Wednesday, November 25, 2020

WINNER TAKES ALL

 It is going to be a very different Thanksgiving in this pandemic year, in part because our government failed us at a time when we needed a strong unified federal response to the most serious attack to our safety and security since Pearl Harbor. A response that never came. Historically, shocks of this kind open the door to changes in the governance systems with an eye on better protecting us from the attacks on our way of life. This time may be no different. Particularly, since it coincides with an election result that puts a new chief executive in place.

This year’s election has spurred a new attention to the peculiarities of our election system, particularly the unique insertion, by our Constitution, of an Electoral College between the votes of the People and the selection of the country’s chief executive. With a race between a Republican (in name only) incumbent and a Democratic challenger, the media reminded us incessantly that the last two Republican Presidents, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, were elected to the Presidency in spite of losing the popular vote to their contenders, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. (Before then, it had happened only 3 times in history). Could it happen again?  It did not, but that does not convincingly settle the argument in favor of staying with the system we have. At issue is the Electoral College, its existence and the way it is chosen.

Here is the rub.

Almost 6 million Californians voted for Trump (versus 11 million for Biden), but they did not get any of California’s 55 electoral delegates.

5.2 million Texans voted for Biden (versus 5.9 million for Trump), but they did not get any of Texas’ 38 electoral delegates.

Almost 3 million New Yorkers voted for Trump (versus 4 million for Biden), but they did not get any of New York’s 29 electoral delegates.

More than 1 million South Carolinians voted for Biden (versus 1.4 million for Trump), but they did not get any of South Carolina’s 9 electoral delegates.

The rub is not with the Electoral College, it is with the ‘Winner takes all’ rule applied to the nomination of Electors by 48 of our 50 States and by the District of Columbia. This rule, that is ordained by the State legislatures, awards all of the State’s electoral votes to the candidate receiving the most popular votes in that State.

This situation is recognized as undesirable by many in the political arena from both sides of the aisle. It has led to a ‘National Popular Vote’ initiative that, since 2006, advocated for an interstate compact to change the ‘Winner takes all’ rule in all of the 50 States and in the District of Columbia. In fact, as a result of this initiative, a National Popular Vote bill has been enacted by 15 States and the District of Columbia and passed at least one legislative chamber in 9 additional States.

Unfortunately, this bill is proposing to remove the rub the wrong way. The bill dictates that the participating States award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of what the voters of their State decided. It replaces one undesirable system with another. If this interstate compact had been enacted in time for the 2020 election, it would have forced all States to award all of their electoral votes to Joe Biden. Not hard to imagine how that would have gone over in Alabama, the Dakotas, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee!

The merit of an interstate compact as a means to change voting laws as proposed is that it keeps the Electoral College in place, avoiding the need for a Constitutional Amendment, which in the current political constellation would be impossible to achieve. The more reasonable and politically palatable compact would be for the States to agree to split their electoral votes in proportion to the votes received in each State by the top two candidates in the race for the Presidential election.

The ‘Winner takes all’ method of awarding electoral votes is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. It is enacted by State law in all but two States (Maine and Nebraska, that each split their electoral votes by District). It can therefore be changed by a vote in each of the States’ legislatures. If a system of proportional awarding of electoral votes (‘proportional rule’) had been in place in time for the 2020 elections, Trump would have been awarded 19 electoral votes in California and 12 electoral votes in New York. And Biden would have collected 18 electoral votes in Texas and 4 in South Carolina. The ‘proportional rule’ applied to all 50 States and the District of Columbia would have awarded 281 electoral votes to Biden and 257 to Trump (a fair reflection of the national popular vote of 80 million to Biden and 74 million to Trump).

Another suggestion for improvement of the existing system for the Presidential election comes from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS). In a 2019 report from the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, it proposes to substantially enlarge the House of Representatives through federal legislation to make it (and the Electoral College) more representative of the nation’s population. The AAAS report points out that the framers of the Constitution set a constitutional cap of 30,000 constituents per representative. With population growth, the House grew from the original 65 to 435 members in 1929, when Congress capped its size. As the population has kept growing, the average member of the House now represents 750,000 constituents, 25 times the number set by the framers of the Constitution.

