What if We Abolish the Electoral College (concluded)

Principled and historical reasons can be lodged for and against the Electoral College, but the present partisan divide indicates that both Democrats and Republicans believe that if the national popular vote had been determinative, Al Gore would have won the presidency in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. However, that should not be assumed because if the popular vote had controlled, the vote totals for the candidates would have been different.

With a direct election, all voters throughout the country would have had an equal incentive to vote because all votes would have mattered equally, which, of course, does not exist now. An additional 50,000 votes for Trump or Clinton in New York or California or Texas would have changed nothing under our present system. With the direct election of the president, voters in safe states would have more incentive to go to the polls than now, and we would probably have more voters. My guess is that the minority candidate in a “safe” district would especially benefit. Where I vote, Democratic candidates are almost assured of winning not only the presidential vote, but also for all the other ballot spots. For many people, it is more satisfying to vote for winners than losers. If I had supported Trump, it would have taken some unusual strength to do the dispiriting thing of walking the block to the local junior high to fill in the bubble in front of Trump’s name because he was going to lose New York overwhelmingly. But, of course, the comparable dispirited Clinton supporter also existed in Alabama and Mississippi. I don’t know how the totals would have changed, but if the Electoral College had not existed in 2016, I am confident the totals would have been different from what got tallied as the total popular vote.

The direct election of the president would probably increase the number of voters. It would definitely change the nature of the campaigns. With hindsight, Hillary Clinton was criticized for not campaigning in Wisconsin. That criticism is understandable. She polled 27,000 fewer votes than Trump there giving Trump won the Badger State’s ten electoral votes. The critics’ assumption is that if Clinton had campaigned harder in the Dairy State (should a state be allowed two nicknames?), she might have switched some Trump voters to her or, more likely, convinced some who voted Libertarian or Green to vote for her. And perhaps more campaigning would have meant that some of those who sat on their hands would have come out to vote for her. If her campaign had brought one percent more to the polls to vote for her, she would have won Wisconsin.

That one percent, however, would have been about thirty thousand more votes. With a direct election, this extra targeting might not make sense, and Clinton probably would have spent more time in several other states where she, and Trump, did little campaigning—California and New York. Candidates do visit these states, but usually for fundraising, not traditional campaigning. The assumption under our present system is that both these states are safe for the Democrats and campaigning there by both sides is a waste of time. If the national popular vote controlled, however, both Hillary and Donald would have made campaign efforts in these states since an increase of a one percent turnout for the candidates in those places could mean 100,000 or more votes to the national total.

The abolition of the Electoral College would not just mean a change in the location of campaign efforts, it would also make a difference in campaign promises. Think about Iowa and the primaries. Don’t all candidates swear to defend ethanol because they think defending the corn crop is high on the list of Iowa voters? If Michigan is viewed as a swing state, candidates appearing in Lansing or Battle Creek can be expected to make promises that especially appeal to Michigan voters. In safe states, such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, candidates do not have to make the kind of pandering promises they make in swing states. If, however, each vote truly mattered as much in Mississippi as in Michigan, candidates might have the same incentive to pander in both places.

But under the system we have, and I expect that we will continue to have, each vote for president is not equal. The swing states count more and get more from the candidates.

As a result, however we view the structure of our government, we should not refer to it as a democracy.

What if We Abolish the Electoral College?

Prominent Democrats have called for the end of the Electoral College, that unusual device through which we select our president. A Representative from Hawaii has introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish it and use the national popular vote to choose our chief executive. Conservatives now defend the Electoral College. You might think this indicates some sort of principled split over basic constitutional principles; you might think that if you were ill-informed. The defenders of the present system, of course, want the status quo because they believe it favors Republicans while the reformers believe Democrats would benefit from a national popular vote. These inclinations are fueled by recent history. Twice in the last generation we have inaugurated presidents who did not get the most votes, and both of them were Republicans.

We did not always have this partisan divide over the Electoral College. The 1968 election produced a close national popular vote but a much wider margin in the Electoral College. Six months before that election, 66 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats stated that the Electoral College should be replaced with a national popular vote. After the election, 80 percent of Americans supported changing the electoral system. In 1969, the House, by 339 to 70, passed a constitutional amendment to select the president by popular vote. The proposal, however, was filibustered to death in the other chamber by Senators from small states.

