The Assault on Democracy

Donald J. Trump is conducting a disturbing and dangerous assault on the very foundation of our democratic republic. Such an assault began well before the election and continues unabated weeks after Election Day. How or when it stops we may not know until 20 January when Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Mr. Trump told us what he was going to do and, for once, was true to his word. He is undertaking the most blatant exercise of raw power to overturn a presidential election in our history.

As alarming as Mr. Trump’s efforts to undo an election that he lost by nearly 6 million votes may be, more alarming is the fact that the majority of Republican Senators support his efforts, some by actively engaging in attempted voter disenfranchisement — I’m looking at you Lindsey Graham — and others by their continued silence while Mr. Trump and his cronies blatantly attempt to overturn a fair and fraud free election. The Republican Party is dead and now they have put the last nail in the coffin.

That Mr. Trump lost is a great thing for our country. As his actions continue to show, should he have won, and absent a Senate that is willing to confront him, he would have run roughshod over every Constitutional boundary that has protected our country for over two hundred years. As it is, his current actions are those of a despot. The very foundation of our country is under assault by this president as he tries to convince us that he “won in a landslide.” And national level Republican politicians are letting him try.

Thankfully, there are still elected officials, Republican and Democrat, at state and local levels that have a firm grasp on reality and retain the backbone to do their job faithfully, fully and in keeping with the oath that they took to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States, regardless of pressure from the President of the United States.

None-the-less we now know how fragile our democracy really is. Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators are incompetent. They cannot pull it off. But, they have put forth a roadmap that a more competent administration could follow in the future to steal an election. It is imperative that the Congress work to close the loopholes in our election process to preclude any future attempts to overturn a fair election.

The effort hit an all time high of danger and of farce yesterday during a press conference headed by a sweating, hair dye dripping, Rudy Giuliani at the Republican National Committee Headquarters. After every legal attempt to halt vote counting or to throw out votes was dismissed in court for lack of evidence (currently, the Trump campaign is zero for thirty) they resorted to wild claims invoking everything from Venezuela to Cuba to a mysterious national conspiracy to change votes electronically from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. None of the claims were supported by any facts whatsoever. Mr. Giuliani stated that he could not share the evidence because it was classified, but that it would be produced at a later time.

Furthermore, the Trump campaign’s efforts are racist, pure and simple. The challenges and conspiracy theories apparently are only relevant to certain cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta and Las Vegas. In each case they are focused on precincts and counties that are predominately Black or Latino. This is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise minority voters.

Remember that Mr. Trump earlier this week “terminated” Christopher Krebs — his own appointee — who was responsible for the country’s cyber security and for overseeing the integrity of the voting process. He was fired for doing the unthinkable. He told the truth. After Election Day Mr. Krebs declared “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.” He did his job. In this administration that is grounds for being fired. Additionally, his deputy was forced to resign and as is his habit, Mr. Trump had a more “loyal” appointee assigned to the job.

In a Tweet, Mr. Krebs called Mr. Giuliani’s performance yesterday “the most dangerous 1 hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.” He is right. What Mr. Trump is attempting through his surrogate Mr. Giuliani is un-American and a grave threat to our democracy.

Today Mr. Trump is inviting members of the Republican controlled Michigan legislature to the White House in an attempt to get them to interfere in the Electoral College process. This seems to be the new strategy. Since they have failed at the ballot box, in the courts, and everywhere else, they think that they can mess with the Electoral College, or delay its vote, or something (I’m not sure they know) in order to throw the election into the Congress where they think that they can win. They lost the popular vote by 6 million votes. They lost the Electoral College count by 74 votes. They are trying to overturn the will of the people with unfounded, unproven, and ridiculous claims as if we do have an autocrat in charge of our government.

This course of events goes beyond letting “Trump be Trump” or giving him time to assimilate the fact that he is a loser or any other psychological double talk that Republicans are putting forth about his behavior. This is simply a case of an autocrat trying to steal an election by claiming that no, really, the other guy stole it.