The AAAS report leaves the scale and implementation of the proposed expansion of the House to ‘vigorous discussion and debate’, but points out that the Capitol building could easily accommodate an additional 50 members. One can imagine a House of Representatives with 500 members. The addition of 65 members would make it possible to adjust the number of Representatives for each State to better reflect their population size. The 2020 Census could provide the data that would guide the distribution of the 65 additional seats over the individual States. Since each State has as many Electors as it has members of the U.S. Senate and House, addition of 65 members to the House would automatically increase the number of members of the Electoral College (from 538 to 603), which would increase the number of electoral votes needed to be elected President (from 270 to 302.)

These two steps to adjust the existing Presidential election system to the exigencies of contemporary demography and democracy (replacing the ‘Winner takes all rule’ and expansion of the House of Representatives), would go a long way to silencing or muting the voices clamoring for abolition of the Electoral College.  They would avoid the necessity of another Constitutional Amendment. They would respect the protection of the voice and vote of each State, large or small, in the election of the holder of the highest office in the land. They would diminish the risk of a large discrepancy between the outcome of the national popular vote and the electoral vote. They would stimulate voter participation by giving a Republican in a blue State and a Democrat in a red State a further, compelling, reason to go to the polls and vote. And they would provide incentive for Presidential candidates to campaign in every State of the Union and not forego States where the ‘Winner takes all’ rule takes them out of the race.

The pandemic, the change in occupancy of the White House, and the not before seen contentiousness of the election results, are all good reasons to pause and reflect on the rules and regulations in place in our election system. Do they enhance or hamper a functioning democracy?

It turns out, the ‘Winner takes all’ rule does not make the American voter a winner.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

KERNELS AND CHAFF

November 15, 2020

The election that, by many, was termed the most consequential election of our lifetime, is now twelve days behind us and the dust is beginning to settle even as the outgoing president is kicking up a storm by refusing to accept defeat. It shows a mixed picture and it certainly did not comply with mainstream predictions and expectations. Case in point: the prediction that this would be a ‘coattail’ election in which whoever would win the White House would take control of both houses of Congress with him did not come true, on the contrary.

Joe Biden won, but by a much narrower margin of 306 versus 232 Electoral Votes than the polls had made us believe; he failed to take outright control of the Senate, and lost a significant number of seats in the House of Representatives. Note, that the Senate composition will not be decided until January 5 when the State of Georgia will hold a run-off election for 2 open seats and that the race for 13 seats in the House has yet to be decided. At the time of this writing, Republicans hold 50 seats in the Senate, versus 48 for the Democrats and 203 seats in the House, versus 219 for the Democrats.

Republicans picked up one governorship in the State of Montana and flipped control of the New Hampshire legislature by winning a majority in both the New Hampshire House and Senate. Trump won half of the 50 States of the Union, but he lost the popular vote by almost 4% (>5.5 million votes).

The only ‘blue wave’ in this election was the one caused by the order of ballot counting, with in person Election Day votes being counted first, before the mail-in votes were canvassed. Trump overwhelmingly won the Election Day vote, creating late on November 3 and early on November 4, the impression that he was heading for a clear and convincing win, but, as the vote counting progressed, he kept losing his advantage and ultimately lost the battle ground States of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and, surprisingly, also the States of Georgia and Arizona.

On the other hand, Trump won handily in key other States that had been considered to be ‘in play’: notably Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio.

The bottom line is that Trump and Trumpism did not win the day, but did not get irrevocably repudiated either. In a basketball context a 78-73 score would signal a very close game. And the question is, what can the winning team, this time squeaking by, do to confidently look forward to the next contest?

The answer to that question is very much in the hands of the Republican Party. It has been taken over by Trump and his acolytes, but it has left a large number of traditional Republicans out in the cold. What are they to do in the run up to the next national elections in 2022 and 2024? Will they step in line and close ranks with the Trumpists to maintain party unity? Will they find temporary refuge, at least until the storm passes by, at the Democratic Party, if not as active members then as sympathetic outsiders? Or will they accept the GOP as a cause lost to Trump and seek to establish a new, republican party that can fundamentally change the American political landscape by giving the voters a choice for a centrist alternative for the existing two parties?

