Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The South (or the North, or the West...) Will Rise Again, and Again, and Again: Viewing the Electoral College from the Perspective of Chinese History

On July 20, 1842, during the Opium War, British soldiers and warships captured the garrison town of Zhenjiang, at the juncture of the Yangzi River and the Grand Canal in the Qing Empire's Jiangsu Province. When news reached the Daoguang Emperor (r. 1821-1850) in Beijing, he authorized his emissaries to treat for peace. Though Qing resistance up to that point had been robust, the capture of Zhenjiang gave the British control of a fatal fracture point in the larger imperial edifice.

With the Grand Canal blocked, little tax revenue could flow from the southern reaches of the empire to the capital. Two-thirds of the population of the Qing empire lived south of the Yangzi, and the economic disparity south-to-north was even greater than the demographic one. The per capita GDP of the agriculturally and commercially rich southern Jiangnan region was nearly twice that of more arid, sparsely populated northern districts like Qinghai and Gansu. The revenue system of the Qing, which drew tax receipts into the capital on the North China Plain, served as a wealth-transfer mechanism from the wealthy south to the impoverished north. Disrupting that flow for any length of time could  cause the precarious social contract holding the empire together to unravel.

In the wake of the Opium War the worst fears of the Qing government were realized. In Guangzhou (Canton) in 1837, the young scion of a southern gentry family, Hong Xiuquan (1814-1864) had for the second time sat for and failed the imperial exams that were  the surest route to political, economic and social success. The pass rates on the exams were extraordinarily low throughout the empire, but the odds were made even worse for southerners like Hong by the imposition of quotas favoring candidates from disadvantaged northern regions. His rage and frustration at this second failure induced a nervous collapse: he fell into a feverish state in which he had prophetic visions. After the Opium War he came to understand these visions as a divine calling and began to gather followers. The movement that he began eventually threw the Qing Empire into civil war, with large parts of southern China breaking away to form the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom from 1850 to 1864. Unity was only restored after conflict that left as many as 20 million people dead and the economy of the empire shattered.

The Taiping Rebellion is only one (though admittedly among the worst)  of the many instances of cataclysmic breakdown experienced within the Chinese empire over the 2+ millenia of its history that were, in part, induced by inter-regional tensions and conflicts. Successive imperial regimes struggled to hold together an expansive domain throughout which social and economic capital were unevenly distributed. Though Chinese leaders developed and maintained redistributive mechanisms to offset regional disparities (for example, the quotas favoring northern candidates in the imperial exams), these were not generally elastic and responsive enough to relieve the persistent centrifugal forces driving the component regions of the empire apart. The problem, moreover, remains an urgent concern today, as attested by the recent unrest over Beijing's refusal to allow two secessionist legislators to be sworn in as members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

This history poses lessons for those of us contemplating the issue of the Electoral College in the wake of the most recent election. Not only has the Electoral College subverted the results of the popular vote for the second time in less than twenty years, but the 2016 race has yielded an unprecedented disparity between popular and electoral vote outcomes. At this writing, Hillary Clinton leads by 1.7 million votes in the popular tally (a 2.7% lead) and is down by 58 Electoral College votes (a 20% deficit). That the relative differential between the two vote tallies should be so wide understandably creates a sense of profound unfairness- the impression that the democratic will of the people has been effaced by an arcane institution.

Though there will be renewed calls for the abolition of the Electoral College, the historical experience of China should give us pause to wonder at the wisdom of such a course. Like China, the United States is a vast and diverse domain in which social and economic capital are unevenly distributed and the interests of different groups vary widely from region to region. The most recent election has starkly highlighted the regional tensions straining our social fabric, with voters in the industrial Midwest and rural Appalachia mobilizing to deliver an electoral result that radically undermined conventional expectations. Donald Trump would not have won this election unless poor and working class voters in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin had defected from the Democratic Party in favor of his disruptive campaign, and that movement would not have resulted in a Trump victory absent the auspices of the Electoral College.

