A ten day bender… a bad case of the “DTs”

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Every day since January 20th, I wake up and think I have a case of the delirium tremens, or the “DTs.”

In the words of the Irish song-writer Christy Moore,

“I dreamt a dream the other night, and I couldn’t sleep a wink, because the rat’s were trying to count the sheep and I was off the drink.  There were footsteps in the parlor and voices on the stairs. I was climbing up the walls and moving’ round the chairs. I looked up from the blanket and up at the fireplace, and Donald Trump and Kellyane Conway were starring me in the face. Suddenly it dawned on me I was getting the old D.T.’s, when Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos were dancing on the mantlepiece.

Wait….  wait… wait…

The problem is I actually haven’t had a drink in the past ten days.  I probably should have, and I planned to on Inauguration Day, but regardless, like many in America, I feel like I have a serious case of the D.T.’s. But the DTs I have a case of aren’t the delirium tremens (a serious case of the body reacting to the withdrawal of alcohol).  I’ve got a bad case of the DTs, aka that feeling of nausea, disbelief, and illness from the actions and words of Donald Trump.

But the reality is nothing has been a dream. Oh, there have been nightmares, but everything has actually happened.  We have had a president give an inaugural address (ghost-written by a neo-Nazi-alt-right chief strategist) who declared it would be AMERICA FIRST! From here on out.  We have a president who thinks he is still on the campaign trail, and is so pre-occupied by his own popularity that he has repeated again and again about how large his inauguration crowd was, and then attacked the media – FAKE NEWS! – for reporting actual photos demonstrating that the crowds were about 1/3 the size of those of President Obama’s first inauguration.   Given that he also went off in a primary debate about the size of his genitals, this should be no surprise.  But it was an early sign that there were not normal times.

The first ten days had fifteen executive orders. Within hours of taking office, the executive branch was instructed to scale back on enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.  Power had returned to the people, but those who are most vulnerable would be at risk of having their health care ripped away from them.

Twenty-four hours into the Trump bender, a half-million people, mostly women, ascended on Washington DC for the Women’s March. 600 parallel marches across the nation attracted almost 4 million people, voicing their opposition to the expected policies of the new administration.  Trump initially ignored it, but he headed to the CIA to give his first address, aimed at improving relations with the nation’s primary intelligence gatherers.   He spoke in front of the memorial wall that commemorates the 117 CIA operative who gave their lives in service of their country, and largely ignored where he was, and gave a campaign speech, focused on the size of his, ahem,  inaugural crowd.   There was laughter and applause — and later we learned the audience had been populated with Trump supporters.

This wasn’t enough though, as he ordered his press secretary to speak to the media, where he attacked then, and then lied about the inauguration crowd. Again.  The president also banned the National Park Service from using twitter, in retaliation for tweeting side-by-side photos of the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations. Later in the week, numerous agencies would find their twitter privileges revoked.  This resulted in at least fifteen government agencies going “rogue” with unofficial twitter accounts.   Somehow park rangers were at the forefront of the resistance.

The next morning, Kellyanne Conway was challenged on NBC News about the president’s focus on the inaugural crowd, and uttered words I fear will be with us for the rest of his administration.  They were not lies, they were alternative facts.  Alternative facts????   It was then that I first realized we were in trouble.   This was straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.

Monday (Day 4) started when the president revoked the Trans Pacific Partnership, instituted a federal agency hiring freeze, and re-imposed an old federal policy that forbade the use of federal funds for abortion.  Given the rest of the week, it was a quiet day.

The bender was in full-swing by Tuesday (Day 5), when the president announced that we would move forward in construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.  The environment — and Native American sacred lands be damned!  But that wasn’t enough.  He tweeted his congratulations to Fox News for its ratings in the inauguration coverage and once again called CNN “FAKE NEWS.”  Then, the president went to twitter to threaten martial law in Chicago if it didn’t get the “carnage” of gun violence under control.   Bring in the Feds.  Delegitimize the media and threaten martial law.    This is stuff you see in a dystopian novel, not the real world.

Wednesday proved that these dystopian fears were true.   Trump has been so bothered by losing the popular vote by 2.9 million that he has repeated – and his press secretary has repeated – the lie — excuse me, the alternative fact  – of massive voter fraud.  The president announced a major investigation of voter fraud (including dead people voting) in the 216 election.  Even though the only FRAUD that has any evidence behind it — is the role of the Russian government’s interference in the election.  And that several of his closest advisors – including one of his kids – were registered to vote in two states.

