Thoughts on the Election…

As Yogi Berra reminds us, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Nevertheless, these are turbulent times and the November vote is bound to be a landmark election, not least because the idea of “campaigning” has been turned on its head as virtual stumping has largely replaced mass gatherings in the midst of a pandemic (at least for one side). But I offer here a few thoughts on what I think will happen. Of course, things could change with events over the next two months, but I thought it important for myself to write out this thinking.

Biden will win. I won’t go into suggesting electoral vote counts or which states, but I think Biden has something against Trump that Hillary Clinton did not have in 2016: the ability to garner moderate votes in swing states, the only states that truly matter in Presidential politics. Those 8-10 states will determine the outcome, and Biden has the potential to do way better in those states than Hillary. If Biden/Harris win a few more of those states than Hillary did in 2016, mathematically, the Dems take the White House. The Senate remains a toss up and will be close, while the House looks to remain in Democratic hands.

Trump will complain and likely verbally challenge the results. He will continue that challenging all the way through and past turning over power in January 2021. He may continue challenging the election long after leaving office. But, I do not foresee any large-scale populist revolt against the results or carnage in the streets. Of course, much of that depends on how much Trump touts his “stolen” election.

Power will be turned over in January 2021. Despite the willful and negligent violations of many norms and even laws by the Trump Administration, many of those same officials have such a falsely-claimed “love” for the nation that to not peacefully turn over power, a so-called hallmark of U.S. democracy, is a step that is too far to take, even for them. Of course, much of that depends on how much Trump touts his “stolen” election.

The country will slowly return to its well-established norms, discarding others. Certainly a new-normal political operating environment is here regarding what is acceptable and what is not. But I also do not expect it to be overly revolutionary. What will be more revolutionary is the changing world/global order. American hegemony in its unipolar world is fading. That fact can be positive, if proper steps are taken to organize the world into a new order with cooperation amongst great powers and a very effective and involved United States. That fact can also be very dangerous if the U.S. continues clinging to false hopes, dying industries, and defending its “superiority” at the top.

The Republican Party will need to figure out what they represent and revamp the party’s platforms. Trump is a one-off, once-in-a-lifetime type of candidate (I hope). He combined both the ability to speak in a way that targeted deep-seated animosities in his audience with a charisma that many of those same people found appealing. Not many people have the combination of these factors and others to create that perfect storm of electability. Remember, he also faced Hillary Clinton, who despite her qualifications to be president, was a candidate that most swing voters in swing states (as mentioned before) could never vote for. And she still won the popular vote by over three million votes.

My point: Trump ideology will not continue to define the party, more and more younger conservatives are realizing it’s counterproductive to be a party of denial (climate change, common-sense gun laws, etc.) and are offering conservative-minded solutions to these problems, thus making the party viable again…eventually.

If, on the other hand, none of these thoughts come true in 2020, and Trump wins and continues his damaging leadership of the country (or loses and more destructively denies defeat), that outcome would be more of a sign of bigger change than I alluded to in my predictions. Most change is not revolutionary in nature, and a figure like Trump generally is an anomaly in history, a rare blip on a well-outlined and understood trajectory. But a second term for Trump is filled with so much ambiguity and consequence that it is hard not to view it as anything sort of major change for this country. Will the Trump era be a disappointing yet short-lived period, or will it be a new makeup of U.S. government and international leadership? That we will find out soon enough.

In These Precarious Times, The Constitution Itself is at the Root of Many U.S. Problems

We are not even half way through 2020, and for Americans the year is beginning to look like a nightmarish end-of-days movie.  COVID-19 has taken over 100,000 lives in our country alone as the world braces for a second wave.  The resulting economic crisis has caused 40 million U.S. workers to lose their jobs and, for Millennials, this is the second “worst economic crisis since the great depression” that they’ve experienced in their early years in the workforce.  Continued police brutality pervades many major law enforcement agencies as the nation still struggles with racial inequality and injustice after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.  All while Trump’s twitter feed has replaced Nero’s proverbial fiddle.

If you take just one of these problems away, the others will still remain national struggles. Everything is symbiotic of a larger American calamity: they are attributes of a Constitutional system that is broken and needs desperate repair. Why is the United States Constitution, an aged document that, in many ways, is not fit for 20th century American law, at the root of so many issues across this vast nation? It starts with elections and what is written and unwritten within the document.

Presidential elections in the United States follow a winner-take-all model that utilizes votes allocated from the Electoral College to determine the winner, an outdated arrangement that un-democratizes the U.S. voting process.  As the November election approaches, only a few states will actually determine the outcome, thus rendering meaningless tens of millions of votes.  The millions of Republicans of California and Democrats in Texas have no reason to vote, for no matter how many voters they get to the polls, the state will inevitably go to the other party.  And since those elected officials know what constituents elect them to office, they have no reason to adopt agendas of the minorities.  The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a possible solution to this cancerous issue, but it would be better and more secure to have the election method and determination written into the Constitution. 

