Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

Everybody Should Recognize the Stakes

The new management at CNN has decided to split the difference between truth and lies by becoming more like Fox “News”. One piece of evidence is that they invited the deplorable former president to do his act in front of an audience of likely Republican voters who’d been told it was fine to applaud and cheer their cult leader but not to boo him. It was painful for any decent person to watch. It did, however, convince the Washington Post‘s editorial board to describe the stakes in the next presidential election. What they wrote was somewhat less wishy-washy than usual:

… What will, or should, the 2024 presidential election be about? Will it be about the normal issues and concerns of most elections — topical issues such as the economy, immigration, abortion? Or should it primarily be about the existential threats posed by the reckless former president?

Voters will make their own calculations about what’s important as they weigh their choices. But after [his] performance … on Wednesday, there is no escaping that he has an agenda that is anything but normal. This includes pardoning those convicted during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol; reveling in attacks and mocking victims of sexual abuse; and promoting an anti-democratic view of the office of the presidency. There is no turning a blind eye to what this would mean if he were reelected.

The former president might not become the Republican Party’s nominee…. By the time the primaries take shape early next year, Republican voters could have genuine reservations about his electability in a general election… [But] he remains the party’s dominant figure and its most likely nominee.

President Biden has no serious opposition for the Democratic Party nomination….That means America could be heading for a rerun of the 2020 election, with the two nominees having traded places as incumbent and challenger.

…. A rematch between these two politicians would be an election with clear choices and enormous consequences for the future of the country that go beyond normal considerations of presidential elections.

In many ways, the election next year will look and feel like all elections… Put aside the [orange] elephant in the room and it’s just like elections always were…. The two would outline drastically different policy agendas that would move the country in opposite directions. The policy debate will be familiar and not unimportant, but it will not be the most important element of the election.

Txxxx’s [appearance] on CNN was a bright spotlight reminding everyone that this is a different era politically. He is anything but a traditional candidate, and, therefore, the stakes in these elections have been and will be unlike those that voters have had to confront….

For some Republicans, opposition to the Democrats’ priorities has been enough for them to stick with Txxxx. No doubt that is still the case. But it was perhaps easier for them to compartmentalize policy choices on the one hand vs. Txxxx’s [authoritarian]  instincts…. It’s not that Txxxx has changed; it’s that he takes every opportunity to reiterate those anti-democratic instincts, making the threats he represents more difficult for anyone to ignore.

His statements at the town hall were replete with false claims. He lied when he said the election was stolen. He still claims that those supporters who stormed the Capitol are patriots and good people. He still will not commit to accepting the outcome of the 2024 election. As he puts it, he will accept the outcome if he thinks it is fair. And he has made clear that he intends to attack the institutions of the federal government if he is reelected to the presidency.

Most Americans know where they stand on Txxxx and have for years. Close to a majority simply oppose him outright, and they have turned out in big numbers in three consecutive elections: 2018, 2020 and 2022. A portion of the electorate, the hardcore loyalists, will follow him wherever he takes them. Another portion … may still be torn.

Republican voters will render the initial judgments… Some of his rivals may attack directly. Others are likely to tiptoe around the big question about his fitness for office and the dangers another term in the White House would represent.

If he becomes the nominee, a broader electorate will judge him, and he said a number of things during the town hall that could hurt him, among them claiming credit for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The instincts of many people will be to approach 2024 as something familiar and with choices comparable to those of the past. But [his] candidacy presents a unique challenge to the electorate, to elected officials, to strategists and operatives, to the media….  That is the [issue] of the 2024 election.

Unquote.

In other words, he’s a monster. He’d be even less restrained given another four years in office. He’d use the government to punish everybody he sees as an enemy. That means nobody should treat him like a normal candidate. And although the Post’s editorial board is too anemic to say it out loud, we should all vote for the Democratic presidential nominee no matter if it’s Biden, Vice President Harris, a random governor or senator, or the least charismatic Democrat on some town’s city council.

My hope is that voters will have a more realistic view of the parties and economy a year and a half from now and will elect more Democrats than anybody now thinks possible. That will happen if enough of us keep in mind the stakes.

Making Crazy and Dangerous Sound Normal

The Orange Menace, campaigning for president for the third time, spoke at a gathering of rabid reactionaries this weekend. A reporter for HuffPost captured the scene:

Within minutes of taking the stage, [he] went into his typical remarks, disparaging the United States as a “filthy communist country” and attacking Democrats and the news media. “They’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you. I’m just standing in their way,” he said. “We will drive out the globalists. We will kick out the communists.”

