Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Filibustering The Filibuster

 Recently, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a threat to his Democratic colleagues. I.e if you eliminate the filibuster (in which a 60% vote is needed to shut off debate and move a bill forward to a vote), the Republican minority will pursue a “scorched earth” posture towards  all future Senate business. McConnell went on to say that they would use all available Senate rules and procedures to tie up legislation and drag out any proposed legislation as long as possible, thereby rendering the Senate ineffective and unable to accomplish any business or Democratic agenda priorities. (Unsurprisingly, the public’s view of the Senate’s accomplishments and effectiveness is already low, at best.) Further, when the time comes that Senate control flips back to the Republicans (which it inevitably will at some point in the political ebb and flow over time), Democrats will be shut out of any participation or consultation in matters coming before the Senate. To further emphasize his point, McConnell subsequently referred to the filibuster as “Kentucky’s veto.”

It all seems like a pretty scary and intimidating threat, and typical for McConnell as a means for maintaining some level of control over Senate business for his Party. Scary, at least until one looks at the intimidation more closely and sees it to be essentially a hollow threat. In reality, McConnell has already made good on that promise over the past six years since Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2014. Since then, McConnell has de facto exercised his own personal filibuster against virtually any Democratic-sponsored legislation by personally refusing to allow any such proposals even to come to the floor for a vote. Nor has there been any meaningful “consultation” or input solicited, allowed, or accepted from Democrats on Republican-sponsored legislation. To listen to Mitch McConnell (and several other particularly egregious senators) protest about a “lack of partisanship” in the Senate is at best irony, at worse just another example of hypocrisy in the extreme that marks much of the political debate today.

The much-maligned tool of the filibuster was introduced in its present form around one hundred years ago during the debate over the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I. Ironically, the procedure (“Rule 22”) was originally instituted as a means to END senate debate, which had heretofore allowed unlimited speaking time for Senators. Rule 22 was therefore adopted to end unlimited debate (and allow business to move forward) by a 2/3rds vote (now 3/5ths / 60 votes). In today’s time, the Rule has morphed into being a method to CONTINUE debate, since it is virtually impossible to get 60 votes on any measure – whether procedure or legislation. Additionally, an individual choosing to execute a filibuster used to be required to stand on the floor and speak continuously until they exhausted themselves or were voted down (think the iconic Jimmy Stewart scene in the 1930s movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”). No other business could be conducted while the filibuster was occurring  and the senator was speaking. Today, a senator only has to state off-camera his/her intention to filibuster and the mechanism is initiated – the issue at hand is thereby tabled for an unlimited time. No “closure” vote is publicly taken; no non-stop speeches are given. Meanwhile, other Senate business moves on unabated and unaffected. No muss, no fuss, all virtually invisible to the public.

It should be noted, however, that Rule 22 is not carved in stone. Harry Reid, the previous Democratic Majority Leader, became frustrated at Republican filibustering of Obama’s Executive Office and Judicial appointments. So he changed the Rule to exempt Executive branch appointments, and federal judges other than to the Supreme Court, to be exempt from the 60-vote requirement. Predictably, Mitch McConnell went ballistic over this change and the loss of his leverage. Hell hath no fury like a political leader scorned. Nevertheless, when McConnell became Majority Leader, he was perfectly happy to not only continue the policy for President Trump’s nominees, but to even expand the exemption to include Supreme Court nominees.

We are now two months in with Joe Biden’s presidency. Biden has spoken of a “big agenda” of change: the Covid relief package just passed; renewed voting rights protection; immigration overhaul; climate change; major infrastructure investment; etc. However, he is supported legislatively with only a narrow Democratic Party majority in the House, and a 50/50 split in the Senate. 60 votes in the Senate on anything looks every bit like wishful thinking – stalemate for stalemate’s sake itself. Past history during Obama’s presidency shows that Republican requests for “input and negotiation” in the end have no meaningful substance. McConnell has demonstrated numerous times over that his word is unreliable and not his bond. In the face of these realities, what’s a President to do?