Unfortunately, the longer this goes on the number of people that believe his unfounded claims will grow. What happens then is impossible to predict, but I fear that the nut cases in our great land will feel that they somehow have to rectify the situation and force the country to accept that Mr. Trump really won.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump sits whining in the White House, only leaving to play golf, while the Covid-19 pandemic grows into a massive crisis. The situation now is the greatest threat to our well-being since it began in February. The number of deaths is fourth on the list of our country’s greatest losses of life behind the Civil War, the Second World War and the 1918 flu pandemic. On the current trajectory it could move up the list to be the second worst in our history. Nothing from Mr. Trump except to claim that he is responsible for the vaccine that will soon be in production. No effort to put forth economic relief for the millions struggling to make ends meet. No effort to keep the government from shutting down on 11 December because there is no bill to provide the money to keep it functioning. Crises everywhere and Mr. Trump is putting all of his energy into convincing people that he really won the election and therefore will overturn the certified results.

From the vast majority of the members of the Republican Senate? Crickets.

We are in danger. Serious danger. Our enemies foreign and domestic see that we are in turmoil. They see that our democracy is fragile and not functioning as it should. They see that we have a distracted, weak president that is only interested in taking money from his supporters and amassing power. The next 60 days will be fraught with ever greater threats as we fail to address that which is staring us in the face and we see an increasingly unhinged president willing to do anything to stay in office.

I am out of the prediction business. I will only say that it would not surprise me that Mr. Trump never concedes, never allows a transition, and does everything in his power to turn over a domestic and international situation that will undermine any policies Mr. Biden hoped to address during his presidency. For at least his first year, Mr. Biden simply will be too busy putting out the fires that Mr. Trump set on his way out.

The only thing that I am sure of is that Mr. Biden will be sworn in at noon on 20 January 2021 and that millions of people will believe that he stole the election away from Mr. Trump.

Thank God Trump only had one term.

The Democrat’s Dilemma

The country is one week away from an election that likely will come down to the wire. If (when?) the Democrats win the White House and Senate and maintain their majority in the House, there will be several key issues that need immediate intention and others that may fundamentally change our system of government.

Of immediate concern is the ongoing pandemic. The Trump Administration threw in the towel and surrendered to the inevitable spread of Covid-19. Indeed, the administration surrendered back in March when the president refused to take responsibility for any actions to mitigate the spread of the disease. With his super-spreader events held daily all around the country, we are wasting our time expecting him to do anything positive to reduce the death toll that is expected to approach 400,000 dead Americans by Inauguration Day. In my view, win or lose, Mr. Trump will do nothing in the coming months to change the course of the disease.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) adjourned the Senate yesterday without addressing the economic impact of the pandemic. Several relief bills, starting last May, passed the House but Mr. McConnell refused to take them up in the Senate. Likely, he failed to do his job for two reasons. First, there was widespread disagreement within his caucus as to whether or not to spend more money. Mr. McConnell did not want to put any of his Senators in a politically precarious position by forcing them to vote one way or another on helping the average working person in the United States. Second, Mr. McConnell probably sees the writing on the wall that Mr. Trump will not be re-elected. Senator McConnell will do all in his power to make life miserable for a President Biden, including trying to keep the economy struggling so that Mr. Biden cannot take credit for succeeding where the current ruling party failed.

The pandemic will be the first and most important issue for a Biden Administration to address. Economic relief will be the first order of business for a Democratic Congress. Those plans are ready for implementation as soon as the new president and Congress are sworn in. Only time will tell if they are effective, but it seems that any attempt to improve the situation is better than none. We cannot sit around and wait for a vaccine or for effective therapies to help patients in the hospital. Those are important, but don’t yet exist. The real issue is what can be done now to stop the spread of the disease. We already know that masks, social distancing and good hygiene go a long way. For some misguided reason, those successful strategies have become politicized by Mr. Trump. It will take time, and a coordinated effort to overcome that mind set and to restore what has been lost over the last seven months.

Longer term, a Democratic administration and Congress have fundamental issues to address as to how government works. Legislation to institutionalize norms that have been respected in the past but ignored over the last few years are necessary. Trust in the character of the president is a charming relic of the past that we now know is too dangerous. Put it into law.

In addition, there are three dilemmas that Democrats will face. These are whether to:

  • Investigate and prosecute any crimes committed by the president and/or members of his administration.
  • End the filibuster in the Senate.
  • Change the number of Justices on the Supreme Court.

Revenge and retribution will be on many minds come January. That feeling will not only color the views of politicians in Washington but also those of many of the citizens that voted them into office. The current administration and their enablers in the Senate ran roughshod over all of the norms and courtesies that traditionally applied in the government and especially in the Senate. Look no further than the court packing that occurred with the refusal to take up President Obama’s nominee to the Court eight months before an election, and the subsequent rush job to put Mr. Trump’s nominee on the Court eight days before Election Day after nearly 60 million Americans had already voted.