Somebody, the Democrats or these Centrists, will have to test the cohesiveness of the Trump voting block in the coming 4 years. Trump has already hinted at his intent to run again in 2024 and it is hard to see how the GOP can deny him the nomination now that he has shown to have the support of 73 million Americans. It is easy to see a repeat of the 2020 primaries in which no serious GOP contender chose to run against him.

It raises the question who will be able to peel the onion and what will it take to pry constituencies away from the defeated 45th President? In order to break the impasse, someone will have to separate the kernels from the chaff from amongst the Trump supporters. Let Trump have the bigots, the white supremacists, the xenophobes, the fascists, the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Boogaloos, but find out what drove all others to vote for him and what it will take to bring them back into the fold of traditional American democracy.

Anecdotally, we know of some of the reasons why people voted for Trump even though they would take exception to being part of the cult that has formed around the style and personality of the 45th President:

·       Fear of the extreme left tendencies in the platform of the Democratic Party.

·       Rejection of the violence and looting that has accompanied widespread street protests against police brutality.

·       Disdain shown by the ‘establishment’ for the needs and opinions of the less educated.

·       Disregard shown by the ‘establishment’ for the negative effects of globalization on the lower income classes.

·       Desire to shake up the system that has sharply increased inequality in all aspects of life and failed to deliver on the wishes and expectations of the ‘common man’.

Who is going to compete with Trump in addressing these serious and legitimate gripes many Americans, call them the ‘righteous disgruntled’, have with the current political constellation?

In that contest, the Democrats will have to overcome three handicaps. First, unless they miraculously win the 2 open Senate seats in Georgia, they will be paralyzed in Congress to advance any major legislation. Second, because of the lack of legislative progress, they will be hard pressed to keep the support of a majority of Independents and the traditional Republicans. The Democrats can, ironically, be happy to have Trump as the opponent, because any other populist (without the personal flaws and age of Trump) would be much better positioned to capture these constituencies and address the grievances of the ‘righteous disgruntled’. Third, they will have to neutralize the extreme left wing of their party that has scared away all but the most ideologically driven voters.

The traditional Republicans have even larger handicaps to overcome. Since they have virtually no chance recapturing control of the GOP anytime soon, they would have to create a viable third party in the very short time available until the 2022 elections. And build a party on a platform that can attract the ‘righteous disgruntled’, plus a majority of the Independents and some centrist Democrats. As of the time of this writing, we detect no action in this direction. A centrist third party could be the catalyst needed to finally break through the gridlock that has dominated American politics now for decades. The election result of 2020 can be interpreted as showing a reluctance by the voters to give either the Trump GOP or the Democrats full control of the DC machinery. A constellation with a centrist party flanked by a populist, rightwing, GOP and a leftwing Democratic Party would provide the American voters with a much clearer choice, but history has proven to be very averse to backing away from the two-party system.

A reshuffling of constituencies between the parties, like we have seen in the South where, in the second half of the 20th century, the Republicans have supplanted the Democrats, is much more likely. Unless a centrist third party gets created and takes a hold, the GOP will more and more become the party of the reactionary nationalists, the under-educated, and the rural population, with the Democratic Party capturing the urban and suburban elite and the progressive intellectuals.

Either way, the opposing powers in Washington are now confronted with the choice to allow Trump to consolidate his support with the righteous disgruntled or to pry these voters away from him by addressing their grievances by their actions and promises. Will the Democrats accept that challenge or will it be up to a yet to establish opposition party? And, whoever picks up the flag, can they pull it off?   If neither party can separate the kernels from the chaff, they will implicitly cede the high ground to the Trump GOP.


Friday, October 30, 2020

VOTING RULES

October 30, 2020

I feel compelled to comment on the confusion around the rules for nationwide elections as demonstrated by the spade of legal challenges and court rulings pertaining to the process of electioneering in the different States in America.

We all understand that the Constitution, in its very first Article gives the legislature of each State the right to prescribe the times, places and manner of holding elections, but we now find that the resulting wide variety in rules governing national elections causes uncertainty, disputes, and possible protest and violence. Our confidence in free and fair elections is not well served under these conditions.

I would argue that uniform adoption of the following rules would enhance the process.