There are numerous calls from supporters of the Biden agenda to eliminate the filibuster option. Or to exempt voting rights legislation (or other categories to be identified) from its purview. Or to reinstitute the requirement for speeches on the floor, and full-Senate votes for closure (or not), so that voters can track the actions of their senators. Or contrarily, to leave everything in place as is. Plus perhaps other ideas not yet identified. What is true is that when you are in the minority, the filibuster is a precious tool for blocking the potential extremes of the other Party. When you are in the majority, it is the devil’s curse and a tool that prevents America’s progress. And at some point in the fickle cycle of shifting political opinion, today’s majority is destined to become tomorrow’s minority. Each side gets its turn at the helm. That turn could easily happen only two years hence.

It will be interesting to see what procedural route(s) Democratic senators take. Move cautiously? Or damn the torpedoes and move forward while you can? As usual, easy answers can have hard, unintended consequences. So think it through. In the meantime, political theater and rhetoric seem to continue to be the drivers, while real solutions to our needs await their turn.

©   2021   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Friday, February 5, 2021

Expectations Of A Biden Presidency

“Joe Biden is as good a man as God ever created.”   —U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

 Shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President in January 2017, I posted an essay entitled “Expectations of a Trump Presidency”. The intent was to imagine Trump’s four years in office, based upon what we had seen and learned from two years of his campaigning. When I recently \reread that essay, I was surprised at how prescient the conclusions proved to be. Four years later, we have now inaugurated a new President – Joe Biden. It therefore seems appropriate to similarly speculate on what we might anticipate from his next four years.

 Given the events, conduct and outcomes of Trump’s four years in office, one must necessarily insert a context to properly determine expectations of a Biden presidency. Donald Trump drastically changed the landscape of the Presidency and Executive Branch – indeed, all parts of the federal government – as well as the interactions and perspectives of the citizens that government serves. Therefore Joe Biden’s presidency will initially be defined and driven largely by reacting to Donald Trump’s legacy, rather than starting from Biden’s own aspirations and political platform. That reaction will need to focus on four key areas:

 TRUTH: We all know that politicians will at times stretch the truth or a perspective in ways that will cast them in the best light. But not until the last four years has lying become the given, the reflexive response, with truth hidden away unseen in the dense forest of obfuscation. No thoughtful decisions, no effective actions, are achievable in such a distorted climate. The most fundamental priority for the Biden presidency is to restore the telling of the Truth into the national dialog. Certainly there are times when multiple truths can legitimately collide against each other. But only by facing those truths can we successfully plot our course with a reasonable expectation of achieving our objectives. Credibility is an essential foundation for leadership.

 RULE OF LAW: Since the adoption of our Constitution in 1788, our allegiance has been to that Constitution, not to an imperial king or queen. Our government is subservient to that Constitution.  Its elected and appointed officials are subservient to the citizenry. The Rule of Law took a setback over the past four years, as our president flagrantly ignored Constitutional principles, legal requirements, and historical precedent and conventions. He exposed holes in our operating structures that had never been seen or anticipated before, and defied “legal process,” in an effort to convert the Executive Branch into a political extension  of his own making. Restoring the Rule of Law as our guiding principle, strengthening the structures that execute the Law, and rebuilding the trust of the citizenry in impartial execution, is paramount.

 REBUILDING GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: The various departments, bureaus, agencies that make our government function were decimated over the past four years. Internationally respected offices were decimated by budget cuts; staffing cuts and/or leaving posts vacant; wholesale closing of offices; constant turnover in leadership positions, replaced by “acting” agency heads; muzzling and/or blocking personnel from executing their job description. This decimation was extended through politicizing agency missions by subjugating them to a reelection agenda; appointing incompetent and untrained people – with fealty only to the president – to leadership positions; obviating accountability requirements by firing various Inspectors General and inflicting retribution on (supposedly) protected whistleblowers. There is much for our government to do in the days ahead. None of those things can get done until the workforce is rebuilt – in quantitative as well as competency terms – and their missions are reestablished, performed under an ethical apolitical umbrella. Government does not function when the People do not trust that well-qualified people are doing the jobs expected of them.

