Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Drumbeat To Delegitimize Trump And Why It’s Scary

Drumbeat headlines- Click to enlarge
First, before we proceed, let it be understood that nothing you are about to read here should be interpreted to mean that it was a good idea that Donald Trump should have been elected, nor endorse the idea that it's good that he should be taking office.  Further, what’s written here should not be interpreted to accede to the notion that we even know for sure that Trump actually won the election. . . .

. . .  Conversely, irrespective of whether Trump actually won the election, it's obvious that Hillary Clinton could have run a much stronger campaign in what should, after post mortem, have been an indisputably unlosable election for any Democrat running against Trump.  That's any Democrat, including Bernie Sanders who the polls always said would have done much better in a match against Trump.

That gotten out of the way, we note here that there is a drumbeat to delegitimize Trump as the president-elect and as the president if and when he probably takes office.  It is a surreal next act following a surreal election.  It is, for reasons we’ll discuss, scary. . . very scary.

How is Trump being delegitimized? Let’s count the ways:
    1.    The Popular Vote Gap.  At last count, Hillary Clinton was ahead of Trump in the popular vote count by about 2.9 million votes (2,864,978) or 2.1%, “which means that Donald Trump will be the president who has lost the popular vote by the widest margin in history,” and “one of the lowest percentages of the popular vote since Republicans and Democrats have been competing in the two-party system.”   The mathematics of how that is possible sidle up to another issue, how peculiarly interesting it is that Trump won by the very slimmest of margins (against expectations) the electoral votes of certain states like Michigan where he won by a mere 10,704 votes.  Overall, a thin critically placed spread of just 80,000 total Trump votes over three states, put Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in Trump’s electoral column.

    2.     Highest Ever Negatives.  Gallup gives the president-elect such high negatives, a 55% unfavorable rating, it’s nigh on to double that of previous president-elects during what is typically a honeymoon period.  Just days before the election his unfavorability was even higher at 65%. And, “Even within his own party, Trump is the least popular president-elect in recent history.”

    3.    Conflicts of Interest as Constitutional Bar To Office.   Trump was still weeks away from office and people were already vigorously arguing that his conflicts of interest and the way he is expected to handle them (appointing family members in on his government dealings to oversee his continuing business operations and eschewing the use of a blind trust) will violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause.   Doubtless the problem is staggering in a probably insurmountable way, but what did people think they were ever going to do if multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg had ever been elected president?

    4.    Russian Hackers Come Out of the Woodwork.   Now that the election is over we are being told with screaming headlines, one per day, appearing on the front page of the New York Times (with other media following suit) that we know that Russian hackers worked behind the scenes, `a foreign power interfering with the integrity of our U.S. election’ (like we can’t screw with the integrity of our elections well enough on our own) to give the election victory to Trump.  And Trump undermines himself, not looking like a good American when, during the election, he actually urged the Russians to hack Clinton.  New York Times and other coverage has quickly analogized this to Watergate (and we all know what happened to Richard Nixon as a result of Watergate) and to Pearl Harbor or quasi-close cousin to a cypber`Pearl Harbor'  the Russians stand ready to deliver.  The last time we were hearing comparisons to “Pearl Harbor” was with 9/11 and to complete that loop there were already those (like Frank Rich) who had compared America and its feelings of vulnerability on 11/9 to 9/11.  The level of certitude on the part of the New York Times and its copious flow of column inches turning into pages with suddenly available facts is frightening since there are reasons to believe (damn if Trump isn’t right about some things) that we don’t really know what we can for certain know about this and that it's still quite possible that whatever hacking was done was by people that only wanted it to look like “Russians.”  It’s worth remembering that, long before we actually voted, there was a steady drumbeat of anti-Russian stories with which Hillary was aligning herself.

