"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." -H. L. Mencken
Here's another collection of links and such that stuck out to me. I'll start with what I think are a few 'must-reads' and then move on to other interesting stuff.
Oh, and if you're getting this by email you can click here to read online (I'm told the formatting on the emails can be screwy). Speaking of which, I don't plan to keep posting these to Facebook so if you like the blog consider "following" it (link at the bottom). Hopefully I won't be posting a lot... depends on how awful things get :).
These articles struck me as particularly insightful:
Ned Resnikoff writing for ThinkProgress, gets at something really important: "Trump's lies have a purpose. They are an assault on Democracy." Seriously, read the whole thing. He paints the big picture in a way that I think most people are missing.
Ian Millhiser, also at ThinkProgress, follows up on that article with another excellent piece: "Democrats will botch the resistance against Trump." The title doesn't really capture his argument, so just click through. The Thurgood Marshall anecdote was a great way to illustrate the trap we find ourselves in.
And this one you probably already saw, but in case you missed it, here is David Remnick's piece on Obama for the New Yorker. Remnick spent time with Obama in the days before and after the election and provides an account of Obama's reaction: "Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency."
Technically Donald Trump has still not been elected President. The real vote occurs December 19th, and although it's beyond a long shot that Donald Trump will be denied the presidency it's worth considering a few things:
- The Electoral College was originally designed as an opportunity to overrule the people should they choose someone unfit for office
- In this particular case the people, as expressed by the popular vote, in fact chose another candidate (Clinton's lead is now over 2.8 million votes. She earned more votes than any other candidate in history except for Obama in '08), adding further weight to the argument the electors should vote their conscience and the will of the people
- These are the rules of the game, as written in our Constitution. This is not "cheating." Should the electoral college choose a candidate other than Trump, that candidate will have won fairly according to the rules that are in place. If you don't like the rules we can talk about changing them for next time (a conversation I would welcome!).
- If, for example enough of Trump's electors decide to abstain or vote for someone else they could conceivably deny him the necessary 270 votes to become President. (I realize this is highly unlikely, but bear with me...) If no candidate reaches 270 the election would then be tossed to the House of Representatives, who would surely vote Trump in all the same. This however would be quite a spectacle and make the absurdity of the Electoral College clear for all to see. This in itself would be a minor victory as it could spur a real conversation about changing the rules to make them more (small-d) democratic. (Not as an easy change to make, given it's written into the Constitution)
Michael Signer (Mayor of Charlottesville, VA and biographer of James Madison) writes for Time magazine, "The Electoral College was Meant to Stop Demagogues like Trump."
The fact is that the Electoral College was primarily designed to stop a demagogue—a tyrannical mass leader who preys on our prejudices—from becoming President.
Lawrence Lessig has more along the same lines:
The Framers created the electoral college as a safety valve. They were not certain how the states would establish the process for selecting a president. Most assumed they’d have popular elections. But to avoid the chance that some insane passion would sweep the nation, and drive it to elect a nut, or a demagogue, they embedded an electoral college as a kind of circuit breaker. If the people go crazy, the college would be there to check it.As (probably) Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the [President]” — but that sense would operate through an intermediate body, actually several intermediate bodies that would meet separately in the states, cast their ballots, and then transmit the results to Congress. By requiring they all meet on the same day but in many different places, the Framers thought they could avoid coordination and “corruption.” But by vesting the ultimate decision in these bodies of electors, they intended, Hamilton tells us, that:
the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. (Federalist 68)
Many have rightly criticized the college as anti-democratic. I am one of those critics. But so long as it is part of our Constitution, we should take it seriously. And all it was seriously meant to do was to give a set of elected representatives (the “electors”) a chance to second guess the outcome of a popular election. If the people went nuts, the electors could veto it.
But if the people don’t go nuts, there is no reason — or justification — for the electors to second guess them. The Framers did not limit the reasons the electors might invoke for voting however they vote. They are free to vote however they want, for whatever reason they want — recognizing, no doubt, that they will need to justify what they do to a public that might ask why. They were empowered to veto the democratic will — if the democratic will needs to be vetoed. But in a Republic, they should only exercise that power when circumstances demand it.