This being the case, as predictably as there is and will remain pressure to dismantle the Electoral College, there will be strong resistance to any campaign in this direction. To understand why, it is useful to contemplate what a presidential campaign would look like if such contests were decided purely by the popular vote. Candidates would focus almost entirely on the densely populated coasts to the exclusion of the interior, and on urban centers to the exclusion of more sparsely settled rural districts. By giving disproportionate leverage to more rural and sparsely populated states, the Electoral College forces candidates to wage truly national campaigns and to float policies that can win the votes of more marginalized citizens.

The 2016 election provides an object lesson in these redistributive dynamics. At this writing, Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote tally in California by 2.5 million votes. Thus if one eliminates California's total from the national tally, Donald Trump wins the national popular vote by 800,000 votes. This is a reflection of the fact that the Electoral College weights the popular vote of smaller and less densely populated states heavily, such that a vote cast in West Virginia is worth three times that of a vote cast in California. While that disparity might seem strangely arbitrary, to citizens in West Virginia, which has a per capita GDP of $38,567, it no doubt feels very fair that their votes should count more than those of their compatriots in California, who enjoy a per capita GDP of $61,924. In light of these facts we can see that in the 2016 election, the system as currently constituted has (or at least will be perceived as having) delivered a shocking victory to rural and industrial working-class voters over coastal elites; one that they would never have achieved in the absence of the Electoral College. For this reason, any move to eliminate this institution will be perceived as an attempt at the kind of "rigging" so loudly decried by the more acrimonious rhetoric of the recent campaign.

As votes continue to be counted and Hillary Clinton's lead in the popular vote widens, anger at the mechanics of the Electoral College will no doubt increase. In contemplating the situation, however, we must clearly understand that the elimination of the Electoral College cannot be taken for granted as an obvious "fix" to a quaintly arcane and obsolete institution. Reversion to the popular vote to decide presidential elections is and would be a drastically radical change to our larger social contract, one that materially impacts the interests of millions of citizens and significantly redistributes power across the political terrain. There are good philosophical arguments to be made against the "unfairness" of the Electoral College, but the historical experience of China demonstrates that there are likewise good practical and even ethical arguments on the other side of the issue. We must acknowledge and account for all of the consequences of changing the current system as we debate the issue moving forward, and undertake any such discussion in a spirit of extreme sensitivity to the interests of all groups that would be affected by any reform.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


The last election leaves the majority of voters facing grave alternatives in responding to the election of Donald Trump. One understandable reaction has been to deny his legitimacy as president-elect altogether, as expressed by the slogan #NotmyPresident. Though there are valid political and moral arguments to support such a stance, it is, as I have written in previous posts, very unwise. We have now been through a series of presidential elections the outcomes of which have been decried as illegitimate by different sectors of the electorate. If this trend continues there is a strong possibility that it will eventually be impossible to convince a critical mass of the populace that the president wields legitimate authority at all, and the system will finally collapse.

This does not mean, however, that we are forced to simply accept the results of the most recent election fatalistically. Trump's transgressions and provocations demand resistance. Thus it is incumbent upon those who recognize the threat that Trump represents to find an idiom of resistance that will produce constructive results. In this regard, it is possible for us to accede to Trump's legitimacy as POTUS but to deny him the power to normalize the aberrant political values and practices that have come to embody "Trumpism."

Such resistance, begins, of course, with the defense of basic constitutional safeguards. If Trump should try to institute genuinely illiberal policies (for example, a mandate that Muslim-Americans register in a special database) opposition must be total and unequivocal: noncompliance and civil disobedience are the only response. But resistance should not and cannot await such blatant provocations. We must begin by opposing subtle shifts in values and practices that, even if Trump should refrain from material assaults on civil rights, would corrode the austerity, credibility, and coherence of our basic institutions. 

