Today is the Sixth of January

I had been thinking of various essays to commemorate today, January 6, often known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Several topics came to mind.

First, I thought I might write about the bizarre time the spouse and I were ordered by a man to hide behind some columns in a dark crypt inside an Mayan pyramid in Yucatan, and then we think we were invited by this man (we think it only because we had such trouble understanding his English) to a neighborhood Three Kings party. P.S. We didn’t go.

            Then I thought I might write about how some traditions call the Magi Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar even though these names are not in the Bible. I would continue by noting that not all Christian faiths limit the Magi to three or agree that the wise men visited shortly after Jesus was born. Thus, s0me denominations have as many as twelve Magi and some have the adoration by them occurring up to two years after the birth. I might include that we refer to them as “kings” even though that designation does not appear in the Bible.

            And then I thought I might explore different gift-giving traditions observing that various cultures share presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 5, or 6,  some on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and others on January 6.

            I have several times been in New Orleans on January 6 and have always been served Three Kings cake then.  I planned to write amusingly about that tiny plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake, which I think is tacky. The essay would have continued with a discussion of Mardi Gras.

            However, I have been distracted today from thinking about the religious, social, and cultural aspects of January 6. All such thoughts have recently been replaced by a new epiphany that January 6 is another important day in the selection of our president. For most of my life, I considered there to be only two crucial dates for our presidential picking: Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) and Inauguration Day, some day in January when, according to the Constitution, a new presidential term starts at noon. I was aware that we had an Electoral College, but I never knew the date that it “met” because it never seemed crucial, and it never garnered more than a paragraph in the news. (Of course, the EC does not really meet – at least not in Washington. Instead, electors in each state separately convene and cast their votes.) If I had thought about it, I might have realized that there had to be some sort of state certification process of the vote after Election Day, but until this year I had not thought about that process. Moreover, I learned that the date of certification varies from state to state.

            And then there is the day that Congress counts the electoral vote — once again a date I have paid little attention to because for a century-and-a-half it has been an insignificant day of routine bookkeeping. I could not have told you that it fell on January 6, but now I know that it does. It is still expected to have no practical significance. The electoral count will be the same number that has been in effect since a few days after the election. However, this January 6 will garner more attention than any congressional elector count since 1876, a shameful time in our history. We can hope that today’s count will not reveal a shameful time in our current history.  

            The day will get attention because several members of Congress will object to the electoral count, and that will lead to “debate” in each House. Other than reaping attention for themselves, the naysayers are not expected to affect the election results. At least some of the constitutional subverters say their goal is not to keep Trump in office, but to address the distrust that has built in the public. F0r example, Ted (Look! I can grow a Covid beard) Cruz, a leader in attacking the election, said, “We’ve seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud. And that’s produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that.” (Hmmm. And what’s he going to do? Tell us that the fraud is real and the election results are invalid? Yeah, that’ll help.)

            So, while he is hardly the appropriate person to address this problem, he has a point. Even I have become distrustful of our “democratic” processes, not because I buy into the baseless claims of electoral fraud, but because so many of our political “leaders” are fanning the fraud flames and are advocating extraordinary, sometimes bizarre, and often illegal and unconstitutional measures that would sabotage the democratic process. While we can be cautiously optimistic that today will end as it should with Biden’s being declared President, the bombastic stupidity that will be on display is disheartening to say the least.

            The Trumpistas are winning. They have made me distrustful and fearful. May our country and our democracy and our republican form of government survive today intact.


How different would news reports and public perception of the Nashville bombing be if the bomber had been Black or if he had had a name that sounded as if he were a Muslim?

A recent news story said that only one professional football team had a former NFL player as its chaplain. The article did not make clear if all professional football teams had a chaplain, but it made me wonder what other businesses regularly employ clergy. How many lumbering or office-cleaning companies have a chaplain?

The op-ed headline said, “Will Trump Force Principled Conservatives to Start Their Own Party? I Hope So”. How large do you think a party of “principled conservatives” would be?

“Tyranny is always better organized than freedom.” Charles Pierre Péguy.

