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.

The Darkness Just Before the Light

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At five o’clock it was dark and I closed the shades. It was a rainy, grey day anyway. The Christmas lights were already burning. It is getting close to the shortest day of the year. The winter solstice is December 21. In the northern hemisphere it is the dark time, the long night. It is also the time when the days stop getting shorter, and the light begins to return. People have celebrated this return of the sun for ages. Our celebration of Christmas is based on it.

Symbolically, the birth of Jesus fits well with the time of light coming back into the world. Hannukah is also a festival of lights. This time of year is cold and dark. Many people experience loneliness and despair around the holidays. However, the days, by December 24th, are already getting longer. Psychologically, there is also an analogous process by which a time of personal darkness precedes an awakening. Our difficult times often help us find our strength, courage, and open heartedness. On the spiritual path, the “dark night of the soul” is a stage the seeker must pass through before realizing enlightened awareness.

This year, 2016, is a year that presents a particular time of darkness on the national and world scene. Hope for the well being of the planet seems to be at an all time low. And yet, or maybe because this is so, holiday cheer seems brighter than usual this year. I have always been visited by the “Christmas Spirit,” a feeling of love and goodwill toward others that comes over me like a state of grace at this time of year, and it has always been closely connected with the solstice, even before I knew the word. I never really felt the holiday mood until the 21st, then suddenly – there it was.

This year it came early, about a week ago. Friends who are aware of what I’ll label “New Age” philosophy have told me there is an unprecedented quantity of light surrounding earth just now, associated with the recent election. My hope and prayer is that we are undergoing a collective dark night that will somehow bring us to a much happier time for the good of our nation and the planet. I know that this doesn’t mean go back to sleep about what is happening. I know it means to stay engaged. Our task is to bring our love and wisdom into the darkest hour.

 

 

One Nuclear War with China (or Korea) Can Ruin Your Whole Day

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Back in July, I read an article in The New Yorker about Tony Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz was the coauthor of Trump’s best selling book, The Art of the Deal. He spent considerable time with Donald Trump and was one to raise the issue of Trump’s temperament making him unsuitable for office. He described Donald Trump as extremely narcissistic and as having a short attention span. He also described him as belligerent. We have seen these personality traits on television during the campaign. He also knew next to nothing about how our government works or about foreign relations. By now he has been briefed and would know a little more, it must be assumed. Schwartz pointed out that it is not a good thing to give someone who so easily takes offense and is so ready to attack sole responsibility for authorizing a nuclear war, as will be the case when he becomes president.

Since the failure of Communism, the threat of nuclear war has faded from our imagination. Global warming seems to present a more clear and present danger. We really can’t avoid that now, but we could ameliorate the situation.  But nuclear war is still possible and only a countdown away. In some ways the danger is greater than it was in the 1950s. More countries, with less to lose, possess nuclear warheads. Most of the people living today don’t remember the terror in the period after Hiroshima. I still remember air raid drills from my school days. A siren would sound and we were told to get under our desks and cover our heads. I crouched there shaking all over my body. I knew you couldn’t survive an atomic attack. I was never sure it wasn’t really happening at that moment.

Trump’s temperament has been mentioned less often recently. He seems to act more civilized. I doubt, though, that his personality structure has really changed. Nor do I believe it was all just an act. Even with advisors he won’t have the experience to interact with foreign leaders in a non-incendiary fashion. He has displayed an interpersonal tactic of winning by intimidation. I don’t think this is a strategy he has developed intentionally. I think it’s his basic personality since early childhood. I can’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing. I happen to have a background in psychology. Apparently, intimidation has worked for him in business, but it won’t always work in diplomatic relations. Donald Trump’s recent phone call to Taiwan may have been deliberate and strategic, but it was ill advised. It can’t be in the best interest of the United States to alienate China.

 

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.

Women’s Place is in the House. And the Senate. (But not the Oval Office?)

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Among the jumbled, troubled feelings I had when Trump was elected was one of betrayal. I felt betrayed by my own gender. How could so many women vote for Trump, who displayed a cavalier and disrespectful attitude toward women? How can we fail to elect a woman president at this late point in history?

Many countries have elected or appointed female heads of state. By my quick count of Wikipedia’s list, since 1940 there have been no fewer than 160 female heads of government and heads of state throughout the world. Thirty-five countries have female leaders right now. The United States is lagging far behind, in spite of the fact that we have a two hundred year old women’s movement. Countries that have a far more oppressive attitude toward women overall none the less have elected or appointed women to the highest government office. Why can’t we?

For one thing women in this country tend to vote along party lines rather than voting based on gender. I can attest to this. I never would have voted for Sarah Palin. Probably few people voted for or against Hillary based on her gender, at least not consciously. I think that to understand the failure of this country to elect a woman president or even vice president, we have to look deeper.