And even though dozens of rows in the back remained empty, [he] thanked the fire marshal for letting in so many of his supporters. “Look at all these people. They’re up to the rafters,” he said.

[He] called prosecutors investigating him “racist” — the ones in New York and Georgia are Black — and claimed they only went after him because he is likely to win the presidency again. He continued lying about the 2020 election having been stolen from him: “We did much better in 2020 than we did in 2016.” He added later, “I won that second election, and I won it by a lot.”

He relitigated, at length, his two impeachments… And he promised that if he won reelection, he would take revenge on those who didn’t respect his followers. “I am your retribution,” he said….

He promised that if he won the White House, he would quickly end the war because he “gets along great with Putin.”

“I’m the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent — and very easily — World War III. Very easily. And you’re going to have World War III, by the way, you’re going to have World War III if something doesn’t happen fast,” he said.

His aides had promised reporters that [he] would offer a forward-looking vision for his return to the White House. Instead, his 105-minutes on stage was largely a repeat of his oft-repeated lies and grievances.

Even this relatively accurate description doesn’t capture what went on. CNN’s Daniel Dale added this (see here for his fact check of the “wildly dishonest speech”):

Untitled

But Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post points out that we still have a big problem.

We saw throughout [the Orange Menace’s] two presidential campaigns and four years in the White House a symbiotic relationship between mainstream media outlets and Republicans, in which both made [him] out to be a far more normal politician than he was.

On the one hand, there was Republican denial (Didn’t see the crazy tweet! I’m sure he’s learned his lesson!). On the other, there was the media’s determination to avoid claims of bias and maintain a false balance — which often resulted in their obscuring how loony he sounded….

Apparently, neither the media nor supposedly sober Republicans have learned anything from the past. [He] gave a bonkers speech on Saturday, musing about Russia blowing up NATO headquarters, claiming President Biden had taken the border wall and “put it in a hiding area,” and telling the crowd, “I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.”

We do not get headlines acknowledging this is unhinged. Instead, we get from the New York Times: “[T] Says He Would Stay in 2024 Race if Indicted.” And a similar angle from CNNABC started its website report this way:“Former President [DT] continues to reign supreme over the conservative wing of the Republican Party.” From The Washington Post: “[T] takes victory lap at conservative conference”.

CBS intoned that [he] “aired grievances with his familiar foes: President Biden, the Department of Justice, and the litany of legal fights he is embroiled in.” Politico went with: “[T] ties a ribbon on the most MAGA CPAC [conference] yet.” Hmm.

From the coverage, you would never understand how incoherent he sounds, how far divorced his statements are from reality, and how entirely abnormal this all is. Talk about burying the lede.

The press and Republicans’ mutual distaste for candidly acknowledging [his] break with reality and the danger he poses to democracy was on full display on the Sunday shows [where Republican politicians said they’d support whoever the party nominates in 2024]. 

Coverage can be so bland and innocuous as to mislead. The audience — that is, potential voters — might easily come away from such coverage believing that [T] acted like a normal candidate, not a figure plainly unfit to handle any public position. And interviews can be so inept as to allow Republicans to repeatedly avoid explaining how in the world they could support someone so unfit for office.

If you put cowering Republicans together with media unwilling to accurately describe what is going on in front of them, you wind up gaslighting voters, who come away with the impression that [T’s] carnival of crazy is acceptable. We know how this ends: If [too few of us are] willing to call [him] out for what he is — and the danger he poses to the United States — we risk returning him to the Oval Office.

Whereupon, expect the headlines: “How did this happen?”

How To Fix a Lawless Supreme Court

The Judiciary Act of 1869 “provided that the Supreme Court of the United States would consist of the chief justice of the United States and eight associate justices [and] established separate judgeships for the U.S. circuit courts”.

There were nine circuit or appellate courts in 1869. The US population was around 38 million. Now there are thirteen circuits. The population is 338 million. We’ve also got a lot more laws and lawyers. A simple act of Congress, signed into law by the president, could add four justices to the Supreme Court, one for each circuit. Given the Court’s additional workload, simple arithmetic and common sense support adding four Supreme Court justices.

An added benefit would be that the president could nominate and the Senate could approve four justices who respect the Constitution and legal precedents; who don’t want to promote Christianity, patriarchy, white supremacy, plutocracy and the gun culture; and who don’t want to give corporations license to destroy the environment. In other words, seven honorable justices vs. the six dishonorable ones we have now.

I think that’s the best way to fix a lawless Supreme Court, although there are other possibilities (all, of course, assuming a Democratic House of Representatives and at least fifty Democratic senators go along).

