Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Our Constitution Guarantees America Will Never Be a True Democracy

  Never has it been clearer than it is today that America can never be a true democracy, because the U.S.  Constitution prevents that.

It starts with the U.S. Senate, which gives two votes to every state regardless of population. Public policy scholars Michael Ettlinger and Jordan Hensley figure that in the current Senate, “41 Republican senators representing as few as 75 million people can block most legislation from even coming to a vote — thwarting the will of a group of Democratic and Republican senators representing as many as 270 million Americans.”

The Constitution did not arise from a consensus of like-minded founding fathers. Rather it was a compromise between the highly populated northern states, which wanted a democratically represented Senate, and the lesser populated southern states, which wanted equal power in the Senate. We are stuck with that situation because amending the Constitution itself takes a 2/3rds vote in both houses of Congress then ratification by three quarters of the states — something entirely unlikely for such a change.

    We’re lucky that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims in 1964 that the 14th Amendment’s principle of equal protection required state legislatures to be based on one person-one vote. Prior to then, for example, Los Angeles County’s 6 million residents had the same representation in the California Senate as did the 400 people of Alpine County. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the majority opinion which has led to the practice of reapportioning both chambers of state legislatures based on population. Unfortunately, the Court could not make the same ruling for the U.S. Senate, in which Wyoming has the same representation as the states of California and New York.

This anti-democratic distribution of political power wasn’t so bad when men and women of goodwill were elected to the U.S. Senate, but today we have such conscious and conscientious ill-will  practiced primarily by the right wing representatives of the less populated states against the interests of the bigger states, that it’s totally disheartening.

Is this how the “American Experiment” ends? Is this how democracy dies in our country?  It’s hard to see any solution to what is essentially a structural flaw in our governance.

Meanwhile, back at the state level, gerrymandering has made it possible by ill-intentioned, power-hungry Republicans to solidify their control of state legislatures, such that in Texas, for example, the majority of the population can vote for Democratic candidates, but the majority of candidates elected in the same election are Republicans.

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post calculated that the Michigan legislature has a Republican majority although Democrats have won a majority of the popular vote there for a decade. In North Carolina in 2018, Democrats won 51% of the popular vote but got only 45% of the seats.

Not satisfied with the domination they created through gerrymandering, Republican-dominated legislatures in Georgia, Texas, and Florida, and other states with majority Democratic populations have worked aggressively to restrict voting rights. More than a dozen Republican-controlled states have enacted more than 30 new laws to suppress votes among heavily Democratic populations. They get away with it for one reason — because they can, pure and simple. In those states which have fraudulently created Republican control of their legislatures, the legislatures themselves manage the decennial reapportionment, guaranteeing continued gerrymandering and continued anti-democratic government.

It has been said that the arc of history bends toward justice,” but it clearly bends against democratic rule. Sad but true.

 

Monday, September 6, 2021

How Russia Seeks to Hurt America (aka The Trump/MAGA Playbook)

  Vladimir Putin’s playbook for destroying western democracy found a useful idiot in Donald Trump, because that’s exactly what the “Make America Great Again” theme is all about.

That’s a bold statement, and I realize it will annoy the disgraced president’s fan base, so  let me spell it out for them.

I was a student of Russian and of the Soviet Union for several years in the 1960s. As such I even subscribed to Izvestia for a year, and I visited the Soviet Union four times — once as a tourist with an MIT alumni group in 1978 and three times as a “citizen diplomat” with the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in the Gorbachev era of the late 1980s.

“Disinformation” didn’t appear in English dictionaries until the late 1980s, but I first learned that term in the early 1960s as the Russian word дезинформация. It is indeed a Soviet concept introduced and perfected by the KGB and one of its premiere chiefs, Vladimir Putin.

The United States is not the only western democracy in which disinformation has been, and continues to be, deployed by the Russians. It played a big and successful role in the Brexit campaign, since breaking up the European Union is as much a goal of Vladimir Putin as is the creating of chaos and irreparable partisanship in the United States.  And this Monday, a news item caught my attention that Russia is mounting a similar effort in Germany to support the election of an anti-EU candidate to succeed Angela Merkel.