·       Election Day is a National Holiday

·       Votes can be cast in person, by mail or hand delivery, or by dropping the ballot in an official drop box

·       Mail-in ballots will be provided only upon request

·       Ballots will be received on Election Day from 6:00 AM until 8:00 PM only at official polling stations.

·       Prior to Election Day, ballots will be received by mail or hand delivery at Board of Election offices or at official drop boxes.

·       Early voting starts 21 days prior to Election Day and stops 2 days before Election Day.

·       Mail-in ballots must be postmarked no less than 2 days before Election Day and received at the Board of Election offices no later than Election Day. Special provisions can be made for military personnel and other government representatives serving overseas.

·       All Boards of Elections will start processing and counting ballots 10 days prior to Election Day.

These simple, uniform rules would ensure that all eligible voters would have ample time and opportunity to cast their ballot in a most convenient way. It would also ensure that the outcome of the election is not unnecessarily delayed because of extended deadlines and diverging admissibility rules between the States.

Preferably, these rules would be adopted voluntarily by the legislatures of all 50 States of the Union, but if that is not feasible, they could be adopted in the form of a Constitutional Amendment.

Friday, October 23, 2020

2024

 October 23, 2020

This will be the last column I’m writing until after the November 3 election. The final presidential debate was held last night and did not deliver any October surprise. It felt like a draw and it probably has not changed any minds. There isn’t much to do with the 2020 election that I have not already written about and with less than two weeks to go in that campaign, I leave it alone, convinced as I am that the outcome has already been baked in with more than 50 million votes already cast and no evidence that anything has been able to cause a dramatic change in the polls, which have been remarkably consistent through all the upheaval we have witnessed so far this year. I truly believe that this election has already been decided, even though the votes have yet to be tallied and we are still in the dark as to the outcome. It still can go either way, but the voters who have not yet submitted their ballot, some 100 million of them, have made up their mind if they will vote and who they will vote for if they do. So, the outcome is pre-ordained. We will just have to wait and see what the oracle of Delphi proclaims.

Therefore, while this time around there is some serious validity to the overused statement that ‘this is the most consequential election of my lifetime’, let’s leave 2020 for what it is and look ahead at the election of 2024, which, after all, is only 4 years away and will be significant in many ways, including the absence of an incumbent. As much as DJT claims to be entitled to a third term, if he wins this year and is still alive in 2024, a third term will stay reserved for FDR only. And with DJT out of the way, Biden, if still alive in 2024, will almost certainly not be renominated by the Democrats even if he would run for a second term, which is unlikely.

The 2024 election will also be significant for the fact that it will have to sort out if the Trump ambush of the Grand Old Party was a one-time hiccup experienced by the Republicans or a lasting takeover of American conservatism. In the same vein, it will force the Democratic Party to sort out if it will position itself center-left in the American political theater or at the far left. We will get a hint of the direction the Democrats will move in the 2022 mid-term election.

To get a view of what we will be facing in 2024, I’ll review three possible outcomes of the 2020 elections:

1.       Trump wins and the Congress stays as it is today

2.       Biden wins, but the GOP keeps control of the Senate

3.       Biden wins and the Democrats control both houses of Congress

I rule out the possibility that Trump wins a second term, but loses control of the Senate. The ‘coattail’ effect of a Trump victory would almost certainly preclude that scenario from developing.

1.       Trump wins and Congress stays as it is today.

This scenario will signal a complete takeover of the Republican Party by the populist Trump fraction and a stunning rejection of the moderate center-left wing of the Democratic Party by the voters. It is a disaster scenario for the health of the American democracy, as it will be seen as a mandate for an authoritarian President on steroids with all the shackles of any Congressional oversight and constraint removed. Assuming that the Democrats will hold on to their majority in the House of Representatives, Trump will continue to rule primarily by executive order and further dismantle the regulatory network that protects our environment, public health, and social support system. He will be given another four years of judicial appointments to further fill the bench with conservative judges, build on his border wall and otherwise restrict immigration. No doubt, he will further distance himself from global institutions and alliances and may even take the USA out of NATO. Another four years of Trump will forever change America’s place in the realm of nations and leave America isolated, bereft of friends and allies.

