Tag Archives: presidency

Add This To The List

A couple of days ago, Trump floated the possibility of postponing the general election “due to the pandemic.” He made the suggestion in a tweet–of course–in which he also took another swipe at vote by mail, which he distinguished from absentee voting. Absentee voting, he tweeted, was fine; vote by mail, however, would lead to massive fraud.

The tweet displayed his usual–monumental–ignorance of its subject-matter.

First of all–and somewhat beside the point–vote by mail is pretty much identical to absentee voting–a method of casting one’s ballot that Trump himself has frequently used. His insistence that it leads to fraud is belied by the fact that some 29 states employ vote by mail for some portion of their elections; Oregon, Washington State and Colorado all have gone completely to vote by mail, and the only result that would account for Trump’s opposition is increased turnout.

Just as the GOP used fabricated hysteria over “voter fraud” to justify Voter ID laws–the real purpose of which is to suppress the votes of poor people and minorities–Trump is frantically trying to drum up mistrust of mail-in ballots.

When it comes to the question of postponing the election, Trump once again displays his total ignorance of the U.S. Constitution–a document I doubt he has ever read or had read to him. Article 2, Section I, gives Congress some leeway in counting Electoral votes; nowhere does the document give the President any authority whatsoever over the timing or conduct of elections.

Moreover, the 20th Amendment requires the President and Vice-President to end their terms at noon on January 20th in the year following the general election. It allows for no leeway. As one wag has pointed out, if we haven’t elected a new President at that point, the Speaker of the House would become President.

President Pelosi would be okay with me.

Throughout his term in office, Trump has obviously believed that Presidents are like kings–that he has unchecked autocratic power. Fortunately, he is often wrong, but as Gary Hart wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, there are far too many times when he’s right. And that should scare the living you-know-what out of us.

In 1975, after public revelations of intelligence abuses concealed from all but a handful of members of Congress, the United States Senate created a temporary committee to study the nation’s spy agencies — something no standing committee had ever attempted.

What came to be known as the Church Committee, after its chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho, recommended broad reforms, including the creation of a permanent Intelligence Oversight Committee. Former Vice President Walter Mondale and I are the last surviving members of the Church Committee.

We have recently come to learn of at least a hundred documents authorizing extraordinary presidential powers in the case of a national emergency, virtually dictatorial powers without congressional or judicial checks and balances. President Trump alluded to these authorities in March when he said, “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”

Hart says it’s time for a new select committee “to study these powers and their potential for abuse”, and advise Congress on mechanisms that would provide stringent oversight, if not outright repeal.

What little we know about these secret powers comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, but we believe they may include suspension of habeas corpus, surveillance, home intrusion, arrest without a judicial warrant, collective if not mass arrests and more; some could violate constitutional protections.

A number of us have urged immediate congressional investigations concerning what these powers are and why they have been kept secret. Public hearings should be held before the November elections, especially with rumors rife that the incumbent president might interfere with the election or refuse to accept the result if he felt in jeopardy of losing.

Hart asks some very important questions:

Where did these secret powers come from? Where are they kept? Who has access to them? What qualifies as a national emergency sufficient to suspend virtually all constitutional protection? And critically, why must these powers be secret?

If–as every rational American must hope–Joe Biden becomes President in January 2021, a searching examination of these secret powers and the nature of the events that might trigger them needs to be added to the very long list of tasks made imperative by Trump’s corrupt and disastrous Presidency.

 

 

 

 

“Becoming”– Versus Unbecoming

Indiana readers: If you haven’t already requested your absentee ballot for the June 2d Primary, don’t forget that you have to do so by May 21st. 

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After several people recommended “Becoming”–the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s book tour– my husband and I watched it. Now, I’m recommending it too–albeit with a caveat.

If–like me–you are already pretty depressed about what Trump and his toxic base have done to this country, you might want to skip “Becoming,” because it was truly painful to be reminded that we recently had an administration headed by a thoughtful, caring, sane and competent First Couple.

Could you fault some of President Obama’s policy decisions? Sure. Show me the political figure with whom you agree 100%. (If there is one, you aren’t thinking, just following.) What you couldn’t fault–at least not if you’re intellectually honest–was the integrity of his approach to the office. Both he and Michelle consistently elevated the interests of the country over political partisanship. (Actually, that triggered several of the criticisms I hear about his presidency; people wanted him to “play more hardball” with Republicans, who were clearly more invested in partisanship than patriotism.)

What I found both touching and illuminating was Michelle’s response to a question about how she felt the day they left the White House after spending eight years there. Her answer: vast relief that she no longer would have every single thing she said and/or did scrutinized and criticized.

For eight years, she had tried to be perfect, to meet the onslaughts of  slander and racism by “going high.”

The documentary underscored the vast differences between the Obamas and the Trumps without ever mentioning the latter.

Both Obamas are articulate, knowledgable, and civil. From all accounts, they are truly nice people. It’s impossible to imagine either of them bullying staff members, mimicking disabled people, or calling critics offensive names. But by far the most significant difference concerns empathy.

The Obamas have it; Trump doesn’t.

Several times, the documentary focused on Michelle’s frequent sessions with young women, and her encouragement that they “tell their stories” and follow their dreams. In another example, she recounted how excited she was when the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality, and how she and Sasha “snuck out” to join the celebrating throng in front of the White House (where, as many of us recall, rainbow lights played across the facade).

That celebration came just a few hours after the Obamas had returned from services for the nine African-Americans gunned down in a church during bible study in Charleston. The documentary showed footage of the part of that service where President Obama broke into an impromptu “Amazing Grace” and then left the pulpit to hug and console the survivors and family members of those who’d been killed.