But Wednesday wasn’t over.  Trump had just begun.  He was going to follow through on another major campaign promise.  The Wall.   He was going to build a wall along the entire Mexican border — And Mexico was going to pay for it.  Wait, Mexico says, the hell we will.   Ok, we’ll make them pay somehow.  He ends the night with a surreal interview on ABC News, in which he remained focused on himself, and his popularity.  And there were more alternative facts.

It was probably not surprising that on Amazon.com, George Orwell’s 1984 had soared to the #1 position on the Amazon best-sellers list.  A 1949 dystopian novel about re-writing the news, erasing facts, and doublespeak, was the number one selling book in America.  Seems legit.

On Thursday, Trump threatened to impose a 20 percent import tax on all goods coming from Mexico.  He attacked the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and promised to end it.     But there was more.  The Nazi-in-chief-strategiest described the Media as “the opposition.”     And then the top four career diplomats announced they were resigning from the State Department.  There were alternate facts though, as the administration reported they were asked to leave and did not voluntarily resign.

Friday was a doozy.  He called out both the Washington Post and New York Times as “FAKE NEWS” on twitter.   Further efforts to delegitimize the news media.

The president announced his immigration ban on Muslims.   He would impose a ban on all immigrants and refugees from 7 Muslim countries in the Middle East, promising to protect us against terrorism.  There would be extreme vetting.  The president suspended the entire resettlement (refugee) policy for 120 days, and indefinitely banned the arrival of Syrian refugees.   WHAT?  Syria was where the greatest refugee crisis in the world had been transpiring.  Syrian refugees were trying to escape the civil war, the oppressive regime of Asaad, AND ISIS.  But they are out.  And no longer welcome.   Oh, the president would cut the total refugees permitted in the US by sixty percent.    We might as well tear down the Statue of Liberty.

The President did something even more frightening. He demonstrated his “extreme” islamaphobia, and announced that Christians would be given priority over individuals of other religions.  There would be a religious test for entry into the United States.  And sadly, many “Christians” applauded.  Thankfully many were horrified by it.

Saturday marked the 9th day of the Trump administration.  It was a week since the Women’s March – a coordinated, organized protest in the works since November 9th.  This Saturday the protests were spontaneous, beginning at JFK International Airport when the first international flights arrived, and the Customs and Border Patrol began detaining, and turning back individuals seeking entry into the U.S.   Many were not even allowed to board flights for the U.S. People with green cards were detained; people with visas found their visa’s revoked.  The vast majority of these people were not refugees. Similar stories began emerging from every international airport — Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International, Dallas-Fort Worth,  Atlanta, and Seattle.  Lawyers began arriving, filing emergency petitions for writs of habeas corpus for individuals being detained.  Protestors began to swarm airports.  Thousands of people in Chicago headed to the airport, practically shutting down Terminal 5. New York City taxi drivers announced a one hour boycott of picking up travelers at JFK, acting in solidarity against the new policy.   Democracy was in the street.   A Federal judge ultimately issued a temporary stay on the imposition of the new policy.

The day was not over.  Late Saturday evening, the president issued a directive adding Steve Bannon, his alt-right-white-supremacist-neo-Nazi chief advisor to the National Security Council.  WHAT?  WHAT?  There was more.  The Director of National Intelligence, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the top generals and admirals of each branch of the military) would no longer be official permanent members of the NSC, but would only attend when it was relevant.   I don’t even know what to say about this.

Yeah, the last ten days has been a bender for the ages.  But this isn’t a joke.  Hell, I haven’t captured half of the insanity that has been the last ten days.  I am, however, committed to writing, to protesting, to speak truth to power.

There is a lot of work to do.  And intense pressure has to be put on the House and Senate GOP to stand up to the new “leader.”  We can not allow him to re-write facts, to “gaslight” us into questioning  reality and accepting the leader’s new reality.

I’ll end with a bit more from Christy Moore.

I dreamt I was in ecstasy in Heaven, and in agony in Hell. I was bored in Limbo and then I was in Purgatory as well. And there was original sins and venial sins and mortal sins by the score. So I tied barbed wire around my underpants and flagellated myself on the floor. Then I dreamt I was in the confessional box and auld Bishop said to me: ‘Any impure thoughts my chid?  ‘‘Yeah,t he fu#$n barbed wire was killin’ me.