In this election, the people have not gone crazy. The majority have cast their vote for Hillary Clinton. Like her or not, she is not a demagogue. She is not a tyrant. Indeed, she is the most qualified candidate for president in at least a generation. No elector could ever have had a good and sufficient reason to vote against her.
But because of the screwy way that electors are allocated, despite her winning the popular vote, she will lose the vote in the electoral college — if the electors, unthinkingly, simply followed the modern winner-take-all tradition for casting their votes (a rule not itself in the Constitution).
There is no reason — either morally or politically or constitutionally — that the electors need to create this crisis now. There is no reason they need to vote against the popular will. Each elector is free to vote his or her own conscience. In a Republic — aka, a “representative democracy” — it would thus be completely justified for an elector to vote to assure that the will of the majority prevails in a presidential election.
I get that many will respond — “hey, but that’s not our system.” Those “many” are just wrong. That is our system — electors can vote however they wish; and they should exercise their power consistent with democratic ideals. It is at least the presumption of a representative democracy that the person who gets the most votes should win. That presumption should persuade electors to vote to assure a majoritarian outcome, unless there’s a good reason not to. Simply following a tradition that has defeated the democratic will at least 4 times in the past is not “a good reason.”
Another reason the Electoral College should keep Trump out of the White House is his myriad conflicts of interest. Vox helpfully catalogs them here.
This Politico article tells us about two political ethicists making the case to the electors that these conflicts of interest are indeed disqualifying: "'It's like a powder keg that's going to explode'"
On a side note, Josh Marshall at TPM speculates as to why Trump refuses to divest himself to avoid these conflicts: "Maybe the Answer Is That He Can't Divest." (More here)
Michael Cannon from the conservative think tank the Cato Institute proposes something I would actually support: "Democrats can stop Trump via the Electoral College. But not how you think." Basically he argues Clinton should free her electors to vote for a responsible Republican, such as Mitt Romney. Finding 38 Republican electors to change their votes could become much easier if they could vote for someone they might actually like, and we would be spared having a sociopath for a President. Also, again, it would have the side benefit of making the anti-democratic nature of the Electoral College very clear.
The title of this Washington Post article/blog post (from "The Fix") says it all: "A lot of nonvoters are mad at the election results. If only there were something they could have done!" There are some interesting graphs in there.
Ah, Idiocracy. That movie only becomes more relevant over time.
You may have seen similar maps in previous elections, but these blue/red electoral maps of this last election that account for population and other factors are worth checking out.
Adrian Anchondo offers a righteous rant in defense of Hillary, with especially pointed commentary directed at liberals who spent the election slagging her: "Owning Our Shit."
There have been a slew of reports lately from journalists going into Trumpland and asking Trump supporters if they are racist and being told "no." I'm glad they cleared that up! More seriously, it is worth hearing Trump supporters describe in their own words why they voted for him rather than just making assumptions. So, by all means, read articles like this report from Katherine Kramer for Vox: "For years I've been watching anti-elite fury build in Wisconsin. Then came Trump."
And give consideration to this thoughtful post from Jeff Jackson, a North Carolina State Senator, about how Democrats might better reach disaffected rural white voters: "The Case We Should Make to Trump's Working-Class Voters."
But also keep in mind that it is a natural human impulse to want to justify the "will of the people" (in this case actually a minority of the people) and to assume elections point us towards us to a collective wisdom which is our duty to understand and accept. I'm personally skeptical of efforts to sanitize the election of it's darker implications. Of course we should be open to hearing different points of view, but as you read and consider articles like this or this I suggest you also consider this admittedly harsh but truthful post at Forsetti's Justice that argues the problem isn't that the "liberal elite" don't understand rural America, but that rural Americans don't understand themselves: "On Rural America: Understanding Isn't the Problem."