The two-note introduction to some Netflix productions makes me wonder if that streaming company has the same composer as Law and Order.

Trump has made appointments to a commission he created to promote “patriotic education.” I thought of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “There is no patriotic art and no patriotic science.”

“The essential matter of history is not what happened but what is thought or said about it.” Frederic W. Maitland.

It is good to know that our society has something that is nearly perfect. A sports columnist, who I expect knows a lot more about football than most people including me, predicts the outcome of all the professional football  games against the point spread. To his credit, he gives the tally of how he has done throughout the season. The last time I looked he had been right 116 times and wrong 116 times. Damn, those point spreads are good.

On December 14, many news outlets had some variation of “democracy prevailed because the Electoral College functioned,” a platitude that may be repeated on January 6. Four years earlier, many said that we did not have a democracy because the Electoral College functioned.

Obama released his favorite books of 2020. Do you think Trump will?

A tiny tragedy of the winter: one small mitten on the edge of the sidewalk with no one around. Old joke: “I have never seen second-degree burns like that. What happened?” “Somebody called and I picked up the steam iron by mistake.” “But what about your other ear?” “They called back.”

Our Nail-Biter

The presidential race was a nail-biter. Or at least it was if one followed it hour-by-hour or even day-by-day as so many did. But now when it is clear that one candidate got 5.5 million more votes than the other and is entitled to more than seventy more electoral votes than the other, it does not seem particularly close. A “landslide” some might say. The “people” have spoken decisively, but, as we have commented often in this forum, the people as a whole do not elect the president. Instead, we elect the chief executive by states, and as we are aware from recent history, a person can become president even when receiving fewer total votes than an opponent. For at least part of the time over the last two weeks, it seemed that the minority candidate (irony intended) would become president again. I was curious about how the “people” would react to having a president that the voters had rejected by even a greater margin than last time but was relieved that I did not find out. But it also made me wonder how others react when a similar thing happens in their country, for example, Great Britain.

Of course, the UK has a governmental structure different from ours. My knowledge of their parliamentary system is admittedly incomplete (I have only watched the first season of The Crown), but it is my understanding that the candidates for Prime Minister do not appear on the ballot, as the U.S. presidential candidates do. Instead, the electorate in each district votes for a member of the House of Commons, and the leader of the political party that gets the most members elected to the House becomes the Prime Minister. There may be no nationwide tally for the Prime Minister’s race as there is in America, but even so, something similar to what can and does happen here must occur there—the election of a chief executive whose opponent won the nationwide vote. If, for example, the Tories win a 51% majority in the bare majority of districts, their leader becomes Prime Minister even if the opponent got 60% of the votes in all the other districts and, thus, got more votes than the Tory throughout the country. It is not exaclty like our troublesome electoral college, but is similar to our recent elections where the candidate getting fewer countrywide votes has become president. How have the British reacted to this?

Resurrecting a Modest, Radical Proposal to Make Our Democracy Great Again (MOGDA)

I had a good idea. It would not be terribly difficult to do. It would cost almost nothing. It would make our country better. But then I thought more about this good idea. It was not so good. It could make things worse. However, I am not ready to give up my idea completely. There might be a useful germ in it, but I don’t know how to crack the nut open to get it out. Perhaps you can. My idea has to do with the census, voting, and federal aid.

States have an incentive to have every one of its residents counted in the census. The census determines how many Representatives a state will have in the House of Representatives. The greater the population of a state, the greater the number of votes it has in Congress. Both the majority and minority parties in a state have a good reason for everyone to be counted so that the state has as much power in Congress as possible.

The census is also used by the federal government in another way. Various statutes apportion funds states get from the national government by using census numbers. The greater the population in a state, the more federal aid it gets. This, too, gives a state an incentive to have everyone in its borders counted.

In contrast, we all have an incentive to decrease the number of voters. If ten people vote in an election, each holds one-tenth of the electoral power. If, however, only nine people vote, each of those nine voters has a little more power than before. Each voter becomes more influential when others don’t or can’t cast a ballot.