If such an amendment could not make it through the Senate when the populace overwhelmingly favored it, a similar amendment has no chance in the Senate today. However, reforms of the Electoral College are possible without a constitutional amendment. Most states now have a winner-takes-all approach to the allocation of their electoral votes. Whoever garners the most votes receives all the electoral votes. This method of allocating a state’s electoral votes is a prime reason it is possible for a candidate to get the most votes nationally but lose in the Electoral College. The winner-takes-all rule is not constitutionally required, and some states have modified it by giving an electoral vote to the candidate who wins the most votes in each congressional district with the state’s two other electoral votes going to the candidate who wins the state. Other states have signed onto a national popular vote bill that would give each state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most nationwide votes. The bill would take effect in those states when jurisdictions with a combined 270 electoral votes have enacted it. (Fifteen states with a total of 189 electoral votes have already passed it.)

I think that in a land that likes to tout a government of “We, the People,” the direct election of the president would probably be a good thing. Surely, “We, the People” can be an aspirational concept under our present system where a candidate who does not get the most votes can become president. But in the unlikely event that we get to some system where the president is elected by the national popular vote, we will deepen current controversies about who gets to vote.

We don’t have national voter standards, and this is a problem if the national popular vote is to determine who will be president. For example, states have different laws concerning the disenfranchisement of convicted felons. A few states allow all to vote. Some states permanently bar convicts from voting. Some states prohibit those in prison from voting. And so on. As a result, a higher percentage of the population can be eligible to vote in State A than in State B. And of course, identification laws for voting and provisions for early voting mean some states make it easier or harder to vote. A true national popular vote should have uniform standards on voting eligibility and procedures, but we now leave that to the states. Getting to the needed uniformity seems unlikely even if we managed to implement the direct election of the president.

While states disenfranchise differing portions of its citizenry make a true national popular vote impossible, the direct election of the president would at least lessen the fact that some votes count a lot more than others in our present system. I vote in New York, but my vote for president is, in a practical sense, meaningless. Last election, I could be confident that no matter whether I voted or not, all of New York’s electoral votes would go to Hillary Clinton because she was certain to get a majority of the state’s vote. In any “safe” state, be it California, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, or elsewhere, it is clear who will get the electoral votes, and it does not matter whether the winning or losing candidate gets more or fewer votes.

The truly important voters throughout the country are in the “swing” states. In 2016, the votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania mattered much more than in other places.  Each swing-state voter, and non-voter counts much more than those in the safe states. That may not seem American, but it is the American way.

(concluded April 12)

Democracy Indexed and Flawed (concluded)

You might also say that the increasingly undemocratic representation in the Senate is what the founders of the country created. Yes, of course, those who wrote and adopted the Constitution mandated that all states, big or small or in between, would get two seats in the upper house. And perhaps that provision was necessary to get the thirteen states to meld into one country, but that, of course, does not mean that it is right for today. Those founders, unless they were on substances much different from the copious amounts of cider they drank, could not have imagined states with populations approaching 40 million.

The Constitutional framers did not create a Senate with hopes that a small portion of the population would control the Senate. A national census had not been undertaken when the Constitution was drafted, but the drafters’ views of the relative populations of the states can be seen in the Constitution’s Section 2 of Article I where the document prescribed the allocation of Representatives for the original House. New Hampshire would have three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three, for a total of sixty-five.

The framers thought that the three largest states (this calculation included the infamous three-fifths clause) would have twenty-six representatives, indicating the belief that Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania had 40% of the population. Both Maryland and New York were allocated six Representatives. These five states, the framers believed, had about 57% of the population. Together, of course, they had ten seats in the twenty-six-person Senate, or about 38% of the Senators, while the states with 43% of the population would have 62% of the Senators. This, of course, was an imbalance, but it was nothing like the coming disparity where 50% of the population is expected to live in just eight states by 2040. They will only have 16% of the Senators, and, of course, the minority of the population will have 84% of the Senators.  

Whether or not two-Senators-per-state is a good provision today, it is what we have because of what happened in 1787, not because we of today have determined it is the best policy for our governing structure. But even if almost all of us conclude that we should have some other way of allocating Senators, it won’t be changed. Of course, the Constitution can be amended, which requires approval from two-thirds of each house of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. The states are treated equally, and the lack of approval from thirteen states, no matter what portion of the population they contain, dooms an amendment. The amendment process in general is difficult, but in reality it is impossible for changing the Senate’s composition. The Constitution’s amendment provision, Article V, says that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” I don’t think that I am being overly cynical by concluding that Alaska and Wyoming and other states will not give up their “equal” Senatorial representation.

There is another possibility for ameliorating the increasing undemocratic governmental structure. Large states such as Texas or California could divide themselves into four or six separate states, each with two Senators. The Constitution’s Section 3 of Article IV, however, says that such division can only be done with the consent of Congress. Again, I don’t think that I am being overly cynical by concluding that the Senate, where the overwhelming majority of Senators will come from the smallest states, is not going to approve the admission of such new states into the Union.