“America First” is just what Putin wanted, which is why he mobilized multiple social media channels in the United States to turn public opinion against his arch-enemy Hillary Clinton toward electing Donald Trump.

At first Putin merely sought revenge against Clinton, who, as Secretary of State, had attacked Putin’s own election victory as corrupt, but the election of a president, Doanld Trump, who would balk at supporting NATO and who also publicly supported Brexit, was a dream come true for him.

As I wrote in my Nov. 15, 2018, page 3 column, “Yes, the Russians Wanted Trump Over Hillary, But Their Real Goal Is to Divide Americans.” You can download it at www.JimSmithColumns.com. Also check out my Feb. 27, 2020, column, “Why Wouldn’t the Russians Want Trump Re-Elected? Look at His Accomplishments.”

I’ve also written previously that the MAGA playbook is also inspired by the playbook of fascism, in that it includes the concerted effort to reduce trust in the country’s electoral system, in the free press, and in the university system. I also wrote in my April 9, 2020, “Talking Turkey” column (see it at www.TalkingTurkey.online) about how Donald Trump’s mentor and legal counsel, Roy Cohn, taught Trump the key rules to be followed by an aspiring autocrat: 1) Never settle or admit anything, never admit a mistake; 2) If someone hits you, hit back harder and never stop; 3) Even when you lose, claim victory; 4) Tell a lie long enough and people will think it’s the truth. 5) Use lawsuits like machine gun bullets; and 6) Take no prisoners.

Creating distrust in the free media and university professors is essential for success, because they are the ones who know the history I outlined above and are going to educate the public about it, so they must be labeled as “fake news” or “elites.” Throw in “socialist” and “communist” and repeat, repeat, repeat until believed.

We still don’t know the reason that Donald Trump would never say a negative word about Putin. We know that even during the 2016 campaign (which he thought he’d lose), he had his “fixer” Michael Cohen trying to secure from Putin a Trump Tower in Moscow, but what was exchanged during his secret solitary meeting with Putin in Helsinki, following which he confiscated his interpreter’s notes?  Was he just a “useful idiot” or was something more sinister going on?

 

 

It's All About 'Ownership' -- How Much of America Do You 'Own"

  I’ve always been a person who hated litter. When I find litter on a trail, I will pick it up and usually carry a bag for that purpose. When I walk my dog, I always carry extra poop bags so I can pick up the poop other dog owners have failed to pick up.

I don’t say this to garner praise, but to make a point. It started with a thought I had as a teenager about people who throw litter from their cars. It’s the following: I believe that people who throw trash from their car hate litter as much as I do. They don’t want litter in their car, which they own. They simply don’t have a sense of ownership that extends beyond their personal property. Myself, I have that sense of “ownership” of the world around me, and I want to keep it as litter free as my car or home.

Think of it, if you prefer, as “citizen-ship.” I’m a citizen of Golden, but I’m also a citizen of Colorado, of the United States and, yes, of the planet. I want to keep Golden, Colorado and my planet clean, healthy, and sustainable.

As a citizen of the planet, I worry about plastics and microplastics in our oceans, about air and water pollution, and about climate change. I take seriously what scientists tell me, whether it’s about viruses, vaccines, or our climate. Fortunately, most of my fellow citizens feel as I do. The entire world listened to scientists 40 years ago, when they told us CFCs were creating an “ozone hole” endangering human health. The world responded by banning CFCs, and the ozone hole has now closed, according to the European Environment Agency. 

The entire world also listened in 2016 when it passed the Paris Climate Accord, but one nation — the United States — withdrew from that accord when a person without our world view became president.

Diversity (the acceptance of equal rights and respect for people unlike yourself) goes hand-in-hand with global citizenship. Racism is a logical extension of that narrow world view. “America First” is the antithesis of that sense of ownership or citizenship of the planet. Make America Great Again, as I have written before, is demonstrably the same as “Make America White Again.”