Trump's appointment of Stephen Bannon to the post of "chief strategist" exemplifies such a shift in standards. Bannon has (or does a credible job of pretending to have) a substantial world view, one that has elements that will appeal to working class voters and even to some progressive activists. But as editor of Breibart News, Bannon has associated with and given encouragement to some of the most toxic elements at the margins of American politics. The excuses he makes for the presence of anti-Semites, racists, homophobes and misogynists among his colleagues can only seem plausible and reassuring to someone who is not directly threatened by such figures. Moreover for someone who approved the publication of headlines such as "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy," "Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage," "The Gun Control Movement's Human Shield" (about former Representative Gabby Giffords), and "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew" to seek broad mainstream acceptance would have been unthinkable even a few weeks or months ago, much less an official position inside the house of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. No conscientious citizen should treat the presence of Bannon in the White House as tolerable, and we must exert relentless pressure on the Trump administration to repudiate him. This is not a call for petty "political correctness," but a defense of the fundamental standards of civic decency and fairness.

Even if we can prevent Trump from warping the gauge of civic virtue, the alteration that he has induced in the climate of political rhetoric will be difficult to redress. When President Obama declared that Mr. Trump was "unfit for office" many of us were (and still are) inclined to agree. But it cannot foster broad confidence in our institutions when, in the conventional course of the "peaceful transfer of power," voters see the same President that had declared Mr. Trump "unfit" reassure them that their future was secure in the new President-elect's hands.  This, moreover, is just an inkling of what we may have in store. When Trump declared his opponent the "most corrupt person ever to run for president" and President Obama the "founder of ISIS" he was a private citizen. When he runs for re-election, what might Mr. Trump say as POTUS, and how completely will it undermine his  credibility when it comes his turn to relinquish power?

We are compelled to concede that Donald J. Trump is legitimately President-elect of the United States. But we are not compelled to admit that any aspect of the values or practices he brings to that office are proper, tolerable or fair. As citizens we have to vigilantly observe Mr. Trump's conduct and ideals, and by word and deed we must make clear that his breaches of procedure, decorum, and decency are #NotNormal, and never will be. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

An Open Letter to President-elect Trump and His Supporters

To President-elect Donald J. Trump and My Fellow Americans Who Voted for Him:

         I write to you out of a concern for the country that we all love. The contest on November 8th was free and fair, and in any ordinary election year it would only be left to congratulate the winner, allow the transition team to work, and await January 20th. This is not an ordinary election year, however.

         Mr. Trump, I wish that I could congratulate you, but the manner in which you conducted your campaign precludes me from doing so. You are the first modern president-elect to have joked about killing journalists. Or to have toyed with the idea of forcing people to enter a special registry because of their religion. Or to have waxed nostalgic about "the good old days" when dissent was met with bludgeoning. Or to have declared a member of the judiciary incompetent to serve because of his ethnicity. Or to have threatened to have citizens' marriages declared invalid. With these and other inflammatory statements you excited the enthusiasm of one-half of the electorate, but in so doing you completely forfeited the trust of the other half. Your defenders might protest that these statements were only bluster, but now that they are the words of the future President of the United States, no one who might be affected by them can view them as amusing or benign. You have squandered the confidence that you will need from the people you hope to govern, and as a result the whole constitutional edifice in which you are about to play a key role is endangered.

        You have expressed skepticism of or derision for the many who have taken to the streets to protest since your election. This is a serious mistake; the fears and concerns of those protesters are undeniably legitimate. Secretary Clinton was right to say that her supporters owe you an "open mind," but the insistent calls of the protesters for fair treatment are the best response that one can expect from an open-minded citizen given the tone of your campaign and the nature of your provocations.

         In all honesty, Mr. Trump, because I have been a lifelong Democrat and oppose many of your stated policy goals, under the best circumstances the most you could have hoped for from me was a posture of "loyal opposition." As things stand, however, we are a long way from the best circumstances. Though I accede the legitimacy of your election and revere the office that you will hold, I cannot offer you the normal deference a citizen owes his or her President before you repudiate the bigotry and illiberality that was the hallmark of your campaign. Unless and until I have been given reason to believe that you will fulfill your constitutional role in good faith, without injury to the rights and freedoms of the groups that you threatened (Muslims, women, Latin@s, people of color, LGBTQ citizens) I must add my voice to the protesters now decrying your election.