Constitutionally, the Republicans were well within their power to do both of those deeds, no matter how much it reeks of hypocrisy. It was legal. However, one of my guiding principles has been that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. In my view, that idea should apply to the Democrats as well.

With that in mind, let’s look at the three dilemmas facing a Democratic government.

Investigate and Prosecute. What to do about Mr. Donald J. Trump who has abused just about every principle in the book and enriched himself and his family throughout his term? My nuanced answer is “it depends.” There is a precedent. Following President Nixon’s resignation, President Ford pardoned him of all crimes. The argument was that the country had already been through very rough times so do not protract it. Move on and start over. As President Ford said “our long national nightmare is over.”

I am not sure that we can do that with Mr. Trump. No president can be prosecuted for bad policy, the voters take care of that. However, if evidence comes to light that Mr. Trump was knowingly aiding and abetting a foreign adversary, for example, then an investigation and possible prosecution are very necessary. We now know that no counter-intelligence or national security investigation was ever conducted to look into Mr. Trump’s activities. The Mueller Investigation did not touch on those issues. The impeachment process did not look into that either.

We have also learned that federal and New York state District Attorneys are looking into Mr. Trump’s finances and possible crimes (like racketeering) prior to his entering office — and maybe while in office.

I say to let the chips fall where they may. If Mr. Biden is president he should have absolutely no involvement in any investigation or prosecution of Mr. Trump or his associates. Let the District Attorneys finish their investigations and decide whether or not to prosecute. This will be difficult to do as many in this country will readily assume that such action is merely one more thing on the list of “persecutions” Mr. Trump has “endured.” I think that in the current era it is necessary to show that no one is above the law if they knowingly commit crimes. Even if Mr. Trump is pardoned (there are multiple scenarios that might apply to make that happen) it would only apply to federal laws. State laws fall under a different jurisdiction and can only be pardoned by the respective governors. Just follow the money. If it leads to Mr. Trump, his children, any of his associates or Trump, Inc. just play it straight as the justice system would pursue any other citizen. If there is nothing there, then so be it.

End the Filibuster. The Senate was designed to be different than the House of Representatives. Until just over one hundred years ago with the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators were not directly elected by the people. They were separate from the rabble that elects the House (also why we have an Electoral College) and therefore would be more deliberate, thoughtful and statesmanlike. One of the great Senate rules that helped to promote that atmosphere and to provide an opportunity for compromise is the filibuster. While one Senator could theoretically hold up the works, in practice it often resulted in compromises in order to get the two-thirds (later changed to 60) votes required to move legislation and Senate confirmed nominees.

There are now calls to end the filibuster. Such calls are nothing new, especially when one party or the other feels shut out or stymied in moving their projects forward. Then Minority Leader McConnell used the filibuster to stop the confirmation of federal judges under President Obama, leading then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to go “nuclear” and change the Senate rules to require only a simple majority to confirm federal judges. Anticipating President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, now Majority Leader McConnell knew that his narrow majority would not likely be able to get Supreme Court nominees confirmed following his dirty trick blocking Merrick Garland from the Court, so he changed the rules to only require a simple majority for confirmation of Supreme Court Justices. Both actions were huge mistakes.

Without the filibuster, the Senate becomes a small House of Representatives. The majority can ram through any legislation they want on a simple majority. The Senate is already way too partisan, ending the filibuster will only make it more so. There will be no need to compromise on anything.

The Democrats know that Mr. McConnell will do anything in his power to move his agenda. They run the risk of him, or another Republican Majority Leader, doing away with the filibuster in the future. It is a risk they should take. There can be little to no progress in regaining civility in government and consequently in the country if all of the rules go out the window and only pure partisan politics is in play. The Senate will cease to be the body it was envisioned to be if the rules change to favor only one party.

Change the Number of Justices. Likewise, I think the same way about the Supreme Court. The number of Justices is determined by law, not by the Constitution and can be changed. It can reasonably be argued that the Republicans already packed the federal justice system. When in the majority they blocked nearly every nominee of President Obama to every federal court. They stopped the nomination of Judge Garland. It could be reasonably argued that two of the three seats filled by Mr. Trump were stolen seats. Regardless, I think it a mistake to add three or more (as has been suggested) Justices to create a more “balanced” judiciary. Follow the current rules and make them work. The Democrats got outmaneuvered by Mr. McConnell. He plays hard ball and will use every trick in the book to get what he wants. Use the rules to get to where the country needs to be, but do not change them for partisan reasons.

