Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why the Electors Should Elect Hillary Clinton

The electoral college is a strange institution. It is a nod to populism and democracy restrained by a heavy dose of elitism. It was created, in part, because the Founders were not sure the people were capable of electing a President, and, also, because this is America, another way for slave-holding states to protect their institution. It should be abolished. However, for most of its history, the electoral college vote and the popular vote lined up anyway and so it fell to the “if it ain't broke,” priority level. But now, two of the last three Presidents have been elected to their first term after losing the electoral vote. And given how the demographics in this country are changing, I suspect the odds of the popular President losing will continue to increase. The best solution is, of course, a Constitutional amendment abolishing the electoral college and instituting a simple popular vote (or perhaps even a hybrid system where the College is used to break a statistical tie), but the second best solution is for electors to informally commit to cast their votes for whichever candidate won the popular vote. And there is no pair of candidates more deserving of informal solution than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Here's why. (And the way things are going, this list will be incomplete the day or so after I publish it.)

Clinton Won the Popular Vote By a Substantial Margin
As of this writing, experts are estimating that Clinton is likely to have received 2 million more votes than Donald Trump. There is a chance that margin of victory could be much higher. This is not within a margin of error. That is not a small enough number to claim they are essentially tied and use the geographic distribution of electoral college votes as the tie breaker. That is a clear win.

Honestly, even with everything else I am going to argue specifically about Trump, if this were not the case, if he had won the popular vote or if that difference had been less than or around the difference between Bush and Gore in 2000, none of that would matter. Living in a representative democracy means accepting the representatives that are elected. If a majority of Americans voted for him, there would be no justifiable reason for electors to even consider breaking with precedent. But most Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is an unprecedented candidate.

Trump's Ties to Russia
It is somewhat ironic, that buried within all the terrible justifications for the electoral college is a decent one that is suddenly relevant. The primary reason for the “natural-born citizen” clause in the Constitution is to protect the United States from a President who is under the influence of a foreign power. In short, the electors are bound by the Constitution to protect the country from a President with compromising foreign ties. Suspicion of compromising ties to Russia and the Putin regime have plagued the Trump campaign, along with evidence of Russian meddling in our election in his favor. A Russian diplomat claimed that Russia had long been in contact with the Trump campaign. Trump also, HAS ALREADY TALKED TO VLADIMIR PUTIN. BEFORE HE TALKED TO THE PENTAGON. We still only have strong suspicions, but we have at least as much of it for Trump's alleged ties to Russia as we did for Clinton's alleged misconduct as Secretary of State.

That there is a reasonable suspicion and that he TALKED TO PUTIN BEFORE THE PENTAGON and we have an alternative that won the popular vote makes this decision much less fraught.

Unprecedented Conflicts of Interest
Rather than putting his business affairs in a true blind trust, he has simply turned over their management to three of his children, which does not constitute the blind trust that would undo the risk of conflicts of interest. To make matters worse, those same three children will be on his transition team. This is a clear conflict of interest and one that cannot be tolerated. He has now also asked that his son-in-law be given security clearance, a person with no apparent role in the administration who also happens to own media. And already Ivanka has come under fire for potentially using the platform of the presidency to hawk her jewelry line. Perhaps what is most alarming about the overtness of these violations of protocol is that it is clear either no one in the Trump family or transition team actually understands what the concept of conflict of interest is or doesn't care. This, at the very least, suggests that Trump is, at the very least, comfortable with, at the very least, appearing like he is using the Presidency for personal enrichment. Or, to put this another, Republicans would lose their goddamn minds if Hillary Clinton included Chelsea in her transition team.

Furthermore, because he did not release his full tax returns, we do not know what other potential conflicts of interest he might have. Does he have relationships with foreign banks? Does he have investments in industries that stand to gain from certain policies? Does he hold compromising debts? Has he evaded taxes in potentially actionable ways? In short, we already see one very direct, very avoidable, disqualifying conflict of interest and have reason to suspect there may be many more.

Steve Bannon
According to Steve Bannon's own words and other white supremacists, Steve Bannon is a white supremacist. The fact that Trump has named him chief strategist and given him such a level of power in shaping the executive branch of the United States of America, tells me that Donald Trump is unfit to be the President of the United States, if for no other reason that it is an extremely stupid, stupid thing to do. If Trump wanted a smooth transition, even for nefarious purposes, if Trump wanted to quiet some of the protest surrounding his election, even for nefarious purposes, if Trump wanted to make it difficult for Democrats to oppose the Republican agenda, even for nefarious purposes, giving Bannon a high profile position is a terrible tactic as it validates all of the accusations leveled against him. Along with all the reasons why such a terrible person should not have that much power in our society, it displays a shocking lack of judgment by Donald Trump. (Sidenote: Bannon is only third because in terms of the roll of the electoral college, the first two points, I think, are directly relevant to their Constitutional responsibilities.)

