they will “destroy the suburbs,” a not-so-subtle racist canard.
Many pundits and political experts, as well as average citizens, have wondered for weeks and months why Mr. Trump refuses to put forward a national effort to halt the pandemic and to address racial injustice. It dawned on me yesterday that as former Maryland Lt. Governor and National Republican Chairman Michael Steele explained on TV yesterday — this is his plan. In other words, he will use the chaos currently engulfing our country to his advantage. He will trot out again his beliefs that the the Constitution gives him “absolute power” and that “I alone can fix it.” These will form the basis for action on his part to interfere in an election that he is already claiming — nearly daily — is rigged. He is against mail-in ballots (even though he, his family, many of his aides and many service members vote by mail) and has installed a long-time ally as Postmaster General. Mail bags mysteriously disappearing? Mail trucks mysteriously bursting into flames? The imagination can run wild.
The point is that we will not succumb to an outright coup on his part. It will be gradual with incremental decisions and policies that set the stage for him to declare the election invalid and that he must stay on to save the country. He is on record multiple times, most recently in his Fox News interview with Mike Wallace, that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he thinks it’s rigged. Asked directly if he would accept the results he said,
“I have to see. Look — I have to see. No, I’m not just going to say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
Since many of the states will use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the official results are in. If the election is close as the polls close on Election Night, and the results change dramatically against Mr. Trump when the absentee, provisional and other ballots are counted, he could well declare the entire election a fraud and cancel it. He is on record with the 2018 Florida election — which was very close and looked as if it would go against his preferred candidates — as saying that only ballots counted on Election Day should be valid. He tweeted without offering a single piece of evidence,
“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night.”
Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis both won their races.
We already know that Mr. Trump will do anything that benefits him. There is no ethical, moral or legal bottom for him. He now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney and shares Mr. Trump’s belief in an Imperial Presidency.
The U.S. military put Mr. Trump on notice after they were used in a political stunt at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for his bible thumping campaign photo op that they would not be used for political purposes. Thus, Mr. Trump went to his flunkies in DHS (the top position and most of the sub-agencies are headed by “acting” leaders that do not have Senate approval) in order to create his own personal police force to pursue his personal goals.
Some may think that this is a “Chicken Little” scenario. Alarmist. Couldn’t happen here. That’s not America. Stop hyperventilating. No way. I hope that you are correct. Personally, I am watching out for our “Reichstag Fire” moment.
While you were focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact on our society, other government functions continue as intended. Among those continuing to function, although for the first time in history they did so via video conferences, was the Supreme Court. A number of pending cases could produce profound precedents that could change the ways our government functions.
Among these are two cases involving the Electoral College and whether or not the individual Electors are obligated to vote for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates with the most popular votes in their respective states. The two cases stem from the 2016 election and are Chiafalo v. Washington [the state] and Colorado Department of State v. Baca. In both cases, Electors voted for candidates other than the one with the most popular votes in their state. In the Chiafalo case the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that under the Constitution the state has the power to enforce the state law that requires Electors to vote for their party’s candidate. In the Baca case, however, the The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th District (in Denver) over-ruled the state’s law requiring Electors to vote for their party’s candidate saying that under the Constitution, once an Elector is appointed, they are free to vote as they choose.
In all, in 2016 seven Electors voted for candidates that were not the one’s they were supposed to represent.
It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide which determination is correct, with profound implications for our future elections. The practices and traditions which have served us well for all these many years could be codified through the Court’s action or it could be thrown on its ear.
So what does this mean to us? Perhaps a little background is in order as the Electoral College (which is a process rather than a place — and is never mentioned in the Constitution) is often misunderstood by many of us.
The Founding Fathers did not trust the great American unwashed average citizen to make rational choices as to our elected officials. The House of Representatives was to be “The People’s House” where they could participate in governing, but the real power was in the Senate. Recall that Senators were not popularly elected until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment which was ratified in 1913. Before that, State Legislatures elected each state’s Senators.