        Though, in fairness, you have made some statements that were reassuring, they have not been enough. Your thanking of Secretary Clinton for her service and your televised call for your supporters to refrain from expressions of hatred both showed the proper spirit of reconciliation. But in the same way that you galvanized your supporters during the campaign with audacious gestures, you must find some dramatic signal of your determination to win back the trust of those you have alienated.

         In this regard you have gotten off to a bad start. Your appointment of Stephen Bannon, a man steeped in white supremacist, ethnic nationalist, and anti-Semitic politics, completely undermines the confidence of those you need to win over. A reversal of that decision would go a long way to establishing trust. Beyond this, some political sign of your determination to forge an independent path might force people to reassess their impression of you. If, for example, you were to recommend the confirmation of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice during the lame-duck session of Congress, this would project a willingness for fair compromise that might ease your opponents' fears.

       To my fellow Americans who voted for Donald Trump, I offer my unreserved congratulations. Your civic activism has garnered an historic and transformative victory, your feelings no doubt resemble my own in 2008 and 2012. I would only ask that you, like President-elect Trump, give serious consideration to the apprehensions of voters like me that were on the other side of the last election. Mr. Trump comes into his office under the greatest trust deficit of any president since the Civil War. It will take careful leadership on his part to insure that he can get around all of the obstacles that he has placed in his own way, and earnest citizenship on the part of everyone else to move the process of reconciliation forward to the point where his presidency has a chance to succeed. Though we are bound to disagree in the months and years ahead, if we proceed in the spirit of mutual respect and open communication, we can ensure the continued flourishing of the constitutional order that is our shared legacy as Americans and in which we are all blessed to participate.


               Andrew Meyer

Friday, November 11, 2016

Aboard the Wonkatania, Entering the Tunnel

There's no earthly way of knowing,
Which direction we are going....

            My brother, a lifelong Republican, posted these words from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Facebook on Tuesday night, as returns began to suggest that Donald J. Trump had been elected the 45th President of the United States. The sentiment struck me as the most apt among many similar expressions of alarm and dismay from friends, colleagues, and family members that night and the next day. Whatever else might be said about this election, it is undeniably true that Donald J. Trump has left us in a state of profound uncertainty as to exactly what will happen when he becomes the captain of the ship of state on January 20.

Even his victory speech at 3 A.M. on November 9, while reassuring in tone and substance, was an object lesson in the erratic and volatile nature of his public persona. It was gracious of him to declare that, "Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country." But one could not be blamed for being confused by the contrast this posed to his statements of the previous Friday, when he declared that ""Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States." If he can swing so wildly in less than a week (and it must be stressed that this is only one of many such examples), we are unquestionably left guessing about what manner of Donald Trump will emerge in the time between now and January 20, much less how many different Trumps we might encounter in the days, weeks, and months after that.

While it is difficult to predict with any confidence exactly which way Trump will steer, a few clear inferences can be made from the substance and tone of his campaign rhetoric. The constant stream of invective that he let loose against Muslims, women, people of color, Latin@s, and others gives millions cause for anger and fear, and has given millions of others license to vent their darkest feelings. 

Thus, while I agree with Secretary Clinton that we owe Trump an "open mind," the best that one can expect from an open-minded citizen at this point is an urgent skepticism about his future actions. This anxiety is corroborated and exacerbated by the clear presence among his supporters, however small a minority of his coalition that they might be, of individuals and groups (e.g. David Duke, the KKK) that cherish racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic ideals.   Precisely because Trump's public persona is such a mercurial and enigmatic entity, the extremist elements of his coalition (who are left in as much uncertainty as the rest of us exactly what he plans to do) will expect and demand for President Trump to translate bigoted words into bigoted policy. 

All of this uncertainty leaves open the question of how those of us in the majority that voted against Donald Trump should respond to his victory. Calls for healing and reconciliation are understandable, but are premature. Trump comes into the presidency under the biggest trust deficit of any president-elect since the Civil War. Unless and until he closes that trust deficit, we must put constant pressure on him to ensure that the most destructive aspects of his campaign do not find their most malignant expression. We must march. We must protest. We must write letters. We must donate to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU.

