7 Ways We Are Losing Free Democratic Elections

 

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I haven’t posted here for some months. Now I have something to say that I think is best covered with deeper reflection. As I had feared, this administration has been very toxic. Timothy Snyder, in his book On Tyranny, has warned that if we are to learn the historical lessons of the twentieth century, we will understand it takes only a year or two for a democracy to transition to a totalitarian system once an authoritarian leader has been elected to office. Fresh on the heels of a victory for participatory democracy – the apparent failure of the Senate health care bill – as I began this post, two steps had been taken that further threaten our already compromised electoral process: The so-called “Electoral Integrity Commission” and Rex Tillerson’s dissolution of the cyber security unit at the State Department. Six months into the first year of the Trump administration, the move toward tyranny is right on track.

We have never had a strictly democratic vote because of our representative form of government. In an earlier post, I wrote about the electoral college. I didn’t have it exactly right, although I was partly on track. I said that the electoral college was put in place because the founders didn’t trust the popular vote. This is partly true, but a popular election of the president was not on the table when the Constitution was written. The Electoral College was chosen over the option of having Congress elect the president, in order to protect the separation of powers. That’s a good thing. Then, it turned out not to work, because the president and vice president thus elected would be rivals. At that point, there was debate and the electoral college was not scrapped, but pledged to vote for whomever was elected in each state. The argument was that the popular vote could be wrong and the electoral college could change that, which didn’t hold true in 2016. The electoral college does play a part in the way the popular vote has been manipulated. Areas in which the vote was very close in battleground states were targeted for ads, fake news, and cyber attacks via social media. A few votes in small areas could and did throw all of a state’s electoral votes in one direction.

Number two on my list is gerrymandering. This has been with us since 1812 and is still
legal. It is the practice of redrawing districts to favor a particular political party. Although this practice has been with us for most of the history of our democracy, it has changed in recent years. Computer technology has made it possible to redistrict with mathematical precision, turning what would be majorities in two or three districts to minorities in six or seven districts and majority in none. This greatly affects the make up of Congress as is evidenced by the huge Republican majority in power now. 250px-The_Gerry-Mander_Edit.png            1812 political cartoon showing gerrymandered districts in Massachusetts.

Voter suppression is nothing new, either. It is the third method of interference with free elections on my list. The Constitution says nothing about who may or may not vote, other than in later amendments. At the time it was written, only white male landowners were allowed to vote. This was an unchallenged assumption. We started out with unquestioned voter suppression. Years later, amendments specifically gave the vote to African-Americans, women, and young people. No amendment specifically mentions voting rights for Native Americans or other non-white citizens. Now the general belief is that all citizens have the right to vote, but voter suppression continues in many guises. After the Reconstruction period in the South, African-American rights to vote were circumvented by Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and literacy tests. Native Americans were denied the vote in many states well into the mid twentieth century. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 did much to improve the situation, but it was partly struck down in 2013. This resurgent voter suppression was a factor in the 2016 election. A subtle form of voter suppression happens when people feel powerless and doubt that their vote counts, so they don’t vote.

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Number four: Big money, corporate money, and dark money in campaign funding is a steadily growing factor in national elections and one of the reasons people suspect their vote doesn’t count. In fact, the opposite is true. The only thing that equals the power of money in determining the behavior of politicians is concern over losing votes. In fact, having money to fund a campaign is important because it helps to amass votes. The power of the vote is tremendously important. The Supreme Court decision in 2010 named for the plaintiff in the case, Citizens United, a large conservative PAC; overturned a 2002 law and a century-old precedent that did not allow political contributions from corporations. Since then, campaign spending has increased many times over, allowing campaigns to target certain audiences both in favor of their own candidate and against the opposition. The growing importance of social media and the biases of news media are also big factors in making this targeting possible.

Fifth on my list is cyber tampering. Apparently, this was undertaken in 2016 both by the Trump campaign and by Russian artificial intelligence experts to specifically harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign efforts. There is growing evidence that they worked together, as we all know if we watch the news. Whether or not there was collusion, it is pretty clear that both the Trump campaign and the Russian government attempted to damage Clinton’s image and ultimately undermine her lead, particularly in battleground states. This was done through web sites and social media. Certain populations were targeted in areas that were known to favor Clinton by a narrow margin. Among the groups targeted were African-Americans and women. The idea was to sway these voters away from Clinton, not necessarily to get them to vote for Trump. They might be induced to vote for a third-party or just not to vote. This is kind of an extension of the nasty campaign ads we’ve gotten used to, but again, what is new is the use of artificial intelligence to pinpoint specific voters in specific areas and the use of social media to reach them. Tillerson’s disbanding of the cyber security unit at the state department leaves us open to tampering coming from outside our country again in the near future, perhaps 2018 or 2020.

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Now we are coming to more recent events. The sixth thing that has happened is Donald Trump’s so-called “Election Integrity Commission.” Based on his bombastic, inane assertion that the 2016 elections were “rigged” and that he really won the popular vote, this commission is demanding voter roll information from every state. Some states are not complying with this request, others are complying only in part, so there has been resistance to the action on the part of state governments. When I bring the topic up in conversation, people say “That’s not going anywhere – the states aren’t complying.” Well, it’s not over. From the actions of this administration, we could understand that nothing is “over” as it would be in normal times. The health care repeal and replace bill has died many deaths and keeps coming back. Many of the actions this government has taken have happened behind the scenes. The states don’t even have to comply. Many people have de-registered as voters to keep the Trump government from obtaining their personal information. That’s fewer voters, a bad thing for anyone who isn’t a conservative Republican. This commission is a move toward wholesale voter suppression.