 WORLD LEADERSHIP: For most of its young life, America adopted an isolationist stance, happy to go about its business with minimal interaction and interference from Europe and with other countries of the world. That changed when Pearl Harbor committed America to a new role of principal leadership in global affairs, working in partnership with other countries in formal treaties and ad hoc engagements, articulating the case for democracy. Our leadership has not eliminated wars, but the world has become more mutually intertwined, culturally and economically, to the mutual benefit of all. America – by word, by deed, by its steadfastness – has been the linchpin for this current stability. These relationships have been turned upside down and severely tested over the past four years. Our adversaries have seemingly become new-found “friends”; long-standing true friends have been pushed aside as new adversaries. The America countries have depended upon for years has walked away from its global opportunities and obligations; our word, and our participation, is now suspect. At a time when the countries of the world are more connected and interdependent than ever, America has become a minor player in world affairs. These relationships demand to be rebuilt for the benefit of all.

 Today, there is a laundry list of specific issues that demand our attention. Most critical are the inter-joined issues of the Covid pandemic and our crippled economy that have upended our daily lives. After that come issues of climate change and the environment; of health care reform and access; immigration reform / DACA / caged children; racial justice; the continuing assault on voting rights; policing reform; livable wage / economic disparity; etc. It would be great to attack all of these issues immediately and concurrently. But that is not possible given the status our government has been brought to. We first have to rebuild the infrastructure and capacity of our government in order to address our national laundry list, else we will flounder in the sea of good intentions not realized. We need to rebuild with the right people, policies, clarity of mission. This rebuilding will require patience from a citizenry whose patience runs very thin these days. But it is the first priority for America before much else can be done.

 Can Joe Biden accomplish this rebuilding task, especially in these hyper-partisan times? I honestly do not know. I do know he will need wide support to get it done. Support from people whose first concern is for the Country, not their personal agenda nor their reelection prospects. Joe Biden is not intuitively a big-picture thinker. A political moderate, he sees things in much more of a “task to do” working-class mentality: here’s a problem, let’s solve it, and use a hefty dose of common sense in the solution. We have witnessed the damage an inexperienced “outsider” president can do through four years of a pretend President who failed to understand and neglected the institution of the Presidency. In contrast, Joe Biden’s 30+ years of experience in the federal government gives us a president who should know his way across the playing field of governance, operating with a genuine understanding of people’s needs and with minimal malice in his heart.

 Getting things done. That is what we need right now. The big visionary dreams can perhaps come later. Made possible by a well-functioning government in which we can have confidence and pride. Joe Biden likely will not be a candidate for a future likeness on Mount Rushmore. But will he get this very important core job done? If so, he could just be one of those right people who shows up at the right moment for the right need. We shall see.

 ©   2021   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Monday, January 11, 2021

Constitutional High And Low

A written Constitution. Allegiance pledged to Constitutional Law rather than a monarch. Governance decision-making by a Vote from the governed. Adopted by a new, presumptuous little country strung out along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in a distant and isolated “New World,” these were radical concepts in 1788 with no precedence among world governments. But they became the principal gifts from the United States of America to the advancement of human civilization. All too often, we take these special gifts for granted, as though they always were and always will be. As a result, we fail to protect them by stepping up to our responsibility to engage and exercise these gifts that so many have given so much effort to ensure. Yet what we take for granted – the power of the Vote – was on full display over 48 recent hours. A display that showed the high point, and the low point, of the awesome privilege and responsibility of the right to Vote as guaranteed by our Constitution.

HIGH POINT – TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2021: In a rare convergence of circumstances, the State of Georgia found itself voting for both of its U.S. senators in a special runoff election. To virtually everyone’s surprise, Democratic Party candidates won both seats against the two incumbent Republican senators (albeit by extremely narrow margins) – this in what has been a deeply reliable Republican state. Simply winning these two election races against the odds was significant unto itself. But the significance was magnified by its immediate multiple domino effects:

-the U.S. Senate became equally divided at 50/50 senators from each Party, changing from Republican to Democratic majority control due to the incoming Democratic Vice President having the tie-breaking vote;

- all Senate committees will be now chaired and controlled by Democrats, significantly improving (but not guaranteeing) the prospect for Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, executive branch appointments, and federal court nominees;

-Mitch McConnell, who has heretofore controlled the Senate’s legislative agenda with a proverbial iron fist, will become the Senate Minority Leader, with Chuck Schumer becoming Majority Leader.