He Has Empowered White Supremacy
Emboldened by Trump's election, there has been a spike in hate crimes around the country. As of this writing, no one has died. There are moments when I am grateful and there are moments when I am terrified that I am grateful that no one has died. Significant aspects of his platform are overtly unconstitutional and, along with damaging the lives of American citizens and other human beings, will clog our court systems with constant legal battles. And he was endorsed by the KKK and is bringing known racists (see above) into the White House. We don't want a President endorsed by the KKK and we don't need to have one.

Ongoing Legal Issues
Trump also faces an ongoing lawsuit against Trump University, one that could potentially result in criminal charges. He has also been accused by multiple women of sexual assault. He and his businesses have also had a long history of refusing to pay contractors and others who have performed services for them and daring them to take him to court. Perhaps his election will discourage those who might have brought suit against him. Perhaps that is an even better reason not to make him president.

His Transition Has Been a Disaster
His transition team has had one major shake-up, he is not prepared to higher the requisite staff, he needs extra coaching from Obama to be prepared, his proposed cabinet (all the versions of his proposed cabinet) are just the people who were nicest to him over the course of his campaign, in absence of other preparation he's hired the same lobbyists, cronies, and corporate stooges he promised to “drain” from Washington, and his communication with the various parts of the executive branch have been spotty at best.

He has had months to prepare. He has had since July, to do the work of creating an administration. Given that he does not have any previous government experience, I think we can forgive something of a learning curve. That said, he is now going to be the most powerful person on the planet. If he does a poor job of preparing to govern, when he has only one (albeit complicated) issue to prepare for, how good of a job actually governing can we expect him to do?

He Doesn't Want to Be President
As has been abundantly clear by his desire to only spend part of his time at the White House and the look on his face during his meetings with President Obama, Trump had no idea the scale of the responsibility of the presidency and has no particular desire to rise to the scale. He wants to give speeches. He wants to have the triumph of winning the election. He wants his ego validated. He does not want to govern. He can have everything that he wants and Clinton can still be President.

Arguments Against
There are, of course, reasons one might decide honoring one particular aspect of the electoral college is more important than preventing the certain damage a Trump presidency will do to the world. As with all arguments, some are more valid than others. Here are a few that I anticipate along with my counter arguments.

Small States
Just look at all that red on the map. The electoral college ensures that smaller, less populated states don't have their views trammeled by the urban majority. We should respect that right.

Small states already have the Senate. They essentially have the House too. In fact, in every governing body where representation is distributed geographically, smaller communities have more power than larger communities. There should be safe guards that ensure the interests of those who don't live in major metropolitan areas are respected, but those safe guards already exist. (I mean, one of the major reasons Massachusetts doesn't fund the MBTA at the level it needs is the geographic distribution of legislative power enhances the influence of Western Massachusetts who somehow doesn't get that I don't really drive on their roads that my taxes pay for in the same way they don't really ride the T.)

And about that red map. It certainly looks impressive, but, there are fewer people in the red than there are in the blue. I've had discussions around this issue before, and there really isn't a way to get around the fact that arguing for the electoral college argues that people in cities deserve less representation than people in towns. Even if you don't intend for that to be the case, when representation is allocated geographically, that is the case. There are a lot of different ways to handle this (parliamentary-style proportional representation rather than winner-take-all elections has some appeal) but in the short term, respecting the interests of the greater number of voting American citizens requires electors voting for Clinton.

Won't There Be Unrest
Before they won the electoral college, Trump and his surrogates were crowing about how the election would be “rigged” and how they would not respect the results if Clinton won. Some, including people who have held office, advocated for protest and (I'm being very generous here) hinted at armed resurrection. If they were posturing that way before the election, even though if you accept the electoral college as valid you have to accept elector freedom as valid, imagine the kind of violence they would be capable of if pledged electors flipped their votes.

First, there already is unrest. Unless, of course, you don't consider a wave of hate crimes unrest.

Second, I thought we weren't supposed to negotiate with terrorists. If Trump and his supporters are willing to resort to violence to install him in the Presidency that is all the more reason he shouldn't have it.

What if a Republican Wins the Popular Vote But Not the Electoral College
Then that candidate should be President. As I said earlier, this movement to influence electors doesn't really happen if Trump won the popular vote.

We Should Respect the State by State Results
Whether or not this is a legitimate way of electing the President (see above about the representation of small states in government), Republican governments in numerous states, including important swing states like Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Wisconsin actively suppressed the vote in specific populations in order to increase their chances of winning. Voter fraud is, essentially, non-existent, and yet, waving this boogey-man around after the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, Republican state governments imposed onerous registration requirements and reduced access to the ballot in ways that specifically targeted African-American and other likely Democratic voters. Therefore, there is good reason to question the validity of the results in all states that imposed voting restrictions after the Voting Rights Act was voided.