So . . . a smaller and smaller minority of the population will select a majority in the Senate. What, if in addition, the electoral college deviates further and further from the majority’s vote? Will “the people” see their government as legitimate? With these governmental structures unchangeable within our Constitutional confines, what will then happen?

The famed philosophers John Lennon and Paul McCartney seemed to advocate a mind change instead of a revolution when change might be desirable but difficult: “You say you want a revolution/ . . . But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know that you can count me out/ . . . You say you’ll change the constitution/Well, you know/We all want to change your head/You tell me it’s the institution/Well, you know/You better free your mind instead. . . .” But at least for me, I don’t think I can change my mind so that rule by an increasingly small minority in my country will really be all right. I don’t want to live in the equivalent of a banana republic.

But then what’s left? With no constitutional method for change, perhaps only the words of Jefferson show the path to a better democracy: “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. . . . It is medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”

Or perhaps we should contemplate the words of Bobby Kennedy: “A revolution is coming—a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough—but a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”

We should start considering the extra-constitutional changes we are assuredly going to face.

Democracy Indexed and Flawed (continued)

          While the Democracy Index lists the United States as a flawed democracy, that categorization will be difficult for many of us to accept. Meanwhile, many who might entertain the idea of that limitation will assume that we are placed in the defective bin because of Trump’s election and his autocratic actions. The Democracy Index, first published in 2006, however, initially listed the United States as a flawed democracy in 2016 before Donald J. Trump became president. Trump may be the result, but he is not the cause, of a flawed democracy.

          And although we may mouth those Fourth-of-July words—government of the people, by the people, and for the people—a little reflection shows that we don’t really believe them. Just look at the polls about confidence in Congress, for example. If we thought that government is of, by, and for us, we should have great confidence in our governing officials and bodies. That is not so. If the U.S. were truly a good and strong democracy, would approval polls for Congress hover around the twenty percent mark?

          Perhaps the surprising aspect of the Democracy Index is that before 2016 it had us in the fully democratic category, for we have always had important problems that conflicted with a fully functioning democracy. We often repeat Lincoln’s of, by, and for formulation, but if our government was so good, how was it that when he uttered them, he was speaking at a cemetery that represented the ongoing slaughter of a civil war? And, of course, the “people” then did not include women, blacks, or Native Americans.

          We have progressed, but our democracy has never been close to perfect. Our Constitution has served us well in many respects. It formed separate states into one nation that has endured, but that does not mean that the Constitution is without flaws. It permits governments to take actions to undercut democratic values, perhaps something that this blog will explore more in the future, but it also created a structure with anti-democratic features, structures that increasingly make our country less democratic.

          We certainly are aware that our method of selecting our president is not fully democratic. If democracy requires that all votes be counted equally and the person with the most votes wins, then the candidate with three million fewer votes than the rival would not become president, but under our semi-democracy, that was the result. (I previously explored the electoral college on April 10, 2019 on this blog. https://ajsdad.blog/?s=electoral.)

          The electoral college, however, is at least roughly democratic in that each state’s electoral votes roughly mirror its population size. The Senate is another story.

          Within each state, the election for Senator is democratic. Every vote in Texas, for example, counts equally in choosing Ted Cruz as Senator, but within the country, votes for Senators are not equal. The Constitution allots Texas two senators. It also gives Wyoming two Senators even though the population of Texas is about fifty times the size of Wyoming’s. In other words, each Wyoming vote for a Senator counts as much as fifty voters in Texas. Hardly democratic.

And the Senate will be increasingly undemocratic. I don’t know the initial source of this statistic, but I have seen it in several publications: By 2040, 70% of the population will live in the fifteen largest states and therefore collectively have thirty Senators while 30% of Americans will have 70% of the Senate.

Of course, even though an ever smaller minority of the population will control the Senate, that does not mean that that minority will be able to legislate for the rest of us. The House of Representatives, even with partisan gerrymandering, more accurately reflects the population trends of the country. (Unrestrained gerrymandering is something for future consideration here.) Senators representing a small portion of the population, however, will be able to stop legislation, and that minority will be able to confirm judges, cabinet officers, and other federal officials. The majority of the country will have even less power than it does now as the Senate becomes more skewed, or we might say, the cracks in our democracy will become chasms.