This dynamic is true no matter what the voter’s political persuasion, but the incentives to suppress the votes of those who have different political interests from you is even greater. Perhaps the first rule of politics is that those in power seek to remain in power. One way to do that is to discourage voting by those not in your party. Of course, the Buncombe First party cannot simply prohibit votes for the Buncombe Forever party, but if Buncombe First believes that legislation making it harder to vote will more likely keep Foreverites from voting than Firsters, the Buncombe First party has an incentive to enact such requirements. Of course, such voter suppression makes our country less democratic.

States have an incentive to have all who live there counted, but those who don’t really trust majoritarian rule have an incentive to suppress the votes of some. If they can target voter suppression, they stay in power and don’t lose Representatives or federal funds.

However, I thought, what if we allocated federal moneys not by census numbers but instead by the numbers who voted in each state in the last presidential election? Then states would have an incentive to get out the vote. A state would pay a price for restrictive voter identification laws, insufficient polling places, difficult registration requirements, and the like. The controlling party in a state would have to decide if the loss of federal funds was worth voter suppression measures. For a few moments, I thought allocating federal funds on the number of voters in a state was an idea worth pursuing in order to make the country more democratic.

Then, however, I was struck by an uncomfortable reality. Non-citizens and children, although counted in the census, cannot vote. States with more immigrants and kids would be penalized under my proposal compared to the present methods. If two states each had one million population according to the census, they would now be treated equally under the present allocation formulas, but if State of Fredonia had 100,000 non-citizens while State of Buncombe had only 25,000, Buncombe would have a larger voting base. Even if both states took exactly the same steps to have as many people vote as possible and even if the same percentage of the voting eligible population in each state did vote, Buncombe would get more federal funds than Fredonia. That would not be fair.

With this new insight, I abandoned my modest, radical proposal, but it keeps gnawing at me. There ought to be a way to use the numbers or percentages who vote in each state to allocate federal funds, encouraging the spread of this democracy we claim to love. Aha, I said, “My readers. They have to be smart, creative people or else they would not read this blog (and, of course, they are good looking, too.) Maybe they can find a way to do it.”

So readers, what about it?  If you can think of a way to incentivize the states to make voting easier, more universal, and thereby Make Our Democracy Great Again, let me know. Then I will trademark MODGA and sell appropriate apparel. The prices will be fair, but this being America, a profit for me will be built in. If the clothing becomes as trendy as I expect, perhaps I will be able to retire.

In Spite of the People (continued)

In the swing state of Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump did significantly better than Romney had four years before. Trump received 2,912,941 votes while Romney got 2,619,583. This increase had two components. About 376,000 more ballots were cast in 2016 than in 2012, but in addition Trump did better percentagewise. He got 48.8 percent (Clinton got 47.6 percent) while Romney got 46.8 percent (Obama got 52.0 percent) of the Pennsylvania vote. This would indicate some sort of Trump Revolution, but, if so, it was a limited one. It did not reach a majority. But notice something else: Trump and Clinton together garnered 96.4 percent of the total ballots, while in 2012, the major candidates received 98.8 percent in Pennsylvania. The third parties nearly trebled their votes in the four years, from 69,000 to 192,000. Their share went from 1.3 percent in 2012 to 3.6 in 2016. Trump won the Pennsylvania plurality by 70,000 votes while the third-party votes increased by much more than that. If Pennsylvania indicated a Trump Revolution, it also indicated a Third-Party Revolution, a move to third parties that allowed Trump to get the plurality and Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Did Trump really carry Pennsylvania because of a Trump Revolution or because Clinton, whatever the reasons, was not a good candidate, and a sizeable number of voters went to third parties as a result wanting to vote neither for Trump nor Clinton?

The Michigan turnout did not increase in 2016 as much as the Pennsylvania vote did—65,000 more ballots were cast than in 2012. Trump, however, did get 265,00 more votes than Romney and garnered 47.3 percent of the total compared to Romney’s 44.6. But again “others” made the difference. In 2012, only 1.4 percent of the ballots were not cast for the major parties, while in 2016 it was 5.2 percent, with the totals increasing from 65,000 to 250,000. Trump’s plurality (again not a majority) was a mere 10,000 votes. The move to third parties again allowed him to win a plurality and get all of Michigan’s electoral votes.

