President Trump signed an executive order establishing a commission on “Election integrity” under the leadership of ï»¿Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, two figures active in voter suppression efforts .
So what does Donald Trump mean when he says he wants to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment”?
Trump always talks about “churches,” but the proviso, inserted in the tax code in 1954, forbids all tax exempt non-profits (organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)3, and therefore referred to generically as 501(c)3 organizations) from contributing to political campaigns.
If the law were changed to exempt churches only, the courts would have to decide whether than created an unconstitutional “establishment of religion,” but it doesn’t require a law degree to see that allowing tax-exempt churches to attack tax-exempt Planned Parenthood by running campaigns against politicians who take positions favorable to reproductive rights, but forbidding Planned Parenthood from defending itself, would be grossly unfair.
Moreover, churches – unlike most other non-profits – aren’t required to disclose their donors. So allowing them to serve as campaign vehicles would not only convert them into tax-deductible super-PACs, it would allow unlimited amounts of hidden money to come into politics. (Citizens United and its progeny have already severely weakened disclosure rules.) Disclosure has been, until now, regarded as an invaluable protection against corruption. If Trump gets his way, any individual, privately-held corporation, partnership, or LLC could purchase influence with unlimited, undisclosed, tax-deductible campaign contributions simply by laundering them through a church, or even a fake “church” organized solely as a pass-through for bribes. (Again, for religious-freedom reasons, the IRS is very wary of deciding that a group calling itself a church isn’t really a church: the New Testament rule “wherever two or three are gathered” about covers it.)
But wait! It gets worse. If churches can gather money without disclosing their donors – and obviously that degree of privacy protection is required for the free exercise of religion – and spend that money to run political campaigns, then the market is open for foreign as well as domestic corruption. The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church. Nor is an outfit organized as a church for IRS purposes have the word “church” (synagogue, mosque, temple, whatever) in its name; many people would spot “Society of Friends” as meaning Quakers, but you and I could start a group tomorrow called “Truth Tellers,” incorporate it as a church, and then run political ads with the trailer “This message brought to you by the Truth Tellers.”
So, like most of Trump’s ideas, this one reduces mostly to corruption and the sacrifice of American sovereignty to foreign – especially Russian – influence. And of course that won’t keep the tame preachers of the Christian Right from backing him all the way.
The revelations in the past few days about Russian interference in the election actually gave me great relief–because, of course, everything that happens is about me! Now those who’ve been rolling their eyes at my paranoid fantasies of Putin-inspired hacking and leaking and disabling the voter protection hotline will have to concede that paranoia is, in this case, completely justified.
More important–and more seriously–the revelations crystallized my view that the outcome of this Presidential election reflects not a simple disagreement about policy but an actual threat to our system of government. And, again, if that sounds alarmist, you haven’t been paying enough attention.
But I know you all have been paying attention; SO! What to do? A group of us who worked together on Hillary’s campaign are contacting every Republican elector in the country, asking all of them to withhold their votes from Donald Trump. We’re calling, we’re emailing, we’re snail-mailing–and we’re doing it all RIGHT NOW, because the Electoral College meets in 5 days, on Monday, December 19, and it’s our last line of defense against having a Russian puppet in the White House.
If you can spare time in the next day or so, I urge you to do the same. You will find a list of GOP electors, with all their e-mail contact information, here. My letter, which you’re welcome to crib if you find it useful, is here. The essential thing is to write now, and to treat these people with whom we disagree so strongly as fellow and sister patriots with whom we hope to ally in defense of the Constitution. What a concept: speaking civilly and rationally to our opponents!
You may well think this is a futile endeavor; but I can only quote Father Daniel Berrigan: “Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.” And, as he also said, “Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!”
Mine’s in front of my computer.
As of today, no one quite knows what will happen to ACA. Republicans control the required levers to massively repeal or replace ACA. They also have the power to massively over-reach and do themselves profound political damage through over-reach that damages millions of peopleâ€™s lives or that damages the overall health care delivery system. Trumpâ€™s unexpected victory provides a remarkable natural experiment that illuminates bedrock issues: The power and accuracy of media messages in public policy, path dependence as a barrier to radical policy change, tensions between interest-group and partisan politics, fiscal federalism and the relationship between states and the federal government, the politics of race and class in redistributive programs. Itâ€™s all there in the politics of health reform.