I agree with Charles Pierce's assessment at Esquire, responding to this Politico article about Trump voters: "You Can Keep Studying the White Working Class Voters, But We Know the Answers"-
In the campaign just passed, racism and xenophobia and sexism were not "the only reasons" Trump won. That's stupid. There is genuine economic anxiety and despair in the country. But they were the accelerant. They might not have been the biggest reason why he won, but they damn sure were a big part of filling his rally halls and getting his voters to the polls, and not just in the South, either. All American populism falls into the trap of scapegoating The Other eventually; if it didn't, Bernie Sanders would be picking his Cabinet right now.
And I'm starting to get a kind of itchy feeling that anthropological surveys like this one are now serving the implicit purpose of camouflaging this basic fact on behalf of delicate souls who don't want to look the country squarely in the eye.
I don't know how we fix this problem, but I do know we won't fix it if we refuse to see it for what it is.
Derek Thompson writes for the Atlantic about "The Dangerous Myth That Hillary Lost Because She Ignored the Working Class"
Perhaps the clearest takeaway from the November election for many liberals is that Hillary Clinton lost because she ignored the working class.
In the days after her shocking loss, Democrats complained that Clinton had no jobs agenda. A widely shared essay in The Nation blamed Clinton's "neoliberalism" for abandoning the voters who swung the election. “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders said on CBS This Morning, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to where I came from.”
But here is the troubling reality for civically minded liberals looking to justify their preferred strategies: Hillary Clinton talked about the working class, middle class jobs, and the dignity of work constantly. And she still lost.
She detailed plans to help coal miners and steel workers. She had decades of ideas to help parents, particularly working moms, and their children. She had plans to help young men who were getting out of prison and old men who were getting into new careers. She talked about the dignity of manufacturing jobs, the promise of clean-energy jobs, and the Obama administration’s record of creating private-sector jobs for a record-breaking number of consecutive months. She said the word “job” more in the Democratic National Convention speech than Trump did in the RNC acceptance speech; she mentioned the word “jobs” more during the first presidential debate than Trump did. She offered the most comprehensively progressive economic platform of any presidential candidate in history—one specifically tailored to an economy powered by an educated workforce.
What’s more, the evidence that Clinton lost because of the nation’s economic disenchantment is extremely mixed. Some economists found that Trump won in counties affected by trade with China. But among the 52 percent of voters who said economics was the most important issue in the election, Clinton beat Trump by double digits. In the vast majority of swing states, voters said they preferred Clinton on the economy. If the 2016 election had come down to economics exclusively, the working class—which, by any reasonable definition, includes the black, Hispanic, and Asian working classes, too—would have elected Hillary Clinton president.
The more frightening possibility for liberals is that Clinton didn’t lose because the white working class failed to hear her message, but precisely because they did hear it.
Trump’s white voters do support the mommy state, but only so long as it’s mothering them. Most of them don’t seem eager to change Medicare or Social Security, but they’re fine with repealing Obamacare and its more diverse pool of 20 million insured people. They’re happy for the government to pick winners and losers, so long as beleaguered coal and manufacturing companies are in the winner’s circle. Massive deficit-financed spending on infrastructure? Under Obama, that was dangerous government overreach, but under Trump, it’s a jobs plan by a guy they know won’t let Muslims and Mexicans cut in line to get work renovating highways and airports.
David Dayen at the New Republic writes "Obama Can and Should Put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court." Obama, of course, will not do this, and there are even some good reasons not to do it (even if the fact the Senate has refused to consider his nomination is absolutely indefensible)... but that's not why I'm linking to the article. I really wanted to bring attention to a point Dayen makes at the end of his piece that gets at a more fundamental issue that I think Democrats are going to have to grapple with in the age of Trump:
Republicans have absolutely no problem breaking any norm in their path to power. They turned the filibuster from a seldom-used tool to a routine exercise. Tom DeLay saw advantage in doing a second redistricting in Texas in 2003 to pick up extra GOP seats, even though states normally redistrict every 10 years; he succeeded. Congress typically passes the debt limit without comment, but Republicans took the country to the brink of its first default, extracting concessions in the process. A minority of the Senate prevented the confirmation for years of any director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau simply because they didn’t like the agency. The opposition party would never attempt to conduct foreign policy that differed from the president’s, until Republican senators tried it before the Iran deal.