In Wisconsin, 128,000 fewer ballots were cast in 2016 than four years earlier, and Trump got only 1,500 more votes than Romney. That doesn’t indicate a Trump Revolution as much as it appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for both major candidates. However, Trump did win the plurality at 47.9 percent compared to Romney’s losing percentage at 45.9. Trump’s margin was 22,000 votes, and again the third parties swung the state. In 2012, they got 28,000 votes and 0.9 percent of the total. In 2016, third parties garnered 137,000 votes accounting for 5.4%.

What does this indicate? Was there really a Trump Revolution that has changed the electoral landscape? Trump took these three key states, but he did not get a majority in any of them. In other words, most voters were against Trump. In each of them, he won because Clinton performed more poorly than he did. As a result, third parties surged tipping each state to Trump.

What does this mean for the future? Is there an enduring Trump Revolution that has shifted the electoral patterns? Perhaps the first thing to note is that he did not get the majority of the vote in the country. He did not even get the plurality. What is seldom noted is that the percentage he did get was not better than what Romney got four years earlier. This certainly is not a revolution.

In some key states, however, he did do better than Romney, but even so, he did not get a majority in them, and third parties surged. Of course, the best guarantee of his winning such states this time is to get more than 50 percent of the vote. At least so far, however, polls do not indicate that this is likely. Trump’s presidency has appealed strongly his 2016 base, and he has failed to attract additional supporters outside that base.

If his support continues at less than 50 percent, Trump has to pray (although I doubt he does) that the third-party surge will continue into the upcoming election so he can win electoral votes with only pluralities. That, of course, is the point to Republican support for the bizarre presidential campaign of Kanye West—the hope that it will siphon votes that would otherwise go to a Democrat. So far, at least, there is no indication that third parties will get the percentage of votes that they did last election when many voters did not like either candidate. My guess is that many of the voters for the Libertarian or Green parties assumed that Trump would not win but did not want to vote for Clinton. Checking a box for a third party was thought to have no real consequences while preserving a sense of integrity for the Clinton doubters. Voters this time are unlikely to think this way. They are more likely to realize that votes for third parties can have consequences and help elect someone they don’t want. This time around, they are likely to realize that they should make a choice between Trump and Biden even if they don’t much like either and not vote for a third party. Furthermore, in 2016 voters who liked neither Trump nor Clinton but voted for one of them rather than a third party candidate overwhelmingly broke for Trump. Polls now show voters who like neither Trump nor Biden will overwhelmingly vote for Biden.

It is a long way to the election and much can happen, but at least for the moment Trump cannot count on a high level of third party votes to allow him to get crucial electoral wins with pluralities. And besides helping Kanye to get on ballots, there seems to be nothing Trump and Republicans can do to shift votes from Biden to a third party. They, however, have no doubt learned something else from 2016 and other elections: Voter suppression can help clear a path to a conservative victory.

(concluded August 19)

In Spite of the People

It’s election season, but now it always feels that way since we seem to have a perpetual election season. This campaign stretch may feel different from past ones, however, because of the president who seems to have transformed the political landscape. On the other hand, although he has held the executive office for closing in on four years, perceptions of him have changed remarkably little during that time. He seems neither to have attracted many new supporters nor has he driven many away. He has inhabited the same landscape since his election.

If this election season is different from the last one, it is not due to Trump who remains the same but because Hillary Clinton is not the Democratic candidate. For whatever the reason, many voters who did not vote for Trump could not vote for Clinton. They voted for third party candidates instead, and in key states these votes for Libertarians and Greens gave Trump pluralities and the decisive electoral votes. Trump, although he is not about to admit it and perhaps in a delusion does not believe it, did not get the most votes in the country, but he also did not get majorities in key states that he won.

Trump certainly has passionate followers. This gives the impression that he unleashed a new conservative juggernaut and that the last election was a revolution, a Trump Revolution. That has been overstated. If there was an electoral transformation, it was not by a majority of the electorate. Even if it is true that he attracted many voters that had not before voted Republican, we should also realize that he drove away at least as many voters who could have been expected to vote Republican.