Why does all of this constitute a Constitutional “high point”? It is not because the Democrats won, or now take charge. Depending on one’s own personal politics and partisan affiliation, “Democratic control” can be a thrilling prospect or a cause for alarm in anticipating the next two-to-four years of national governance and initiatives. Rather, it is a “high” because it demonstrated the full power of the act of voting. Citizen turnout set a record for a “special election,” and within the slim 1%+/- margin of victory for those two senatorial elections, the national political landscape was transformed. That is the power of the Vote: the power to make a statement and effect a difference. It is why the right to Vote is so powerful and precious.

LOW POINT – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2021: Yet less than 24 hours later, we descended into the low point of our Constitutional governance and heritage. In the November election, the incumbent President lost his bid for reelection. In the two months since, he has claimed on a daily basis that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud and illegal election processes. He has sought to directly (and illegally?) intervene with election officials and state legislators to overturn the results of the vote of the citizens. Thousands of local Boards of Election, and various combinations of 50 state Boards of election, &/or 50 state Secretaries of State, &/or 50 state Governors, &/or 50 state legislatures said there was no fraud, and certified the voting results. Over 60 federal and state lawsuits filed echoing the fraud claim were summarily dismissed – including rulings by federal judges appointed by the President. At no time during these certification and lawsuit steps was one shred of proof of voter fraud offered. Yet the drumbeat from the incumbent loser and his supporters incessantly carried on this “big lie."

The protest of the election result culminated in a call by the President for a public rally in Washington on January 6th (“It is going to be wild”) – the day that the votes of the Electoral College would be ceremonially counted and formally accepted, as specified by the Constitution. Thousands of supporters showed up and listened to several speakers exhort them to march to the Capital building to protest the counting and certification of the true election results. So march to the Capital they did, and we all saw in real time what happened next. It was a scene unmatched in our entire American history. A sitting President personally and publicly convened a mob of insurrectionists, and exhorted them to attack the Capital building of our federal legislature. And so this armed, lawbreaking mob did – forcibly breaking into the building and preventing the duly elected Congress of the United States from conducting their Constitutionally mandated business. They overwhelmed Capital Police charged with protecting the integrity of the building and its occupants. They broke into offices, into legislative chambers, vandalizing and stealing property, putting the safety of its occupants at genuine risk, resulting in deaths and injuries. Only after hours passed and law enforcement reinforcements arrived at the scene were the insurrectionists finally pushed out of the building.

There will be months to come of investigations and hearings into what happened on this day, and how such an extreme security failure happened. It is therefore not the intent of this essay to try to preempt such inquiries. Rather, it is to note why this is a Constitutional Low in our nation’s history. An incumbent President calls for a violent attack by his followers to prevent the ongoing functioning of the Congress of the United States, based on a lie about an election result. Yet in its own way, that is another demonstration and affirmation of the power of the Vote. It is a power to fear if you are on the wrong side of democracy by attempting to overturn that vote. And when you find yourself on that wrong side, you are guilty of the high crime of Insurrection against our government and the democracy it stands for.

©   2021   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Monday, December 14, 2020

The Never-Ending Election Ends

 So, at last, it is finally over. At least officially. Six weeks after Election Day; five weeks after the election was “called” and a victor was proclaimed; through five continuous weeks of rejected lawsuits and unproven claims of massive voter fraud; the United States of America finally and officially has a new President-elect. A legally constituted Electoral College did its job as prescribed in our Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court tersely ended any and all attempts to have the judiciary overturn the Law and the Voters. It is now on to Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021 to make the job of our democratic election complete, and peacefully turn over the power and office of the President. It is as the Constitution and the citizenry demands.

