All posts by Sheila

Power And Glory And Memory Lane

The Limeliters were one of my all-time favorite musical groups. (My musical tastes definitely mirror those of my generation– the “get off my lawn” category of elderly curmudgeons. If the music is subsequent to the Rat Pack or 60’s folk, I’m probably unfamiliar with it.) Thanks to modern technologies like Pandora, I can stream my embarrassingly old-fashioned choices through my car radio, and the other day, as I was driving to the office, I was listening to the Limeliters–and was struck by the contemporary relevance of the lyrics in  their rendition of Phil Och’s “Power and Glory.”

When I got to work, I Googled those lyrics:

Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all)

From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?

Yet she’s only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try.

Only as rich as the poorest of the poor” resonates today as a reproach to the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us, to the GOP’s persistent efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, to deny access to basic medical care to those who cannot afford it by defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting Medicaid, and by heaping punitive restrictions on all manner of public assistance.

Only as free as the padlocked prison door”...Not only does our frequently unjust criminal justice system incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country, the Trump Administration is “padlocking” the border, engaging in crimes against humanity for blatantly political purposes. The other day, in one of his fact-and-logic-free rants, Trump made clear his belief that he benefits politically from the crises he instigates along the border.

“Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats,” he told The [Washington] Post on Tuesday, referring to recent images of migrants.

If he is correct–if the photos of American soldiers gassing refugee women and children are indeed “bad for Democrats” and viewed positively by large numbers of Americans– then we have not only lost any claim to “power and glory,” we have lost any claim to morality or simple humanity.

Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry” could hardly be more contemporary or relevant. The men “who have to hate” still live among us, still vote their fears and hatreds.

Given the age of the song, one thing is clear: evil people aren’t a new problem, and the tools they employ–fear and accusations of treason leveled at critics–aren’t new either.

The songwriter says “we can stop them if we try.”

A lot of us are trying; I sure hope we “stand tall” enough.

As Long As I’m Revisiting The Constitution

A couple of days ago, I suggested investing the Electoral College with some of that “original intent” conservative jurists love to apply to our anything -but-original problems. Today, I’m revisiting–or to be more accurate, actually visiting for the first time–another part of the Constitution.

I’m going to file this under “you learn something new every day.” Or perhaps under “Well, this is certainly interesting.” (Or even more likely, “I must be missing something!”)

I don’t know why I haven’t ever focused on the language of Section 2 of the incredibly important Fourteenth Amendment. That section reads:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State. (emphasis supplied)

Later Constitutional amendments extending the franchise would obviously mandate a somewhat different and more expansive reading of Section 2, but the language certainly would seem to provide a possible remedy to the rampant vote suppression being documented in several states.

This is not a subject I have previously researched, so I’d be grateful to any election lawyers–or other knowledgable folks– out there reading this who might answer the following questions:

  • Has there ever been litigation on the basis of this Section?( If so, please cite; if not, I assume the difficulty in establishing evidence of the percentage of votes suppressed would account for the lack.)
  • Who would have standing to bring a lawsuit? (It would seem to me that anyone improperly prevented from voting in a state would have standing, but the Court has narrowed standing doctrine in several ways–unfortunate ways, in my opinion–so perhaps not.)
  • What would count as probative evidence of the percentage of legitimate votes suppressed, the efficacy and intentional nature of suppression tactics, and how would a plaintiff acquire and verify such evidence? (Would the evidence compiled in Stacy Abrams’ new lawsuit suffice?)

If the evidentiary problems could be surmounted, wouldn’t this section provide a fitting remedy for the games currently being played by the GOP?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, for example, Georgia lost a couple of Congressional seats as a result of Brian Kemp’s egregious voter suppression tactics?

If lawsuits based on Section 2 are tenable, I would think simply bringing those suits–even if they were ultimately unsuccessful–would have a salutary effect. Perhaps the threat of losing representation would make some of those Republicans who are enthusiastically engaging in anti-democratic efforts to keep “some people” from voting (yes, Mississippi, we’re looking at you) might have second thoughts…..