It is absolutely impossible to picture Donald Trump comforting anyone. Or showing respect for others. Or speaking eloquently (or using words of more than two syllables). Or ever acting like a mensch.

The documentary reminded me of a column by a British writer, who wrote it in response to the question “Why don’t most English people like Donald Trump?” It’s been making the rounds, and you’ve probably seen it, but the first few paragraphs perfectly encapsulated the distinction this documentary highlighted.

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

The contrast between Obama and Trump is the contrast between self-aware, civilized behavior and immature boorishness. Dim as he is, Trump knows that Obama (a black man!!) is vastly superior to him-intellectually, morally, and ethically. That recognition eats away at him; it’s the reason he’s so fixated on destroying anything Obama did, even when dismantling Obama’s legacy will clearly hurt the country he took an oath to serve.

Watching the documentary about Michelle Obama–as classy and brilliant and thoughtful as her husband– was a stark reminder of what we’ve lost–and the disaster that is the boorish ignoramus now defiling the Oval Office.

It hurt.

When You’re Right, You’re Right

When folks on the Right are right, it’s worth noting–and applauding.

A few weeks ago, when some polls were showing a dead-heat Presidential contest, an article in the Weekly Standard titled “Donald Trump Cannot Save Our Republic” began

With the election now a virtual dead heat, conservative opponents to Donald Trump have never faced greater pressure to support him. Capitulation is needed, it is said, because the survival of the republic is at stake. If we allow Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, our constitutional system of government will be destroyed forevermore. Thus, we have no choice but to forbear.

This rhetoric is well-designed to prey upon the fears of conservatives who loathe Hillary Clinton, but it is not the language of American republicanism. Indeed, the fact that it has gained such traction on the right is a signal that many conservatives themselves have lost touch with the traditions of our constitutional system.

Put simply: This argument places the presidency at the center of American political life, which is a progressive innovation popularized by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. The Framers rejected this implicitly, for most of their attention was spent perfecting the legislative branch, which was to be the primary repository of political power, as well as the tribune of the people.

The article argued that support for Trump would not only be implicit support for the (relatively) new centrality of the Presidency, it would allow conservatives and others to  continue ignoring the real problem: Congress.

The ailment, simply put, is this: Congress is a basket case. It refuses to exercise many of its sovereign responsibilities under the Constitution. Many of the tasks it retains it executes badly. Worst of all, the legislature itself has ceded these authorities. They were not taken from it, but granted, happily, of its own volition. A return to true constitutional government does not require us to elect a kingly president who vaguely sympathizes with the platform of the Republican party, but insisting that the legislature reconstitute itself under the Framers’ original vision.

I do not necessarily agree with every point raised in the article, but its major thrust is clearly on target. I’ve written previously about the consequences of Americans’ evident–and troubling–belief that every four years we elect a monarch, who will either keep the promises made on the campaign trail, or earn public ire for failing to do so.

That drastically inaccurate view of the executive ignores Constitutional checks and balances, blames whoever holds the office of President for doing or not doing things over which he (or she) has influence but ultimately no control, and–worse– lets Congress off the hook. That view also explains why turnout falls off precipitously in off-year elections.

Voters who don’t recognize the importance of the legislative function fail to pay attention to the qualifications and temperament–let alone the work ethic–of those they send to Congress. The result is a legislature filled with partisan ideologues, empty suits (and too often, idiots) who are woefully unprepared to carry their share of the governing load.

As the article notes, “Reform of the legislature begins with electing to it a majority that is actually interested in reform.” To which I would add, “and actually interested in governing.”

The Presidency is important. In this election,which offers a choice between a well-qualified politician who operates–in P.J. O’Rourke’s memorable phrase–within normal paramagnets, and a dangerously autocratic ignoramus, it is supremely important. But we ignore our choices for the Senate and House at the nation’s peril.

Public Service is NOT Amateur Hour

I had a disquieting exchange yesterday with a very nice woman who is apparently enamored of Ben Carson, and considers him qualified to be President. Because he’s a brain surgeon.

Carson–as political observers have noted and as his interviews have made painfully clear–is a seemingly nice man with no previous experience in government who has displayed a truly appalling ignorance of the issues America faces, the operation of our legal system and the current world situation.

And of course, I need not remind readers of this blog that the current front-runner for the Republican nomination is Donald Trump, who–in addition to sharing all of Carson’s deficiencies–is so monumentally narcissistic and un-self-aware that he is a walking joke.

Here’s the thing: none of us–including Ben Carson and Donald Trump–would hire someone to do a job who lacked any relevant experience, training or basic understanding of the most rudimentary requirements of the position. So why do so many Americans consider ignorance of how government works a virtue, and why do so many candidates seem to think that parading that ignorance should win them votes?

I teach in a school of public affairs. One of the majors we offer is public management–a course of study intended to prepare people for public sector positions. The skills we teach as essential for even entry-level bureaucrats include public finance (which–surprise!–is considerably different from balancing your checkbook), statistical analysis, the ways in which law constrains public policy, the effects of globalization, the operation of the policy process…the list goes on.

Like it or not, we live in a complicated world. Americans expect government to protect us from terrorists and e coli, to regulate utilities, to administer social insurance programs, to encourage economic development, to ensure that our air is breathable and our water drinkable, to prevent economic monopolies, to control air traffic, to wage our wars, to educate our children, to pave our streets and highways, and much more. Most of those functions require specialized expertise, and managing the public servants and contractors who provide these services is no small task.

Running a city, a state or a country is not a job for amateurs, or for people who have only the dimmest understanding of the  myriad foreign and domestic challenges the nation faces on a daily basis, and the often difficult and surprising interrelationships among them.

It isn’t brain surgery–and the ability to do brain surgery, or to star in a television reality show, doesn’t make someone even remotely competent to run a country in the 21st Century.