But at the same time that we make clear the political price Trump will pay for carrying his bigoted rhetoric into action, we must not forget Rule #1. We must not give way to panic. Violence at this juncture will only make the situation worse. Violence will drive Trump into the camp of the David Dukes and Alt-Right monsters who were so energized by his vicious campaign. 

I sympathize with the protesters carrying signs saying #Notmypresident, but they are being very foolhardy. Our best defense against Trump now is not to deny that he is the president, but to force him to act like one. If he is the president, then he is restrained by the Bill of Rights, and the independent judiciary, and the separation of powers, and a host of other mechanisms that can be used to prevent him from encroaching on and abrogating citizens' rights. If we refuse to acknowledge that he is the president, then he will not feel constrained to act like one, in which case he becomes a bully with an army, a secret police force, and big pile of nuclear weapons. 

Anger and fear are warranted, but panic is not. Civil disobedience should be reserved for use against infractions of the constitutional order and policy goals of the highest priority, and violence should be eschewed entirely. If Trump is determined to use his power in bad faith, the most effective strategy will be to call attention to his transgression of rules on which the security of all citizens, even his supporters, depends. If we begin from the premise that he is so illegitimate that any and all rules might (or should) be broken to obstruct him, we will induce a total collapse of the system through the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

If we assume for the moment that Trump can be persuaded to fulfill his constitutional role in good faith, the question remains as to what the most effective strategy of "loyal opposition" might be. In this respect Democrats should seriously reflect on the lessons of the last election. Though Trump's victory was obviously won, in part, through reprehensible tactics, it cannot be denied that some part of his support derived from a rejection of the neoliberal politics of the last 25 years. Working class and rural voters from states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania threw their support to Trump in the hope that any change to the status quo might improve their quality of life. These were constituencies that used to give their allegiance to the Democratic Party, and the failure to deliver policy solutions to ease the impact of globalization and recession drove these voters to abandon Democrats in this election cycle.

 As a result, we no longer have divided government. The GOP has control of both Congress and the White House, and we should be prepared for them to use that power to effect policy. Some might counsel that the Democrats should use what little power they have left, in the same manner as Republicans have done for the last six years, to obstruct all policy and prolong gridlock. That would be extremely unwise for several reasons.

Firstly, the Democrats' power has ebbed to such a low nadir that total obstruction is not likely to work. If all that stands between the GOP and the passage of new legislation is a Democratic Senate filibuster, Republicans will eventually eliminate the filibuster altogether. Even if they do not, the concentration of GOP power in the both the executive and legislative branches at both the state and federal level will allow them to steamroller over a Senate filibuster using executive orders, the budgetary process, and other governance "work-arounds."       

Secondly, the attempt at total obstruction is likely to come at a prohibitively high opportunity cost. Democrats will be forced to do triage to see what policy measures can be preserved in the face of the oncoming juggernaut. In that respect, the highest priority should be placed on the concerns and problems with the most severe long-term consequences. The clear winner on those terms is the issue of climate change, as a reversal of the measures taken by the Obama administration will have catastrophic effects for the global environment in the future. Democrats should fight a rear-guard action to preserve the Paris Climate Accord and other environmental measures, horse-trading tacit compliance, however painful and distressing, on other policy goals of the Trump administration (repealing the ACA and Dodd-Frank, renegotiating NAFTA).

Thirdly, allowing for the easing of gridlock is, counter-intuitively, the best strategy for overcoming the political disadvantages now faced by the Democratic Party. Obstruction worked well for the Republicans because they are a party ideologically committed to the Reaganesque dictum that government is always part of the problem, not the answer. Thus hobbling government's ability to improve people's lives reinforced the narrative on which the party mobilized its base. 