Likewise, the Founding Fathers did not trust a direct popular vote for president. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that the Electors would have the “information and discernment” to determine the best person for President. Under the original text of the Constitution, state legislatures selected the Electors and each Elector would cast two ballots for president. The candidate with the most votes (assuming it is a majority) would be President and the candidate with the second most votes would be Vice President. Then came the election of 1800 where Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 votes each. The decision then went to the House of Representatives where after 36 ballots (neither could garner a majority), Jefferson was voted in as President.
Following this near debacle, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in 1804. This modified how Electors cast their ballots, separating the vote for President from that of Vice President. It did not designate how the Electors would be chosen.
Over time, most states decided that the Electoral votes from their state would go to the candidate with the most popular votes. (Maine and Nebraska have laws that divide the Electoral votes by Congressional district. It is thus possible that votes from those states could go to two candidates.) Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (they gained Electoral votes under the Twenty-third Amendment in 1961) have laws that bind the Electors to vote the same as the popular vote.
In practice, when we vote we do not vote for the president. We vote for Electors who promise to vote for a particular candidate. Most Electors are party luminaries or workers in the same party as the candidate. Where laws do not govern the specifics of how a state’s Electors must vote, it is assumed that by pledging their loyalty to a particular party’s candidate, they will so vote.
Over time, “faithless Electors” — those that do not follow the popular vote — have not decided any election. However, there were at least five presidential elections where the winner would have been different if ten Electors had changed their vote. Likewise, there have been five elections where a president lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College vote (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016).
Here is another fun fact about presidential elections. If the electoral vote is tied, the decision rests with the House for President and the Senate for Vice President. But here’s the rub. Each state votes as a block and each state counts as one vote. Thus the vote for President from the North Dakota delegation (with only one Representative) counts the same as the vote from California with 53 Representatives.
Clearly, our president is not, and never has been, decided by the popular vote in any way that would be comparable to our election for every other office in the land since 1913. Over the years there have been many attempts to do away with the current system and to have the voters directly decide on the President and Vice President. It would require an Act of Congress and ratification from the states to do so because it would be a change to the Constitution. The closest attempt to change it was the passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives in 1969 calling for a direct vote with a run off if no candidate received at least forty percent of the vote. The resolution failed to pass in the Senate.
The dilemma the Supreme Court faces is how to interpret the Constitution without upending two centuries of practice. Essentially, our country devised a new way of electing our presidents, different from the original ideas of the Founding Fathers, even if we keep the relics and traditions of that system. If the “originalists” on the Court decide that the Constitution intended for Electors to use their discretion and vote for whomever they want, the popular vote could become meaningless as there would be no obligation to vote for the winner in their respective states. They could vote for anyone, potentially throwing the system into chaos. If the Court decides that states can in fact determine how their Electors are chosen and that the Electors must vote as per the state’s law, then they run the risk of voiding what some consider to be the original intent of the Founding Fathers.
Given the ongoing destruction of long-standing norms, practices and ethical behavior that previously stood the test of time, it is imperative that the Court codify existing practice and give the states the power to best determine how their Electors will be allocated. Further, the Congress should again address the issues surrounding the use of Electors to determine our presidents. Even if one is in favor of the way we have come to interpret the value of the Electoral College (theoretically giving more states a chance to participate in the selection of our presidents) it is time to put into law how those Electors are chosen. To do otherwise invites disaster in either the near or long term. I have voiced my opinion in this space in previous postings that I believe we should do away with the anachronistic Electoral College and provide for direct popular votes for president.
Either way, we should not leave it up to chance. The forthcoming decision from the Supreme Court will have a direct impact on our future elections. Let’s hope that they get it right and keep the states in charge of enforcing votes from their Electors. The Congress must then follow up to instill a rigorous and uniform method for selecting Electors and their subsequent votes — either by putting our current system into law or by abolishing the Electoral College and providing for the direct election of President and Vice President. The future of our Republic demands it.
Following his Impeachment Trial, Mr. Donald J. Trump became predictably vengeful and embarked on a revenge tour. He is now systematically using the power of the presidency to invoke his personal wrath on anyone that did not faithfully and fully support him — personally — rather than doing their duty and supporting their oath to the Constitution. The purge will only end when the Trump regime is fully stocked with Trump loyalists, regardless of their ability to handle the job, personal background, or knowledge of anything related to the job. For the most part, expect it to be the “B Team” — or maybe more like “F Troop.”