          Compare 2012 and 2016 election results. (Different sources do not always give the same nationwide vote totals, but, for consistency, I am using figures from the Federal Election Commission website.) In 2012, Mitt Romney got 60,932,152 votes. Four years later, Trump received 62,984,825. Trump got two million more votes than Romney but that does not mean that he made great inroads into previously Democratic voters.          Instead, about 7.5 million more people voted in 2016 than 2012. With more voters as the country’s population increased, it is not surprising that Trump got more votes than Romney, but he did not get even close to a majority of that increased vote. Perhaps more revealing than the vote totals for Romney and Trump is the percentage of the vote for each. Romney received 47.21 percent of the nationwide ballots, while Trump got 46.09 percent. In other words, there was no dramatic swing to him compared to the previous election. Analyses I have seen expend a good deal of effort dissecting the voters Trump attracted; they also ought to equally examine the voters Trump drove away. For example, The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics by Salena Zito and Brad Todd mentions that “Trump’s margin was weaker than Romney’s in 86 of the 100 most educated counties—a fact that held true regardless of the jurisdiction’s normal partisan leanings.” But the authors set out only to interview voters in some swing states who shifted from Obama to Trump when there were at least as many voters who swung away from Trump. If that first group of Obama/Trump voters constitutes some new populist coalition, how should we label the at-least-as-significant second group of Romney/not-Trump voters?

          The real takeaway from the 2016 election is not that Trump did so well, but that Clinton did so poorly. Even with more voters in 2016 than 2012, Clinton got slightly fewer votes than Obama—65,853,516 to 65,899,660—with a big drop in the percentage of the ballots. Obama got a majority of the vote, 51.6 percent, while Clinton got 48.18 percent. Trump did not get a higher percentage than Romney four years earlier, but Clinton got significantly less than Obama. Wasn’t the revolution not so much for Trump as against Clinton?

          Perhaps the real revolution in 2016 was not for Trump but in favor of third parties. Obama and Romney together accounted for 98.8 percent of the vote. Clinton and Trump together only received 94.3 percent. The combined Libertarian and Green vote increased by over 300 percent. That third-party total went from 1.7 million in 2012 to 5.9 million in 2016.

          Much has been made of states that Obama won, but whose electoral votes went to Trump and swung the election to him. Let’s look more closely at three of them: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

(Continued August 17)

Why Create Election Chaos? (concluded)

If Donald Trump is not reelected in the balloting, he will need to explain the result in a way that protects his ego. Think about the last election. Trump may be the only person ever who won an election and still claimed massive voter fraud. His narcissism had great trouble accepting the fact that he got three million fewer votes than Clinton, and he made the amazing assertion that there had been widespread illegal voting, a claim that if it had been accepted could easily have led to the conclusion that his victory was illegitimate. Of course, if he loses the 2020 election, he is going to say there was massive fraud, but he will not limit the claim to mail-in ballots; he will make that assertion about every aspect of the election. He has not needed a factual basis, evidence, or common sense for making such claims before, and he won’t in November either. It is a safe prediction that if he loses, electoral fraud claims will fly.

          But there is another reason besides his ego why Trump may want to delegitimize the election. He may think it provides a path for him to retain the presidency. The Constitution in Article II provides that electors shall be appointed by the method each state legislature has mandated, which is by election in all the states. Assume that the Democratic candidate gets the most votes in a state, but the legislature, controlled by Republicans and following the Trumpian claims of massive fraud, passes a resolution that the election was not legitimate—that it was not the kind of election authorized by the state—and therefore no electors were elected as a result of the balloting? This may seem farfetched, but we can be sure that a fraud drumbeat amplified by Fox News, social media, and right wing websites will convince a sizeable number of Americans that an election was being stolen from Trump and will laud the legislature’s “brave” action. Of course, we can anticipate that the Democratic electors from that state will cast their votes on the designated date, which by statute is the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which this year is December 14. We might then have a slate we could call “no electoral votes” and a slate of votes for the Democratic candidate. What then? The Constitution does not tell us. It only says, “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the [electoral] certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” It does not say how to resolve a dispute about any electoral certificate.

