This is not the republic of my imagination.
–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)
This is not the republic of my imagination.
–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)
Lots of hand-wringing through the internets today over Donald Trump’s accusations that the voting system is rigged and that even if he loses, he didn’t really lose because, well, the system was rigged. And it gets worse, because of the statements of Trump consigliere and sleazeball Roger Stone concerning the issue. Stone said that Trump’s supporters will “shut the government down” if Clinton wins.
Their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it.
The “government will be shut down” is a tell, although not the only one. It is crucial to point out that Trump’s and his surrogates’ threats of physical violence and delegitimation of American democracy is doing nothing but extending Republican Party tactics to their logical conclusion. Five years ago on this page I referred to these tactics as Gingrichism, i.e. the destruction of the informal institutions of American governance. The process began with Gingrich but did not end with him, because the entire GOP is the party of permanent constitutional crisis.
Repeated government shutdowns, impeachment, the use of congressional investigations for political purposes, threatening the full faith and credit of the United States, Mitch McConnell’s throwing the Senate into dysfunction, the violent shutting down of the Palm Beach County recount (aka “The Brooks Brothers Riot”) and of course Bush v Gore all represent the Republican Party’s attempts to crush the informal norms that make democracy work. Trump’s most recent threats are simply the latest iteration and nothing outside what has become the Standard Operating Procedure for the GOP.
The irony is that if there is a threat to election integrity, it comes from Trump’s friends in the Kremlin, who will have little compunction hacking into US voting machines.
All in all, it’s good that I have taken up Post-apocalyptic literature as a hobby. At least I won’t be surprised.
Some of the people planning to cast protest votes in November have a bedtime story they love to tell themselves. In the story, Donald Trump’s election wouldn’t be such a bad thing because the diffusion of power in the American political system would prevent him from carrying out the worst of his lunatic schemes.
Now, there is a germ of an idea there: political and institutional constraints greatly limit the power of a President. But it’s worth noting that the political constraints generally act through the perceptions of the President and those around him about what he can, and can’t, get away with: that is, precisely the sort of thing that would have kept Trump-the-candidate from, e.g., hurling ethnic insults at a federal judge. A President unfazed by criticism, and willing to ignore advice about the limits of his lawful authority from the Office of Legal Counsel, actually can get quite a lot done. No President in the modern era – even Nixon – has dared to say what President Jackson said about a Supreme Court ruling: “Mr. Justice Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” But what if we had a President who was willing to behave that way, surrounded by advisers egging him on to do so? Trump’s power for evil might be substantially greater than (e.g.) Obama’s power for good.
Today a friend challenged me on this point: Make a list of ten really, really bad things that President Trump could actually do. A little bit of emailing around produced the following list. I’ve divided it into two groups: the “stroke-of-the-pen” things that a President could accomplish just by ordering them, and other things that would require Congressional approval or help from state governments. But let’s not forget that Trump’s election would almost certainly mean both that he had a Republican Senate and House to work with and that the Republican members of those bodies would mostly be terrified of primary challenges should they oppose the imperial will.
The distinction between the two groups is not absolute; in principle, the appropriations power could be used to constrain virtually any Presidential action, in the extreme by zero-budgeting the Executive Office of the President, leaving The Donald to write his own orders. And of course there is always the impeachment power. But again, an election that brings us Trump would be likely to disable those safeguards as well.
“With a stroke of the pen”
By legislative action or with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the help of state governments
A story is told of Benjamin Franklin. As he left the Constitutional Convention – which did its work in secret – for the last time, a woman stopped him to ask, “Well, Dr. Franklin? What have you given us? A monarchy, or a republic?” Franklin answered, “A republic, madam: if you can keep it.”
This is not a game. Institutions do not maintain themselves. Not all damage is reversible. I do not believe that Trump will be elected, and I do not believe that, if he were elected, that would be the last relatively free and fair election for President. But it’s not impossible. Let’s not do the experiment.
I consider this list provisional. Please suggest additions, subtractions, and edits in comments. Do not take that as an invitation to debate. Comments of the form”but howsabout Hillary?” will be relentlessly zapped.