For 2024, this scenario means that the Trump takeover of the GOP is complete and that the nominee for the 2024 Presidential election will be coming out of the Trump stable, possibly a Trump family member. The ‘Never-Trumpers’ will have to decide if there is still a home for them in the GOP or the time has come to split off and create a new center-right political party. Having been sidelined for eight years, the Democrats will have to scramble to keep their coalition together, settle on fresh new leadership and develop a winning formula for electoral victories down the road.

2.       Biden wins, but the GOP keeps control of the Senate

Although it will feel good to a majority of Americans that Trump has been moved out of the way (and into a world of criminal and civil legal jeopardy), this result will be a Pyrrhus victory for Biden and the Democrats as they will be denied a workable platform for the legislative initiatives they have developed in the platform on which they have campaigned. Assuming that Mitch McConnell will have won his re-election and been able to hold on to the post of majority leader, he will do everything he can to block any proposal coming out of the Democratic House of Representatives, not allowing Biden any wins on taxes, immigration, healthcare or the environment. The GOP strategy will be to convince the voters that the change they wanted could not and would not bear any tangible results, leading to electoral losses for the Democrats in the 2022 mid-term and the 2024 Presidential contest.

Biden will be a lame duck, relegated to governing, much like Trump has done, by executive order and unable to reverse the trend of filling the judiciary with adherents of the Federalist Society. The one area in which Biden would be able to achieve effective change is in foreign policy, where he can start the process of reconciling America with its traditional allies. Failure of the Biden administration to implement its agenda will strengthen the hand of the left wing of the Democratic Party and play in the hands of the GOP. Whether the GOP can take advantage of the Democratic slump will depend on its own capability to reconcile its internal differences between the Trumpers and the establishment Republicans.

3.       Biden wins and the Democrats control both houses of Congress

Only in this scenario will we have an administration that can methodically implement a legislative agenda of change, although it will have to depend on President Biden’s capacity to work across the aisle and get enough moderate Republicans on board with its agenda to secure 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats will, at least for the first two years, have only a slim 1-3 seat majority in the Senate and will have to get Republican support for their initiatives or be forced to trigger the fateful ‘nuclear option’ and eliminate the Senate’s filibuster rule. The Biden administration will be under pressure to move aggressively ahead during its first two years in order to be able to defend and consolidate their hold on Congress, which means that it will have to hold its coalition together and accommodate the left wing of the Democratic Party. In this context, highly contentious issues like Statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico and expansion of the number of Justices on the Supreme Court will come into play. How well the Biden administration will be able to navigate these troubled waters and come through the 2022 mid-term elections will decide who will represent the Democratic Party in the 2024 Presidential election. In the meantime, the GOP will have to decide if it will jettison the populist experiment with Trump and revert to its traditional conservative creed of small, fiscally responsible, government, free trade, open borders, and global alliances.

Whatever happens, it will be a whole new ballgame in 2024.

Monday, October 5, 2020

FILIBUSTER

I know I’m jumping the gun and may have to eat crow and retract my prediction, but today I’m confident enough in a Biden victory on November 3, that I shift to looking ahead at the realities that will face the Biden administration in his first (and likely only) term in office. After all, it would take more than a miracle to see the incumbent surviving (figuratively speaking) the NYT revelations on his federal income tax returns, his boorish behavior during the first presidential election debate, his own affliction by the virus that he has poo pooed from the start, all resulting in a 14-point deficit in yesterday’s NBC/WSJ poll. The authoritative election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight gives the incumbent only a 18% chance to come out victoriously.

When thinking about the weight of the responsibilities of the office of the President of the United States, we always wonder: “who would want this job”? Now more than ever. In the conclusion of their recently released book “After Trump, Reconstructing the Presidency”, Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith point out that “If the new president takes office in 2021, the nation will face one of the most difficult times in its history.”

The nation will come out of a bruising election campaign, following a most destructive and polarizing Trump presidency. Bauer and Goldsmith contend that “The country will still be coping with a persistent global pandemic and, in addition, it will be struggling with vast economic dislocation, searing national debates about racial injustice, immigration, voting rights, and a deeply polarized political culture.” To that, we should add the extreme inequalities, painfully exposed by the disproportional burden inflicted by the corona virus upon the least fortunate amongst us, both in physical, emotional, and economic terms. As before, these ‘least fortunate’ include first and foremost our racial minorities. Such are the conditions facing the incoming administration on January 20, 2021. And the job will almost certainly fall in the lap of a 77-year-old career politician with not a great problem-solving record.

