Democracy Is Not Football

One of the many things that annoyed me in the wake of Trump’s upset victory was that for so many people on the winning side, this boiled down to “delicious librul tears“. And even a lot of Trump’s executive actions have been less about advancing his own plan, as about tearing down Obama’s legacy. We’ve also seen this with the ACA, where the GOP has been quite intent on repealing Obamacare, but has no idea what to replace it with, or how to get health care to everyone.

On the other side, I see people like the organizers of the March for Our Lives, and before them a thousand newly-hatched activists, whom Trump and the GOP awakened to the fact that government isn’t Them; it’s Us. You don’t have to choose among the two candidates that the major parties provide; you can run for office yourself. And if you can’t run and can’t vote, you can still write your representatives, and raise a fuss and bloody well make people care about the issues that you care about.

This is of a piece with the rise of prayer-shaming: a lot of the response to shootings like Parkland has been that offering “thoughts and prayers” is the same as not doing anything at all, and by now you are expected to know this. The young generation is the least-religious one yet in recent American history, and they know that praying doesn’t fix problems. Sitting down and fixing problems fixes problems.

This may turn out to be the silver lining of the Trump era: that so much stuff broke, that it woke people up to the fact that democracy isn’t a spectator sport.

(Originally started as a comment at chez Hemant.)

Now What?

So we’ve survived the first week of Trump’s presidency. Have some cake. If you were one of the many people who took part in activism, pat yourself on the back. If you weren’t, it’s not too late to start.

It’s great that everyone’s riled up. And while we’re pumped up and paying attention to government, it might be worth figuring out what our long-term plans should be. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Gerrymandering reform

In case you forgot, gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative districts to favor one party (see, for instance, this map of Maryland). Gerrymandering is one of the factors pushing divisions between the left and right: Representatives can be attacked for being insufficiently ideologically pure, which pushes them away from the center, and have no real incentive to compromise.

For me, as a Marylander, it means that the Republicans have written me off, and the Democrats take me for granted. I’d like both parties to court my vote, and for the biyearly congressional elections to be a meaningful referendum on Representatives’ job performance.

Electoral College reform

I think everyone agrees that while the Electoral College may have been useful at one time, it’s not the XVIII century anymore. Time to get with the times and implement majority vote.

Since the Electoral College is enshrined in the Constitution, there’s no way to eliminate it without an amendment, which is difficult. But there’s a hack: each state can pass its own laws about how its Electors vote. And in most states, they have to vote the way a majority of that state’s voters voted, which makes perfect sense. But what if each state had a law saying that its Electors will vote whichever way the entire US voting population voted?

Obviously, people in Massachusetts will be upset if a Republican gets all of their Electoral votes just because he won a majority of the US vote, just as Oklahomans won’t like their Electoral votes going to a Democrat. But this already happens, in effect, in that people get a president they don’t want.

Of course, you don’t want your state to be the only one that apportions its Electors this way. This only makes sense if there are enough states doing this, that they can decide the outcome of the election — that is, if there’s a group of states that adds up to 270 Electoral votes or more.

Thankfully, there’s a project to do exactly that. Contact your state legislators and encourage them to join in.

Ranked voting

This one’s more of a long shot than the others, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. In our current system, you can only vote for one candidate, and whoever gets the most votes wins. This leads to a problem with third-party supporters. In 2000, if you were liberal, maybe you liked Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, could tolerate Democrat Al Gore, and disliked Republican George Bush. So do you vote for Nader, knowing that he can’t win, and that you’re taking away a vote for Gore (and against Bush)? Or do you hold your nose, vote for Gore against Bush, and help confirm the idea that third parties don’t stand a chance?

Under ranked voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, you vote for multiple candidates, ranking them in order of preference. Our hypothetical voter, above, might vote

  1. Ralph Nader
  2. Al Gore
  3. George Bush

meaning “I like Nader, but I’ll settle for Gore.”

Yes, there are problems with ranked voting, and there are situations where it fails. But its problems are rarer and less severe, I believe, than those with our present system.

Campaign finance reform

This is related to the previous item, in that the current systems helps perpetuate a system where only the major players have a chance. If candidates were treated equally, say all given $100 million to make their case, then it would make it more likely that candidates are judged by their experience and policies, rather than their ability to raise money.

On the other hand, there’s a danger that extremist whackjobs might appear reasonable by virtue of being treated as equals with sane-party candidates. But then again, given who’s living in the (Oh So Very) White House right now, we may be past that point already.