Well, folks, we definitely have a case of the DT’s (or the DJT’s), but barbed wire won’t fix it.  Day 11 begins tomorrow.  Keep the pressure on.  There is work to do.  The Constitution needs us.   Donate to the ACLU,  participate in a march.  Call your representatives and senators.  Reach out to the local Muslim community and say  You are welcome here.

And if you need a drink, by all means, have one.

What we do matters

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Today was the day the world recognizes as the International Holocaust Memorial Day.   The day when the world remembers the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazi’s in World War II.  It is a day in which we pause to reflect on one of the greatest horrors in human history.   The systematic executions of 6 million human beings for no other reason than the fact that the fascists in Germany were so anti-Semitic that they treated Jews as non-humans, resulted in the death of 37 percent of all Jewish people on the planet.

The Nazi’s persecution of Europe’s Jews was something that sadly, the world’s powers ignored.  Indeed, as it became clear in the late 1930s that Jews were at risk, there was an effort by many to escape the Third Reich.  In May 1939, a ship, the St Louis, left Hamburg, Germany, filled with 937 people, almost entirely Jews, escaping Germany.  The ship’s intended port was Havana, Cuba.  But Cuba refused to provide refuge.  Only 28 were allowed to enter, and the ship was forced out of Cuban waters.  It sailed towards Miami, with 908 refugees, and efforts to get President Roosevelt to authorize entry of the refugees were ignored. There were strict quotas on the numbers of refugees, and the State Department refused to make an exception.  The ship sailed back to Europe.  Arrangements were made for entry visas in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

According to the United States Holocaust Museum, “Great Britain took 288 passengers; the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers; and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France. Of the 288 passengers admitted by Great Britain, all survived World War II save one, who was killed during an air raid in 1940. Of the 620 passengers who returned to continent, 87 (14%) managed to emigrate before the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.”

Had Cuba and the United States not refused entry, 254 people would not have died at the hands of the Nazi’s.

When I first saw the display on the Voyage of the St. Louis at the USHM, it was early during the current Syrian refugee crisis.   Today, as we remember the Holocaust, I am disgusted by the fact that on this very day, the president of the United States has issued an executive order limiting refugees into the United States from Syria and a temporary ban on refugees from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.  Not only did the president issue a ban on refugees, he made it government policy that the entry of refugees would give priority to Christians and other religions over the entry of Muslims.  He created a RELIGIOUS TEST.

The president created a religious test.  Let that sink in.  In a country of immigrants, its chief executive said we will favor Christians over Muslims, and we will not all any refugees in from Syria – the country where a monumental humanitarian tragedy has been on-going.

When the Holocaust is remembered, it is common to say Never Forget. and Never Again.   We must never forget what happened.   The United States Holocaust Museum uses the statement #WhatWeDoMatters.   What We Do Matters.   If the American people allow the president to get away with this, we are all guilty.  If we allow this travesty to continue, then every single one of us is culpable for the consequences.  It is incumbent on our elected officials to stand up to Mr. Trump and say NO.   What we do matters.  And this is not what America stands for.   It is incumbent on every one of the 62 million Americans who voted for him to say NO.  We are better than this.

What we do matters.




And that was Day 6.

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Thursday is one of my teaching days.  I have three classes, with two 75 minute breaks. Yet each time I went to class today I came back to breaking news. It was insane.  Over and over.

It actually started when I got to the office, before before my first class, with the following:

“The Media is our opposition!” says the NAZI-in-chief advisor.  Yes, there is a neo-Nazi advising the president in the White House.  Oh, excuse me.  #AlternativeFacts alert:  “an Alt-Right” advisor.  Yeah,whatever.  A Nazi.

Off to class.   75 minutes later…

The four top senior staff in the State Department resigned. The career diplomats who are the primary under-secretaries of state all up-and-left, once Exxon’s CEO became Secretary of State.   You know, the people who actually run things, and have all the institutional knowledge in making foreign policy.

I shook my head, and went on a brief walk around the quad.

Hold on.  there is an #AlternativeFacts Alert.  They were fired, they didn’t resign.  Or did they?
Off to my second class. (In case you were wondering, it was a discussion of what is a search, under the Fourth Amendment, comparing the Trespass Doctrine with the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy docrtrine).  But I digress.

75 minutes later, back to the office.  New York Times News Alert flies across my screen.

We are going to tax all imports from Mexico 20% to pay for the “Wall.”

Holy crap — better stock up on Tequila and Dos Equis. And heck, Mexico is only our second-largest trading partner.  And that means, we the taxpayers (you know, those things HE doesn’t pay) will pay the added cost of this tax.