Mr. Trump is taking another page out of the Autocracy 101 text book. We should not be surprised.
Recently, I was referred to an article in the New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen. Titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival it provides six rules based on living much of her life in autocracies and becoming an expert on Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Ms. Gessen is much better at explaining herself than I could ever be — it is worth the time to read the original — and her November 2016 article is stunningly prescient in predicting Mr. Trump’s behavior in the years following his election.
In brief, these are the six rules.
- Believe the autocrat. They always tell you exactly what they are going to do. Mr. Trump exhibits this behavior. What some consider to be exaggeration, hyperbole or “Trump being Trump” is actually him telling you what he is going to do. Or at least what he wants to do if he can figure out a way to get away with it. I first observed this trait in Gulf War I where I was involved in a group tasked with the formulation of a policy and a strategy to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and to restore a semblance of order in the Gulf region. With study, it became obvious that he was telling the world exactly what he intended to do — or what he would try to do — but you had to peel away the bombastic language to fully understand what he was saying.
- Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. When things seem out of control, the smallest sense of normality tends to soothe people’s concerns. We all need reassurances. When things are at their worst, anything that makes it seem as if the situation is temporary and that it will all be okay in the end is a salve that may hide the wound rather than heal it. What is happening today in our country is not normal. No one-off State of the Union speech or any other glimmer of normal presidential behavior should mask the fact that 99% of the time our president is out of control.
- Institutions will not save you. American values are based on ideas like a free press, an independent judiciary, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch and leaders within the government protecting the Constitution for all Americans. It takes about two seconds to recall that Mr. Trump fires anyone that stands up to him, constantly debases members of the media, attacks judges that do not do want he wants, and always succeeds in getting the formerly Republican members of Congress to acquiesce to his every whim. Mr. Trump and his regime took a steam roller to the established norms of government and continue to test the limits of the law in every corner of government. There are no longer any safety barriers keeping the regime within safe boundaries.
- Be outraged. While many of us may no longer be surprised by statements and actions from Mr. Trump, one needs to continue to be shocked. Do not normalize bad behavior especially when it threatens the fabric of our democracy. Be prepared for ridicule when continuing to call out such awful behavior while others continue with their mantra that it is just Trump being Trump. As he himself calls it when belittling those that critique him, be prepared for accusations of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Be prepared for unpleasant attacks from his most ardent supporters. Do not back off.
- Don’t make compromises. So many former Republicans, especially in the Senate, predicted that Mr. Trump as president would be the worst thing that ever happened to our country. After three years of his presidency they are now his most loyal and fervent supporters. Their support is not necessarily a re-evaluation of his competency or ability or vision, but rather it is a compromise of their own values in order to retain power. Mr. Trump is no different than the person they ardently decried during the campaign. Those around him have changed.
- Remember the future. Mr. Trump, his regime, and Trumpism cannot last forever. Look to reform our institutions in order to restore the foundations of our democracy. Put into law what we as a country previously took to be accepted norms of behavior that our leaders would honor. Work to project a new vision for our country that is inclusive and that addresses the problems that Mr. Trump was able to cynically manipulate for his own purposes. Stay in the game.
In the every day course of our own lives it is possible to lose sight of the big picture attack on our democracy. It’s hard. Frankly, it’s exhausting. It is easy to lose oneself in areas outside of politics because it is just so relentlessly Trump. Every gosh darn day there is some new Tweet or speech or rally that saps all of the energy from one’s soul when it is clear that he has no idea what he is talking about. Nearly 17,000 documented and provable lies during his presidency numbs the soul and becomes normalized.
And that is the plan.
Autocracy thrives on indifference or exhaustion or just turning it over to the regime and letting them take care of it all as long as my day-to-day life is not impacted. Mr. Trump and his regime are interested only in themselves and in the amassing of personal power. Period. Anything else is a sales pitch presented in the moment to get a cheer or to attack an opponent or to appear to care. Remember that fundamentally, they don’t care about you or me or the rule of law. Only themselves.
It is up to us as citizens to stay vigilant and to call out the fouls when we see them.