Paul Waldman explains how states like California and New York are already working on new licensing requirements and the wide-ranging designation of what the Republican majority called “sensitive places” where guns can be prohibited:

[When you say] “the Supreme Court says I have the right to carry around this lethal instrument giving me the ability to murder anyone I encounter in an instant”, the rest of us are more than justified in responding: “Yes, that’s what the Supreme Court says. But we will take steps to protect ourselves from the danger you and other gun owners pose”….You’ll be able to get your guns, but just as you have to show you can operate a motor vehicle safely before getting a driver’s license, you’ll have to satisfy some requirements before getting a gun permit.

And just like you can’t drive your car on sidewalks or in grocery stores, you can’t take your gun anywhere you want. No doubt the Supreme Court Six will rule in favor of insanity, but, as Mr. Waldman says, some laws will survive, the legal process could take years and, meanwhile, lives will be saved.

Jamelle Bouie has written two columns on the same subject this week. From his second:

[Article 3, section 2 of] the Constitution tells us that the court’s appellate jurisdiction is subject to “such Exceptions” and “under such Regulations” as “the Congress shall make.” [But] the court’s appellate jurisdiction accounts for virtually everything it touches. And the Constitution says that Congress can regulate the nature of that jurisdiction. Congress can strip the court of its ability to hear certain cases, or it can mandate new rules for how the court decides cases where it has appellate jurisdiction.… It can even tell the court that it needs a supermajority of justices to declare a federal law or previous decision unconstitutional.

He then discusses the “Guarantee Clause” (Article 4, section 4″, which says that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”. A republic is generally considered to be a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, not by a monarch. Interestingly, courts have been reluctant to specify exactly what a republican form of government is, leaving that decision to Congress. Mr. Bouie continues:

[But we do have] Justice John Marshall Harlan’s famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which he condemns “sinister legislation” passed to “interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessings of freedom, to regulate civil rights, common to all citizens, … and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens, now constituting a part of the political community.”

This, he writes, “is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land.”

A Congress that wanted to could, in theory, use the Guarantee Clause to defend the basic rights of citizens against overbearing and tyrannical state governments. It’s been done before. After the Civil War, Radical Republicans in Congress found their constitutional power to reconstruct the South chiefly in the Guarantee Clause, which they used to protect the rights of Black Americans from revanchist state governments.

 As Mr. Bouie says in his first column:

The Supreme Court does not exist above the constitutional system… In the face of a reckless, reactionary and power-hungry court, Congress has options….The power to check the Supreme Court is there, in the Constitution. The task now is to seize it.

It’s almost impossible to imagine the 50 Democrats in today’s Senate all having the courage and understanding to seize the moment and reform the Supreme Court (one of them who’s against reforming the filibuster is rumored to have killed a proposed surtax on incomes over 10 million dollars, I suppose because of her support for the working class).

But it looks like a terrible crisis may be approaching. Three law professors write in today’s Washington Post about a case the Court has agreed to hear later this year, Moore v. Harper:

Just three years ago, a 5-to-4 Supreme Court prohibited federal courts from addressing whether extreme partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution. But don’t worry, the court said, state courts can curb the practice if they conclude it violates state constitutions.

Harper invites the Supreme Court to go back on that promise. This invitation is based on an unsupportable legal claim known as the independent state legislature theory (ISLT). The theory would disable state courts from protecting voting rights in federal elections.

In theory (and given the recklessness of the Republican majority), the Court might rule that state legislatures have absolute authority to determine how their states vote for president. State legislators could ignore the voters and appoint whoever they wanted to represent their state in the Electoral College.

The outcome in 2024 is a virtual clone of the 2020 election: Biden carries the same states he did that year and DeSantis gets [the rest]. Biden is going to the White House for another four years.

Until the announcement comes out of Georgia. Although Biden won the popular vote in Georgia, their legislature decided it can overrule the popular vote and just awarded the state’s 16 electoral votes to DeSantis.

We then hear from five other states with Republican-controlled legislatures where Biden won the majority of the vote: North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

CNN announces that DeSantis has won the election…. 

Florida and Bush v. Gore Set the Stage for 2024

You could say the 2016 election was stolen when the Republican FBI director James Comey sent an extraordinary letter to Congress a week before Election Day to announce nothing of real importance regarding Hillary Clinton’s email. That gave our corporate media the chance to flog the email story one more time, convincing more than 78,000 wavering voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to abandon the candidate everybody thought was going to win. The 46 Electoral College votes from those three states put the Republican candidate in the White House.