Oh wait, the commander in tweet can’t raise taxes.  Congress does that.  But who knows.

Then of course, sometime in the midst of this day, Mexico’s president announced he was cancelling his trip to the US.   Wait!   More #AlternativeFacts.   President Cartman says Mexico needs to respect the US.   Yes, freaking Cartman is in the White House.   “Respect my authoritah.”

Finally, there is the idiot press secretary, who apparently has tweeted his twitter password twice in two days. How exactly do you do that?  You have to be logged in to twitter to post a tweet.   Ok, that provided comic relief.  Of course, he may have been sending a secret message to Russia.


And that was Day 6.

Somebody needs to do something.  Maybe House and Senate Republicans need to say enough, and begin impeachment proceedings.  Stupidity has to be reason enough for high crimes and misdemeanors, right?  Or better yet, invoke the 25th Amendment, and remove him for incompetence.   Of course, that will put Pence in charge.  Oy.

Thank you America.  I’m glad you stopped that woman who used a private email server from becoming president.

Welcome to the American spring?

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January 21, 2017. Was this the beginning of the American spring?  Was it a resurgence of democracy in which American people from across the country insisted that they will not allow Donald Trump to take away their rights, and set the country’s progress back a generation?   Was it the beginning of a left-leaning tea party?

Whether it was the beginning of an American awakening, or not, the numbers are astounding.  While it is impossible to get an exact count, there are good estimates that between 3.5 and 4.3 million people marched world-wide.  Washington, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago alone accounted for close to 2 million people.  There were 600 marches across the country, and across the world, with large crowds in places like London and Paris.  The Women’s March was about more than women’s rights though, and there were plenty of men who turned out.  The march was not only a protest against Trump’s election, it was a call to arms.  The march sent a powerful political message to make it crystal clear that people were not going to allow Trump to trample over their rights.   It also reinforced the fact that while Trump narrowly won the electoral college, he lost the popular election by almost 3 million votes.

The march was all the more meaningful given the nationalistic, isolationist, jingoist “America first” inauguration address and all its “carnage” from the day before.  Trump claims to speak for the people.  He argues that his election returns power to the people.  The Women’s March – and the millions of people who turned out, make it clear that NOT all the people are happy with the direction he proposes taking.

But a march is a one-day event.  The real work lies ahead, and the question is will this mark the beginning of a movement?  Will the energy and power of the day of protest be transformed into a political movement, into a political party?  Will the Women’s March on Washington transform into a progressive tea party?  If it is the beginning of a new movement, will that movement learn from the lessons of this election?  Will the left remain in its identity politics bubble in which there is a one-size-fits-all progressivism, that sets to the side any alternative viewpoints?  Will progressives be so fixated that they remain indifferent to conditions outside their self-defined group?  Will the working class be left-behind?  Will all individuals who share different views be shunned and made-fun of? If nothing is learned from November 8th, then it will be for naught.

There is much talk about whether the march will spark a new tea party or will it be like Occupy Wall Street, stridently against something, but never clear exactly what it was for.  I think there is certainly a lot of energy that can come from resisting Trump’s agenda; resisting his embracing of “alternative facts” (lies) and the populist alt-right (a.k.a. white supremacists), but the movement has to be be about more than stopping Trump.  Oh, it is ok, and it is essential to stop him. His authoritarian tendencies, and efforts to delegitimize the media, and to treat facts as fungible represent a fundamental threat to our democratic tradition.  His lack of a popular mandate, losing the nation-wide vote by a margin of almost three million, and the evidence of foreign interference in the election, make the claims of his illegitimacy all the more stronger.  Indeed, reform of the electoral college can and should be a core issue of any new political movement.

But if there will be a successful progressive movement, it has to go beyond just Trump.  I am uncertain whether this weekend will mark the beginning of an American spring.  I’m hesitant to even use the words American spring, given that the Arab spring, the awakening in the Arab world, has not had a lot of positive results.  An American spring, and a progressive political movement must be able to be more than what has defined progressive politics in the past decade.  Diversity and women’s rights are very important, but a progressive coalition must be exactly that, a coalition of multiple-viewpoints.  Will the left be able to see beyond it’s identify politics fixation?  Will the focus on women’s rights and diversity also encompass the concerns of the working class?   It is possible that Trump’s antics, extremism, and efforts to delegitimize the press will be enough to propel a movement, but if it ends up being a bunch of aging hippies and millennials setting up tents on city streets or on campuses, protesting the machine, it won’t end well.

I’m hopeful that leadership will emerge, and from that a  true broad-based democratic movement.

The American experiment at risk

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men [and women] are created equal, that they endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
Those immortal words, penned by Thomas Jefferson in the summer of 1776 provide the foundation of the American experiment. Jefferson continued, writing “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “
Today is a turning point in American history. It is once again a day where there is a peaceful transition of power, yet in many ways it is unlike any other. Today we witness the first time in our history where the transition of power shifts to an individual who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes in an election in which it is almost certainly a fact that foreign interference by Russia and ethical wrong-doing by the Director of the American FBI impacted the results. Today we see the rise of a man who is an acknowledged sexual predator, with authoritarian tendencies, and who displays evidence of narcissistic personality disorder. 

This is not a day to celebrate. It is not like any other inauguration. Sure, I’ve been disappointed before, but never once before in my life have I had feared for the future of the American republic. Our democracy is at stake. Our liberties are at stake.  This is not being over-dramatic and partisan.  It is not sour grapes that Hilary lost.  There are simply too many examples of reckless behavior, too many indicators of an individual whose personal business interests are clearly more important to him than the public good.  He has threatened the civil rights and liberties of entire classes of people, he has such a thin skin that any public criticism results in a temper-tantrum on twitter.  These are not jokes. And his behavior has given the signal to others that such behavior is acceptable.  In the last two weeks alone, there have been bomb threats at more than 60 Jewish Community Centers across the country.  There were hundreds of hate incidents reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the two weeks after the election.   This is no joking matter.

I will not celebrate.

I will not normalize this troglodyte.  

I will not stand quietly while our rights and liberties are trampled.

Know your rights.  Carry a copy of the Constitution.

Resistance is not futile.  It is democratic.  I pray that the second paragraph of Jefferson’s Declaration do not come to bear.  Eleven years later, the American democratic experiment evolved into a new constitution in which “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish domestic tranquility provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”   That Constitution is worth fighting for.

A brief primer on the electoral college

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I do not really expect there will be fireworks in the 50 state capitols next Monday, but if there are, here is what you need to know.

First, the electoral college is mandated by both Article II, and by the 12th and 20th amendments to the Constitution.  The Twelfth Amendment is what matters, as it in effect, replaced the rules from Article II.   So read it.

What is the process?

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.

The electors vote for President and Vice-President, on distinct ballots.  AND they make separate lists of all persons who were voted for as President, and all people voted for for vice-president.  Once they vote, the ballots (and the lists) are sent to the Senate, where the president of the senate (a.k.a. the Vice-President of the United States) will tabulate the votes.  If there is no majority (270 of 538 electoral votes), the election then goes to the House of Representatives.

Is there anything in the Constitution that prevents an elector from voting for ANYONE?  No.  State laws might prescribe who an elector can vote for, but if we assume that the Constitution is the highest law of the land, and if a state law and the Constitution are in conflict, the Supremacy Clause of Article VI provides us with clear guidance:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So, I would argue that the electors can vote for whomever they want as long as those individuals are qualified (thus President Obama is not, he has served two full terms). Indeed, the Constitution does not even anticipate a popular election for electors. Of course, if electors “go rogue”, there might be litigation, but they have the Constitution on their side, a constitution that was written with the assumption that electors, not voters in popular elections, would select the president.  Or at least select the list that the House of Representatives would use to elect the president.

How will the House of Representatives vote if there is no electoral college majority.

The House of Representatives votes, one per state, to elect the president, from any of the top three candidates voted by electors in the states.

… and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

This means that there are 50 votes in the House, one per state delegation, and they vote “from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President.”   Poorly worded, but simply translated, the slate the House gets to choose from is the top three vote getters in the electoral college for PRESIDENT.

This also means that the only way a vice-presidential candidate (say Pence) becomes president, is if he was one of the top three names voted FOR PRESIDENT.  It also means that if electors want a Republican like Kasich to be president, they would have to vote for him, to get him on the list.  If you are not on the list, and not the top 3 vote-getters, you are not going to be president.

The 20th Amendment, in section 3 provides the final piece of the picture, dealing with the succession of a president, and what happens if no president is “qualified” by the beginning of the term.

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified

It is messy.  It is complex, and due to amendments, it is confusing.  But the electoral college really isn’t that hard to break down.  Will it come into play after next Monday?  Frankly,I doubt it, but I also doubted that a sexual predator and reality tv star would win an election in which both the Director of the FBI and the president of the Russian Federation had intervened to influence the outcome.  So what do I know?  My hope is that they go rogue.  It would be the perfect end to this year.

“He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that! And nothing will happen. Poor Donald– it won’t be a bit like The Apprentice. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

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When I read the Washington Post story about how the Energy Department is refusing to turn over the list of staffers who worked on climate change issues to the Trump transition team, it immediately brought me back to the single most influential book I have read on the American presidency,  Richard Neustadt’s Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. First published in 1960, and revised through the Reagan years, Neustadt’s classic study of presidential power and leadership provided an almost machiavellian study of what the president has to do to lead, and accomplish his goals.  His primary thesis was that presidential power is not the power to command, but instead the power to persuade.

Early in the book, Neustadt provided a classic example that new president will face when he tries to issue commands.

In the early summer of 1952, before the heat of the campaign, President Truman used to contemplate the problems of the general-become-president should Eisenhower win the forthcoming election.  “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

In many ways, when I think of this quote, I can’t help imagining the next president being in a very similar situation.

“He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this!  Do that!  And nothing will happen.  Poor Donald– it won’t be a bit like The Apprentice.  He’ll find it very frustrating.”


Intelligence briefings? I don’t need no stinking intelligence briefings

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Who really needs daily intelligence briefings?  Apparently not the next (gulp) president of the United States.  I’ll admit, when I first saw this reported, I assumed that it was fake news.  But nope, it was word for word from his own mouth, from this morning’s interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, as reported in the NY Daily News:

“I don’t have to be told — you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years — but eight years. I don’t need that,” he continued.

“But I do say, ‘If something should change, let us know,'” he said.  Trump went on to suggest that it’s not necessary for him to receive the briefings with the daily frequency that past President-elects have had because other key advisers are getting the info.

“In the meantime, my generals are great — are being briefed. And Mike Pence is being briefed, who is, by the way, one of my very good decisions,” Trump said. “And they’re being briefed. And I’m being briefed also. But if they’re going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they tell me — you know, it doesn’t change, necessarily.”

Wow.   There is so much here, it isn’t even funny.  “My generals are great, and being briefed.”  Is this the workings of a president, or a demagogue, surrounded by “generals,” who are “great”?   Forget the fact that we are supposed to have civilian control of the military, this guy is doing the exact opposite.  He has named  a general as secretary of defense who is colloquially known as “Mad Dog.”  His national security advisor is another retired general, Michael Flynn.  And now General John Kelly is going to be the Director of Homeland Security.  Look, it is not as if former generals haven’t served in cabinet level positions before (witness Gen. Colin Powell), but Trump is surrounding himself with generals, and is satisfied that if they are briefed on issues, he is good.

What is missing here is that there is an incredible value in a president being surrounded by a variety of different people, with different agendas and perspectives.  Trump isn’t doing that.  Not at all.  And by not receiving daily intelligence briefings, by not taking time to personally absorb the myriad of issues that a president faces, he will be unable to critically evaluate the issues, ad the advice he is being given from “his generals.” But don’t worry, “they are great.”

God save us when the first real international crisis occurs after January 20th.

Russia, fake news, and undue election influence, probably not the constitutional crisis you are hoping for

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The news this morning is filled with reports of high confidence from US intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the presidential election, hacking into the servers of both the DNC and RNC, but only releasing information from the DNC to harm Hillary Clinton.  The New York Times is suggesting that Russia didn’t actually think Trump would win (lets be honest, who did?), but was trying to find ways to further damage Clinton as president.  Trump is still denying the whole thing, but the evidence is growing increasingly strong that there were unprecedented efforts by a foreign nation to influence our election.  What there isn’t evidence of, however, is actual vote tampering, or fraud in the vote count.  That is an important distinction.  If the latter was true, then the entire legitimacy of the election would be called into question, and we would have a true constitutional crisis.

What did happen was that Russia tried to influence the election by enabling the spreading of anti-Clinton propaganda.  This is in the same vein as Macedonian teenagers creating fake news sites.  It is deeply disturbing, but not unprecedented. How many times has the CIA tried to intervene in foreign elections? (That is a blog in itself, just google the CIA and Guatemala 1954, for one example).   The end result should be an increase in international tensions with Russia, and even a potential international crisis.  Yet, given the chumminess of Trump with Putin, that crisis might only last until January 20.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think foreign interference in our elections is nothing to scoff at.  Indeed, it is just a small step from hacking emails to hacking electronic voting machines.  But there is no evidence that the latter happened.

In many ways, Russian influence was just one more stream of anti-Clinton rhetoric. The mainstream media basically gave Trump free airtime for months on end, with few media outlets challenging him.  The alt-right put out a steady stream of misinformation.  And people chose to vote for Trump. They voted for Trump in large enough numbers in places where it mattered, that he gained the required 270 electoral votes.  It will probably be impossible to actually measure the influence that Russia had in swaying the election.  What we do know is that there were a lot of people who voted for for Trump because they felt that they had been left behind in the economic recovery, and they did not think that they would be any better off under Clinton then they were under Obama.   Whether or not it is rational to believe that they will be better off under Trump is another question.  Nor do we know if they would have voted for him absent Russian interference.

The latest revelations only adds fuel to the frustration of liberals and Democrats that Trump won the election even though Hillary Rodham Clinton won the national popular vote by about 2.5 million.  Nation-wide, about 2 percent more Americans voted for her than voted for Trump.  This is not the first time an individual has won the electoral college, while losing the popular vote. Just look at Al Gore.  The difference is that Gore won by an extremely small margin, and were it not for “hanging chads” in south Florida, he would have been president.  Hillary Clinton, by contrast, had a resounding popular vote margin.  Yet, we do not elect the president with a popular vote, we select electors in each state, who cast a vote for president.  Since the mid-1800s, that process has been based on state wide elections.

So is this a constitutional crisis?  I don’t think so. Nor do I think that the electoral college will act to “fix” it.  There might be some “faithless” electors, but it is’t going to change the result.  What Russian tampering, fake news, and a “lost” popular vote will do is weaken the credibility of the next president. But he will so busy tweeting, and running Celebrity Apprentice, that it will probably have little impact.

The more I think about this, the more I think the bigger story may be that the Obama administration went to the Congressional leadership in September, seeking for a bi-partisan agreement to go public with the knowledge of what the Russians were accused of doing, but the Senate Majority Leader refused, claiming it would an effort by Obama to help Clinton win the election.   That might be the biggest part of this story — the leadership knew about it, and allowed it to go on.

Not the reflection you expected one month after the election

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I had been planning to write my reflections on the election today, as it is one month out.  I was going to summarize all the bad things that have happened, the failure to drain the swamp, the threats to civil liberties, environmental justice, international relations, the tweet-storms, and on and on. But I’m not going to do that.  Instead, I am writing about the political left.

Quite honestly, I am fed up with the left.  I am sick and tired of what I have come to see as sanctimonious bullshit, wrapped in self-righteousness. And it did not start on November 9th.  It has been going on for quite some time. The left has taken an approach in which every “progressive” issue is the same. It is one-size-fits-all, from LGBT to Black Lives Matter to Boycotting Israel to a wide range of other “progressive” causes.  And the left  has demonstrated an incredible amount of intolerance for any political view points that run counter to its own moral code.  I can hardly believe I am writing this, but it is political correctness run amuck. And quite frankly, I am sick of it.

A few weeks ago Mark Lilla wrote an essay in the New York Times called “The End of Identity Liberalism.” It was an op-ed which resulted in a massive amount of attention, and numerous criticisms by those who felt slighted by it. Lilla placed a good deal of the blame for Clinton’s loss on identity liberalism.  He placed blame on Clinton towing the left line, and completely ignoring the working class.

Lilla writes: “But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”

When I first read his essay, the first half of it resonated with me, primarily due to how I have experienced the indifference of self-defined “progressives” in the context of the Presbyterian Church USA; the rapidly declining mainline protestant church that is symbolically far more important to the left and progressive politics, than it is in terms of actual people in the pews.

For me, what resonated was exactly what I felt at the PCUSA General Assembly, the Church’s legislative body that meets every two years. GA is dominated by people so passionately committed to progressivism and causes that they are blinded and completely unsympathetic to ANY competing views, even going so far as to mocking them (ironically enough) on twitter.