Post-November 8 is a great time to explore these questions and to look back on what some of the best health policy scholars, political scientists, and sociologists have had to say about the enactment, implementation, and political reception facing health reform. The Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law has therefore opened some of its best pieces on ACA for public access. I recommend this to anyone serious about understanding the rise and potential fall of the Affordable Care Act, on which rides the health and well-being of many millions of people. (FYI: I am JHPPL’s social media editor.)
We are watching history in action. It isnâ€™t pretty to watch. We can at least witness the process with analytic rigor informed by a sound understandingÂ of what has come before.
Over Twitter, Kevin Drum asked me to identify the Democrats’ three biggest mistakes.
@haroldpollack What were the 3 biggest Dem errors?
â€” Kevin Drum (@kdrum) November 25, 2016
I have mixed feelings about answering that question. When a comprehensively dishonorable and unfit demagogue ascends to the presidency, all the traditional gatekeepers of our political system have failed: Both parties, the media, the electorate itself. Of course with an election this close, any number of things might have turned the outcome. FBI director Comeyâ€™s intercession was probably the decisive endgame factor. Heâ€™s not a Democrat.
And whatever mistakes Democrats made, the main responsibility resides with the Republican primary electorate who selected the worst nominee in generations, and with the Republican political professionals who enabled that nominee. They knew exactly who and what Trump was. They supported him anyway, often quietly hoping someone else would bring him down. Had Paul Ryan and George W Bush bluntly announced in late October that Trump is unfit to be president, America would have been spared what we are about to endure.
And Hillary Clinton did a lot right, a fact reflected in her clear popular vote victory. She clobbered Trump in three debates. Her policy shop was maybe the best assembled by any candidate ever. Many of her campaign commercials were outstanding. That should have been enough. It wasnâ€™t.
Still, Democrats must be clear-eyed in assessing how this could have happenedâ€”and how we can ensure it doesnâ€™t happen again. In no firm order, here are several mistakes we made*:
Twice in the past five elections, the person who won is not the person who moved into the White House.
Hillary Clinton received 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, yet it’s Trump who is picking Cabinet members and will pick Supreme Court justices.
If this strikes you as unacceptable, please join the League of Women Voters of the United States in advocating passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Each state adopting the Compact pledges to instruct its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote–which is to say, the winner. (We don’t say “popular vote” in any other context as if it were a lesser thing. A vote is a vote, and under our system voting is how we choose our leaders.)
Ten states and the District of Columbia, accounting for 61% of an Electoral College majority, have already adopted the Compact. But if you don’t live in California, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington State, ask your state representative to introduce the Compact in the next session of the legislature, and then ask every person running for a seat whether s/he supports it.
Come on Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia!–all blue states whose votes could get us to 219. And come on Michigan and Pennsylvania, which both had the Compact under consideration in last year’s legislative session: those two would make 255. Capture Florida, and lo and behold, we get to inaugurate the person we elected.
But. As long as the Electoral College is there, it should perform the function the Framers had in mind: preventing the election of a demagogue. We have just under a month to find 38 Republican electors willing to admit either that their standard-bearer is unfit for the office or that he just plain lost.
Who among them is willing to speak up? We’re all ears.
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’tÂ 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 saidÂ that Trumpâ€™s supporters will â€œshut the government downâ€ 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.Â 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. Â 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? Â 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”
- Withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on global warming.
- Abrogate the nuclear deal with Iran, setting the stage for either war with Iran or Iranian development of a nuclear weapon. (Or both.)
- Deny hostile, or even objective, journalists and media outlets access to information by refusing them admittance to press conferences, instructing appointed and public-affairs officials to refuse all interviews, and subjecting even routine data requests to FOIA delays. That will have three effects: disabling the effective capacity of the independent media to exercise oversight; giving professional and business advantages to complaisant reporters and their outlets; and creating incentives for reporters and outlets alike to stay in the Administration’s good graces.