I was overjoyed when Barack Obama was elected president. I am very proud that our country could elect a black man, but I was not surprised that a black man was nominated to run for president sooner than a woman. I was more surprised, though glad, that Hillary  did so well.  Black men were at least nominally assured the vote on February 3, 1870, with the passage of the 15th amendment, which states that no one can be denied the vote due to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Women were denied the vote until passage of the 19th amendment which prohibited sex-based restrictions on voting in 1920. That is 50 years later! Women had been fighting for the right to vote for one hundred years by that time. I hope that this country will nominate and elect a woman of color four years from now.

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This country is very patriarchal and male-dominated. The sleek car and the hand gun, two phallic symbols and symbols of power,  are among our status symbols. They capture the imagination of young people and are often associated with American life. Endemic to our culture is the image of the Lone Ranger, the heroic rugged individual who rides into town to fix everything and rides off alone into the sunset. The individual is celebrated, not the group. This is a masculine oriented point of view. Women are more associated with the archetype of the collective. The male assertion is “look what I can do!” The feminine version is “look what we did!” Other cultures, though male dominated in other ways, value  the collective much more than we do. We have a history of pioneers striking off on their own to settle the wilderness, and this image is deeply embedded in our national imagination.

Trump projects this archetype, as have quite a few previous presidents. He styles himself the plain talking self-made man, although of course he is neither. He is a college educated son of privilege who says many things that aren’t true. He wants us to think that he is the lone hero who can come in and fix it. Hillary showed a lot of toughness in her policies, her stamina, and her stance, however her slogan, “we are stronger together” was all about the feminine principle and the collective.  These are not yet strong in the national imagination, although they should be. Even though I understand this, I find it shameful and embarrassing.

The Electoral College

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The founders of our country were concerned that democratic voting by the populace may not work because the “common man” would not be well enough informed to vote in his own best interest. Of course, the term “common man” is used advisedly. At the time, only men could vote. In fact, only white men could vote. The founders, who were all educated, privileged white men, were concerned that lower class, uneducated white men, especially those living in remote rural areas, would not understand the issues well enough to make an informed decision. Isn’t that interesting? The group that turned out in larger than expected numbers to elect Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton were young, lower class, uneducated white men, especially those living in remote rural areas.

The solution the founders came up with in order to solve this problem inherent in any democracy was the Electoral College. Actually, as far as I know, it never really worked. The idea was that we (not really we in those days) would elect people to represent us in selecting a president. Each state would have representation proportionate to the population of that state. These representatives had no obligation to vote for any particular person. They were supposed to be wise men who would make good decisions. Well, but is that really democracy? People began to be dissatisfied with this, so the practice came to be that the electoral college representatives would cast all of their state’s votes for the winner of the popular vote in that state. OK, so now we have another undemocratic situation, in which the winner of the popular vote can still lose the election.

It is my understanding that this hasn’t happened very often, but it has happened disastrously twice in my recent memory; in 2000, when Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, and this year, when Hillary lost to Donald Trump. If Gore had been elected, global warming may not have progressed at its present alarming rate. Now, we are faced with the uncertainty of an unstable personality in charge of a possible nuclear strike, potential upsets in any number of international relations, an accelerated destruction of the environment, the conditions for another economic depression, the loss of hard gained human rights, and maybe even a bloody, senseless, useless civil war.

Will the majority of the people who voted for Trump find that his presidency is in their best interest? No, of course not. One of the things they want is jobs. I actually think that Trump may be able to deliver on this to some extent. The problem is, the new jobs will be at minimum wage, and minimum wage may well be cut back to a lower level. Why? Trump wants to bring manufacturing back to this country. Corporations would not make the profits they now make, paying American wages. Wages would have to be rolled way back for corporations to move their plants back into the country. He says he’ll rebuild the infrastructure. I got pretty excited about that until I realized he’d accomplish that the same way, contracting the jobs out to corporations. They, Trump supporters, want to go back to a simpler time, the way it used to be. Before globalization. Deep down, they want to do something about their fear.

It seems to me that the more divided our nation becomes, the more often the popular vote and the electoral vote will differ. If the popular vote is very close, there is more chance the electoral vote will be something different. The whole populace used to shift back and forth in a healthy way between the more progressive and the more conservative political parties. Now, we seem to be stuck in our positions. People are mistrustful of their elected representatives and fearful of one another. This fear, of course, is being manipulated and we must not let our democracy be taken away from us! The Electoral College has been a topic on the internet quite a lot lately. There have been petitions circulated. I have signed them. It doesn’t guard us against stupidity, it only makes the campaigns more difficult and more of a crap shoot. I will say more about the Electoral College when I write about the constitution.