Donald Trump would most certainly have it otherwise. Over the past six weeks, he and his band of unprincipled henchmen have pulled out all stops to deny the electoral reality; attempted to interfere with standard voting processes; spread false information about the voting  process and the result; disrupted voting-by-mail by dismantling USPS equipment and operating  policies; filed and  lost over 50 lawsuits to overturn the vote; and directly ordered (with mixed success) state election officials, executive officers and legislators to upend and reverse the vote. These actions culminated with the Attorney General from Texas (himself under state and federal investigations and an intra-office staff uprising over ethics and corruption issues) petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against four swing states over their election processes and results.  The petition was joined by approximately 20 other Republican AGs, and endorsed by over 120 Republican Congresspersons. To which the Supreme Court rightly said simply, “petition denied,” prompting the Texas GOP Chairman to propose that Texas secede from the Union! The Donald J. Trump political circus, led by his ringmaster Rudy Giuliani, has proven to be a national (and international) embarrassment for America – we the country that has previously defined what “democratic government” means. Senator Mitt Romney had it right when he called the whole affair “madness.”

Undoubtedly, in spite of the legal and political finality of this election, the noise from Trump will continue. The cries of a “stolen election” will be embedded in continuing subsequent Tweets and press releases. The question will be how much air time will be given to these self-pitying laments by the news media (other than Fox News and various right-wing talk radio hosts). Ultimately, Americans do not tolerate whiners and sore losers.

Certainly every political candidate has a right to pursue legal remediation when the accuracy or integrity of a vote is in question. Richard Nixon likely had legitimate reasons to question the vote from Mayor Richard Daley’s political machine in Chicago that gave Illinois to John Kennedy in the close election of 1960; Nixon instead chose to forgo pursuing it “for the good of the country.” Al Gore had a legitimate question about the vote in Florida in 2000; the Supreme Court’s decision giving the election to George W. Bush is still questionable in the minds of many.

If Donald Trump had EVIDENCE of impropriety in the 2020 voting, he certainly has had a right to pursue it accordingly. Except that after multiple election recounts have been completed, and virtually every lawsuit filed has been rejected, there is no such evidence. His continual lie of voter fraud accomplished no change in the outcome of the vote. Instead, it has served only to undermine the confidence, faith and trust of many Americans in our national government. It also has provided Trump with a misleading fundraising campaign resulting in a $200,000,000 haul for a personal slush fund donated by his aggrieved supporters. (As with all things Trump, self-enrichment, not public service, is the dominating motivation.) It is one more brick added to the wall of shame that is Donald Trump, further proof (if needed) that his first/last/always priority is Donald Trump – not his supporters, not the Country, not Democracy itself.

Meanwhile, the country will be left to pick up the pieces from this most unique of elections. It will now fall to Joe Biden to try to restore American government to its rightful place. Its place of decency in how we treat one another. Of bringing competent, professional people back into government to rebuild the hollowed-out shell Trump is leaving it in. Of fact-based decision-making and deliberate planning instead of self-rewarding, whimsical Tweets. Of acting within the legality and spirit of the Law, historical precedent, and respect for the historical purpose and the many achievements of America. The rebuilding of American government will take time and effort after suffering the wrecking ball attack on it by Trump. It will most certainly require installing the right new people into key, critical leadership positions. It will also likely take longer than just one presidential term to accomplish.

Unfortunately, there will be resistance from those politicians who believe that Trump’s way is the new way, a key to their political success. Out of fear of Trump’s retribution and for their own political careers, they will continue to voice support for the fantasy world Trump has invented to try to escape the historical label of “1-term, impeached, loser.” Trump will not go quietly into the night like previous ex-presidents. His continuous need for being the center of attention will not allow himself to be ignored. It will still be about being in the spotlight, making money, and demeaning and bullying his way through anyone who gets in his way.

In the end, the institutions of American democracy have thankfully held firm against Donald Trump’s assault. Now, the rest of us have a job to do. To get through the pandemic decimation of the country. To rebuild those sectors of our economy that have been hard hit. To help the many victims of the past year recover their lives. This will not be accomplished on the golf course. It will happen in a newly committed and staffed government focused on We, the People. Let us get on with the real job at hand.

5 weeks to Inauguration Day.

©   2020  Randy Bell              https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Trumpublican Party

My father was a life-long Republican. Pragmatically, it was not a particularly effective affiliation. We lived in the “solid South” wing of the Democratic Party. For a hundred years, that party was home for moderate working-class voters, as well as for post-Civil War Southerners enforcing Jim Crowe segregation – the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party. The Democratic hold on southern political power was so complete that through the 1960s my father’s Republican vote never elected a Republican to office.