But Trump's lopsided electoral college victory was only made possible by drawing in the support of disaffected working class voters in regions that have been impacted by globalization, technological change, and the lingering impact of the Great Recession.  These voters have genuinely suffered, and they have been galvanized and excited by the prospect of change promised by a Trump administration. They will expect results, and like most people swept up in populist movements, their enthusiasm and patience will be short-lived. The only measures that will genuinely improve these poor and lower-middle-income voters' lives are those that have been the mainstay of Democratic policy goals for many years, like a raise in the minimum wage, expanded funding for higher education and worker retraining, and public investment in energy and infrastructure. If Democrats allow the policy machinery to move again, there are thus two possibilities. 

The first is that the Republicans use their legislative mandate to actually enact policies that Democrats have supported for years, hoping to take credit for the resulting good effects. If and when this should be the case, Democrats should join them (as Nancy Pelosi has offered to do with Trump's suggested infrastructure spending bill) on principle, as such policies stand to improve people's lives. Statesmanlike patriotism would not be the only reason to do so, however. 

A move like this on the part of the GOP is almost surely bound to backfire in political terms, or at the very least to have a wildly unpredictable impact at the polls. Voters are not so blindly and non-ideologically partisan that the GOP could get away with doing what it has told its base voters for years would amount to catastrophic malpractice. This would be especially true if GOP lawmakers actually raised the revenues needed to fund such programs. The resulting dissonance in Republican ranks would give Democrats ample opportunity to make gains in 2018 and 2020, especially as this scenario would provide a case study to prove the timeworn Democratic contention that government can be made to work for people.

The second, and more likely outcome of an end to gridlock will be that the Republicans will do what they have promised to do and what they have reliably done in the past: cut social programs, cut taxes (especially for the wealthy), and lower regulations. In the best case scenario, this will have the same results that it had during the presidency of George W. Bush: wage stagnation for the working and middle class, and windfall profits for corporations and wealthy investors. It is possible that Trump will successfully re-institute protectionist barriers to global trade, but without some robust government intervention to ameliorate the disruptive effects of such policies, it is unlikely that they will do much to improve workers' lives (if such robust interventions are undertaken see scenario 1, above). In this second scenario the white-hot enthusiasm of working class voters for the Trump Revolution will most likely transmute quickly to bitterness and disappointment. In either of these scenarios, the most probable political result of allowing the machinery of policy to work again would be to give the GOP just enough rope to hang itself.

Finally, refraining from total obstruction is the best long-term course, both for ameliorating the recent damage done by Trumpism to the larger political culture of the nation, and for laying to rest a political strategy that the GOP has used successfully for more than four decades. Trump scraped together his minority coalition through a combination of reality-TV shock antics and a deployment of the venerable "Southern Strategy" first developed by Lee Atwater and Richard Nixon. Constant successive breaches of the bounds of good taste, conventional courtesy, and even standards of moral decency kept people entertained and distracted during the 2016 campaign, preventing them from focusing on Trumpian liabilities like total ignorance and a complete lack of specific policy plans. Meanwhile, Trump exploited floating white anxiety about the election of the nation's first African-American president to sell voters a doomsday picture of an America vastly worse than empirical reality would attest, seizing upon anecdotal episodes and incidental data to confirm whites' suspicions that, with Barack Obama in the White House, something must be deeply wrong. This is not to minimize the very real pain of Rust Belt workers and rural farmers that have continued to suffer, but the flames of their discontent were further fueled, in part, by seeing their distress reflected back to them in middle- and upper-middle class white voters passing along the meme that, in spite of their own experience of recovery and regrowth, the country had "gone to hell."

Though these paired strategies delivered Trump a shocking electoral college victory, they are not likely to work again if gridlock ends. By placing such high-stakes bets and employing such hyperbolic rhetoric, Trump has written a loan note against the political good will and credulity of his working class supporters that will be very difficult to cover with actual results. If positive change is not swift and tangible, it will discredit Trump's claims that Barack Obama was uniquely responsible for recent hardships. 