The dilemma for 2021, and the next administration, is the juxtaposition of the outsize scope and depth of the issues facing the nation and the record level of political polarization. The history of the Obama and Trump administrations shows that only at a time that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party a major legislative initiative has a chance of passing and becoming law, and so only if it can pass as a measure of ‘budget reconciliation’, which requires only a simple majority in the Senate. This is the way the Affordable Care Act passed in Obama’s second year (before Republicans took control of the Senate) and the Trump tax law passed in Trump’s first year (before Democrats took control of the House of Representatives).

There is a better than even likelihood that, come January 20, 2021, the White House and both chambers of Congress are again controlled by the same party, this time the Democrats. But the matters most in need of legislative action, such as voting rights, immigration, climate change, healthcare, gun control, and the national debt, cannot be addressed by ‘budget reconciliation’ and will, therefore, under the existing rules require 60 votes to come up for debate and a vote in the Senate (the ‘filibuster rule’). We can safely rule out any chance that the Democrats could win the 13 Senate seats required to gain this filibuster proof majority for 2021 (as much as it is unlikely for either party to attain the 60-seat majority at any time in the foreseeable future in a 100 seat Senate). Thus, to govern effectively, Biden’s choice will be to find compromise solutions, for which he can obtain some Republican support, or to throw the ‘filibuster rule’ out of the window.

Even if the Democrats gain a majority in the Senate, chances are that they will still have to contend with Mitch McConnell (then as minority-leader), who has demonstrated to be a masterful tactician in keeping whatever control he has over the process. McConnell will be more than capable to string any talk of bipartisanship along until the midterm elections of 2022, betting that a lack of legislative success of the Biden administration may switch control of Congress again in the GOP favor. He has a record of allowing individual GOP Senators to engage in talks and negotiations with Democratic counterparts, without ever allowing them to bring their proposals to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Such maneuvering will put Biden under immense pressure from his party and public opinion to produce meaningful results in his first two years and before the next mid-term elections. And it may lead him to the conclusion that the only way for him to achieve results is by finalizing the process, started by Harry Reid, and continued by Mitch McConnell, of peeling the onion of the ‘filibuster rule’ and eliminating the qualified majority required in the Senate to advance legislation.

For good reasons, this choice facing the new president is dubbed the ‘nuclear option’. It will blow up the last remaining norm that sets the Senate apart from the House. It will be a choice with fateful, unpredictable, consequences for the future of our system of government. Biden will have to consider ‘what happens when the shoe fits the other foot and Republicans again gain control of Congress’.

On the other hand, he will be tempted to accept the risk involved in breaking with norms and traditions (including the risk of being chased out of office and/or lose control of Congress) for the chance of pushing through wholesale legislative initiatives, which have no chance of passing with the ‘filibuster rule’ in place, and could include offering Statehood to Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico and expanding the number of Justices on the Supreme Court (to compensate for Trump’s insistence on filling the Ruth Bader Ginsburg seat with a conservative nominee). Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico would add four reliably Democratic seats to the Senate, putting a Republican Senate majority out of reach for a long time. 

Biden has, so far, steadfastly refused to answer any questions on how he might decide this matter, if he gets elected. Understandably so. To do differently, regardless of which way he would go, could easily cost him the election. Most likely he has not made any decision in this respect and will want to see what happens on November 3 and then after January 20, 2021. Will the GOP, after a resounding and humiliating defeat at the polls, be more or less willing to work with the Biden administration on addressing the nation’s most dire problems?

It would be better for our democracy if we can keep the ‘filibuster rule’ in place. The main purpose of the rule is to make sure that the Senate is a deliberative body that invites the majority to find accommodation with the minority by means of dialogue and compromise. Unfortunately, not much of that has worked under the leadership of the last two majority leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. Are we holding on to a pipe dream?

If the ‘filibuster rule’ falls by the wayside and the Senate is expanded with representatives of D.C. and Puerto Rico, there will be little rationale left for the bicameral system of our legislative branch. And the Electoral College would likely be next to be put in question (though getting rid of that will require a Constitutional Amendment). It will fundamentally and permanently alter the unique system of representative democracy put in place by the founders of the republic. We should think long and hard before embarking on that course.