The national Republican Party was founded just before the Civil War. Anti-slavery was its main cause; Abraham Lincoln was its first President. After the North won that war, the wealthy of the country took hold of the Republican Party and never turned loose of it. Through the 1950s/1960s, political and financial control of the Republican Party was predominately located in the northeast, with a moderate Eisenhower its first president since The Great Depression. But the times were changing. Party control was moving westward; a new breed of conservative Republicans was emerging. Their political leader was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater; their intellectual leader was Willian F. Buckley, founder of the National Review; their soul was given voice by author Ayn Rand; its spokesperson was actor/California Governor Ronald Reagan. Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential election by a landslide; the movement succeeded with Reagan’s election in 1980.

Meanwhile, the party’s voter base shifted underneath its leaders. Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, thereby tearing down the Jim Crowe voting barriers in the South. For the Dixiecrats, it was the ultimate betrayal by their Party. In 1968, some found a new home in Alabama Governor George Wallace’s segregationist 3rd- party presidential run; others found it in Republican Richard Nixon’s “law and order” candidacy in the throes of the Viet Nam War and civil rights protests. Over approximately 20 years, the Democratic South migrated to become the new (and dependable) Republican South. The weeds of anger and distrust of the American federal government – planted in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period – were now rebirthed as the southern wing of the Republican Party.

Following Presidents Reagan and Bush, Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker after the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 after 40 years in the minority. Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was his declaration of war on the old politics. No more bi-partisan government solutions. It was now “our way or the highway,” either/or, me versus you. Republicans would now run the show on a “conservative” (i.e. not “Democratic liberal”) agenda. Where the Party had been built on a business-friendly / government-hands-off agenda, it would now rebuild itself on the new base of Republican voters by adopting a “social conservative” agenda tied to conservative Christian groups. Gingrich also changed the political vocabulary, breaking the norms of respectful debate by substituting personal insult and attacking opponents’ patriotism. Forced to resign due to personal and political ethical issues, the legacy of his impact on partisanship and negative speech in Washington remains today.

Gingrich left behind a new voter base firmly in residence in the Republican Party. It was a base that felt left out of government’s largess and political support, an unheard voice in the national conversation. The new agenda was driven by a desire to return American culture to the perceived way of life of the 1950s, which had been battered by the “progressive changes” instituted over the ensuing decades. Changes from the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, abortion, same-gender relationships, equal-pay and affirmative action in the workplace, environmental regulation. In response, a conservative agenda – and the politicians who would support it – emerged focused on issues such as religious priorities (e.g. prayer in schools and public places; favoritism on Christian religious observances); abortion; “traditional values” (including traditional gender relationships); issues of moral conduct; hyper-patriotism; 2nd Amendment gun rights. As always, there was the undercurrent of racial segregation and bias, now pursued through “back door” legal or policy mechanisms. Over time, this agenda expanded into two main themes: 1) a claimed right to do as one pleases (a decidedly un-Christian view), regardless of law and regulation promoting the common good, and 2) a paradoxical belief that all Americans should conform to one cultural and legal point of view – this conservative point of view.

This new conservative agenda was essentially held in check during the George W. Bush presidency. But after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, who personified the progressive political force, the new conservatives hit their stride. In 2010 the Tea Party Movement burst onto the scene, focusing their efforts first on purging the Republican party of its “old guard” members and replacing them with disciples of the new movement. These new-style Republicans once again took back the House (which they had lost in 2006), and subsequently the Senate in 2014. All that remained was to install one of their own in the White House, to accomplish control of both the Legislative and Executive branches.

Enter one Donald John Trump.  Compared to his 44 predecessors, never has one individual been less qualified to be President. But Trump has several skills useful in the 2016 election campaign: an ability to make himself as the center of attention; an absence of any core beliefs and principles; an ability to read people and play to their self-interests. Once he decided to run for President – the biggest center of attention of all – the new Republican base was just the vehicle he needed. And they likewise needed him.

