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

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Headlines, Not Conversation

This first week of election activity proved to be a series of individual headline stories:

At a rally in North Carolina, Trump asked his voters to do a mail-in ballot AND then go vote at the polls. It is illegal in NC to vote twice. It is also illegal in NC to induce others to vote twice. He repeated the request at subsequent venues.

The latest addition to Trump’s Covid health team is a Fox News commentator who is a radiologist with no immunotherapy experience whatsoever. He is recommending that we stop testing everyone who is not in a “vulnerable group” (who isn’t in a vulnerable group?), so that “everyone else gets it and thereby becomes immune.” Trump has endorsed the idea. Pandemic solved?

Trump claimed that “94% of the deaths reported from Covid were actually caused by “other reasons.” Not true – per Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC.

Two public relations officials were fired from their positions at the Food and Drug Administration following Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s decision to walk back his recent claims about convalescent plasma being a treatment for Covid-19. The statement is medically unproven, per the vast opposing outcry from the national health community.

The CDC announced a change in their position on Covid testing. They said that healthy and asymptomatic people “can choose” whether to be tested after Covid exposure, but it is not necessary. After outrage from the national health community, the CDC walked it back.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, weren’t included on sample ballots provided by South Carolina’s Election Commission. The sample ballots were intended to “prepare voters for the coming November election.” An online version of the ballot has since been corrected.

Last March, Trump made an unpublicized visit to Walter Reed military hospital, explained as a “delayed part of his annual physical exam.” It was recently revealed that Vice President Mike Pence was told to be on standby to assume presidential powers if Trump underwent anesthesia. Anesthesia is rarely given during routine physicals.  In reaction to questions about this, Trump tweeted he “did NOT have a series of mini-strokes.” Who said anything about mini-strokes until Trump himself brought it up?

Trump has directed the Office of Management and Budget to crack down on federal agencies' anti-racism training sessions, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

The Justice Department is preparing to charge Trump 2016 inaugural Vice Chair Elliot Broidy with illegal foreign lobbying. As an inaugural fundraiser, he sold to foreign clients his supposed influence with future presidential decisions. Broidy is already under investigation for payoffs he had made to silence his former Playboy mistress. Another portrait added to the burgeoning rogue’s gallery of ne’er-do-wells.

Evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr., a strong vocal supporter of Trump on the Religious Right, resigned as President of Liberty University due to 3-way sex scandal including his wife and her lover.

Donald Trump paid a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, scene of street protests due to a Black American being shot seven times in the back at point-blank range, now in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down. The Governor and Mayor both asked Trump not to come – “like pouring gas on a fire.” Trump came anyway, posed for a photo op in front of a burned-out store, denounced street violence, and pledged to support “law and order.” The current owner of the store refused to appear in the photo op. Joe Biden subsequently visited Kenosha, visited with the victim’s family, and spoke to the victim on the phone. He subsequently publicly denounced the street violence, while also making the case for racial justice and police reform.

A litany of schools (K-12 and college) began opening for the fall in response to political pressure. Just as quickly, they began shutting down again due to rapid outbreaks of the Covid virus due to campus gatherings (colleges), or the lack of planning and adequate resources to keep teachers, staff and students safe (K-12). Parents are caught in the middle.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden began to come out of his Delaware basement to criticize Trump on the street violence (“This is Trump’s America, happening on his watch”), try to move conversation away from Trump’s “law and order” theme and back to the pandemic failures, and link the failing economy to Trump’s failure to first contain the Covid virus.

Michael Cohen’s book is being released, joining the recent parade of insider tell-all books including one on Melania by her once-best-friend, and niece Mary Trump’s insider family stories. There is at least full employment these days for lawyers and book publishers.

Perhaps most significantly, a news article in Atlantic Magazine quoted multiple unnamed sources accusing Trump on numerous occasions calling military personnel, and specifically those who have died or been wounded in service to this country, “losers” and “suckers”. Trump and the White House strongly denied saying that. The story, however, has been corroborated by multiple witnesses and news organizations.