You could say the Republicans stole that election, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate, because it’s doubtful the dimwitted, self-righteous FBI director was trying to steal the election when he ignored a Justice Department rule and made his last-minute, election-altering news. He was simply trying to cover his ass, fearing that his Republican friends in Congress would be upset with him if he didn’t tell them what he knew a week before the election and their guy ended up losing.

No, it was the 2000 election the Republicans actually stole.

I’d forgotten how blatant the theft was until I stumbled upon a 2001 article in the London Review of Books by law professor Bruce Ackerman. The article is called “Anatomy of a Constitutional Coup”. It explains in detail how the Republicans stole that election. Here’s the last paragraph:

Suppose I had been reporting on the recent election of Vicente Fox as President of Mexico. I would have described how a mob of Fox’s partisans stopped the vote count in Mexico City, how Fox’s campaign chairman used her authority as chief elections officer to prevent the count from continuing, how Fox’s brother exercised his position as governor to take the Presidential election out of the hands of the voters, how the Supreme Court intervened to crush, without any legal ground, the last hope for a complete count. Would we be celebrating the election of President Fox as the dawn of a new democratic day in Mexico?

Replace Mexico with the US, Mexico City with Miami, and Vicente Fox with George W. Bush and that sums up what happened to us in 2000.

If you have the intestinal fortitude to read Professor Ackerman’s fascinating article, you’ll understand why (assuming they don’t win the old-fashioned way), Republicans will almost certainly try to steal the presidential election in 2024. They got away with it in 2000. A mob of Republicans intimidated election officials in Miami; Florida’s Republican Secretary of State interfered with the vote counting; Republican Governor Jeb Bush got the Florida legislature to create an “alternate” slate of electors; and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court used their august authority to finish the job.

Let’s Not Think About It

After reading a couple opinion pieces in The Washington Post, I was thinking about presenting one or both of them here. One, by Max Boot, is “We’re in danger of losing our democracy. Most Americans are in denial”. The other, by Margaret Sullivan, is called “Democracy is at stake in the midterms. The media must convey that”.

I assume you know the problem. Despite the January 6th insurrection (or because of it), most Republicans want the leader of their cult to run again in 2024. In various ways, they’re trying to make sure he becomes president again whether or not the Democrat gets more votes. What the mob tried to achieve on January 6th, 2021, millions of Republicans would like to accomplish in 2024 using their official powers to restrict voting rights, manipulate elections and change the Electoral College result.

Quoting Margaret Sullivan:

A growing chorus of activists, historians and political commentators have spoken of “democracy on the brink” or “democracy in peril.” What they mean is that, thanks to a paranoid, delusional and potentially violent new strain in our nation’s politics, Americans may not be able to count on future elections being conducted fairly — or the results of fair elections being accepted.

If you have unpopular views in a democracy but want to get and keep power anyway, you need to make it difficult or even impossible for your opponents, the majority, to win elections. You can do that by controlling who gets to vote, who counts the ballots, who reports the news and who runs the legislatures and courts. After January 2025, when the plague could return to the White House, it might take a revolution to restore majority rule. Once it’s lost, it will be hard to regain.

Quoting Max Boot:

The only way to save democracy is to vote for Democrats in the fall. And I say that as an ex-Republican turned independent. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with Democrats on some issues. The overriding issue is the preservation of our democracy. That might sound hyperbolic to some — but that’s precisely the problem. Like so many Ukrainians before [the invasion] on Feb. 24, most Americans remain in denial about the threat to our country.

But I’ve been sounding like a broken record on this topic (it’s an old metaphor that refers to playing the same music over and over). That’s why I decided not to post about it.

So take a look at this:

Drawing

When I was a kid, I came across a puzzle that looked like that. The challenge was to draw a picture just like it, with a rectangle, an X inside it, and triangles around the edges. The challenge was to draw it without lifting my pencil from the paper. In other words, to draw it in one uninterrupted motion.

It was not easy to do. But at some point, I was sure I’d done it. I just couldn’t remember exactly how. My apparent success motivated me, however, to keep trying. That may not have been a good idea.

What I didn’t know at the time, but do now, is that mathematicians have a name for this kind of puzzle. The challenge is to find the “Hamiltonian path”, a sequence that doesn’t retrace its steps. Some patterns have a Hamiltonian path; some don’t. The one on the left does; the one on the right doesn’t.

Drawing2

Computer scientists are trying to figure out how to solve puzzles like this — to identify which patterns fall into which category — without their computers taking too long, possibly forever. One way to avoid thinking about Republicans and elections is to work on the one above that I either did or didn’t solve.

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