    5.    Shuck the Electoral College?  Two moves have recently been afoot to bypass the Electoral College.  One was the campaign for Electoral College electors to defect, “go rogue,” be faithless and not vote to install Trump in the presidency in recognition of whatever reason you want to cite (fill in the bank- Russian Hackers, etc) of the unprecedented unsuitability of Trump for office.  The other (driven to a new fervor no doubt by the declaration of a Trump’s victory so out-of-whack with the popular vote) is the call for ending the Electoral College because, as a New York Times editorial calling for its demise says: “By overwhelming majorities, Americans would prefer to elect the president by direct popular vote.”   The drumbeat message: If the Electoral College shouldn’t be our system then Donald Trump should be our president.

    6.    Trump Already Envisioned Out of Office, Impeached?  Whether or not Trump, in all fairness, won the election, Michael Moore was acclaimed immediately after-the-fact for his skill at prognosticating that Trump would be declared the winner, together with a set of reasons he identified why.  So people have been doubling back to Moore to hear him prognosticate something quite remarkable: He predicted (we now know wrongly) that the Electoral College would not vote to install Trump.  Although not exactly consistent, this resonates with another new Moore prediction that could cause similar excitement: That Trump won’t finish his term, either resigning or being impeached.  This is remarkably akin to Trump in the last days running up to the election envisioning, his supporters calling for, Hillary being impeached if/when elected.   By that token, with a sort of weirdly brilliant conversness Trump seems to be somewhat inoculated from such premature crystal-balling of his impeachment by pundits such as Bill Maher reacting to the Trump camp Hillary statements, lecturing that `presidents can only be impeached for what they do after they take office.’   Trump also has an insurance policy against his impeachment (one the media was late in covering): The fact that by the reckoning of most of Trump’s adversaries, Mike Pence, the vice-president who would replace Trump, is far worse that Trump (as well as the “antithesis of everything” Trump told his supporters he was about.)

    7.    Trump Wasn’t Actually Elected- Count the Votes.  Hillary wasn’t raising it (because she feared Trump vengefully “putting her in prison”?), but independent Green Party Candidate Jill Stein did, and when she did, Hillary signed on: The votes should be recounted- Who says that Trump won at all?  Just before Thanksgiving Jill Stein started raising money to finance recounts in states where suspect slivers of counted votes consequently assigned those states electoral votes to Trump’s column and in just a few weeks raised over $7.3 Million from an army of small donors to support the effort.

It doesn’t help the optics for the Trump presidency that Trump defenders and Republican state officials were fighting tooth and nail against the recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, making it seem certain there’s something they’re desperate to hide, some fatal change that could come from a recount of the votes.   Trump won the state of Michigan by fewer than 11,000 counted votes, but more than 75,000 votes there went uncounted mostly in “historically Democratic” Detroit and Flint, Michigan, majority-black cities.  That is reportedly, in part, the result of “ballot-destroying” voting machines discriminatorily sent to those areas.  Because of bankruptcy Republican state officials have “direct control of the government’s spending in Flint and Detroit.”  And, “in Wisconsin, where, for example, there were many, many votes, thousands of votes, lost in the Milwaukee area, another African-American-heavy area.”  In the words of reporter Greg Palast describing the Republican rush to shut down the recounts: “Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, here in Michigan-we may be way north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but the elections are still run by Jim Crow.”  The vote in Florida, with a Trump lead of counted votes of 112,911 has also been questioned. Meanwhile, for fifteen years Jonathan Simon, an expert in voting forensics, has been raising issues about the unreliability of our modern voting machines, their hackability, who owns and controls them and the increasing “red shift” between exit polls and the results counted by these machines that point to significant problems.  Results in North Carolina thus come into question too.  Further, according to Simon, the same sort of “red shift” was evident in the Democratic primaries (but not the Republican primaries), indicating another possible election flaw: Trump should have been running against Bernie.  Ironically, Trump is again somewhat inoculated against charges of election fraud with that same sort of bizarre jujitsu conversness whereby Trump’s allegations before the election that the election would likely be rigged were loudly refuted by pundits all around the mainstream media refusing to consider that our election could lack integrity. Even now, the same people worrying vociferously about the “integrity” of our elections when it comes to “Russian hackers” eschew this more fundamental “homeland” issue.