The political partisan vibe needs to change. Mr. Trump has been many things including the worst president ever. He also exacerbated the divisions in our country for his own egomaniacal and profit making reasons. Let’s change that atmosphere. Besides, if the Republicans refuse to go along and restore a measure of compromise, then you can change the rules.

There is of course another remedy. That is through legislation. Pass laws to institutionalize the norms of government that we expect. Pass laws that provide health care that can pass review by the courts, for example, should the Affordable Care Act be overturned. Pass a law explicitly institutionalizing same sex marriage. And so forth. Use the existing rules through legislation to overcome any interpretation made by nine citizens.

I look forward to the new era that will dawn at noon on 20 January 2021. We all need to work together to move out from under the pandemic — to me a symbol of all that is wrong with the current administration. When we defeat the virus through national cooperation and neighbor helping neighbor, let’s keep that spirit and apply it to our political discourse.

Party Like It’s 1852 Again

As the cliché goes, history often repeats itself.  1852 marked the effective end of the Whig Party, a political party that had elected four presidents and that generally favored the supremacy of Congress over the presidency, based on the Constitution.  It evolved for a while into the Know Nothing Party which was virulently anti-immigrant, especially against Catholic immigrants.  Eventually, mostly along regional lines over the issue of slavery, and forged by the Civil War, the modern Republican and Democrat parties emerged.

I am a strong believer in the two-party system.  In my lifetime, our country at times has veered right of center and left of center, depending on the election of one party over the other.  But I believe that the majority of Americans are moderate and centrist, with tendencies that cause them to lean left or right at various times over differing issues, but in the end, we mostly want to stay in the middle of the road.  We stay there without careening blindly over the cliff thanks to our two-party system.  It is self-correcting as one party or the other pulls its opponent back towards the middle when things start to get too wacky.  I am concerned that we are about to lose that balanced system as it appears to me that the Republican Party is about to self-destruct, much like the Whigs in the mid-19th century, over politicians and policies that no longer fit the main stream.  The reasons are many.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and by Wednesday morning we may wake up to the inevitability of Mr. Donald Trump (R-Manhattan) as the presumptive Republican nominee for president.  There is no need for me to list the many insults he has thrown at various groups around the country or to point out that he has no literate policy in any area of significance to this country other than to build a wall.  His nomination will create a dilemma for many main stream Republicans.  Support their nominee, chosen by the people and for the people, or not?  Whether or not individual voters continue to support him in the general election, he will have destroyed the Republican Party as we know it.  Even a cursory look at his statements (it is difficult to call them policies) indicate that he is all over the map on defense, foreign policy, healthcare, taxes, understanding the Constitution, trade, the economy and just about everything else. Few of his pronouncements match long-standing Republican policies.  Should he be elected, I am not sure how the rest of the Republican Party will align with his ideas, whether or not the Republicans continue to control both the House and the Senate.  (It may be hard for Republicans to hold onto the Senate with Mr. Trump at the top of their ticket.)  Those that think Mr. Trump will be better than any Democrat may be in for a rude awakening.  Regardless, under Mr. Trump, the Republican Party will not continue to exist as we know it today.

Couple the thought of Mr. Trump as president (gasp!) with current events in the House and Senate. In the House of Representatives, the compromise budget hammered out as former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was being driven out of the Congress by his own party is now in jeopardy. The bipartisan agreement on the budget was to make 2016 non-controversial, get the Congress back to the business of running the country, and allow for other issues to get addressed in “regular order.” In the last few days, however, the Republican Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 Tea Party Representatives that caused the revolt that resulted in the government shut down in 2013, are now threatening to do the same thing again this year.  They do not plan to follow the budget agreement that all sides thought was in place.  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is going to have his hands full dealing with this rebellion, just as Speaker Boehner did before him.  In many ways it is a battle within the Congress, among Republicans, as to the future of their party.

In the Senate, not much is getting accomplished.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) seems intent on shutting the government down through inaction.  So far, nothing of substance that President Obama put forward has been, or apparently will be, considered. Senator McConnell and his fellow Republicans have moved from just disagreeing with or opposing the president’s policies, to being down right insulting.  There are numerous examples as to how they are doing this to a “lame duck” president (for the record, an elected official is a lame duck only after an election where their replacement has been duly elected — not the full last year in office), but let me just throw out a few.