          A federal statute, however, says that electoral votes shall be counted on January 6. If electoral votes are disputed, the state, including state courts, are to resolve the dispute before January 1, which would require chaotic, emergency actions in the states. If the state dispute is not resolved in time (I am simplifying here because the statute has many provisions), the Senate and the House meet separately to resolve the dispute. If both bodies do not agree on the resolution, then the certificate of the electoral votes sent by the governor of the state shall be determinative.

          There is an interesting twist on the resolution of disputed electoral votes. The Constitution provides that the terms of Senators and Representatives begin on January 3, but president Trump and vice-president Pence stay in office until January 20. Thus, the President of the Senate on January 6 will be Michael Pence, who could vote to break a tie in the Senate. Think about that.

          What happens if Congress determines that there are no valid electors from a state? Oh, let the fun begin. The Constitution states that “each state shall [Emphasis added] appoint” its allocated electors. Under usual legal parlance, “shall” means a requirement; the state must appoint electors. It can’t simply certify that it is appointing no electors. On the other hand, if the state determined its election required a do-over, it is unlikely that there would be time to hold another election before January 6. But what happens if the state refused to appoint electors and Congress did not agree to accept an alternative slate of electors? It would not matter, of course, if at least 270 electors had voted for one candidate or another, for that would constitute a majority of the 538 electors allocated by the Constitution. It is not clear, however, what would happen if, for instance, only 500 electoral votes were accepted. The Constitution states that the president shall be the person who got the “majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.” Does that mean 251 electors could determine the president or would it still take 270 votes? No one knows for sure. We do know that if no candidate gets the majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives decides the outcome, but with an important twist. The House would not decide as it normally does for legislation by voting as a body. Instead, each state gets one vote—California has one vote and so does Wyoming—with the majority of the states determining the president. And the Constitution does not tell us what happens if a state’s representatives split equally between two candidates. Does each get half a vote, or is this a no-vote, which could be important in reaching a majority? Right now, the Democrats have a comfortable majority of the Representatives in the House, but the Republicans have a majority of Representatives in the majority of the states. On the other hand, the Constitution requires the new Congress to be sworn on January 3, three days before the electoral votes are counted, and it will be the Congress elected on November 3 that would make the determinations. But on the third hand, if a state contended that its presidential election was not legitimate, it would also be contending that its Representatives had not been legitimately elected. Now what? Let’s not go there.

          If Trump loses, he will contend that the election was not legitimate. If any state attempts to claim that its election was illegitimate, we can expect chaos. But chaos would be Trump’s friend. And this could be a reason why he is trying and will continue to try to delegitimize the election.

Why Create Election Chaos

          President Trump floated the idea of postponing the November 3 election. An outcry ensued, which is not surprising after one of his tweets, but this time all shades of the political spectrum denounced the idea. Republicans, Democrats, academics, columnists, constitutional lawyers all agreed that the president cannot postpone the election. A congressional law sets it, and it would take another law, not a presidential edict, to change it. Furthermore, the responders all agreed that the election date should not be changed. Even during the Civil War and World War II, elections went on as scheduled, and our present problems are not bigger than those of the past.  

          Trump may not have been concerned about the disagreements; he may only have been trying to generate an outcry. On the day of Trump’s postponement tweet, John Lewis’s funeral was being held. And then numbers were dropped that showed the economy in a historical freefall. With a positive portrayal of someone else and news that damaged reelection possibilities, Trump, being Trump, had to get people talking about him. He accomplished that. Trump may be ignorant of many things, but he, like a crying baby, knows how to focus attention on himself.