    8.    The Election, With Significant Voter Suppression, Just Wasn’t Fair.  Politics is dirty and rough and tumble, but no matter which way you slice it, this election, the first since the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, exemplified significant voter suppression and just wasn’t fair.  That voter suppression may also, to an extent,  help explain some of the exit poll discrepancies.   There was, among other suppression measures, a multi-state coordinated Republican-managed voter purge using a company called Crosscheck:  449,922 voters purged in Michigan, 589,393 purged in North Carolina, 270,824 purged in Arizona, in each case many multiples of the Trump margin of victory.  Those voters improperly purged had to resort to voting by provisional ballots, but even if they did so, their votes were not counted if they were actually purged, improperly or not.  If you had a black or Latino name that was similar to the name of someone else in your or another state you might have been one of the voters purged.  It isn’t just money in politics; the list of ways the scales were unfairly tipped when it comes to access to the polls or a fair election is long, too long to dwell upon here.  (And, no, we are not going to get into Facebook's changing of its algorithm during the last leg of the election to allow false news favorable to Trump or Trump's superior army of Twitter bots or helped to be launched.)

    9.    Donald Trump’s Willful Delegitimizing of Himself.   Once upon a time in a presidential election (1928) what was promised was “a chicken in every pot.”  Now, what the nation sees with the appointments Donald Trump is making is a fox in every henhouse,” thus engendering the sinking feeling that there “ain’t gonna be no hens in anybody’s pot if this keeps up.”  His appointments are provocatively in-your-face to the point that he virtually dares the country not to take him seriously, or to trust him at all.  Scott Pruitt, a self-described leading advocate against the Environmental Protection Agency's policies, to head that agency?  Rick Perry, who couldn’t remember the Department of Energy as one of the Federal Agencies he wanted to do eliminate, will now be the head of that department?  Jeff Sessions, too racist to be a federal judge, as Attorney General? (And maybe Trump’s “unpresidented,” yes, Freudian slip, “unpresidented” tweets top off that challenge.)  It’s almost like Trump is joking.  Nor are these appointments consistent with what he promised his supporters during the campaign: “draining the swamp” by filling it with multiple alligators of Goldman Sachs pedigree?   And then there are Trump's military generals. .  Democracy Now points out that on the campaign trail Trump was dismissive of the generals (“I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me”).  But now, with the appointment of at least four military generals, Mr. Trump is appointing “more generals in his cabinet than any president since World War II.”  Maybe it’s not exactly “Seven Days in May” (courtesy of the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling). .   But that would jump us ahead to another point.
“Don’t normalize this!”: After the election there was a widespread shock-and-awed sense of surreal disbelief and this was the mantra that sprang up.  The sentiment it expresses obviously aligns with all of what has already been covered above, and the mantra could, in itself, be yet another addition to the listed delegitimizing drumbeats despite how generally it’s accompanied by the acknowledgment that Trump is technically now the president-elect. . . .  Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media is quickly falling into the trap of doing exactly this normalizing with even the PBS NewsHour deciding `foggily that Trump is just not “traditional” rather than outright “abnormal” in a profoundly abject way (similarly, that Jeff Sessions euphemistically “has a `record’”).

There is now also, abroad in the land, a pervasive deep-seated dread we rarely associate with rulers expected to succeed.  Your dread could be related to science.  If you happen to believe in science, then you almost certainly believe that the planet faces an existential issue, climate change bringing us to the verge of a cataclysmic erasure of life as we have known it.  Rather than retrench and look for solutions, Trump with his appointments would step on the accelerator to speed us faster into this void.

Your dread could also pertain to the seeming disintegration of our basic relationships to each other as Americans.  “Not My President” became the chant of spontaneous demonstrations around the country.  And politicians have had to offer words to the very worried about “sanctuary cities,” islands to be safe from Trumpian policies, but how safe is that?: The federal government could retaliate by, for instance, cutting New York City’s budget by 7-8% (though not as much as NYC sends to the federal government in taxes), just the way that Republican-controlled state governments (in power through gerrymandering) are now shutting off funds to liberal cities until those cities change social policies the Republican don't like.