A failing I often have to highlight in student public policy papers is a confusion of ends and means. Often they mistake an admirable object of a policy, say, “increase arts education in public schools” for something someone could actually do to make it happen, and I have to ask that the next draft distinguish among funding after-school art classes, shifting some number of class hours away from math or English to art, hiring artists as provisional teachers, getting the English teachers to teach art, and so on. Actually accomplishing something frequently has this awkward need to fix on a series of actual steps a real entity can take within the law, and within constraints of stuff like gravity, conservation of matter, the second law of thermodynamics, and like that.
It has been so widely noted as to need no links that Donald Trump’s promises are process-free in the dreamy way of these student papers, couched in the skilled shtick of a practiced grifter: ‘I’m going to make you rich, and we’re going to do it by cheating that nasty fellow behind the tree’. What is the historically grounded, basis of such nonsense? I have found it in the reign of a real emperor, what the Donald aspires to become, and it goes like this:
The following letter (updated, expanded and edited for this reissue) was posted in late 2010 (many comments there, worth a read). In the last several weeks, I’ve been asked by a variety of friends and colleagues to post it again. I wish I could report that it’s out of date, but the trends it discusses have worsened if anything, as more states accelerate the destruction of their greatest assets–Jefferson wanted most to be remembered for creating his state university–and half of our two-party machinery degrades into fact-free, willfully ignorant armies competing to sow hate, fear, and spite.
You’ve been admitted to colleges, and chosen Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world. Next fall, you’ll meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere. The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits. And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine. This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest. Continue Reading…
Thirty years ago, Marvis Frazier fought undefeated champ Larry Holmes for the heavyweight boxing title. Marvis was an outstanding amateur, but he had only been in 10 pro fights. An inexperienced fighter named Marvis Smith would never have gotten a title shot, but Marvis’ dad was the legendary Joe Frazier, so he did.
The hype leading up to the bout was incredible, with Frazier posing on magazine covers and being interviewed by adoring reporters. The fight itself was preceded with an hour-long special about Frazier, all but crowning him the champ. Holmes meanwhile was disparaged in the run up to the fight as too old, too slow and too boring to beat a charismatic figure of destiny like Marvis Frazier.
In the first and only round of the fight, Holmes beat Frazier like a rented mule. A single crushing punch sent Frazier flying. Once Frazier got back up, Holmes pounded him at will while literally gesturing to the referee between punches to stop the fight because Frazier was out on his feet.
As a young boxing fan, I felt really conned by the press over this, because it was utterly obvious after the slaughter that the fight was never going to be close. If Frazier had had 100 tries, he would have been destroyed by the mighty Holmes every single time. But for their own reasons (they sold a lot of those magazines), sports journalists grossly misrepresented how close the match would be.
Older and more cynical, I have become wary of the desire of the media to make battles sounds epic when they are in fact going to be walkovers, a feeling I have experienced acutely throughout the Sanders/Clinton matchup. The amount of “Clinton campaign in disarray/Sanders surging” coverage has been every bit as uncritical and self-interested as the lead up to the Frazier/Holmes fight.
I say this with no animosity to Sanders, who seems like a perfectly decent man, but his campaign ended in Iowa. The state was tailor made for him and he lost (though much of the press coverage framed it as a win). If he had won by 20 points there, it would have been significant, but he lost in a super-white, super-liberal caucus state that favored him as much as any outside of his own neighborhood.
I don’t blame Sanders’ young fans for thinking he could win. Young people should be idealistic and have big dreams and it’s not their job to be as jaded as I am. But professional journalists have a responsibility to be critical and careful in their reporting. Many of them really, really misrepresented Sanders’ prospects because they wanted a horse race when there just wasn’t one to be had.
Although Chicago’s police drama has grabbed the headlines, Illinois’ disgraceful budget standoff continues. And more local service providers are shrinking or closing their doors. Lutheran Social Services recently announced the closure of key programs.
This Friday, an article appeared in Capitolfax.com, an authoritative media source on state budget politics, under the cheery headline: “Another hostage dies:”
Haymarket Center is closing its social setting detoxification program. This was Haymarket’s first program, the start of our mission 40 years ago.
In FY 2015, this program had 1,047 admissions of 903 unique individuals.