          Trump’s tweet, however, did something more. Even though several states have for years successfully conducted their elections largely without in-person voting, Trump suggested that the election be postponed until balloting could be done without the massive fraud that he says is sure to ensue from the expected wide use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic. This is a continuation of conservative cries of electoral fraud generally. Proof is not presented of the fraud claims, but it is not necessary. Eliminating the nonexistent false ballots has not been the goal. Instead, the fraud assertions lay the groundwork for advancing measures making it harder for some to vote. We may claim that ours is a democracy, or a representative democracy, but some partisans would like fewer people voting. “Voter fraud,” they shout. “We must have voter ID laws” . . . and fewer people will vote. “Fraud,” they shout. “We can’t have same day registration” . . . and fewer people will vote. “Fraud,” they shout. “We can’t have expanded early voting” . . . and fewer people will vote. “Fraud, they shout. “We can’t have a mail-in election” . . .and fewer people will vote. Our experience shows we have little voter fraud. However, our experience shows that there will be attempts to suppress the vote of certain groups, by those citing the prevention of voter fraud, no matter what methods of voting we use.

Condemn Trump if you want for his remarks about moving election day, but don’t let his provocation shift the focus from assuring an election that allows us to vote easily and equally in these difficult times. If a state plans to rely on mail-in ballots, an understandable choice during the pandemic, and you believe in our democracy, work to make sure that all who want or need these ballots get them in a timely fashion; that the requirements for filling them out are clear and simple; and that there are good methods for their timely return. We should not just concentrate on postponement tweets; instead, concentrate on good ballot design and post office performance. And then consider the best ways for efficiently and securely tabulating the results.

For in-person voting, we need to make sure that there are sufficient polling places with enough workers so that people can cast their votes easily. Each election we see voting queues that are hours long. These scenes should embarrass all who say they are proud to be an American. And, of course, these lines, surprise, surprise, are disproportionately centered in certain kinds of neighborhoods. All votes are supposed to count the same in this country. They don’t if in some places voters have to endure hours of standing or sitting to cast a ballot while other voters don’t. It should take no longer to vote in the city of Atlanta than in an affluent suburb of Atlanta, and we should be working to make that happen.

          Trump, however, was probably not so much attempting to postpone an election as laying groundwork for undermining the upcoming election. This should be a difficult task because no studies have shown that mail-in ballots disfavor Republicans. Indeed, in the present world, a mail-in election could favor the conservatives. Studies have shown that mail is more often misdelivered or not delivered in poor and minority areas, and if we have cutbacks in the coronavirus aid, we can expect a wave of evictions. People living in their cars or doubled or tripled up with relatives or friends or in shelters are highly unlikely to get their mail even if they make the effort to have it forwarded. With a mail-in election, slews of people may be effectually disenfranchised, and I doubt that these disenfranchises are disproportionately Trump supporters. A widespread dependence on mail-in ballots in a world of evictions could help Trump. Even so, Trump will want to be able to shout, or at least, tweet “unfair and illegitimate” if he loses the election. He is laying the groundwork to undermine the legitimacy of the voting.

(concluded August 7)

Seeking Inspiration

          I interrupted my self-imposed blogging schedule because I lost home internet service for a week. I posted a brief message of the forthcoming hiatus by taking my iPad to a public wi-fi place.

          Losing home internet for a while can hardly count among life’s tragedies, but its loss highlighted how much I use it. I am not an online game player or a browser, stalker, or contributor to chat rooms. Nevertheless, I use the internet many, many times throughout the day. Its loss disrupted my rhythms, and that included my rhythms of writing.

          As a student, as a lawyer, as a legal academic, and now as a blogger, I have written frequently, but the rhythms of my writing have varied. I grew up before computers and my childhood home did not have a typewriter. I did not learn to type until I taught myself out of necessity in college. Papers needed to be typed, and I could not afford to pay a typist. My parents gave me a typewriter—an extravagant gift for them. I bought a how-to-type manual and practiced on the Remington every day until I had achieved the barest modicum of proficiency. But the typing itself took such concentration that I found I could not compose on a keyboard. For years, I wrote a first draft in longhand using—I admit somewhat pretentiously–a purple-ink-filled fountain pen. I almost always got stains on my hand, but I was almost proud of the marks because they signified to me that I was a writer of some sort. I typed the second draft, and then via pen made additions and corrections to that draft and then typed it again, and so on. I wrote my first “book” this way—it was really a monograph about the military chaplaincy—and this rhythm continued for quite a while.