Following federal norms, many localities, cities, and states across the country use the same form of winner-take-all or majority-rule process for their elections, systems that are known to alienate and detach minority voters from the elections in the form of “voter dilution.”  For a nation as diverse as the United States – and the country is moving toward a minority white population – a two-party system that reduces minority influence is not in anyone’s best interest.  More representative local governments will appoint officials that embody the interests of all their citizens and ensure police forces operate under laws that actually promote protection and service to the people.

It is no wonder that the nation has record levels of partisanship, a status that has accumulated over time.  It is so high that it can be anticipated that a new era is being ushered in where presidents and legislators will assume office and immediately attempt to overturn many of the legal victories of the previous party, as Trump has done with Obama.  All the while presidential powers have increasedcongressional power has receded, and the Supreme Court and national judicial posts have become more partisan.  The back-and-forth of American laws and positions is no way to provide stability for our citizens and for the world to trust.  A more proportionally-represented system would be a good fix.

There are other problems with the Constitution, as written.  The Second Amendment, as understood by gun-rights advocates today, does not represent anything close to what the founders meant by its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.  The ability to maintain a firearm was directly connected to one’s service in a militia, in a frontier context prior to the establishment of a standing military, modernization of the National Guard and the Reserves, and the development of deadlier weapons and technology that can kill at extreme rates.  This amendment has no place in a modern society. 

Districting, a term not used in the document but an authority mandated by Article 1, Section 2, is today subject to gerrymandering as political parties who happen to be in power every ten years get to remake voting districts in the manner which benefits those parties. Lest anyone forget that in the same Constitutional section, the framers also declared that districts would be determined by the number of “free Persons…excluding Indians…” and that blacks, slaves, and all others only counted for “three fifths” of a person. Certainly if those statements no longer apply in 2020, many other parts of the Constitution can so be inapplicable and ready for change.

Many protestors today on the streets are arguing that the racist system actually isn’t broken; rather it is working as it was intended, and that is the problem. Whether the system is broken or rigged, the system itself is the barrier to adequate change in America. Much of it comes from the U.S. Constitution at the very top.

Thank You Jim Mattis. You Were Three Years Too Late.

Former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General Jim Mattis didn’t get one of his many nom de guerres – the “warrior monk” – by accident.  Known as a deep thinker and voracious leader, the general is suggested to have a personal collection of thousands of books.  Mattis is also known for his decisiveness.  In his book Call Sign Chaos, then Major General Mattis wrote that after seeing poor operational tempo from one of his Regimental Combat Team (RCT) commanders during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the general relieved him “on the spot.”  Although this action was preceded by days of observation and recollection, Mattis wasted no time when pressed for a decision. 

Now, Jim Mattis has come out and not only offered support for the racial protest movement but directly attacked Donald Trump, saying that the president “tries to divide us.”  There is no more important time than now to stand against racial injustice and be concerned about the possible use of the active military in America’s cities.  My question to General Mattis, and other former officers and respected civil servants, is: did it really take this long to come to this conclusion? 

From the day Donald Trump took office, his policies and rhetoric have served to divide this nation. Remember the debate over the size of his inauguration crowd, where his administration swore that his crowd was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration”? How about the Women’s March that occurred the day after the inauguration, where the president quickly flipped the debate to attack the media, assuming they would not cover the forthcoming “Right to Life” march with the same diligence. Later in the summer, following the neo-Nazi chaos over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Trump, spoiling an opportunity to unify the nation and take a stand against racism, instead insisted that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest. This was all within the first year.

Then there was the “Muslim travel ban” and then the horrific “family separation policy” at the border, where the administration inhumanely separated children from parents in a policy that still has thousands of families awaiting reunification. Children in cages, fear mongering about migrant “caravans,” and the abandonment of critical global responsibilities to international well-being – all early Trump administration policies. Jim Mattis, former Marine John Kelly, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster were all key members of the administration during this time. Was it not apparent then that Trump was “dividing” America and destroying the country’s moral fabric?

More personally, the president has, since the beginning, voraciously and individually attacked any public official, current or former, who seems to have any disagreement with him. The media quickly became an “enemy of the people” as opposed to a worthy contender in the open sphere of democratic political debate. His attacks include civil servants of the federal government, members of the so-called “swamp.” He also is running one of the most corrupt White House’s in recent memory, is a chronic liar, and he openly sought foreign assistance for his personal political gain. Was Trump not then “dividing” America or worthy of a chastising response?

Today, as the United States is at a historical inflection point while confronting a triple crisis the likes of which have not been seen in decades (pandemic, economy, and racial), it is important for respected leaders such as General Mattis to call out the president’s failures and offer hope and words of guidance. And, there is merit to the argument that the United States was better served having the likes of Jim Mattis in the administration to help curb Trump’s worst inclinations.

Yet, the decision by Mattis, Kelly, and others to willingly and enthusiastically serve his administration also helped to reinforce the president’s worst instincts. The fact that immoral policies and Trump’s vile character code only now caused alarm brings to question the judgment of senior military leaders, like Mattis, who served at the pleasure of the president.