You might question whether the population trends reflected in that 2040 prediction will continue. People are leaving high-cost-of-living states and moving elsewhere. It is true that California out-migration has exceeded its in-migration. That does not mean, however, that its population has declined. Instead, while the rate of its growth has slowed to a trickle, it still grew by 141,300 from 2018 to 2019, a 0.35% growth rate. However, Wyoming, the state with the smallest population, has fewer than 600,000 residents. Even if miraculously Wyoming grew by 20%, it would add fewer people to its population than California now does. Wyoming would continue to fall behind in this population race, but it will still have the same senatorial representation as California.

It is true that New York, with the fourth largest state population, has lost residents, but so have the small states of West Virginia and Alaska. The New Yorkers who leave do not get in their modern Conestoga wagons and go to these small states. Significant numbers are not heading to West Virginia, Alaska, or even Nebraska, whose growth rate from 2017 to 2018 was only slightly above California’s at 0.6%.

The population disparities among the states will only increase. At the end of the coming generation perhaps 20% of the population will select the Senate’s majority.

(Concluded March 9, 2020)

Democracy Indexed and Flawed

          I had not heard of the Democracy Index until a friend recently mentioned that the United States was listed on it as a “flawed democracy.” I later learned that the index is produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sister to The Economist magazine.

          The EIU bases its report on sixty indicators grouped into five categories (electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties) yielding a numeric score capped at 10.00. Norway, with a score of 9.87, leads the list followed by Iceland (9.58), Sweden (9.39), New Zealand (9.39), and Finland (9.25.) Countries with scores of 8.0 to 6.0 are listed as flawed democracies, and the United States was given a 7.95 score.

          This made me wonder about how I or my fellow Americans would define “democracy.” One dictionary said democracy was “government by the people, especially rule of the majority; government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” Another source said: “a system of government by the whole population of all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” A third source: “the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.”

          These definitions raised all sorts of questions and thoughts. Democracy was government by “the people,” but what was the definition of that entity? Is it the same as “the eligible members of a state”? The whole population cannot vote in an election. Ten-year-olds don’t get to cast a ballot. Isn’t it important to define what the “eligible members of a state” ought to be for a democracy? If the franchise is restricted to a tiny part of the society, but the leaders are picked by majority vote of that small group, is it a democracy? I guess it is, at least according to one definition.

          One democracy definition emphasized majority rule, but I have heard of the “tyranny of the majority,” and wondered if we would consider a country democratic that horrendously oppressed all those not in the majority. And, if a system selects representatives with a plurality but not a majority, is it not democratic or is it a lesser form of democracy?

          One democracy definition said “free elections.” That is not a self-evident phrase. I was not sure how I would define it, or if it could be defined except by negative examples.

          Even though I felt as if I would know a democracy when I saw it, I was not sure that it could be defined. Part of the problem is that the definitions, like most definitions, were binary—something was either this or not this. Something was not “sort of” this or a “better or more complete version” of this. The Democracy Index, however, accepts a more inclusive notion of democracy. Many societies are democratic, but some are more democratic than others, and I probably thought along similar lines.

          I did think, however, that third definition included a component the others did not when it said a democracy was a system of government based on the belief of equality among people. For me, I realized, a facet of a better democracy is that the ability to vote is widespread, indicating equality among the people, and that all voters’ votes count the same, again indicating equality among the people. The elected representatives of the society are chosen by determining who had the most votes cast in an election where all the voters have equal access to cast ballots and all votes carry equal weight.

          I also noticed an important absence in all the definitions. They had agreed that a representative democracy had the electorate picking people to represent them in government. But the definitions do not say that the people or the electorate choose the form of government in which their representatives will govern. But surely, the structure of the government has something to do with democracy. And “democratic” countries can be structured in ways that seem to make them more or less democratic. If our government is a flawed democracy as the Democracy Index asserts, part of the reason is that the governmental structure we have makes votes unequal. Our form of government means that some Americans count much more than others in choosing those who run the country. We are not, and cannot, be equal under our form of government. And the people of today have not chosen the structures causing inequality and a lesser form of democracy. Our forebears did that.

(Continued March 6)

The First Was Not Always the First (continued)

          The rights of the First Amendment cannot be considered the most important because they come first; they were proceeded by freedoms in the main body of the Constitution. But perhaps we still should regard the First Amendment rights as the most important in the Bill of Rights because, of course, they come before all the other ones in those ten amendments. That placement, however, was not the intention of those who drafted these provisions. The First Amendment rights come first not because of the drafters’ design but because of a historical happenstance.