Moreover, if the gridlock ends, Trump and his party will not be able to use the same reality-TV stunts to the degree he has in this cycle. It will be impossible to avoid a discussion of policy once the GOP has had a chance to put its preferred policies into effect. Even if, to the good fortune of the American people, the GOP chooses to enact policies that bear some good fruit, Democrats will be the clear winners in any return of the national discourse to matters of policy. The GOP will need some Democratic votes to clear ideological hurdles in search of policy success, thus Democrats will be able to take some credit for any successful measures. And once voters are reminded of the good that government can do, Democrats will be able to argue for further policy initiatives eschewed by the GOP that would be appealing to workers, like laws to support union membership and strengthen collective bargaining power.

There is no way to sugar-coat the moment of peril at which we stand on the eve of Donald Trump's inauguration. Through his reckless and unthinking use of hateful and irresponsible rhetoric, he has corroded the basic bonds of trust that a president-elect must foster and protect if he is to have any chance of successfully fulfilling his constitutional role at home and abroad. His defenders dismiss his attacks on women, Muslims, Latin@s, LGBTQ citizens and others as "bluster," but now that he is about to assume a mantle of enormous power every word he said is of course being taken deadly seriously by everyone concerned. His constant flow of invective and profanity was entertaining and made for good television, but in political terms it was the equivalent of playing with matches next to an open barrel of gasoline. Trump will have to tread very carefully if he is to overcome the obstacles he has put in his own way. If he fails, not only his own administration, but the entire constitutional system upon which he has put such egregious strain, could collapse catastrophically.

However Trump conducts himself, it is the responsibility of all of us who voted against him to hold him accountable and to monitor his moves. This election has changed many things, and we should be prepared for that. But it has not changed our rights and responsibilities as citizens. We will have to engage the political sphere under different conditions than most of us expected, but the basic task remains the same: guide the ship of state so that it ultimately takes us all to a better place for ourselves and our children.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Why I'm with Her

In my last post before the election I would like to write about why I will be extremely proud to cast my vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton to be the 45th President of the United States. I have been a supporter of Secretary Clinton's since long before Donald Trump became the GOP nominee. I donated to her campaign during the Democratic primaries and voted to make her the nominee over Senator Bernie Sanders. If she wins the election on Tuesday it will be to the great good fortune of our nation and its people.

Though I understand the qualms of many of my friends on the left about Clinton, I cannot share them. Yes, she is a friend of corporate interests and Wall Street. But we have a political system that requires the building of broad coalitions across complex regional, social, and economic boundaries, thus it is not possible to completely eliminate the influence of corporate or financial interests in the negotiation of policy. For all her amity to corporate elites, Clinton has a proven track record of fighting for the interests of vulnerable groups: minorities, children, the working poor. She wants to make the system work more inclusively and has shown that she can do the hard political work necessary to achieve progressive change.

As for the caricature of Clinton as a uniquely corrupt malefactor, that is totally and obviously false. Clinton has lived in the public spotlight for three decades, she has been very transparent about her political and business dealings. If she had done one hundredth of what she is accused of, there would be overwhelming and irrefutable evidence to make Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape look like an "Our Gang" episode.

Hillary Clinton is committed to and shows obvious concern for issues that will be of vital importance in the near term. She will fight to arrest the course of climate change. She will make expanding economic opportunity a priority. Her record of past success during her time as First Lady and in the Senate holds out hope that she will make headway on these issues despite strong political headwinds.

The area that drew my support to Secretary Clinton early on was foreign policy. As Secretary of State, she was instrumental in the execution of policies that were most effective during the Obama administration: renewing diplomatic relations with Myanmar and Cuba, negotiating a halt to the Iran nuclear program. In the continuing crisis in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Clinton has been a voice in favor of a hard-nosed pragmatism that will be needed in the years ahead. Her support for "no-fly zones" in Syria exemplifies the kind of course-correction needed to help the US deal more effectively with the threat posed by groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram.

Hillary Clinton is knowledgeable, intelligent, and has demonstrated an almost inexhaustible reserve of political endurance. It is difficult to imagine any candidate that could have conducted this campaign as doggedly or strategically as she has done against the unique challenge posed by Donald Trump. I have every confidence in her leadership, and will be very pleased to have the opportunity to cast my vote for her on November 8th.