It was, and is, a marriage of convenience. Trump is willing to present himself as whatever his voting base wants him to be in exchange for their votes. In turn, that base is willing to turn a blind eye and tolerate his personal and political life hypocrisies, his political incompetence, and his untruths in exchange for giving voice to their frustrations and agenda. Trump has their allegiance because no one else is speaking for them. In fact, it is not so much that the base is devoted to Trump, they simply have nowhere else to turn. Hence the intractable and almost inexplicable support given to him. Neither does Trump have any other voter base open to him. Trump and his base are thereby permanently wedded to one another.

So the Religious Right ignores Trump’s amorality in exchange for his advocacy of their morality agenda. Business owners ignore his business failures in exchange for his deregulation of economic controls and budget-busting tax reductions. U.S. senators overlook and rationalize his illegality in exchange for filling judicial vacancies with conservative jurists. Hate groups walk through the open door of “respectability” offered by Trump in exchange for their support. It is all about “making the deal”; each side gives and gets. Apparent fealty to Trump is actually fealty to the agenda – the marriage lasts only as long as Trump toes the line. If the line breaks, the fealty breaks.  Each party is the oxygen for the other.

Today, the “Republican Party” is now unrecognizable from its former self; the label “Republican” no longer has precise definition. It is now the Trumpublican Party, defined by one man. The existing Party structure provides the vehicle for Trump and his voters to carry out their political operation. Traditional institutional Republicans have been forced to the sidelines, or out of the Party altogether.  On the playing field sits the Trump Truly Faithful, reveling in the euphoria of their new power, convinced that their campaign against “government intrusion and failure” has finally come. In the cheering section are those who cannot endorse Trump the man, yet see personal or political benefit to going along for the ride. Then come the various hate and domestic terrorist groups basking their newly-found “respectability.”  This election will not only elect a President, it will also define the fate of this Republican Party.  If Trump wins, Trumpism and his coalition will stand for years. If Trump loses, Trump will be a temporary blip in the Party’s history. The Party will collapse into an inevitable blame game as a new power struggle ensues. Who will win, who will constitute the Republican Party in 2024, is a mystery waiting to unfold.

Early in the 2016 campaign, I said, “The real story here is not Donald Trump, even though that is where the attention is going. He is merely the mouthpiece, The real story that should be pursued is the Trump voter.” That is still where today’s discussion should be focused. What are they after? And why are they after it?” Four years later, we are still focused on the man. We should be focused on his voters. What drives them to their agenda? What is it that fuels their antagonism towards their government(s)? What happened to my father’s Republican Party?

4 weeks to Election Day, November 3.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Trump's Campaign Strategy Revealed

 September 23, 2020. A reporter asks the President of the United States, “Mr. President, real quickly, win, lose or draw in this election, will you commit here today for a peaceful transferal of power after the election?” The President responded … “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster. Get rid of the ballots [my emphasis] and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there will be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it and you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

This statement followed a statement made earlier in the day …“I think this [election] will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important we have nine justices. But I think it’s better if you go [and confirm the Justice nominee] before the election because I think this — this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam, the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court.”

There you have it: Donald Trump’s strategy for “winning” the election. Spoken and filmed from the lectern of the White House pressroom, for the record, for all to hear and see. For months, Trump has set the table for this strategy by consistently claiming that the upcoming election is a fraud. He has blamed the fraud principally on the expanded use of mail-in ballots (which is how Trump will be voting in Florida). If he does not win by the ballot counts of the 50 states, then tie up the election by burying it in endless legal challenges. Move the legal challenges to the Supreme Court, which will have a brand-new justice nominated and confirmed. With three Trump-appointed justices on the bench (quid pro quo expected?), and a 6-3 “conservative majority,” they will declare Trump the winner. Election done.

Will the strategy succeed? Who knows at this time. Given the unimaginable events of the past four years, anything remains possible. Apparently, even in America. The first line of defense against this gameplan? Go Vote. As soon as you can.

5 weeks until Election Day, Nov 3.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Eligible, But Unable To Vote

 Voting is essentially a simple concept. Yet in the evolutionary journey of human civilization, it is one of the overriding reason America came into being. It is also a relatively new concept in the timeline of human civilization. In its basic form, there is a decision to be made that affects a Community of impacted people. It may be a decision regarding future direction, problem-solving, or ground rules of social order. Or it may be the selection of an individual(s) to take on a responsibility, or an ongoing job, on behalf of that Community. In either case, the mechanism is to bring the Community together en masse; discuss the background and pros/cons/options pertinent to the issue or selectee; then ask each person what they want to do about it (i.e. “vote”) – each person having an equal say with one another. The decision is determined by who gets the most affirmative votes. Done. Move on.