          Of course, the typewriter gave way to word processing, but even after Wordperfect was initially installed on my computer, I continued to write the first draft with a pen. I told myself that it made me careful because in inputting the second draft from a longhand version I had to consider every word that I had written, but I knew that this was inefficient. Eventually, however, from editing and rewriting on a computer, I found that I could compose directly on a keyboard, and the purple-inked-filled fountain pens have been consigned to stray drawers.

          Thus, a major rhythm of my writing changed, but another one did not. I have always been a drib-and-drab writer. I have read many times about what I think of as real writers who closet themselves somewhere and stay at their desk for four, six, or eight hours writing. I have never done that. I write until I complete a thought, or I get stuck as to what comes next—seldom more than a half hour and often less. I then distract myself with some other project hoping that the next writing thought will come. Often the distraction has been some household chore—cleaning dishes, snapping beans, raking leaves, brushing a stripper or varnish on wainscoting or an old desk. When I have been really stuck, I have taken walks, gone for a run, or played tennis. When I was writing my many unread law review articles, I would start writing at daybreak and be at the keyboard well after dark, but the composing would only come in those small spurts.

          I write about different things now than I did as a lawyer or an academic, but I still seldom write for an hour or even a half hour in an uninterrupted stretch. I almost never produce even a page in a sitting. A paragraph, maybe two, and then a break. The nature of the breaks, however, has changed from years ago. Increasingly, I turn to the internet for the interlude. I don’t play games online; I don’t search for YouTube videos. But I do go frequently to news websites because I continue to be a news junky.

I grew up in a household where I read two newspapers seven days a week as well as a weekly paper and various magazines. I have maintained that news-reading habit, but how I read the news has changed. Of course, in those dark ages before the internet, I would read a physical newspaper, the kind where the ink comes off and hands have to be washed after the reading. For a long time, I thought the only valid way to read the news was through a physical newspaper, but in the backwater where I started spending summers decades ago, it was difficult getting the New York Times or other big city newspaper, and I began to read the paper online. Since both the Times and my writing were on the same computer, I began to go frequently back and forth between them.

Since then internet news sources have proliferated. I now distract myself not just with the online paper but also with a New York Times briefing, a New York Times digest, news summaries from Axios and Skimm, and the websites of Politico, RealClearPolitics, FiveThirtyEight, and TalkingPointsMemo.

Of course, when I was deprived of the internet recently, these rhythms were interrupted, and I found it difficult to write, but the deprivation did more than disrupt writing patterns. It made me feel isolated, and that too made it harder to write. This blog does not have a theme other than stuff that interests me, which I hope on occasion interests some readers. I have no grand scheme other than to be original and not simply to repeat others. When I finish a piece, I await inspiration for something new, but those triggers come much more readily when I am having a myriad of experiences. Travel almost always opens my mind. A museum visit, a play, a movie may make me think new thoughts, but often the inspirations have been quite mundane—a sign in a shop window, an overheard conversation at an intersection or in a restaurant, a food display, a doctor’s visit. I only sometimes directly write about these things, but often one thing stimulates thoughts about other experiences or ideas that I want to write about—a snowfall today may make me think about snowballing as a kid; a comment about the electoral college may make me want to delve into the formation of the Constitution; passing a coffee shop may set me ruminating about my caffeine addiction.

Covid-19, however, has confined my life and blighted others. I have fewer experiences, big or small, than before the coronavirus, and it has been harder to write as a result. The loss of the internet may have bothered me at any time, but now it was added onto the socially distant life that had already made me feel isolated. The internet did come back, and it will be with me, but it made me think hard about when, if ever, we will be able to freely partake in the life that we had before the pandemic. It may be a long time before I will again have the life of regular large and small stimulations that I have enjoyed. It’s a depressing thought.

Emotional states—anger, nostalgia, feeling cute or pedagogical—have helped me to write. Feeling down has not. I need some inspirations. What should I write about?