- Institute criminal investigation and prosecution of political opponents. The Attorney General, the FBI Director, and the 94 United States Attorneys all serve at the pleasure of the President. (The 10-year term of the FBI Director is a maximum, not a minimum, and Bill Clinton fired Director William Sessions in 1993.) Now imagine FBI Director Chris Christie, reporting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Those positions, and the U.S. Attorney slots, are all Senate-confirmable, but even if the Senate were to resist the President could appoint all of them on an acting basis.
- Use tax enforcement and the award or denial of tax-exempt status to punish enemies and rewards friends. The Director of the IRS is also a Presidential appointee. Civil-service protections would make it harder to replace IRS career staff with political loyalists, but the GWB Administration made substantial progress in filling the Justice Department with Republican apparatchiki, and the same could be done at the IRS.
- Attack “liberal-leaning” universities and not-for-profit research enterprises by either interfering with the grant process directly or by using financial or compliance audits to disqualify them.
- End enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. This is entirely at the discretion of USDoJ, and no doubt Assistant Attorney General Kris Kobach will have other priorities.
- Cease Department of Justice investigations into police misconduct.
- Mount a massive deportation process. Direct the Department of Homeland Security to target and remove persons who registered under DACA and DAPA.
- Investigate the “loyalty” of Muslims in the civil service and the military.
- Substantially reduce enforcement of anti-discrimination law, including revoking executive orders that require nondiscrimination by federal contractors.
- Block all entry of refugees.
- Wreck the Affordable Care Act in practical terms by reversing the administrative decisions that make it feasible, and destroy it legally by conceding its unconstitutionality the next Â time it is challenged in court.
- Loosen regulation and virtually eliminate enforcement of all environmental laws, workplace health and safety laws, and consumer protections. Early targets would be the Obama Administration’s aggressive attack on air pollution from coal-fired power plants and the newly-instituted fiduciary-standards rule for pension advisers.
- Reinstitute torture by replacing the Army Field Manual with Bush-era interrogation “standards.” I do not believe that most, or even many, senior officers would abide by such orders. But the President is, indeed, Commander-in-Chief, and only custom keeps him from firing those who disobey unlawful orders. (When President Lincoln was told that Confederate forces had captured forty mules and two major-generals, he replied, “Too bad about the mules. Major-generals I can make.” Ranks of O-4 [major or lieutenant commander] and above require Senate confirmation, but junior officers are created by Presidential fiat, and brevet promotions are unlimited.)
- Encourage Russian aggression in Europe by renouncing our NATO obligations. Start by recognizing Russian sovereignty over the Crimea.
- Withdraw the U.S. from other treaties and international organizations: WTO, NAFTA, the U.N., the Paris Treaty on international climate change.
- Encourage Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons by raising questions about the validity of our security commitments.
- Unofficially encourage or sponsor the growth of armed far-right “militia” groups, and discourage enforcement of federal laws against them (e.g., vigilante border enforcement groups, takeovers of federal lands byÂ “sovereign citizen” organizations).
By legislative action or with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the help of state governments
- Appoint at least one and perhaps three Supreme Court justices on the Alito model, locking in a right-wing majority for a generation.
- Reduce tax rates for the rich.
- Block grant food stamps and/or Medicaid.
- Appoint anti-worker and anti-union members to the National Labor Relations Board.
- End federal support for the full range of women’s health services, including ending the federal partnership with Planned Parenthood.
- Increase domestic production of coal and oil while ending public investment in renewable energy.
- Repeal of Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, consumer financial protection laws.
- Disenfranchise Democrats with a combination of voter-suppression tactics (shorter voting hours, fewer voting machines leading to longer waits, hard-to-meet “voter ID” rules) and gerrymandering. In the extreme, use electronic vote counting to simply miscount the votes.
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.Â Â 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. Â 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”Â 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.Â 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’.Â 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: