In which an older and wiser yet terminally earnest former liberal struggles to come to grips with the cynicism, hatred, and paranoia that plague both sides of the American political spectrum. "Can we all get along?"
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And I quote:
"The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered."
Edmund Burke, 2nd speech on conciliation with America, Mar. 22, 1775 (Bartlett's 16th ed., p. 331)
Mrs. Powel: "Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"
Benjamin Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it."
After Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Sept. 18, 1787. (Bartlett's 16th ed.)
"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves."
James Madison ("Publius"), The Federalist Papers No. 10 (1787)
"Of the three forms of sovereignty [autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy], democracy, in the truest sense of the word, is necessarily a despotism because it establishes an executive power through which all the citizens may make decisions about (and indeed against) the individual without his consent..."
Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)
"To act successfully, that is, according to the rules of the political art, is political wisdom. To know with despair that the political act is inevitably evil, and to act nevertheless, is moral courage. To choose among several expedient actions the least evil one is moral judgment. In the combination of political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment, man reconciles his political nature with his moral destiny."
Hans Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (1946), p. 203
"Thus, whenever a concrete threat to peace develops, war is opposed not by a world public opinion but by the public opinions of those nations whose interests are threatened by that war."
Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations 6th ed., rev. by Kenneth Thompson (1985), p. 288
"The texture of international politics remains highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly."
Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), p. 66
"Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen."
H. A. L. Fisher, History of Europe (1935), p. vii [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 80]
"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favour."
Robert Frost, 'Black Cottage' North of Boston (1914), [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 86]
"My thoughts encompass divinity, therefore divinity is. The divinity that my thoughts encompass is associated with the order that arises out of chaos... As we expand our knowledge of this realm, we ... see it in terms of one sublime order that awaits full realization."
Louis J. Halle, Out of Chaos (1977), p. 646
"Here, then, is the complexity, the fascination, and the tragedy of all political life. Politics are made up of two elements -- utopia and reality -- belonging to two different planes which can never meet."
E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939 2nd ed. (1946), p. 93.
"My biggest blunder in life was attempt to seek common ground with Keynesians, based on the naive thought that by putting my ideas in Keynesian language that I would make any dent on the Keynesians."
Milton Friedman, New York Times, July 4, 1999
"War made the state and the state made war."
Charles Tilly, The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975), p. 42
"Americans like to mock Kuwaitis as rich and pampered and lazy and decadent, which is exactly what the rest of the world says about Americans. Actually, we shouldn't mock Kuwait at all. It represents the hopes and dreams of Americans of all political persuasions. For liberals, it's a generous welfare state with guaranteed employment and a huge government bureaucracy. For conservatives, it's a country with no taxes and plenty of cheap maids who aren't allowed to vote."
Peter Carlson, "Castles in the Sand," Washington Post Magazine Jan. 14, 1996, p. 32-33
"[Bill Clinton's] greatest strength is his insincerity... I've decided Bill Clinton is at his most genuine when he's the most phony... We know he doesn't mean what he says."
Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman, in a speech in Indiana quoted by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Apr. 27, 1996
"Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, his opponents [*] must be thwarted. They are enemies of democracy and of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxury of choosing our allies. This is war."
* (referred to elsewhere in this piece as "mad dogs bent on political annihilation")
Eric Alterman, "Democracy Disappears" The Nation, Jan. 11-18, 1998
"There are no enemies in science, professor. Only phenomena to study."
From the movie The Thing, 1951 (a Cold War sci-fi allegory)
Julia Roberts: "Can you prove any of this?"
Mel Gibson: "No... A good conspiracy is unprovable. If you can prove it, someone must have screwed up somewhere along the way."
From the movie Conspiracy Theory
THE 16 WORDS: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Pres. George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 2003
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December 3, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Congressional elections in Virginia: RIGGED!!?
As I was checking the final vote totals for the congressional races in Virginia, so as to prepare the map below, I noticed something ver-r-ry interesting: the party that won a large majority of the races (seven out of eleven) actually received fewer total votes than the other party! "But how can that be?" you ask. Welcome to the wonderful world of gerrymandering! That's the game where the status quo Powers-That-Be contrive the electoral contests in such a way as to guarantee a disproportionate number of victories. In Las Vegas, stacking the deck like this would put you behind bars, or get you run out of town at the very least. But in most of the U.S.A. it's just "politics as usual."