Biden, and the Democrats at large, should preferably take the long-term view and consider that the demographics of our nation are trending inexorably in their favor. This reality is one of the reasons why the GOP is so focused on voter suppression.

The conclusion is that negotiations on a new voting rights bill should be a high priority for the incoming administration. They would serve as a barometer of the GOP willingness to reach across the aisle and work with the Biden administration and the Democrats on addressing the nation’s needs. If the Republicans decide for intransigency, God help us, it will leave Biden little choice but to pull the trigger and kill the ‘filibuster rule’. He will then be held accountable for toppling another monument of the glorious republic founded in 1776. But the real culprit will be our two-party stalemate and the immutable partisanship blocking the art and science of governing.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

THE CASE AGAINST TRUMP

 September 17, 2020

I am a permanent resident in the USA and I can’t vote, but here is why I would vote for Biden on November 3:

·       We can’t allow an unscrupulous cheater and liar to lead our government and the world; how bad Trump is will only come out when all pending lawsuits against him and his ‘enterprises’ and campaigns are brought to verdict and the history of his (mis)administration is written. Ultimately, it comes down to character and values.

·       I disagree with people saying that a Biden presidency would result in a socialist regime. Likelihood is that Biden/Harris will govern largely in the same manner as Clinton and Obama and stay far away from the left wing of the Democrats, even if the Democrats were also to control both chambers in Congress. They are not stupid and, if they win in 2020, they won’t want to give it all back in 2022 and 2024; the American people won’t stand for Jerry Corbyn (Labour) type socialism and they know it.

·       Trump is only aggravating an already unacceptable level of inequality and he is messing with our system of government and the environment. Another four years of this will set us back further than we can afford.

·       Give Trump a second term and he will be given the power to install a Supreme Court that, for decades, will be ultra conservative and conflict with the prevailing public opinion.

·       Trump will have to accept at least partial responsibility for the mismanagement of the COVID pandemic and the toll it has taken upon the lives of people and economy of the nation. He is complicit in the death of a large share of the 200,000 COVID deaths America has suffered so far in 2020 and is solely responsible for the painful truth that America’s share of global COVID deaths far exceeds its share of the world population.

·       Trump’s trade policies will prove to be detrimental, particularly his withdrawal from TPP; it opened the space for China, which has promptly taken the territory.

·       Trump alienates all of America’s traditional allies and makes no attempt to mend fences when they accept legitimate criticism and come to the table.

·       I fundamentally disagree with any policy that abandons existing structures without putting something better in place (ACA, Paris accord, Iran accord, WHO); what is next NATO, WTO?

·       Trump’s idolization of authoritarians like Kim Jong Un, Putin, Erdogan, Orban, and Bolsonaro is indicative of where his political inclinations are; he is already speaking about a third or fourth term, no matter the XXII Amendment.

·       I fundamentally disagree with Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive immigration policies, even limiting legal immigration and access for foreign students.

·       I will judge a person in large part by the company he keeps; look at the unsavory crew that Trump has kept himself surrounded by.

·       Trump is not just a narcissistic bully; he is a danger to our most basic democratic and constitutional values and principles.

·       Yes, it is clear from the above that my vote would be more a vote against Trump than a vote for Biden (much less the Democrats in general), but that is the result of the Republican Party's abandonment of its values, beliefs and principles in nominating a populist for the highest office in the land.

Monday, September 7, 2020

IN GOOD FAITH

September 7, 2020

It is Labor Day in the United States and so we have a bonus day to take a deep breath, do some reflection, and ready ourselves for the race to the finish on November 3. A first observation is how odd and unlikely it is that the contest for the Presidency is between two people in the same age group I belong to: the people whose work is mostly done and who should spend their remaining days filling in the gaps, tending to tasks and missions that were ignored or unrecognized in the frantic business of making a career. It shouldn’t be that way. The country is facing tremendous challenges and it is unrealistic to expect that an advanced septuagenarian can lead the charge to right the listing, if not sinking, ship.

The second observation is about the unusual character of this contest. It has a third dimension that the nation has not observed during my lifetime, which started with the waning days of the FDR presidency.      