It is a straight forward basis for group decision-making, albeit not always an efficient one. Dictatorial decision-making, where one person decides for all, is certainly a far quicker process. In the right hands, at the right moment, in the right circumstance, it can actually be preferable. (E.g. in a foxhole while bombs are enveloping you is not a good time for voting.) But in the everyday management of or lives, group-think leading to group-decide usually works out best over time.

In a world history dominated by the rule of kings (and occasional queens), voting had a few trial runs. The Senates of ancient Greece and Rome gave a start at voting. They were somewhat successful, but the voters were limited to just a few wealthy men. A thousand-plus years later, the English took another step towards voting, adopting a Magna Charter which for the first time limited the absolute authority of the King, out of which gradually emerged a “Parliament.” Parliament consisted of a self-appointed rich Nobles class, and the King was still the unambiguous authority-in-charge, but Parliamentary consensus gradually grew in importance for the general governance of the realm.

Ultimately, it would take the fledgling new nation of America, drawing predominately from that English heritage, to make a “voting public” into a reality. Building on its precedence of colonial legislatures, voting in a decision-making body, and voting to select the members of that body, became the basis of American governance. Though not everyone in the Community was initially allowed to vote, the range of the population that was allowed – including everyday workers and tradespeople side-by-side with the rich landed gentry – was remarkable (and unprecedented  across the globe) for its time.

In the ensuing 232 years since our Constitutional founding, the right to vote has been enshrined as a fundamental definition, privilege and responsibility of American citizenship. It is the right to have an equal say in the decisions that affect us and the individuals who will carry out those decisions. In these same 232 years we have gradually moved to include those who were initially denied that right of citizenship, i.e. African-American former slaves, women, Native Americans, naturalized citizens. That correction has been long and painfully difficult. It took a civil war to free Black Americans from slavery and then Constitutional amendments expressly giving them citizenship and eligibility to vote. Yet it took another 100 years to pass the Voting Rights Act to remove the twisted legalistic and violent actions that served as barriers that continued to deny that vote. Barriers that included threats, murders and lynching of would-be voters; poll taxes, requiring one to pay for voting; literacy tests to keep supposedly “uneducated” voters (i.e. Blacks) off the roles. It took another Constitutional amendment 132 years after our founding to give women the right to vote; it would take another 50 years for women to actually run for elective office in substantial numbers.

Notwithstanding the long and too-often painful road to voter equality, the idea of the right of citizens to vote on the decisions that govern them, and to have proven the case for that idea by 232 years of experiential example, have been America’s gift to world civilization. Which is why current threats to that Noble Principle is all the more alarming: the overt attempt not to deny citizens their RIGHT to vote (as was our previous history), but an insidious surreptitious effort to deny citizens the ABILITY to vote that right.

In 2018, we saw numerous “dirty tricks” carried out to deny citizens’ access to voting. (See “Barricades Blocking the Ballot Box,” November 11, 2018, on this blog.) For example, we saw last-minute rule changes for voter registrations; moving of polling locations; redefining precinct boundaries to split voter turnout. Already in 2020 – complicated by the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic – we are seeing major reductions in the number of poll sites; attempted restrictions on access to mail-in ballots; deliberate acts by the President and USPS leadership to slow down and undermine mail-in ballot processing; interfering with people’s attempts to register to vote.

This is why vigilance will be required of all of us in Election 2020, regardless of our differing political views. Voting should be a non-partisan function of government; the rules governing our voting should not be made up as we go along to fit political party ambitions. We must be prepared to respond with lawsuits in the courts, protests on the ground, and showing up to vote in spite of the hurdles presented. And when we vote, we need to vote out those who seek to take away this most precious of our Constitutional Rights. We vote to affirm and protect our Constitution that so many have given so much to bequeath to us. VOTE.

6 weeks to Election Day, November 3.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com