Let's look at the numbers. As seen in the table below, the Republicans won 1,843,010 total votes in Virginia (48.74%), while the Democrats won 1,859,426 total votes (49.17%). The Republicans' average margin of victory was 22.51%, while the Democrats' average margin of victory was a whopping 41.55%. In other words, many of the Democrats' votes were "wasted" in races in which the Republicans had no real chance of winning. (In gerrymandering lingo, that's called "packing" districts with the opposing party's voters.) Is that fair? It depends who you ask. Usually, whichever party happens to be in control sees nothing at all wrong with such practices. Currently, the Republicans have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate, and a huge 66-34 advantage in the House of Delegates. Back when the Democrats were the dominant party in Virginia (until the 1990s, more or less), they used gerrymandering tricks all the time.
If voter outrage over such electoral outcomes seems a bit muffled (especially compared to Donald Trump's victory, which -- though dismaying -- was 100% legitimate), there is a good reason for that: The state legislators want voters to feel helplessly detached from participating in self-government. It's probably true in many states, but especially so in Virginia, where a privileged political elite has ruled with very little accountability to the voters for most of the commonwealth's history. Over the years, Richmond politicians have created a self-perpetuating cycle of cynicism and apathy, and frankly there is no easy way out of that trap. Things could get messy. (Indeed, Trump's victory is a perfect example of what happens when the usually-docile and alienated masses are suddenly aroused.) Time will tell whether Virginia Democrats (who have won the past three presidential elections) will get themselves well enough organized at the local level to become competitive in the state legislature.
On July 12, I attended a meeting of OneVirginia 2021, a group that is dedicated to reforming the process of redistricting here in Virginia. It is worth pointing out, as discussed in that earlier post, that Federal courts imposed redrawn district lines earlier this year so as to make some of the districts less blatantly gerrymandered. Otherwise, the Republicans in Virginia would probably still have an 8-3 advantage in congressional seats, rather than a 7-4 advantage. I think it's safe to say that the results of the elections provide plenty of ammunition for those who argue that the current system is hopelessly distorted and unjust. Our state government is dangerously out of touch with the sentiments of the residents, and the negative consequences of that are likely to multiply as time passes. Just to be clear, notwithstanding my criticism of Republican leaders and their practices, I have no sympathies for the Democratic Party or its agenda. But in my view, those who adopt a cynical "whatever it takes to win" mentality are the scum of the earth.
The table below has updated official figures, and replaces the table which I posted on November 9:
* : new member; incumbents underlined; name of winner in bold face.
79,132 votes were cast for other candidates, about 2% of the total 3,781,568 votes cast.
SOURCE: virginia.gov / State Board of Elections
The Politics in Virginia page has been updated with that map and revised election figures. (The last major revision of that page was on Feburary 29, when I included the results of the 2015 statewide elections. As usual, almost all of the gerrymander-cushioned Virginia legislators were reelected.) Soon to come: a map showing the presidential election results for each county and city in Virginia.
House Dems keep Pelosi
On Wednesday, the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives voted to keep Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader, beating back a challenge by Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. As Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post, the fact that she now has an unbeatable position within her party is "a bad thing for Democrats." For the time being, they can be expected to continue courting a wide variety of minority groups and fringe causes, while ignoring Mainstream America -- especially the working class. Facing up to the reality of Donald Trump's improbable victory, and what it means, will not be easy for them.
And now for a fun trip down Memory Lane, back when she was Speaker of the House on the verge of a historic triumph with Obamacare: (watch on youtube.com)
But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010
November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Trump begins to choose top officials
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a mixture of fawning loyalists and others [with more government experience to serve in his cabinet and as close advisers]. He faces a difficult task in delivering on the pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington which he made to his populist-minded voters. The summary of those choices listed below is based mainly on politico.com and the Washington Post.
Today Trump revealed his choice to be Secretary of Treasury: Steven Mnuchin (pronounced "mah-NEW-chin"), a long-time Wall Street insider. Having spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, including the 2008 financial crisis, he seems ill-suited for the task of reforming "crony capitalism." He seems to favor big tax cuts for the middle class (see Washington Post), which is inappropriate at a time that the Federal budget deficit is still so high.
Trump chose Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser. This worries some people because Kelly reputedly holds hardline anti-Muslim views, which might lead to biased advice [, or to give advice that merely confirms what Trump already believes. Trump's fondness for military people to fill civilian positions seems odd, especially given his absurd boast that he knows more about ISIS than the generals.]