          The original Congress passed twelve, not ten amendments, by the required two-thirds majority of each House. These proposals were submitted to the states, but the requisite three-quarters of the states only ratified ten of the twelve, and those ten, the Bill of Rights, went into effect December 15, 1791. The two that were not adopted were the first two provisions passed by Congress, and not surprisingly, were labeled by Congress as the First and Second Amendments. What is now our First Amendment was labeled the Third Amendment. Indeed, well into the nineteenth century courts referred to the amendments by the numbers Congress used, and early judges wrote about our First Amendment as the Third Amendment.

          The congressional framers of our Bill of Rights did not place our First Amendment rights first. And there is nothing to indicate that the states somehow concluded that the Third Amendment, as it came to them, contained the most important rights and consequently refused to ratify the first two proposals to bump that Third Amendment to the head of the queue. It is a mere fortuity that the protections in our First Amendment come first in the additions to the main body of the Constitution, and no importance should be accorded its placement. The notion that our country’s founders regarded First Amendment protections as the most important because they placed them first in the Bill of Rights is revisionist history.

          On the other hand, while the First Amendment’s placement does not indicate the importance of its protections, its rights are foundational to what we would consider a “free” society. That is not true for much of what is in the rest of the Bill of Rights. Many of its provisions are America-specific. We have them but other countries have not considered them necessary for freedom. Most nations do not have the constitutional equivalent of our Third Amendment, which restricts the quartering of soldiers in homes. Many free societies have justice systems that do not rely on juries as we do. Most countries do not have in their constitutions the right to keep and bear arms. Indeed, our overall structure of government mandated by the Constitution with a President selected by an electoral college, a Congress, and separation of powers has not been deemed necessary for many free societies.

          Free nations do not need all of what is in our Constitution, but it is hard to imagine a country we would consider free that did not have free speech and a free press. We may not think about the ability to assemble as much as speech and press, but people need to be able to come together for many reasons: comradeship, grieving, exchanging ideas, protestation, worship, laughter, dinner, and much, much more. Without a right to assemble peaceably, a society would not be free. And a society is not free if governmental communication only goes one way, from the government to the people.  In a free society, the government is the instrument of those it governs. Freedom requires citizens and others to be able to tell the government of perceived problems and improvements. Whether we label this the right to petition the government or something else, it is essential.

          But when Education Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Gonzalez were referring to the primacy of the First Amendment, they were not drawing attention to speech, press, assembly, and petition rights, guarantees that tend to complicate the lives of government officials. (Right now, I am looking at you, Mike Pompeo.) Instead, they were stressing the importance of the free exercise clause, a guarantee that may not be even needed when other First Amendment rights are preserved. When there is freedom of speech, a person can preach, pray, and proselytize. With freedom of the press, Bibles and Korans can be printed as can religious tracts of every sort. With a right of assembly, people can come together to worship, hear sermons and homilies, and join together in singing and praying. The provisions of the First Amendment that generally guarantee a free society also guarantee freedom of religion. Seventeenth century England had criminalized Quaker services. Even without the free exercise clause, that could not happen in America with free speech, a free press, and the right to assemble.

(continued February 10)

Greenland . . . Our New Manifest Destiny (concluded)

One of those in the Trump-is-brilliant camp is Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. He recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times. (Why is that when conservatives want to be taken as deep thinkers they so often publish in the “failing” Times? Mitch McConnell also placed an op-ed article with the “enemy of the people” the previous week. His piece was one about the importance of filibusters for our constitutional government and glossed over how he had removed those all-important filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.) Cotton contended that the Greenlanders should welcome coming under American sovereignty. Denmark now subsidizes Greenland to the tune of at least $650 million dollars annually. America has more money than does the Danish government, so we can do even better for the Greenlanders, Cotton maintained. The Senator surprised me. He wants to commit to a new and expensive welfare program. He opposes entitlement programs for American citizens, but he wants to open up the floodgates for those who are now foreigners. Is this the new conservatism? What do Cotton and the others feel about increased federal support for Puerto Rico? Or have I underestimated Trump? Were his remarks merely an opening salvo, and his real goal is to swap Puerto Rico for Greenland? The Art of the Deal may be more subtle than I ever thought.

I wonder, if in stating that America can increase governmental moneys in Greenland, whether Cotton has examined where the Danish subsidies go. Health care in Greenland is paid for by the government, and Danish subsidies support that. Cotton, who adamantly opposes the Affordable Care Act, expects America to expand single-payer medical services in the new possession. And here I thought that Trump supporters believed in America first!

Does Cotton realize that part of the healthcare in Greenland is for abortion on demand. Greenland now has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. In fact, abortions have exceeded live births in recent years. (Remember those long nights.) He supports the laws that prevent the federal government from paying anything for abortions in the United States no matter how poor the woman or how the pregnancy—think rape and incest–occurred, but Cotton wants to increase funding for this medical procedure in Greenland. (I am told that when residents of Greenland’s capital Nuuk do want a baby, they say, “Let’s have a little Nuukie.”) And perhaps Cotton should also examine how education is funded in Greenland.