And, of course, the year-long blockade of Garland, who has not even received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, violated a long-standing norm.
Republicans surely view Democrats in the same manner. They would cite the Senate’s use of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster on executive branch and judicial appointees (though not Supreme Court justices), and the Obama administration’s reliance on executive orders on policies like immigration. But anyone weighing the two claims dispassionately would conclude that Republicans have shown far more willingness to bend the rules of governance to their will, and far less respect for how those rules have traditionally been administered.
There are consequences to one party being more aggressive about defying governing norms. If liberal legislation can’t break a Republican filibuster, but Democrats don’t offer the same resistance, the playing field is tilted to conservative policy. If Republicans use any maneuver to get appointees in place, and Democrats don’t, conservatives become more likely to be ensconced at executive agencies. If Republicans are willing to blackmail the government and Democrats aren’t, they get more concessions from that blackmail. If Republicans use gerrymandering and voter suppression and every available tool more sharply than Democrats, we get conservative government even if we vote for a liberal one.
Democrats, in short, bring a butter knife to a gunfight. They may be correct on the merits that institutional norms allow the government to function properly. But as long as Republicans don’t care about such niceties, that respect is equivalent to surrender.
The only reason it makes sense to respect norms is if we can count on the other side to do the same. So, how are we going to deal with that? See the Ian Millhiser article that I posted up top.
And speaking of different sets of rules...
Surprise, surprise: "Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win the White House." The Obama administration sat on this info so as not to be accused of trying to sway the election. Meanwhile, the FBI did the opposite: release baseless speculation in order to sway the election.
The Economist has a very good summary of this issue: "The alarming response to Russian meddling in American democracy" Just go read it. Republicans didn't always put the interests of their party before those of their country, but they certainly do now. (Many of them, anyway)
It should be said though that the efforts of Putin, Comey and Assange would have come to naught if it weren't for the media's eagerness to portray Trump and Clinton as two equally bad choices: "Study: Clinton-Trump coverage was a feast of false equivalency."
It's worth repeating: the reason we lost is not that all these Trump voters came out of the woodwork... it's that people who came out for Obama didn't show up for Clinton (see my previous post). All the unfair negative coverage was a major factor in depressing turnout.
And then there's social media...
I suppose videos like this are useful, although I look at it kind of like recycling: it's great and we should all do it, but if we're counting on people to choose to do the "right thing" in order to save the planet we're hosed. In the case of the environment we need to make the "right thing" also be the cheapest/most profitable thing. In the case of fake news Facebook has indicated they want to educate their users, using videos similar to the one above I imagine, so that they will be more sophisticated consumers of media. This strikes me as highly unlikely to solve the problem. I can understand why Facebook would rather just stay out of it, but they have a civic and moral responsibility not to let their site become a propaganda tool. This Vox article has some thoughts on how they could really make progress on the issue.
On a related note: "Why conservatives might be more likely to fall for fake news."
This Op-Ed at Teen Vogue (of all places) makes some great points about how truth itself is now under assault: "Donald Trump is Gaslighting America." The Resnikoff piece above covered a lot of the same ground but I wanted to include this as well as it's definitely worth reading. If nothing else we should all be familiar with the term "gas lighting," as it's a safe bet to remain relevant:
"Gas lighting" is a buzzy name for a terrifying strategy currently being used to weaken and blind the American electorate. We are collectively being treated like Bella Manningham in the 1938 Victorian thriller from which the term "gas light" takes its name. In the play, Jack terrorizes his wife Bella into questioning her reality by blaming her for mischievously misplacing household items which he systematically hides. Doubting whether her perspective can be trusted, Bella clings to a single shred of evidence: the dimming of the gas lights that accompanies the late night execution of Jack’s trickery. The wavering flame is the one thing that holds her conviction in place as she wriggles free of her captor’s control.