Trump's first cabinet-level choice was Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions was one of Trump's early supporters (see February 29), so it's no surprise. Many have criticized Sessions on the grounds that he is hostile to the cause of civil rights. I have a guarded opinion of him.
Elaine Chao was tapped to serve as Secretary of Transportation. She was Secretary of Labor for the entire eight years of the George W. Bush administration, and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is well qualified, but not exactly an "outsider."
Trump chose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos is a wealthy campaign donor who is known as a critic of public education and an advocate of school choice. I share those sentiments to an extent, but I am skeptical of the alternative of school vouncers. Public schools are in desperate need of reform from top to bottom, but the real problem lies in society itself, and that is not amenable to government action.
I was frankly puzzled by the choice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a rising star in the GOP, but has no international experience, other than coming from a family with origins in India. Her main strength seems to be communication skill, and that could help maintain friendly relations with other countries. Perhaps this is a gesture of inclusiveness by Trump, since Haley was a vocal critic of him during the primary campaign.
In another sign of Machiavellian maneuvering in Our Nation's Capital, two weeks ago Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged President Obama to remove Mike Rogers as the head of the National Security Agency. Rogers was apparently being considered by Donald Trump as a replacement for Clapper as DNI, but was asked to leave the Trump transition team. He is a former Army officer and FBI agent who later was elected to Congressm (from Michigan), but decided to leave and then started his own radio talk show in 2015. See cbsnews.com.
The big question is whether Trump will offer the position of Secretary of State to Mitt Romney, the leader of "Establishment" Republicans who vowed "Never Trump." The two former adversaries had a well-publicized fancy dinner, after which Romney did his best to sound gracious and dignified. What an awful predicament for a good guy. Some think that Trump is merely playing with Romney, which is possible. I do not pretend to understand what makes Trump tick.
Other Secretary of State possibilities are Rudy Giuliani (just awful, IMHO), U.N Ambassador John Bolton (an ultra-hawk), former CIA Director David Petraeus (guilty of mishandling classified info, just like Hillary Clinton), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), and retired Gen. John Kelly. Corker is well prepared, being the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his name is associated with the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has denounced. The Corker Amendment allowed for a dubious bypass of the usual constitutional requirement of ratification by 2/3 of the Senate.
One intriguing development: Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (and others) in Washington today. Could Condi return to her old job? Would she? I sure hope so, but it seems like a distant prospect. Even though she has a top-notch reputation as a scholar of international relations, as well as a record of loyalty in government service, she has to overcome the image of being a "Washington insider," which she is clearly not. It's ironic because Trump puts such a high value on loyalty, but it was that very quality that harmed her reputation.
Finally, Trump is reportedly considering Sarah Palin to serve as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Seriously? Good grief.
November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]
This election was rigged!
Contrary to what that headline might imply, I do not agree with Donald Trump's offhand claim that "millions" of fraudulent votes were cast in the November 8 election. (If ever there was a reason to avoid using Twitter, Trump is it.) Nevertheless, one could argue that elections in America are indeed "rigged" in the sense of artificially constraining choices -- but in subtle ways that few people really understand. I'll touch on what I mean below, and leave the detailed explanation for later.
But first I feel obliged to say something about what prompted Trump to tweet about massive voter fraud: The formal request by the Green Party candidate for president Jill Stein, that the vote totals in Wisconsin be thoroughly rechecked because of what some people regard as inconsistent patterns between early voters and those who voted on Election Day. (See the Washington Post.) It is perplexing, because she has no chance of winning, and the only possible change in result would be a victory by Hillary Clinton. But her own candidacy helped Trump to win, so she has only herself to blame for that. To me, the only conceivable motivation for seeking a recount is to undermine the legitimacy of the incoming Trump administration. If so, that represents a fundamental breach of democratic norms, taking the "sore loser" syndrome to a new (and dangerous) level.
But of course, Donald Trump brought this all upon himself by calling into question the election process in the first place, on multiple occasions during the fall campaign.
In my mind, there are two fundamental processes that yield distortions in our national elections: gerrymandering and primary elections. With regard to the former, on February 12, 2015 I wrote, "the electoral process itself is essentially rigged..." Gerrymandering is the means by which the leading party in a given state consolidates its power, making sure that its share of legislative seats significantly exceeds the share of popular votes cast for its candidates. Since most state legislatures are currently controlled by the Republicans, the GOP is ipso facto the source of the problem at this particular time. In my blog post of July 13, I called attention to the reform movement, which I strongly support.