Cotton is a hardliner about our immigration system, concerned that Mexicans and Central Americans are lured here by all the goodies they can get out of our government. Shouldn’t he and other conservatives then be concerned that when we increase the freebies to Greenlanders, illegal immigration will uncontrollably increase there as refugees see Greenland as a new land of welfare opportunity? Perhaps Cotton, who supports Trump’s border wall, is already planning to build a wall around Greenland to stop the illegal immigration that he must think will inevitably occur. Perhaps Cotton ought to give at least an estimate as to how much federal money he thinks we will spend over there.

I also wonder if Cotton and the other Trump-is-marvelous crowd have thought about the status of those who would fall under American sovereignty. If we own Greenland, will we provide a path to American citizenship for those who live there, or will they automatically be citizens? Will they have an unfettered right to permanent residence in the United States? If so, how long does one have to be a Greenlander for that right? Puerto Ricans are American citizens and can come and go to the United States whenever they wish. Guam, which we own, is similar. Those born on Guam are American citizens who can move to the rest of America. (For reasons I don’t understand while Guamanians have birthright citizenship, those born in American Samoa do not.) If Greenland is to be treated like Guam, aren’t conservatives concerned that refugees will flock to Greenland and have ice-floe babies who will be American citizens who can freely emigrate to America? I am guessing that before conservatives will grapple with such questions, they will have to ascertain whether Greenlanders lean Democratic or Republican. And perhaps even more important: Will there be a path to statehood for Greenland? Just because they have fewer than 60,000 people doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have two Senators and three electoral votes, just as long as they vote Republican.

We have acquired much territory through purchase in our history. As far as I know, we never sought to find out whether the people who already lived on those lands desired a new sovereign. In essence, they were treated like Russian serfs. You buy the land, you buy the people on the land. Should we who proclaim democracy and government of “we the people” continue such a feudal practice? Will there be some sort of plebiscite; will the leaders of Greenland be consulted? (I have no idea who the chief griot of Greenland is, but I am confident neither does our president. However, there is a good chance that Melania knows that person well.)

The Fox News writer points out, however, that we have bought lands before—including the Louisiana purchase, the Gadsden Purchase, Florida, and Alaska, and he concludes that Trump could simply buy Greenland. Hold on–it has never been that simple. We do have a Constitution and the consent of Congress or the Senate has been necessary for those purchases. We may say that President Jefferson and Secretary of State Monroe made the Louisiana Purchase, but in fact Congress ratified and authorized the funds for it. The Gadsden Purchase and the acquisitions of Florida, Alaska, and other lands came via treaties together with the authorization of the funds from Congress. A treaty, of course, requires not just the consent of the Senate, but consent by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Do you really think that is going to happen? Or does Trump have another trick up his sleeve that he will maintain justifying him in his mind to take unilateral action and do another end run around our Constitution—that document that conservatives proclaim to love so dearly?

Snippets–Mueller Edition

The Mueller rohrshachs along. One pod of pundits proclaims, “Total exoneration.” A coven of commentators ignores any exoneration and points out that the president repeatedly lied and tried to get others to lie. Pusillanimous politicians repeat that there was no collusion with the Russians. A jeremiad of journalists catalogs all the contacts between Trump people and Russians. And so on.

The interpretations, characterizations, and mischaracterizations of the Mueller report fly about, but all ought to home in on the most important part of the report: the Russians interfered in our election. “Interfered,” however, is a polite word, a euphemism. We should label the Russian actions more forthrightly. The Russians attacked us. A fighter plane does not have to be shot down, a literal bomb does not have to be dropped, to be attacked. When the Russians took steps to subvert our election, they attacked us.  Conservatives don’t won’t to dwell on this because the Russians were trying to get Trump elected. Liberals seem to gloss over the interference because they feel that they can’t get Trump if he did not overtly collude with the Russians.

We all ought to agree, however, that we need to stop the Russian intervention. You can ask your elected officials whether they think all investigations of the president should stop or whether impeachment procedures should begin, but you should first be asking those who represent you, and asking them again, what measures do they support to lessen the possibility of a Russian attack in our next election? And don’t just address your national politicians. States and localities should also be taking steps for securing our elections, which is to say, securing our Republic. Ask your state and local officials what they are doing to prevent future subversions of our electoral process. The most important takeaway from the Mueller investigation should be that the Russians attacked us, and the most depressing takeaway is that we don’t seem to be doing anything about it.