I’m obviously missing something, but I’m not sure what. That said, I’m sure one of my more erudite readers can supply the answer.

 

After H.W., Bush League

George H.W. Bush died Friday, and watching the various valedictories and retrospectives of his life and Presidency has provided a jarring contrast between our 41st President and the embarrassing, ignorant buffoon who currently sits in the Oval Office.

H.W. was the last President to have served in the armed forces; he was a decorated Navy pilot, shot down in the Pacific in 1944. (I can just hear Trump proclaiming that he prefers people who weren’t shot down…)

Evidently, H.W. didn’t have bone spurs…

Our 41st President was a skilled bureaucrat and diplomat, credited with (as the NYTimes put it) “a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.”

I seriously doubt Trump could either spell or define “nuance,” and “skill” is a term that I’ve not ever seen applied to him (or for that matter, to anyone in his cabinet).

H.W. was far from a perfect President, but he was elected at a time when most Americans still valued relevant experience and admired, rather than disdained, knowledge and intellectual capacity. I met him once, during his Presidency, when he came to Indianapolis and met with then-Mayor Bill Hudnut and a small group of his advisors in the Mayor’s conference room.  Bush had no advance notice of the issues we would raise in our discussion, or the questions we would pose, but he fielded all of them with informed, thoughtful (and grammatical! and coherent!) answers. He was impressive–another word unlikely ever to be attached to Trump.

By far the greatest contrast, however– the greatest distance between the two–involves that ineffable quality we call “class.” H.W. was classy; Obama was classy. (Clinton was charismatic, and as often noted, George W. seemed like a guy some people –not I– would like to have a beer with, but neither displayed much class.)

Perhaps the best example of H.W.’s classiness and grace–and the most telling contrast between him and the petulant brat who currently holds office–was the letter he left for Bill Clinton, who had just defeated him, depriving him of a second term in a hard-fought political campaign.

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—

George

The word “class” has fallen into disrepute, mostly because it has come to be connected only to class conflict, class warfare, and classism, but we would be well-advised to remember its other meaning, as a term denoting grace, maturity and human decency.

As I watched the various news shows discussing 41’s life and his Presidency, it was impossible to escape the contrast being drawn (in several cases, deliberately) between the good man we’d just lost and the pathetic, narcissistic wannabe who is defecating daily on our nation’s ideals.

Trump is bush league–but not remotely in H.W. Bush’s league.

If We Have To Keep The Electoral College…

Discussions of Constitutional originalism tend to illuminate the very different meanings that different people ascribe to that term.

I’m currently reading “We the People” by Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of Berkeley’s law school, and I will return to the subject of “original intent” and his (and my) take on it once I’ve finished the book. But today, I want to propose an “originalism” experiment for those of us who are critical of the current, undemocratic operation of the Electoral College.

Democracy, of course, wasn’t the point of the College. But then, neither was its use as a partisan tool advantaging a reactionary political party, which is what it has become.

There’s a pretty robust consensus that a constitutional amendment simply getting rid of the Electoral College is unlikely to succeed, at least for the foreseeable future. And since some of the College’s most ardent defenders are also proponents of “originalism a la Scalia” (a legal approach so flawed that even Scalia couldn’t consistently apply it), I think we should begin a movement to make the College operate as originally intended.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution provided the original plan by which the electors voted for president. (Electors did not originally vote for vice president. The President would be the person who received a majority of votes from the electors, and the person receiving the second most votes would become vice president. That changed with the emergence of political parties, a phenomenon necessitating the 12th Amendment.)

Individual electors were supposed to be selected by a vote of citizens on a district-by-district basis, and were supposed to exercise their independent judgment when casting their votes for President. Wikipedia shares the following quote from Alexander Hamilton, describing the Founding Fathers’ “original intent” with respect to the electors:

A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated [tasks].

Over the years, the “original intent” of the Electoral College has been ignored.