Finally, I want to address something that hasn’t yet happened, but could easily happen in this climate. A recent poll of Republican voters by The Washington Post shows that 52% of Republican voters would support postponement of the 2020 election until the country can make sure only eligible voters vote. This of course is a reference to the above-mentioned commission, which is ostensibly investigating voter fraud. Postponing elections is a common tactic of dictators. Taking away the vote, even “temporarily” would be a radical and dangerous route for our country. Even more Republicans (56%) would support postponing elections if Members of Congress also supported the move. Further supporting the activities of the election commission, 47% of Republicans believe that Trump won the popular vote. A whopping 68% believe millions of illegal immigrants voted in 2016. Even more, 73% of Republican voters polled believe that voter fraud happens often. In fact, it is rare. This is a recent poll. The base that pushed Trump over the top is still strong. The movement away from Democracy in our country is gaining momentum. Recent events in Charlottesville could serve to remind us that the situation is lethal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Manifesto

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MANIFESTO

I AM A CONSERVATIVE…I want to CONSERVE every gain that has been made in this country from the framing of a constitution that guarantees rights to all; through the right to vote, women’s rights, social security, and the right to clean air and water to the Right to Marry Act signed by President Obama.

I am a CENTRIST…I believe we should work together for our common good and mutual interests.

I am a LIBERAL…I believe in personal liberty, free thinking, generosity toward those in need, and tolerance and respect toward those who are different than I am.

I am a PROGRESSIVE…I want to move FORWARD, not backward, toward positive change, a more just society and a world that works for everybody.

I am NOT a RADICAL… I do NOT want so much change that we throw the baby – our democracy – out with the bathwater.

And most of all, I am NOT a REACTIONARY… I am NOT so afraid of the changes in the world, including globalization, immigration, the end of white hegemony and male domination, social change, the economic rise of third world nations, global warming and the pressing need to work together with other nations to stop it, the end of the need for fossil fuels and the resulting loss of profit for some, and other inevitable changes; that I want to take a GIANT step BACKWARDS to protect myself!

I have confidence in the future.

I am a PATRIOT!

I am a Democrat.

I am an American.

Divide and Conquer

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There is a reservoir of covert racism in the United States, perhaps more than most of us would have expected. The same can be said of sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia.(As Lenny Bruce, the midcentury stand-up comedian used to say, have I left anyone out?) In this country, we have been ambivalent at best regarding diversity. The Native Americans debated whether or not to accommodate diversity by allowing white settlers to live here. By the time it became clear that wasn’t really a good idea, it was too late. On the part of the colonists, treaties were made and then broken with the Indians. This has kept happening up to the present day. At the time the Constitution was written, only white men were able to vote, and it was a radical idea even that  poor, uneducated men would be allowed to vote. New immigrants came in waves to settle the country and do the grunt work. Each group was subject to bias and resentment, then gradually assimilated.

Populism and racism have been linked in the past. Welcomed to California and Oregon from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia to cook and clean in the cities and in mining camps and on the railroads, Asians were soon labeled “the yellow peril” by white labor leaders who resented their willingness to work hard for lower pay, similar to the situation that Mexicans find themselves in today. By the way, much of this country was part of Mexico prior to the Spanish-American war. We literally moved into their country. Through all of this, white settlers from Europe have always been assimilated more easily. People of color, even if they were here first, have been subject to the most bias, derision, and out-and-out hatred.

In his brilliant and important book, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn says that racism in what became the United States was deliberately created by the ruling class in order to keep the black slaves and white indentured servants from banding together to overthrow the establishment. This was done by initiating laws which differentiated between the two, such as prohibiting people of color from owning property, which white indentured servants could do once they earned their freedom. Initially, such distinctions were not made between the two groups. Although I believe racism is unfortunately much older than the “new world” and lies deeper in the collective mind, I have no doubt that it was used for a long time on this continent and elsewhere to keep people from banding together for a common cause.

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As the recent election has shown, race is still being used in exactly the same way. As people are becoming more informed, it is getting more difficult to sell a majority of the people on less taxes for the rich, discontinuing social security, and defunding public schools. It is easier to engage them by tapping into their fears and the projection of those fears onto faceless groups of others. When changes that are difficult to understand threaten the way of life, the well being, and the livelihood of people, they start looking for someone to blame. Donald Trump had his intuitive, money-making (by which I mean his instinct for marketing) finger on the pulse of a certain segment of the citizenry. He only needed something less than a majority of the voting population, as it turned out. Then all he had to do was point in the direction of those they were already blaming.

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I am hardly the first to point out that there are some similarities here with Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. In the nineteen twenties and thirties, Germany was reeling from the effects of the First World War. They had not only lost the war and the prestige of being a conquering nation, they had been required to make reparations and were suffering from a terrible economic depression. Hitler blamed the Jews, many of whom were bankers, for the depression. This seemed to be a notion that sat well with many Germans. Hitler did quite well in a democratic election, was appointed to high office, and eventually gained power in his country. In our country, although we are not in a depression, many manufacturing jobs have left the country or been replaced by robotics. The root cause of this may be “corporate greed,” but that has been with us as long as corporations have been. The point of a corporation, after all, is to make a profit. The recent cause is globalization. A global economy has taken the jobs, not Mexicans or any other immigrant group. Trump can’t turn back the clock to a more local economy by building a wall.