Earlier this month, the president sent his budget plan for fiscal year 2017 to the Congress. Before it officially arrived in the House and Senate, the Republican leadership rejected it in total.  Their prerogative of course, but one would think that they should actually take a look at it before rejecting it. However, that was not sufficient in their view.  For the first time in 41 years, the Congress did not even provide the courtesy of inviting the budget director to testify before Congress about what was in the plan. The Republican chairs of the respective budget committees announced before the budget was released that they would not invite the director to testify because they were not interested in knowing anything about what was in it.

Another example can be found in the video released last week by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) where he makes a show of taking President Obama’s plan to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba and wadding it up into a ball and shooting it into the trash can without reading it.  One may disagree about the efficacy of closing the prison, but why make it into an insult?  (See: Trump, Donald.)

Biggest in the news, and the one that most worries me, is the refusal of the Senate leadership to abide any nomination by the president to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court following the untimely passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.  No nominee is named — but they already promise to refuse to provide even the most basic of traditional American political processes and will not meet with the nominee.  I have seen the tapes of then Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and then Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) saying during Republican presidential administrations that the president should not be allowed to nominate a justice in their last year as president.  Two things come to mind.  We seem to be on a giant national play ground so let me use a grade school admonition:  two wrongs don’t make a right.  More importantly, Senator Obama and Senator Biden never actually stopped a nominee from coming before the Senate.  They may have voted against some, but they did not stop them and they certainly did not prevent the process from playing out as it should.  If Republicans do not like the nominee, fine.  Don’t vote for the person.  But to be rude and insulting by refusing to meet with and provide due consideration is ridiculous.  It is their job — do it.   It is also bad politics.  Think about it.

The country is angry and about to nominate Donald Trump as a major party nominee.  Much of that anger is directed at the Senate and House for not doing their jobs.  It seems that strategically and tactically Senator McConnell is off base.  No Republican needs to vote for any nominee (although if qualified, they should follow American tradition and do so) but by not allowing any nominee to be vetted in the Senate, they play right into the Democrat’s hands.  Talk about rallying the Democrat’s base — this will do it and probably lead to some incumbent Republican Senators losing their re-election campaigns. Follow the process, use the system to their advantage, keep the seat vacant but do it by following the rules.  I am not sure what he is thinking unless he is afraid that some Republicans might actually vote for the president’s nominee if that person is qualified.  What a tragedy that would be.

Senator McConnell’s thinking is also short-sighted.  To satisfy the base now, he is willing to take a chance on the future.  President Obama would likely nominate a moderate to the Supreme Court this year because he knows  that is the only way his nominee has any chance at all to be confirmed.  What kind of nominee will a President Trump put forward?  Does Senator McConnell think that a President Clinton will put up a nominee more to his liking?  Hardly. (Fantasy:  President Clinton nominates Barack Obama for the empty Supreme Court seat.  Now that would be something to behold.) If Senator McConnell wants to see a more moderate nominee, his best chance is now, not after the election. Especially as his argument is that “the people” should have their say — well they will, and both presumptive presidential nominees are surely likely to put forward someone less palatable to the Senate.

(History lesson:  Chief Justice John Marshall, perhaps one of the greatest to sit in that chair, was nominated by John Adams in late January 1801 — months after the election of Thomas Jefferson as president.  The Senate confirmed him and he took the bench on the 4th of February, one month before President Adams left office.  President Jefferson accepted the appointment because the Constitution gives the president and the Senate the power to appoint members of the court.  Nothing in the Constitution says anything about “lame ducks” which in this case, both the president and some members of the Senate most certainly were.  These are the “Founding Fathers” that so many now refer to as the justification for their actions.  These Founding Fathers knew the Constitution, were certainly “originalists,” and guess what?)

Why do I think this is important to Republicans and that they should change their approach? Because taken together, and in conjunction with other similar events and the mood of the nation, the soul of the party is at risk.  I worry that the back lash, and continued infighting within the party, will destroy or at least splinter the current Republican Party.  Whether that new political entity will be better or worse than what exists now, I certainly cannot say.  However, I am concerned about another Know Nothing Party emerging, for however short of a time.  Without two strong mainstream political parties, both vibrant and reflecting the core values of our nation, we will lose our way in the middle of the road and careen recklessly off of it and over a cliff.