Rather than electors who have been chosen by their neighbors to exercise their informed judgment on behalf of the citizens who chose them (and presumably knew who they were, either personally or by reputation), we now have slates of faceless elector candidates pledged to vote for their parties’ respective candidates. Most states also have passed laws prohibiting so-called “faithless electors”–that is, electors who exercise independent judgment and opt to vote for a candidate who did not win that state’s popular vote.

Does anyone believe that a majority of electors possessing “information and discernment” and exercising “independent judgment” would have cast their votes for Donald Trump? (Or for that matter, that such electors would have confirmed Florida’s “hanging chad” results?)

So here’s my proposal: If we must keep the Electoral College, by all means let’s start a movement to assure that it operates in a manner that is consistent with the Founders’ “original intent.”

Ending CrazyTown

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has been on a snark roll ever since Donald Trump became President. To say that Milbank isn’t a fan of our “dear leader” would be a pretty massive understatement; a recent headline offers evidence: “This is what happens when a ‘stable genius” leads a stupid country.”

The first couple of paragraphs are illustrative of his thesis: “dear leader” thinks he knows better than the people who actually know–or accomplish–something. (Or really, anything.)

President Trump is surrounded by fools.

There’s that fool William H. McRaven, Special Operations commander of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the other fools in the U.S. military, who should have brought down bin Laden “a lot sooner,” because “everybody in Pakistan” — all 208 million of them — knew the terrorist leader was living in “a nice mansion.” Trump alone “predicted Osama bin Laden” in 2000 when “nobody really knew who he was.”(Were they waiting for Trump to give them bin Laden’s Zip code plus four?)

There are the fools in the CIA, who have concluded based on so-called evidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered last month’s killing of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. But Trump alone understands that we’ll never know the truth, because the crown prince denied involvement “maybe five different times.”

Milbank follows up his introduction with a lengthy list of Trump’s proclamations of his own genius–he knows better than the generals, better than the scientists, better than the people who named their town Paradise. He complains that he is surrounded by fools who don’t know as much as he–the “stable genius”– knows.

And this is the problem with being surrounded by fools: Though Trump gives his presidency an “A-plus,” most Americans — about 60 percent — do not appreciate his brilliance.

He deserves better — and he should demand it. He should walk away, withdraw his excellence, maybe get a place in Pleasure — and leave us to suffer our own foolish “scientists” and “experts” and “facts.” That would really show us.

The only problem is, that would leave us with Pastor Pence…..

Eugene Robinson–another Washington Post stalwart–took a somewhat less sarcastic approach, but arrived at pretty much the same destination: Trump’s days are–or at least should be– numbered, and it’s time for the rats to leave the sinking ship.

Like a television show that has jumped the shark, President Trump’s frantic act grows more desperate and pathetic by the day.

Asked by Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” to grade his presidency, Trump absurdly replied: “Look, I hate to do it, but I will do it, I would give myself an A-plus. Is that enough? Can I go higher than that?”

Much closer to the mark is the assessment by Republican lawyer and operative George Conway, the husband of one of Trump’s closest White House aides, counselor Kellyanne Conway: “The administration is like a s—show in a dumpster fire.”

And it is all getting worse. The cravenness, incompetence, corruption, dysfunction, insanity — all of it.

Robinson noted that the midterm’s blue wave was a report card from the American public–and the voters flunked Trump. He also pointed out that those votes delivered an ominous message for Republicans “inclined to sign up for another season of Trump’s fading reality show.” The man who fancies himself a winner is not only a loser, he is very likely to take the cult that is the remaining GOP down with him.

Come January, a Democratic House will begin performing the oversight duties that Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) neglected. Does anyone believe that proper scrutiny of, say, the Trump family’s international business dealings is likely to improve the president’s political standing? I don’t.

In the Churchillian sense, the midterm election was the “end of the beginning.” My understanding is that rats tend to leave a sinking ship.

The remaining questions about this administration all fall into the “how will it all end?” category.

When will Muller deliver his report, and what will that report contain? How will a cornered, reality-denying, mentally-ill President react as the inevitable reality closes in? How will the MAGA-hat “true believers” behave when their emperor is shown to have no clothes?

When will the rest of the rats join those who have already left?