 

 

“A lack of mental agility was not necessarily a handicap in Washington.” Scott L. Malcomson, One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventures of Race.

 

 

If the Russians attack us again in 2020, and we seem to be doing little to prevent that, who will the Russians try to get elected? They worked for Trump in 2016, but don’t assume that they will necessarily support the incumbent unless you know why the enigmatic Russians did it. If they affirmatively wanted him, it might only seem natural for the Russians to stay on the same train, but we don’t really know what the mysterious Putin and friends wanted from the reality TV performer. If they haven’t got whatever it was or they have already gotten what they wanted, will they hop off the train? If, however, they helped him not because they wanted to kiss his cheeks but because they adamantly opposed the election of Hillary Clinton, they might not promote Trump in a Clinton-less election. And if the Russians’ goal is simply to weaken the United States by spreading discord in America, who will they hack for? The Russians could conclude that they sowed discontent and a loss of faith in America among those who opposed Trump last time. Thus, they might reason, we won’t produce much new discord by using that strategy again, but those Trump supporters may go ballistic if he loses. So, let’s support the Democratic nominee. And what would be reactions if they did that? It’s a riddle.

Principles and Partisanship

Ronald Reagan also changed the Republican party by proclaiming that government was the enemy. Following Reagan, Republicans did not promise to govern more efficiently or more wisely than Democrats. Instead they denounced government as the problem and promised to oppose government. When the GOP was primarily a party of big business, Republicans may have supported measures to improve capital markets or certain sorts of infrastructure spending that could help businesses. At one time, they might have been concerned about climate change because of the harm it could do to the economy. But no longer. Government is the enemy except, perhaps, for defense spending and building a border wall. It is bad or evil if it accomplishes anything else. And what better way to lessen government than by reducing taxes, especially on those who support me, the rich and the corporations. If you proclaim government is the enemy, then creating a dysfunctional Congress is a godsend.

It followed, then, if lack of government and dysfunctionality are desirble, Republicans increasingly used cloture. Cloture is the procedure that requires sixty votes for a Senate action. It was once the method of ending a filibuster. Even though the Senate no longer has those throat-draining, sleep-depriving filibusters of yore, the threat of a filibuster can still require cloture, or a three-fifths vote, for the Senate to move on. In 1970, there were fifteen cloture motions. In the 1980s, for a two-year Congress, the Senate never had more than eighty cloture motions, but when the Democrats gained the Senate majority after the 2006 elections, the Republicans seeking to block the majority filed 139 and 137 cloture motions in the 2007-08 and 2009-10 Congresses. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, had adopted the threat of a filibuster as a basic tactic.

By preventing the majority from acting, cloture conforms to the idea that government is the enemy, but it also fits the new conservatism in another way. Traditional conservatives pledged to support traditional values and practices. The new conservative Senate Republicans led by McConnell changed that. Traditionally, cloture was rare. Under McConnell, those Senatorial values were abandoned to the greater partisan good of denying Democrats the ability to act. Tradition be damned.

McConnell’s famous statement that his priority was to make sure that Barack Obama was not reelected elevates partisanship over country.  McConnell was not interested in whether an Obama proposal was good for the country, only in denying Obama victories that might get that president reelected.  Something similar was at work with the Dodd-Frank act, Kaiser indicates. Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, who was vulnerable to electoral defeat the following November, decided not to seek reelection. Kaiser concludes that Dodd’s decision greatly aided passage of the act that sought to prevent future 2008-like financial crises. McConnell did not do everything within his power to defeat the act. However, Kaiser maintains that if Dodd had sought to return to the Senate, McConnell would have spared no effort to defeat the bill. He would have wanted to deny Dodd a victory that Dodd could have touted in his reelection campaign. Partisanship before the good of the country.

The Dodd-Frank history also shows that partisanship came before honest debate. Republicans opposing the bill simply made up stuff about what was in the proposed legislation. It didn’t matter if what they said was true as long as it sounded like it was true to partisans. Distorting the truth kills serious discussion, for, Kaiser points out, “Without an agreed set of facts, meaningful debate is impossible.” The make-stuff-up crowd has only increased since then. It hardly matters if it is demonstrated a conservative’s facts are fantasy. (We are not just talking about the president here. The fact-checking sites have found that conservatives make “misstatements” more frequently than non-conservatives.) The fantastical just keeps coming. What Christopher Dodd found out a decade ago has even wider application today. He tried to shame Mitch McConnell about his indifference to the truth. Kaiser wryly remarks that shaming McConnell was “not an easy task.”