To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians, while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias.
At the hands of Trump, facts have become interchangeable with opinions, blinding us into arguing amongst ourselves, as our very reality is called into question.
I just put the film on my Netflix queue.
Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie argues Trump's election calls for clear moral thinking in this excellent New Yorker Op-Ed: "Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About." I'm tempted to just post the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:
Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots. Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism; it allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility. Hazy visions of “healing” and “not becoming the hate we hate” sound dangerously like appeasement. The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity.
America loves winners, but victory does not absolve. Victory, especially a slender one decided by a few thousand votes in a handful of states, does not guarantee respect. Nobody automatically deserves deference on ascending to the leadership of any country. American journalists know this only too well when reporting on foreign leaders—their default mode with Africans, for instance, is nearly always barely concealed disdain. President Obama endured disrespect from all quarters. By far the most egregious insult directed toward him, the racist movement tamely termed “birtherism,” was championed by Trump.
Yet, a day after the election, I heard a journalist on the radio speak of the vitriol between Obama and Trump. No, the vitriol was Trump’s. Now is the time to burn false equivalencies forever. Pretending that both sides of an issue are equal when they are not is not “balanced” journalism; it is a fairy tale—and, unlike most fairy tales, a disingenuous one.
Now is the time to refuse the blurring of memory. Each mention of “gridlock” under Obama must be wrought in truth: that “gridlock” was a deliberate and systematic refusal of the Republican Congress to work with him. Now is the time to call things what they actually are, because language can illuminate truth as much as it can obfuscate it. Now is the time to forge new words. “Alt-right” is benign. “White-supremacist right” is more accurate.
Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about. “Climate contrarian” obfuscates. “Climate-change denier” does not. And because climate change is scientific fact, not opinion, this matters.
Now is the time to discard that carefulness that too closely resembles a lack of conviction. The election is not a “simple racism story,” because no racism story is ever a “simple” racism story, in which grinning evil people wearing white burn crosses in yards. A racism story is complicated, but it is still a racism story, and it is worth parsing. Now is not the time to tiptoe around historical references. Recalling Nazism is not extreme; it is the astute response of those who know that history gives both context and warning.
Speaking of which, Trump is not Hitler, but it is worth reviewing a little history here:
Lest you think bringing up Hitler is overwrought, check out this video:
That happened, folks. In our nation's capital.
Now the advantage we have over the people of Germany in the 30's (besides having vastly more wealth and stability) is we've seen that movie already (in my case hundreds of times... I watch a lot of WWII movies). But that doesn't mean it can't happen again. The only reason it won't happen again is we won't let it... so let's not let it.
These days it doesn't feel like love and compassion have much place in our politics. I certainly have a hard time empathizing with Trump voters right now. But as MLK, Ghandi and others have realized, love and compassion are the only things that change anything, ever. This short video is a nice reminder of that:
Obama talks about race:
Quite a series of covers:
I meant to post this video before the election, but it is strangely perfect I must say:
I'm very proud of my college friend Gabe Fowler for putting this together: "Cartoonists are creating a newspaper to protest Trump's view of women" Gabe has already been contacted by the Library of Congress, who want to enter the paper into their collection. Really cool stuff!
Finally, we of course lost an American hero with the passing of John Glenn this week. (See some cool photos here- keep scrolling down) I thought this NYT Op-Ed by Dale Butland made an important point:
When John passed away, we lost a man who many say is the last genuine American hero. Not because others won’t do heroic things, but because national heroes aren’t easily crowned or even acknowledged in this more cynical age.
He belonged to an earlier and more innocent era — when we trusted our institutions, thought government could accomplish big and important things, still believed politics could be a noble profession, and didn’t think that ticker-tape parades were reserved for World Series or Super Bowl champions.