While I don’t have a firm opinion on this topic and am open to being educated, I do think the Citizens United SCOTUS decision needs to be overturned. In case you forgot, that’s the one that said that donating money to a campaign is political speech, and since you can’t abridge free speech, you can have unlimited amounts of money pouring into politics.

Education, education, education

This one is fundamental. We need better education, and more of it.

People complain about American jobs being shipped overseas. But most of those are unskilled jobs. It’s never going to be cheaper to hire an American than a Bangladeshi, or a robot. So let’s prepare our population for better jobs.

For starters, we can fund elementary and high schools properly. I’m ashamed for my country every time I hear of a teacher having to buy supplies out of her own pocket. Federal funds can help with this: when I pick up the phone to talk to tech support, I might get someone who went to school in Arkansas or Oregon, so it’s in my benefit to help education in other states.

College is crazy expensive. The University of Maryland, a state university, estimates that it’ll cost $25,000 per year to send your child there. $47,000 if you’re not a Maryland resident. That’s mortgage-level expensive.

Why can’t we bring the costs down? One simple approach would be an education tax. Raise taxes on everyone by a bit, and bring tuition costs down a lot for those going to college. This would have all sorts of knock-on effects: more people getting educated; more people inventing new things, or writing books, or starting businesses; more people making a better living; more people hiring other people.

And I think that’ll do it for now.

Women’s March, Rights, and Politics

I attended the Women’s March on Washington, yesterday. It turned out, I’m told, to be the largest inauguration protest in the history of the United States, and possibly the largest political protest ever, if you count the sister marches in other cities around the globe (including Antarctica).

At one point, we ran into, I believe, the American Socialist Party. They are, as I believe, the Communist-Lite bunch that Sean Hannity warned you about. I don’t remember seeing them out on the Mall before, so I suspect that they may have stepped up their activities in recent years.

If they have, they’re not alone. Witness the popularity of Bernie Sanders, who may not have won so much as the Democratic nomination, but got pretty damn far for an American who describes himself as a democratic socialist.

But of course he and Clinton lost the presidency to Trump. He may not have won a majority of votes, but he did get 46%, a not inconsiderable amount.

So what this all seems to suggest is a repeat of history: we’re living in a new gilded age, with income inequality at record-high levels, and populist factions appear to be gaining popularity in response: on one hand, on the left, people like Sanders and Warren, who promise to, basically, make the rich bastards pay their fair share so that the little guy can get a fair shake. I’m pretty sure that the communists of the early 20th century had the same message, and that that’s what made them so appealing to so many.

And on the right, there’s Donald Trump, who would be very happy to be the object of a cult of personality, and clearly feels most at home at the top of an autocratic dictatorship like — yeah, I’m gonna say it — Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.

I can’t prove that history is repeating itself, but it does look that way. And so, we are faced with the problem of how to avoid both a fascist dictatorship and a communist dictatorship (thankfully, the two look so much alike (the key word is “dictatorship”) that we really only need one plan for both contingencies).

Of the two, I’m far more worried about the fascist dictatorship: these days, in America, the right is the side more likely to make threats of violence (“Second Amendment remedies, anyone?). The lefties I’ve met are far more likely to get everyone’s input, not execute kulaks.

On the right, on the other hand, I see more right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) who enjoy having a strongman in charge, and have a history of passing laws to prevent people from voting.

Followup on Faithless Electors

Four months ago, I wondered whether there would be faithless electors in this election. And as it turned out, there were. Nine of them, in fact, of whom six were successful. That seems like a lot: according to Wikipedia, these days there are usually zero or one faithless elector. There were 8 in 1912, and 27 in 1896.

When I wrote that article, I expected to be surprised, and I was. But I stand by my comment about the dumpster fire consuming the GOP.

Disorganized Post-Election Thoughts

1. Fuck. Seriously, what the fuck?

I realize this is a very widely-held opinion,  it today, I am not particularly contrarian.

2. Corollary: how did everyone manage to get this wrong? Polls, pundits, prognosticators all had Clinton in the lead, and comfortably so. Unless there were shenanigans, they all got it wrong in a failure of Dewey-defeats-Truman-es que proportions. And I haven’t seen any obvious signs of unforeseen shenanigans.

3. Could there have ban shenanigans? Could Anonymous or someone have rigged the election? I suppose anything’s possible, and I’m sure people will be looking into this possibility in the coming days, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Rather, this feels like a systemic mistake everyone made. Like underestimating how many bigots would come out to vote for one of their own.