There’s a theme of self-centeredness among those who have gravitated toward our supremely narcissistic, even psychopathic, former president and his worldview. Self-centered people are people who might litter, might not care about recycling, and think we can keep exploiting the earth’s resources without worrying about the consequences. They might not be as compassionate toward the suffering of immigrants or the homeless or the unemployed. They would definitely favor tax cuts for themselves over improved social services for those less blessed than themselves.

Is this a theme that resonates with you? If not, perhaps you agree with this unsigned letter I received from a reader last week:

“I see you are still writing your hysteria and paranoid rants against the great Donald J. Trump. What kind of businessman pisses off half of his possible clientele? What kind of fool pays the Post for an opportunity to put his head up his ass on a weekly basis?

“In case you haven’t noticed, the idiot in charge in a five-star cluster fuck of epic proportions.

“On every social and foreign policy question, Trump was absolutely correct. Learn how to deal with it, ass-hole.”

This reader needn’t worry about me “pissing off half my possible clientele” by speaking the truth about Donald J. Trump. Frankly, I wouldn't want to do business with a Trumper, and I’m being rewarded by other readers with the best year of my career, receiving so many leads that I have to enlist my broker associates to serve them all.

  More typical is the following email message I got from David M.:

Donald Trump did not make America great again. Trump made America far less great, more divided, and far less honest. To this day, I continue to be so amazed at the folks who believe Trump made America better and I’m even more flabbergasted at the Republicans who are in denial and continue to be so.

  More typical is the following email message I got from David M.:

Donald Trump did not make America great again. Trump made America far less great, more divided, and far less honest. To this day, I continue to be so amazed at the folks who believe Trump made America better and I’m even more flabbergasted at the Republicans who are in denial and continue to be so.

 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

We Should Honor and Welcome Immigrants -- And We Need Them!

 I’m writing this week from an Alaskan cruise. Finally, a post-pandemic vacation on a ship where everyone had to be fully vaccinated and also test negative before boarding. (Not possible in Florida, thanks to their idiot governor — will that policy win him re-election? Let’s hope not!)

Anyone who has been on a cruise ship knows that 90 to 99% of the crew is international — mostly Filipino, but also Caribbean, Central American and other Asians. On our ship there are 1,800 crew serving 2,500 Americans. A crew member I spoke with could only name three American co-workers.

Without immigrants, legal or illegal, our vegetable and fruit growers would be hard pressed to get laborers at any price, and roofing companies would be hard pressed to replace hundreds of roofs after a hail storm.

America needs to come to terms with the kind of racism epitomized by Donald Trump’s immigration policy. We need to appreciate those who walk hundreds of miles or more to enter America to make a living and support our economy.  

A Reader Asks: Why Do I Keep Writing About Donald Trump? He’s Gone!

Good question. The answer is that his spirit lingers among those I call Trumpers. Cult-45 is very real, and the disgraced ex-president holds his diminished fan base like no other cult leader in our history.

The real culprits in nurturing Cult-45 are Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham at Fox News plus those two far right networks supporting Trump’s “Big Lie,” One America News Network (OAN) and Newsmax, although I have never watched those. However, the audience for these conspiracy mongers and promoters are Trump’s base, and there’s no better term for them than Trumpers. (Can you make such a term from those other names?  Tuckerers?)

We know Trump’s base, loud though it may be, is diminished by the size of the crowds at his rally, but I see its reduction myself in readers who were Trump supporters in 2020 but don’t identify themselves with him any more.  “Not all Republicans support Trump, including me,” more than a few readers have told me. “Stop attacking all Republicans,” they beg, and I concur. Not all Republicans, thank God, are Trumpers. Many want the Party to move on from him and are as upset as the rest of us that the majority of the party rank-and-file, according to polls, have been convinced by Trump’s Big Lie and still like him. That’s the power of a cult.

A friend driving north from Castle Rock on I-25 last week told me that she saw some flag waving Trumpers on an overpass, a couple of them displaying banners that read “Trump Won.” Really? These cult followers are really deep into it. They, not Trump, are the target of our anger and disgust — but they also reflect for us all how one insecure, monomaniacal and psychopathic man has infected a statistically significant percentage of the population with democracy-destroying beliefs that our electoral system is corrupt. It is not.