It Wasn't a Popular Vote Election/Any Other Technical Reason to Question the Popular Vote
I have seen some fairly logical, fairly reasonable arguments why the fact of the popular vote win in this case does not really mean that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. I'm as big a fan of logical and reasonableness as the next guy and logic and reason tell me that we need to do everything we can to prevent a Trump Presidency. I think the numbers also would have been different if say, it mattered at all that he lied more than the told the truth, or if a false equivalency hadn't been created between the two of the major candidates, or if he hadn't been giving millions or even billions of dollars in free publicity by CNN et al., or if Republicans hadn't been smearing Clinton for thirty years for having the audacity to try to be a woman in power, or if moderate Republican voters actually voted the moderate choice, or any of the other myriad of woulda, coulda, shouldas between us and the Trump presidency.

Go ahead, call me a sore loser. But I would have some serious questions about someone who could lose graciously to the KKK.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Open Letter to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey

Now the work begins. I am still figuring out what I am going to do, where I am going to send my money how I am going to help. I think it's clear the primary policy goal is to flip the House (and maybe the Senate, though that might be even more of a long shot) in 2018, the way Republicans flipped it in 2010. I think between then and now, we need to find ways to prevent and ameliorate the damage a Republican administration (let alone a Trump administration) will do to this country, especially this country's most powerless and vulnerable citizens. I'm a writer so my first impulse is to write stuff. Below is a letter I sent to both of my Senators. I should note that, though I don't remember where I saw this first, I definitely saw this idea expressed by other people. If you like what I have to say and/or the way I say it, you are free to use this words in part or in total. Boats against the current, y'all and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Dear Senator Elizabeth Warren & Senator Ed Markey,

In 2008, Barack Obama won the popular vote and the electoral college. The Democrats won the House and won a super-majority in the Senate. I don't know if popular mandates really exist, but 2008 was awfully close to one. And how did congressional Republicans respond to the direct endorsement of the 2008 Democratic platform: by vowing to make President Obama a one-term president.

To do so they abused every procedural loophole, broke decades old agreements, and ignored long-standing decorum. They obstructed bipartisan legislation with anonymous holds. They refused to confirm Federal appointments. They filibustered virtually every single piece of legislation that was put forth.

Furthermore, there is ample evidence that they never once negotiated in good faith. They never intended to support anything President Obama proposed even when it was essentially a Republican policy. Even when their ideas were incorporated into legislation through compromise and consensus, as the federally administered public option was removed from the Affordable Care Act, they still refused to support the legislation. They asked for everything and even when they got it, they still said “no.” Their only goal was to deny the first African-American President anything resembling a policy victory and if that meant hobbling the efforts to recover after the worst recession since The Great Depression and stoking the fires of racist resentment, so be it.

I am not asking you to shout at President Trump during his State of the Union address. Even though more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton I am not asking you to question the legal validity of his presidency. I am not asking you to question his citizenship, to spread rumors about his faith, to accuse him of crimes he did not and could not have committed, or to attribute problems to him he could in no way have prevented. I'm not asking you to stoop to their level of insulting the American people by refusing to outwardly respect their President.

But I am asking you to block everything. Filibuster everything. Put an anonymous hold on everything. You were rewarded for your decency and your commitment to longstanding procedures with the Tea Party, a vacant Supreme Court seat, government shutdowns, a game of chicken with the debt ceiling, and Donald Trump, a man who began his political career by questioning Barak Obama's citizenship. Given how the districts were gerrymandered in 2010, given how they treated you when you were in power, given that more Americans voted for Democrats in the House in 2014, and given that Hillary Clinton received more votes for President than Donald Trump, they have not earned your consent or cooperation. They have not earned the right to discriminate. They have not earned the right to discard science. They have not earned the right to threaten a woman's right to choose. They have not earned the right to risk the health and well-being of our people. They have not earned the right to govern as if they speak for all Americans. They have not earned the respect they refused to show to you.

If the Trump administration magically starts proposing productive thoughtful policies with meaningful common ground, then negotiate for the best version of those policies possible, but make no compromises for the sake of compromise. Do not reach across the aisle to create the optics of bipartisanship. You've tried that already and they spit in your hand.

To be the adult in this room, you need to fight like hell.

We know exactly what they plan to do and we know the terrible consequences if their platform is adopted. I know you will not be able to stop everything, but you are our dam against the flood of dangerous policies and we need you to hold strong for at least two years.

I promise, that if you do, the voters of America will do better in 2018.

Thank you for your time.


Josh Cook