What is wrong with this essay’s narrative? It is 90% about Donald Trump and his cohorts. And what is the theme that emerges from this litany of news headlines? That this is, and will be, the reality of the 2020 campaign. It will be a series of events, not a competition of ideas. The focus of the events will be driven by Trump; Joe Biden, whether he wants it or not, will be put into reactive mode, not proactive mode. Because that is the way Trump wants it. Good publicity; bad publicity; it is all about PUBLICITY. (“I don’t care what people say about me as long as they say something.” P.T. Barnum.) It is about being the center of attention, illuminated by the spotlights of the headlines, dominating the news cycle in any way possible. Grab a headline, good or bad, and the next day move on to a new headline so nothing sticks. It is all about controlling the narrative.

This analysis is not about political partisanship, it is about campaign strategy. A strategy by which 15+ Republican opponents were steamrolled by Trump in 2016. The question is whether it will work again, whether it will last with the American public, in 2020.

These are the times that we  live in. All these headlines happened in one week. A month of news in one week. And it was only just the first week of the campaign’s home stretch.

8 weeks until Election Day, Nov 3.

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

  

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Election 2020 Begins

 The two major political conventions have ended. The candidates and their running mates have been selected. The Party platforms have been adopted. (Well, at least for the Democratic Party. The Republican platform literally consists of three paragraphs, and says “RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” Fealty to the man, versus ideas and specifics for the benefit of the people.) Now is the time for the Election 2020 campaign to begin in earnest.

In spite of our ridiculous four year election season in America, in the end it all boils down to the final two months of electioneering. Goals, promises and ideas will emerge to cover the political landscape like wildflowers blooming in the spring. Charges, insults, and out-of-context – if not absolute – falsehoods will travel high speed over the various communication highways like the moonshiner driver predecessors of the NASCAR circuit.

The one truth that stands out? Notwithstanding the seeming hyperbole, this truly will be one of the most consequential and critical presidential elections in modern memory. In Donald Trump and Joe Biden, we have two radically different candidates for the office. One came into the job as the only historical candidate with no governmental, military, or non-profit experience; his only business experience was (is?) running a small family business. The other aspires to the job after over 30 years of government experience, including being the proverbial heartbeat away from actually holding the position. In Trump, we have four years of actual observation in how he views the Presidency, and his manner of executing that job. In Biden, we have his record as a U.S. senator and his performance as Vice President as the basis for imagining how he would perform. Donald Trump brings his lifetime background as a one-man “decider” and a self-proclaimed “fighter” into his version of the job, with little concern for American law, history, or governmental norms. Joe Biden was steeped in the old-school politics of collegiality in political debate – a collegiality seemingly long gone out of fashion – and respect for the traditions of government service, ceremony, and collective decision-making. We have seen the personal character of each man, character meaning “those things that we do when no one is watching.” Character is those things we choose to say about others; those ways we treat others; those ways we are truth tellers whose word is our bond; those ways we practice the human values and principles we have been taught for centuries.

There is much that could be said about these men, their goals, ideas and ideals over these next weeks of Election 2020. There is much that could be said about the kind of country America aspires to be. There is much that could be said about the world in which we will live our future. But as I have thought about all the potential topics for upcoming essays for this blog, and look at the multiple drafts-in-process essays sitting uncompleted (atypical), I wonder – does it really matter? At this point in our bitterly divided country, is anyone still listening to one another? Does anyone have even a minimum of genuine understanding what “the other side” thinks (“what is the matter with those people?”)?  Are we even capable of explaining WHY we believe what we do, versus just echoing the popular headlines and bumper stickers of our time? Are we only capable of arguing about which one of us is “right” versus which way we – and our country – will move forward?

At this point, I do not know if there are many truly “undecided” voters left. What remains to be said or seen in order to make up our minds? After being bombarded with all the words, mailings, TV ads, and social media histrionics to come, will that many minds be changed over the next two months? There will certainly be nothing pretty to see, little informative learning from the upcoming non-discussions. So the sooner it ends will perhaps be for the better. Perhaps the only real remaining unknown will be the question of engagement: how many, and who, will show up to make the judgment, the decision, about our collective future? And what will they ask for that future to be? We may choose to tune out the noise. But we still need to show up. Vote.

9 weeks to Election Day, November 3.

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