4. In a way, this is understandable, because even though Trump’s an unabashed bigot and sexist who’s broken many of the rules everyone took for granted, surely some ground rules must still hold, right? Like, having a GOTV operation to get your voters to the poll helps you, and not having one hurts you, right?

And for this reason, I can’t really resent the people who voted for third-party candidates and handed Trump victory in races that turned out to be closer than expected. They probably didn’t think they were really going to change anything, and neither did any of the rest of us.

5. Looking forward, it’s possible that the Trump regime won’t be as bad as we fear. For as much as he’s talked about setting up horrible policies, he’s not Hitler. He’s not enough of an ideologue for that. He’s just in it for the attention and the glory.

Of course, that means that we need to start worrying about what de facto policymaker Mike Pence is going to do.

6. And related to point 5, since the Republican party is going to be in control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress, whatever happens over the next two to four years, they’re going to own it. If it turns out to be good, then great, although given recent history, I have low hopes for the Republican party.

But if it turns to shit, don’t let them forget it.

7. And as a follow-up, dust off your activism handbooks, because we’re going to need them. I’m not advocating an intransigent obstructionism like what Republicans have been inflicting on Obama for the past eight years. Oppose bad ideas, not Republican ideas.

8. Finally, no, I don’t have any uplifting parting thoughts, or even a picture of a kitten. Come back later.

Will There Be Faithless Electors in 2016?

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Trump’s hairpiece in the wild. Photo by Valerie G. Bugh.

You may remember that during the run-in to the 2016 Republican convention, the #NeverTrump people were trying desperately to come up with some way, short of dynamite, to put out the dumpster fire that the conservative movement has been feeding lo these past three decades, and is now threatening to consume the GOP.

At the same time, it was pointed out that the Democrats didn’t have the same problem, in part because they had nominated a human being rather than a Monster From the Id, and partly because of superdelegates, party officials whose vote counts way way more than that of regular delegates from your state.

As universally-reviled as superdelegates are, at least they act as a firewall: if the ordinary people had nominated an obviously unacceptable candidate, like a bowl of granola, for instance, the superdelegates could have overridden the will of the people.

Which brings me to the general election: the way presidential elections were originally set up in the US constitution, we don’t actually vote for president: we vote for a guy who’ll go over to Washington, find out who the best candidate is, and vote on our behalf. In many states, electors are not bound by the popular vote and can, in principle, vote against whomever the people chose: so-called faithless electors. Apparently there have been two of them since 2000.

But this election feels different. Trump is not your run-of-the-mill Bad Candidate. Even high-profile Republican insiders consider him not just suboptimal, but unacceptable, even dangerous. So I wonder whether we’ll see any faithless electors in January.

In practice, it probably (hopefully!) won’t be necessary: if Clinton wins in the standard way, the electors will be able to go about their voting as usual, in relative obscurity and irrelevance. But if Trump wins, there’s that safety valve. It’s also possible that he’ll lose, and throw an epic temper tantrum such that not even the electors will want anything to do with him, and might change their votes in protest.

As usual, when dealing with predictions, I expect to be proven wrong about a lot of this. I’m not psychic, you know.

So You’ve Poked Your Eye Out

Tower of Parliament in Planet of the Apes
Image by @jeremiahtolbert. Used with permission.

If you are or have a parent, you’re no doubt familiar with expressions like “It’s fun until somebody gets hurt” or “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” in A Christmas Story. In one of those rare cases where Russian is more compact than English, my dad would use the word “доигрались” (“do-ee-GRA-lees’”) when my brother and I played too rough and someone wound up getting hurt. It’s from “играть” (“ee-grat’”, to play) and the prefix “do-”, meaning “until” or “up to the point that”.

We’d play, he’d tell us to be more careful, we’d ignore him, and then someone’s knee would get scraped or head bumped, or something in the house would be broken. And my father would look at us and say, “доигрались”, “So you didn’t think, didn’t listen, and now…” and the “and now” would be there for all to see, too obvious to mention.

That’s a word that’s been coming to mind a lot lately. The Republican party has spent decades cultivating anger, ignorance, and xenophobia. Now they have an ignorant, xenophobic candidate whom they can’t control. Доигрались.

Churches have spent decades, even centuries vilifying women and LGBT people, and now they’re panicking because young people aren’t joining. Доигрались.

Most recently, Britons have decided that they hate foreigners so much, they’re going to divorce Europe, and sent the Pound into free fall. It’s still too early to tell what the final outcome will be, but I’m still thinking, доигрались.

SMH.