This year I sat on the committee dealing with fossil fuel divestment. While PCUSA has a piddling amount of money to invest, the big ticket issue was whether the church should divest all pension funds from fossil fuel energy companies, and thus have zero leverage whatsoever on climate change through those companies, but they would feel better about themselves by making a political statement and ensuring that the Church’s moral conscience was clear. I sat on that committee for 2 days, and listened to pastors from places in Texas and Oklahoma practically begging for the committee – and the Church itself – to not throw their entire congregations and communities – who live and work in the energy industry – under the bus. Desperate pleas from pastors saying, look yes, climate change is an issue, and we need to pressure companies, but don’t do it in a way that literally tears our congregations apart. AND then witnessing other pastors who just basically said, I’m sorry, but I don’t care, we have to divest. It was a truly disturbing thing to witness. There was no place at the table for anyone other than the far left. In the end, the assembly voted to take a middle position, and not immediately divest, and you would have thought the world had come to an end.

I compare that to the Church’s historic vote for marriage equality in 2014. That decision, which I voted for, resulted in a a lot of congregations leaving the denomination. And many more conservative rural congregations were staying, but struggling. BUT rather than just being happy with the historic decision, the church’s progressives decided that they wanted more. They wanted the church issue to issue an apology to LGBTQ folk. It was mind boggling. A lot of moderate and conservative churches trying to grapple with marriage equality, and trying to stay in the denomination, but these folks weren’t happy with what they had gained; they had to pour salt into an open wound. It was equally disturbing to watch. It was all or nothing. There is no room at the table for diverse viewpoints.

Now I’m not saying I don’t agree with the vast majority of what identity liberals want, but having come down on the side of an issue where they are opposed (Israel/Palestine) and watching what in many ways is a biased, one-sided, take-no-prisoners, facts be damned approach, it made me much more cognizant of HOW the left is viewed by those who don’t “fit” into the mold.  PCUSA is a case-study in the identity politics Lilla was writing about. And I certainly can understand why many people might feel left behind.

A conservative friend from college commented when the Lilla essay was shared on my wall. When I replied with a much shorter version of what I wrote above, he responded “Odd how insulting people turns out not to be such a great strategy for gaining their support.”  He is correct. I can visualize the stump speeches, the focus was almost entirely on the core liberal issues. And I come back to what I shared above: “.. a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”

The irony of diversity politics

But it isn’t limited to the churches.  Campus politics today are knee-deep in it.  In the immediate aftermath of the election there have been some seriously disturbing acts of intimidation and bigotry reported.  I am NOT in any way justifying them.  I remain vigilant against bigotry, anti-Semitism, islamophobia, and any other acts of hatred.  I have even changed my “Amazon smile” donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

BUT freedom of speech and assembly goes both ways.  Conservatives have just as much right to engage in political activism as liberals do. Yet, I am hearing reports on my own campus of conservative student groups being harassed by faculty members while doing a recruitment table in a classroom building.  I am grappling with faculty who are proposing statements seeking to be approved by the university senate which are blatantly partisan, and which profess to lecture to the community about proper behavior and standards.  Gotta be honest here, and I recognize the irony of me saying it, in an essay I am writing, but no one wants to be lectured by academics from their ivory tower about this.  As a former student said to me, “when you write messages like that, it emboldens the very people you are trying to persuade.”  It doesn’t convince anyone.  It makes people dig in their heels.  It serves no purpose but to make you feel better about yourself, and to pat yourself on the back for having “done something.”

The left needs to re-think its approach.  The time to have protested was not on November 9th.  It was on November 8th.  It was to get out the vote.  But it is hard to get out the vote of millions of working class people, when you have been ignoring them, primarily because they are the very “ignoramuses” that aren’t smart enough to share your enlightened beliefs, and when after 8 years of a Democratic president they are little better off then they were before.   And when you assume they will always be there.  Well, guess what? They weren’t.

Look, I despise Trump. I can’t even bring myself to using his name and the honorific president together.   I think political resistance and protest is important, and will remain essential.  I will protest what I believe needs being protested.  I will contribute funds to the ACLU, to Americans United to Separation of Church and State, and to the SPLC. We need to remain vigilant against threats to democracy.

BUT if we are truly committed to democracy we have to respect DIVERSE political discourse, while insisting on civility. Showing respect for others of different beliefs, and tolerance of a range of political viewpoints that are absolutely essential elements of a democratic society.  Don’t get me wrong.  Such political discourse cannot co-exist with acts of bigotry, intimidation, or hate-filled rhetoric. Every single one of us have to call that out. And I’ll be the first in line. But if a conservative student group can’t do a tabling event without being harassed by “liberal” faculty, then I think we are missing the point entirely.  Civil liberties are for all Americans.  Even those we disagree with.

This doesn’t mean I won’t call out bullshit when I see it from the right; it is there all the time. But it goes both ways.

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