Conversely, with respect to the other end of the spectrum, we heard reports everywhere of extremists apparently emboldened to bigoted crimes against Jews, Latinos, Muslims, Gays and African-Americans, the posting of swastikas, etc by Trump’s election and hate-speech rhetoric.  Women also have cause to fear whether they will be harassed . . .

Frighteningly, we are told, (including by Hillary Clinton in her concession speech): “Our nation is more deeply divided than we thought.” And apparently 77% of Americans believe it.  That seems horribly unfair to say when Clinton herself got, according to the counted vote, such an unusually large percentage of the popular vote.  It also forgets the bizarre way we seemed to have found exactly the right two candidates to divide the public during this election.  Would this claim of “division” have been the epitaph of a Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump election?. .

. . . But now, not believing in our commonalities, we find ourselves almost expecting to be lawlessly at each other’s throats.  And that is what is scariest, because that kind of lawlessness is the formula for the introduction of martial law.  Even more frightening is to think how many people would be inclined to reason that martial law would be superior to letting the surveillance state we already have be Donald Trump's tool.

You can almost guarantee that any military cabal taking over the country would peddle itself as being more moderate, more centrist, kinder, gentler and more representative of the Unite State people than Trump.  (Probably less “kinder and gentler” with the Russians though.)  With fewer generals in evidence than Trump now has in place that might even have enticing believability.

You can imagine also that the military taking over might explain that it is too dangerous for the United States not to be mobilizing and protecting itself from the threat (including the military threats) of climate change.   That would be ironic since in all ways the U.S. Military is the worst polluter in the world.

Bill Maher recently said a couple of things that were pretty edgy even for him, a politically-commenting comedian who can back off from statements claiming them as `jokes.'   He said that he viewed an incoming Trump administration as lawless, capable of and inclined towards intentional harm to the American people.  He also, on another occasion, said that because the people of the USA are “stupid” (and we face apocalypse) that a despotic elite should simply anoint a technocrat as president.

Is the abandonment of democracy becoming an acceptable meme?   It’s being reported via the New York Times that in various countries around the world, countries that are now democracies, there have been startling drops in the percentage of people who say that `it is essential to live in a democracy.’  The drop gets much steeper with younger generations.  Perhaps the drop is not so hard to explain, especially for the younger generations, if you consider that fewer and fewer people might now consider that they are actually living in a true democracy and find, as they look around the world, that they don't see many countries with true democracies that they could and want to move to.
Maybe you missed you post-Thanksgiving reading: Above from the New York Times on November 29th- Percentage of people who say it is "essential" to live in a democracy

A report on this to be published in the January issue of the Journal of Democracy using data from Freedom House, a watchdog organization that measures democracy and freedom around the world, says that since 2005 there has been a decline in global freedom (perhaps actually dating since about 9/11?- the data says“the number of countries classified as `free' rose steadily from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s”).

According to the report, a critical indicator that a democracy is likely to fail is increased support for “`antisystem parties and movements' - political parties and other major players whose core message is that the current system is illegitimate.” . . . The drumbeats against Trump?

According to the New York Times on this:
Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.
Would our democracy be missed?  Would our mainstream press tell us its demise was `unfortunate'?  The mainstream press didn't care enough about our democracy to pay attention to the real issues in this election cycle.  There might be few to tell us we should note democracy's departure at all.  . . .  In the future, rather than celebrate how great a democracy our country has been, we could celebrate instead how great a military power our country is and has always been!

Deep breath. . let's pause a moment.  Whether or not you are yourself beating one of the drums delegitimizing Trump in these times that are so frightening (and we do not say such drums are not worth beating), before anyone else gets invited to take custody of our country, before anything like that happens, let's have some clear-eyed consideration of exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.  Maybe, by doing so, we can get back to a democracy that works.

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