On April 30 this year I wrote, "In fact, the system is "rigged," but it's rigged in favor of the front-runner: Trump!" This referred to the formulas most states use to apportion delegates in primary elections, generally quite biased against candidates that receive fewer popular vots. Since the delegate selection process so strongly rewards the front-runner, Trump was able to amass an almost unbeatable total by the middle of March. Since there is no mechanism for allowing voters to express their second-favorite choices, or their least-favorites choices, Trump's plurality of popular votes translated into an all-but-assured nomination, notwithstanding the strongly negative sentiments towards him, both within the Republican Party and in the general population.
That second point is part of what I was getting at in the letter to the editor I wrote just before the election. As for voter fraud, it probably happens at the local level, but it would be virtually impossible to manipulate the vote tabulations on a large enough scale to tip the balance in multiple states.
Abolish the Electoral College???
Just like in the 2000 election, many people are outraged at Trump's victory in the Electoral College, given that Hillary Clinton (apparently) won nearly two million more votes than he did. So, once again, there are calls to abolish the Electoral College, and once again the widespread ignorance about the fundamental structures and purposes of our system of government are on full display. There was a discussion about this on Doug Mataconis's Facebook page shortly after the election, so I added my two cents:
It baffles me why so many people have such deep scorn for the EC. It was created to give the executive branch a broad constituency separate from that of the legislative branch (strengthening the president vis-a-vis Congress) while maintaining a central role for states (reinforcing the federal structure of the government). This historic role remains vital even today. FWIW, my proposed reform would require a candidate to get at least a majority (not just a plurality) of the nationwide popular vote AND a majority of the states to be declared the winner, or else you go back to the traditional EC method. In this election, Hillary won about 47.8% of the popular vote, and Trump won 30 of the states -- depending on how Michigan and New Hampshire go.
Strangely, Michigan has still not been officially called, although Trump has a clear lead, while New Hampshire went Clinton's way, by a small margin.
There was even a call by someone who wants the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton on the grounds that she won the national popular vote. It is sad that such ideas are taken seriously.
November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]
The Trump transition begins
President-elect Trump has tried to have it both ways by [choosing] a more-or-less "establishment" figure (Reince Priebus, RNC chairman) as his chief of staff, with an "alt-right" figure (Steve Bannon, of Breitbart News) as his "chief strategist." There will be [many] more strained efforts to placate opposing factions within the GOP in the months to come, and given what we know of Trump, there is likely to be a high turnover rate in the White House West Wing.
The choice of Bannon has been deeply disturbing to many people, as he is known as an exponent of harshly nationalistic (especially anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim) rhetoric, which is the bread and butter of Breitbart News. (Breitbart was founded by Andrew Breitbart, who died of a heart attack in March 2012.) I occasionally read articles there, but it's not the kind of source that I rely on.
Depending on which news source you were following today, President-elect Trump's transition team is either operating normally (Fox News) or is in utter disarray, undergoing a "Stalinist purge" (MS-NBC). The Washington Post's senior reporter Karen DeYoung leans toward the latter interpretation, noting that not only has New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie been removed from the Trump team, but all of Christie's close associates. That is merely fallout from the recent "Bridgegate" convictions, however, and doesn't itself reflect on Trump. The departure of former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who had been a national security adviser, may be cause for concern however. Aside from Bannon, other members of Trump's inner circle include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Trump's family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, is expected to play a major role in his decisions, which could lead to major conflict-of-interest problems. Trump
must [is obliged to] put his assets into a blind trust while serving as president, and the same legal requirement [basic norm] applies to his immediate family. That could put them all in a severe financial strain, being forced to step aside from, or liquidate, some of their prized business assets. [UPDATE: In the Wednesday Washington Post, Matt O'Brien explains the well-established practice by which sitting presidents put their assets into a blind trust. Contrary to what I originally wrote, it is not required by law.]
The clash between the imperatives of winning elections and those of governing a country is especially sharp in the Trump transition. He won the election by breaking all the rules, ignoring conventional wisdom and outwitting the opposition. It reminds me a little of Germany's blitzkrieg strategy in World War II. But formulating public policy means bargaining and mobilizing a majority of constituents behind various specific proposals, and that will require a much different, much more subtle approach. I was listening to Sean Hannity this afternoon, and noted polemicist Ann Coulter scoffed at the critics of Trump. To me, the Trumpistas are indulging in a foolish end zone dance, oblivious to the harsh realities that will confront their Great Leader on January 20.