The third dimension is the cult aspect of the Trump following. Yes, Trump is the nominee of the Grand Old Party, but if he had to rely on Republicans in the upcoming election, he would certainly loose. Not only has the number of registered Republicans been dropping now for several years, but we are witnessing a steady stream of (prominent) Republicans distancing themselves from Trump and in many cases openly coming out in support of his opponent. It is no longer just the principled ‘Never Trumpers’ who declared their rejection of Trump as candidate even before the 2016 election. It is now a legion of principled Republicans from all walks of life (but notably not so much from GOP representatives in Congress). These people have been judging the President on the basis of his politics, his messaging (in tweets and public appearances), the company he keeps, and his character over the course of the first Trump term in office. And they have, belatedly and grudgingly concluded that they have been betting on the wrong horse. They now see, what should have been evident from the beginning, that Trump is not, and never was, a Republican. They now see clearly that Trump is a populist, with narcistic, authoritarian, and corrupt streaks that are common denominators in populists. Just think about Franco, Mussolini, Peron, Nasser, Marcos, Maduro and Bolsonaro. (It is notable that many populist leaders had the support of Christian churches or denominations. The Trump support from evangelicals is not an aberration.)

That none of this eroding support from Republican conservatives (and, for that matter, Independents) is reflected in the national polls, which consistently show an approximate 40% support for the President, is only explainable as confirmation of the fact that with Trump we are no longer dealing with a political movement, but with a cult. A cult consists of true believers, who are not swayed or dissuaded by facts or rationale, but are guided only by unquestionable faith in the cult leader. As any other cult, the Trump cult attracts people from all walks of life, but mostly the disgruntled and the beleaguered.

The core constituency of this cult is formed by descendants of the European settlers and immigrants who, over the last four centuries, have taken over the land of the ‘First Americans’; who have had a long history and privilege of dictating the political scene in the United States, but are now realizing that they are losing this privilege in a wave of immigration driven demographic changes. These true believers adore their cult leader, because of his disdain for other ethnicities and his suppression of immigration. These true believers have grown up with the belief in American exceptionalism as a dogma supporting America’s divine right to world supremacy, a supremacy that is now being challenged by globalization and the emergence of new economic powerhouses like China and the EU.

The November election may not give us a clear indication of how strong and widespread this cult is. Because the cultish Trump vote will be supplemented by those Americans who may hold their noses while doing so, but still vote for Trump, because they loathe and fear the alternative more. These voters have bought in to the belief that with a Trump defeat, America will be doomed to converting from capitalism to socialism and that their personal prosperity and security is at stake. We all know many of these people. They are in our neighborhoods, our churches, our offices, and also in our families.

I will not argue with the cult members. They are not open to any argument that challenges their blind faith in the cult leader. But these other likely Trump voters I ask: Would you tolerate a person like Trump, in his behavior, his personal conduct, his cronies, and his utterances, as the CEO of your business, as the pastor of your church, as the grandfather of your children? If your answer is ‘yes’, you belong to the cult and I want to distance myself from you. If your answer is ‘no’, then, in good faith, how can you even consider to hand over the leadership of your country (and the world for that matter) to a person that you would not entrust with any authority in your personal life?

I am a centrist myself. I believe in democracy, the Constitution, and the strength and resiliency of our institutions and alliances. I am an open book, politically speaking, after writing six years ago, well before the emergence of Trump, my political testament in my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE’. I have seen enough of socialism in my lifetime to know that it does not deliver on its theoretical promises. I believe in democratic capitalism as a tool to reduce the suffocating inequality that is at the core of so much of the current unrest and discontent. But, if a had a vote as a permanent US resident, I would not hesitate for a moment to vote for a Democrat, if necessary to deny Trump a second term. America has, in our lifetime, nicely survived and prospered under many Democratic Presidents, who have always been restrained by checks and balances built into our constitutional political system and by almost universal public aversion of left extremism. There is no reason to believe that this time it will be different if voters put another Democrat in the White House.

If you are not a cult member, how can you then, in good faith, give a second chance to the man who so blatantly has exhibited dishonesty, narcissism, ignorance, intellectual poverty, greed, pettiness, and racism during his first term in office? Please don’t!