Equally disturbing, however, is the fact that because a large percentage of the Republican rank and file still likes Donald Trump, the Republican members of Congress feel that telling the truth about Trump could cost them something they hold more dear than the flag they pretend allegiance to — their own political survival.

But Republicans alone can’t win elections without their disaffected members and, more importantly, independent voters. Here in Colorado, the biggest voter registration is “unaffiliated.” It’s they who win elections in most races, and having only 80% of the Republican Party without a majority of independents will not do it for Trumpers except in the very reddest of districts.  The rest of the electorate is appalled at what incumbent supporters of Trump have done. Painting the Jan. 6th insurrection as “noisy tourists” does not bode well for their all-important survival. At least it shouldn’t, and if those Republicans, especially Lauren Bobert, win re-election over a good, centrist Democratic candidate, our country is going to look a lot like our climate — beyond the tipping point into irreversible self-destruction.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Every President Leaves a Legacy, So What Will Donald Trump’s Legacy Be?

    As our country struggles to recover from the Trump presidency, it’s hard not to think about what Pres. Donald Trump’s legacy will be. We’re living it every day.

If you Google “Donald Trump’s legacy” (with the quote marks so you only get hits with those words in that order), you get 57,000+ hits, and it’s interesting to see the various takes on his legacy. The #1 hit is, appropriately, from the BBC, which has the useful perspective of being British but with a nightly news program on public television, which I record and occasionally watch. (There is an entire BBC America channel on both Dish Network and DirecTV.)

That article makes the observation that “If Donald Trump had followed the example of his predecessors and conceded power graciously and peacefully, he would have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential populist leader…. a president who, before the pandemic, presided over an economic boom, re-oriented America's opinion of China, removed terrorist leaders from the battlefield, revamped the space program, secured an originalist (conservative) majority on the US Supreme Court, and authorized Operation Warp Speed to produce a Covid-19 vaccine in record time.”

Indeed, the legacy of Donald Trump turned on his Jan. 6th incitement of violence because he could not accept defeat, an aspect of his personality so well laid out in his niece Mary Trump’s book, “Too Much and Never Enough.”

But that was not his first incitement of violence. At least one clip from his many rallies comes to mind where he encouraged his followers to assault a protestor, declaring that he would pay the legal expenses if they were prosecuted.

The BBC article describes his Alt-right followers as “Trump’s shock troops,” and indeed they were just that, appropriately reminiscent of the Nazi Brownshirts, aka Storm Troopers.  A big element of Trump’s legacy will be his emboldening of violent right wing extremists, including white supremacists, epitomized by his response to the Charlotteville “Unite the Right” rally.

Trump’s “Big Lie” about losing the 2020 election due to fraud and his emboldening of right-wing extremists is his most enduring legacy (in that we are living with it well beyond his term in office), but there are other important elements of his legacy worthy of highlighting.

We lost four years of leadership in addressing climate change, which poses an existential threat to our planet. He cut funding for renewable energy and boosted support for coal and other fossil fuels. He emboldened climate deniers, but that was just one element of a larger denial of science. We’re living with that legacy not only in the forest fires and drought plaguing our country but in lives lost due to vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, which he fostered despite taking credit for Operation Warp Speed.

Trump’s damage to the Republican Party may or may not be long lasting, depending on how successful the party, propelled by his rhetoric, is in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Losses in those elections would be a second repudiation of Donald Trump and could, hopefully, lead to a return to the GOP of old which did, for the most part, put country above party — at least until the election of Barack Obama, when it truly assumed the role of being the “Party of No” under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Trump’s reshaping of the judiciary, not just the Supreme Court, will be an enduring legacy, too. With the help of Sen. McConnell, he appointed over 250 judges, most of them recommended by the conservative Federalist Society. The American Bar Association rated 10 of Trump’s appointees “unqualified,” but the Senate confirmed them anyway.

Donald Trump succeeded as no previous president has in demonizing the free press, or what he called the “lamestream media.”  (The use of insult name-calling is also part of his legacy.) If a news item didn’t flatter him, it was deemed “fake news” and his followers believed him. He called the free press “the enemy of the people,” but saying so identifies Trump as the true enemy of the people.