And on a more humorous note, Dr. Ben Carson took himself out of consideration for any cabinet position today. (What about surgeon general?)
November 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Obama, Trump chat in Oval Office
In an old tradition that takes on added significance in light of the extraordinary circumstances, President Obama welcomed President-elect Donald Trump to Oval Office yesterday. The two men are bitter political rivals, having cast sharp aspersions on each other numerous times, but they managed to at least convey a sense of normalcy and dignity. The President pledged that he and the White House staff would help Mr. Trump to succeed -- "because if you succeed, then the country succeeds." See www.whitehouse.gov. Presumably, there won't be any missing T's on computer keyboards, as there were missing W's when George W. Bush took up residence in the White House on January 20, 2001.
Sore losers unleash violence
Protests against the election of Donald Trump turned violent, in New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities. Some people just don't understand the concept of abiding by the results of the democratic process. In Richmond, demonstrators vandalized the local Republican headquarters, trying in to break in through the front door, and writing the circled "A" symbol of Anarchy on the glass. To their credit, top Democrats denounced the actions as "indefensible." See Times-Dispatch. In my opinion, this is a direct result of the widespread efforts to paint all Republicans with a broad brush, depicting them as "deplorable," "racist," etc. Intelligent people should know better than that.
Congress: Republicans retain control
The Republicans did better than I expected in the 435 House of Representative races, winning 239 seats so far, compared to 247 before. The Democrats have won 193 seats thus far, with three more races yet to be determined in recounts. If there was a negative "coat-tail effect" from Trump being at the top of the ticket (as many people expected), it wasn't very strong.
In the New Hampshire Senate race, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte conceded on Wednesday to Democrat Maggie Hassan, currently the governor of that state. In Wisconsin, Republican Ron Johnson defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold, a surprise to me. That's a possible case of a "coat-tail" effect, since Trump won that state. In Missouri, incumbent Republican Roy Blunt held on to his seat. In Louisiana, there will be a runoff election in early December, between Republican John Kennedy (!) and Democrat Foster Campbell. That seat has been held by Republican David Vitter, who did not seek reelection. So, it will be either a 51-49 split in favor of the Republicans (which is exactly what I predicted) or a 52-48 split if Kennedy wins.
I updated the Congress page with the latest results from the House and Senate races.
Reflections on Trump's triumph
In the Washington Post, Charles Lane writes that Trump's break-the-rules approach to campaigning will undermine the legitimacy of his government and lead to greater instability in American politics. Indeed, Republicans' hopes that Trump might wise up and learn how to get things done in Washington (which means cooperation and bargaining when necessary) are fragile, with no past record to support such a belief. But Trump has surprised us before, and anything is possible.
A related question is how did so many pollsters miss that hidden support for Trump? It occurred to me that Richard Nixon once hailed a similar latent mass of support for his policies, the "Great Silent Majority." Were they ashamed to tell the pollsters who they were going to vote for?
In the next few days, I hope to slowly get caught up with punditry and blogs, and offer some more thoughts on what Trump's victory means for America.
NOTE: Michigan has not been officially called yet, but Trump still has a slim lead. In New Hampshire conversely, Clinton is ahead slightly, but it's not official. So, I may have to change the map I posted on Wednesday, as well as the electoral vote totals.
What time was it over?
Tuesday's Washington Post had an article about the varying times on Election Night when the race was semi-officially called by the news networks. I summarize it in the table below, adding a final line for this year's race. (That's my own estimate.) I was going to cite the trite cliché "It's not over till the fat lady sings" on Facebook that evening, but thought better of it, in light of Mr. Trump's many infamous slurs against women.
||George Bush Sr.
||George Bush Sr.
||George Bush Jr.
||George Bush Jr.
Winning candidate in bold face. SOURCE: Washington Post
Early campaign poll
In going through stacks of old newspapers that I habitually accumulate, I just noticed a Washington Post / ABC poll taken in April 2015, showing Jeb Bush in the lead among Republicans with 20%, followed by Ted Cruz (13%), Scott Walker (12%), and eleven (11) other Republican candidates. Guess who was not even on that list? That's right: Donald Trump! On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was way ahead with 66%, followed by Joe Biden (11%), Elizabeth Warren (11%), Bernie Sanders (4%), Jim Webb, and Martin O'Malley. If nothing else results from this debacle, I hope the parties start to reform the nomination process so we don't get started prematurely like last time, with awful consequences in terms of the final choices.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Politics archives page.