(continued March 27)

The Anti-American Fox News Commentator

Steve Hilton was on Fox News last Sunday. I watched for a bit. I find that watching anyone on Fox tends to tell me what others on that network are saying (independent minds seem to be rare there) and what other conservatives, in and out of government, are also saying. A little Fox-watching does double and triple duty. But I found it hard to gauge the worth of Hilton’s  ideas because he couched them in rhetoric that was ignorant and disturbing.

Hilton contended that those who were opposing actions by the president were “anti-democratic.” He went on to contend that Trump’s trade proposals, border security including a wall, and Trump’s foreign policies had been “explicitly” chosen by America and Americans in the last presidential election. He went on to suggest that those who opposed such policies were trying to subvert the rule of law.

It is safe to say that Americans did vote for these positions. But it is also safe to say Americans voted against them. Our presidential elections are not unanimous. However, it is not right to say that America voted for them. Trump was duly elected and is our president, but he was not democratically elected unless we are changing the meaning of “democratic.” In a democracy, the most votes win. Trump did not get a majority of the electorate. He did not even get the most votes. He was duly elected because we do not have democratic presidential elections, and since a democratic process did not choose him, it can’t be anti-democratic to oppose his policies. If Hilton is really serious about democracy, perhaps he should have concluded that it is democratic to side with the majority of the voters who did not vote for the president.

Even the minority of Americans who voted for Trump probably did not vote “explicitly” for all his policies. For example, some probably voted for him because of a promise to cut corporate tax rates but did not support his trade policies. Many may have voted for him because of a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with something better but did not care about a Mexican-financed border wall. And so on.

It is also hard to say that an American explicitly voted for his policies when Trump’s promises shift. Hilton did not mention that if “America” voted for a wall, it also can be said that it voted for a wall paid for by Mexico. Did America vote for a “beautiful concrete” barrier, or also something less substantial and much like what had previously been erected and met with derision from Trump?

But even if Trump had gotten the support of a majority, it is demagogic to suggest that those opposing him are somehow against the rule of law. We do not live in a country where citizens are required to march in line behind the president. Our rule of law gives Americans the right to speak out and, [gasp,] oppose the president. Americans have done that from the time of George Washington until today. Even though Obama got voting majorities, many on Fox and other conservatives opposed and blocked his policies. Part of the reason this can be considered a free country is that we are not required to support a duly-elected president’s policies. As long as we use lawful methods, we have the right to try to defeat or prevent a president’s policies.

Hilton’s comments also ignore that while the president is not democratically elected, Representatives and Senators are. Unlike the president, a Representative and a Senator must get the most votes to be elected, and in our system, no one in Congress owes their first fealty to the president. They aren’t selected by the president, but by their constituents, and those constituents may have “explicitly” voted for a Senator or a Representative because there were promises to oppose presidential policies. These congresspeople, we could say, would be acting anti-democratically if they did not follow through on their pledges. (As I have written before, while each Senator is democratically elected, the Senate as a whole is not a democratic body. The people are not truly represented in the Senate; states are, and a distinct minority of the American people choose the majority in the Senate. (See https://ameliasdad.blog/?s=%22We%2C+the+People%22.) While Hilton seemed to be suggesting that opposition to presidential policies, or at least the policies of this president, was anti-American, that suggestion itself is anti-American.

And, of course, it seems more than a bit ludicrous to label as anti-democratic opposition to presidential policies when those policies often flip-flop. As Hilton adamantly maintained that Americans in the 2016 election supported the immediate removal of troops from Syria as Trump had announced but a few days earlier, Trump appointee (and the person who before Trump came along vied for the position as the scariest person in government) John Bolton was announcing that Trump’s unconditional position was not really the administration’s position. Then to make the president’s position even fuzzier, Trump asserted that he had never said that he was going to order an immediate removal of American troops from Syria. (As Warner Wolf, the sports reporter, used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape.”)

This all made me wonder about Hilton’s position. If I opposed Trump’s earlier position for the immediate removal of troops, was I being anti-democratic because Trump’s had pledged that withdrawal during his successful campaign? If America had explicitly chosen the immediate troops-out position, was Trump being anti-democratic by then announcing a different policy? If I were supporting the rule of law by supporting Trump’s first position, was I now un-American by opposing his new position?  And what should I conclude about Trump changing his positions?

I am not suggesting that Trump’s policies should be opposed because he was not democratically elected. Our president is never democratically elected. I am suggesting, however, that his policies should not be supported simply because he was elected under our strange electoral system and that opposing his policies is not anti-democratic or against the rule of law. To voice one’s opinion in support or in opposition and to act lawfully on that opinion is American.