As a social setting detoxification program, it is not eligible for a Medicaid certification, and relied on State funding. With the end of our federal portion of our DASA contract growing near, the 22% cut in our contract, and other programs such as Recovery Homes also relying on State funding, we believe we had no choice but to close this program.
We will be announcing further reductions within the next few days.
Haymarket is one of Chicago’s oldest and largest drug and alcohol treatment providers. It is a pillar of the system. When even agencies like these are closing major services, you get a sense of the havoc wreaked by the lack of a state budget.
Providers and social service agencies across Illinois are desperately trying to fit services under the ambit of Medicaid–the only faucet still properly flowing to support basic services. It’s not clear that we’ll ever have a budget for this year–or who will be paid and when if the Messiah comes and a budget is actually signed into law.
This astonishing governance failure is becoming the new normal. It’s less dramatic than lead poisoning in Flint. The human costs are high enough. And there’s no end in sight, no sign of a reasonable political compromise.
I just posted something on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog. It essentially points out that while Trump is exactly the kind of demagogue the Framers worried about, pretty much every political party leader is exactly the kind of demagogue the Framers worried about: modern parties and modern communications (by modern communications I mean U.S. mail-subsidized newspapers or later) pretty much guarantee that.
One thing I didn’t say in the piece, for reasons of both space and The Monkey Cage’s distaste for explicit ideologizing, is that liberals can (unlike Peter Wehner, whose recent New York Times op-Ed I was responding to) hope to vindicate a different kind of constitution. Those who defend a living constitution, i.e. one that changes in good ways in response to political movements and social changes, often say that the old-fashioned constitution that sought to check power via a radically decentralized political system has yielded to a modern constitution that embraces greater federal power–as needed in a complex contemporary economy–but also vigorous protections for individual rights. (I got this from one of Jack Balkin’s recent books, but it seems pretty standard.) On a sophisticated version of this theory, the new constitutional order rests not only on judicial review but on a new model of citizenship in which the hallmark of civic virtue is to notice, and spring to the defense of, one’s own rights and those of others; so-called “popular constitutionalists,” whose work I know less well, stress the particular importance of social movements in making this work and, indeed, in changing how we think about the constitution in the first place.
In other words, the best protection against the likes of a Trump is not constitutional conservatism—which, after all, would welcome the likes of a Cruz. Rather, it is the complex of groups devoted to vindicating individual rights—the NAACP, La Raza, the ACLU, #BlackLivesMatter—and those in the media, academe, and civil society poised to heed the kind of alarms that they sound. And, of course, the other party; but we shouldn’t have to rely on partisan opposition alone.
Of course, on some level what I just said was already quite obvious, implicit in how we do things. But maybe thinking about Trump can make it more explicit. Bruce Ackerman has referred to moments of ferment regarding constitutional interpretation as “constitutional moments.” Trump have have given us a constitutional teachable moment.
Me talking Single Payer issues on C-Span, basically riffing from my VOX article here. That piece got a bit more attention than I expected, in part given the different approaches to health policy presented by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
— Washington Journal (@cspanwj) January 23, 2016
Why no. I didn’t spend thirty minutes walking through personal finance issues with the technician who helped me in the studio. Why would you even ask. I certainly didn’t print out various prescriptive financial materials and tips in their office, and thus miss my beach walk in Naples, Fla.
In talking over the past few weeks to some very smart people about the primaries and caucuses, I have been surprised how many of them assume that Iowa and New Hampshire will be as predictive of the nomination for both parties. I think that’s probably wrong for the reason highlighted in this table.
GOP primary voters/caucus-goers are as white as the driven snow in all four contests (and probably in all the ones afterwards, though I didn’t check). Even in lily white Iowa, they are whiter than the general population. A Republican candidate who wins Iowa’s white Evangelical voters and New Hampshire’s white Establishment voters should have a ride to the GOP nomination that’s as smooth as mayonnaise on Wonder Bread .
But the Democratic primaries are different because the people who participate in them are racially and ethnically diverse. Iowa and New Hampshire are an unusual pair of starting states for Democratic candidates because they are much more monochromatic than the party as a whole. If we assume that race and ethnicity affect candidate preferences (which seems a good assumption this year at least), it’s easy to imagine an scenario in which a Democratic candidate does badly in the first two contests and well in the next two, or vice versa.
Data Notes after the jump Continue Reading…