The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel?

Those are the words Samuel Johnson uttered on April 7, 1775, according to James Boswell:

Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which many will start: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. 

But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. 

On the National Mall tonight, thousands of flags represent those of us who won’t be able to attend the new president’s inauguration because of the pandemic. Fifty-six pillars of light represent the fifty states and six territories.

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Mike Pence and Some Friends Can Quickly Remove Trump If They Want To

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution is a way to quickly replace a president who cannot or will not do his job. Vice President Pence could become Acting President tomorrow if a majority of the Cabinet agreed. 

Hoping for courage from Pence or members of the Cabinet is probably a waste of time, but, according to CNN, “some Cabinet members are holding preliminary discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment”. 

A law professor at the University of Michigan wrote a book about the amendment and has been discussing it on Twitter. Here’s how it would work. Pence would initiate the process. He would need 8 of the 14 members of the Cabinet to agree that Txxxx should be removed. At that point, “the president is stripped of his powers and the Vice President becomes Acting President”. 

If the president agrees he’s unfit, Pence has the job until Joe Biden takes over on January 20th. 

Assuming the president doesn’t agree to relinquish his job (a safe assumption in this case), Pence and the cabinet have four days to respond. If Pence became Acting President on January 7th, therefore, he and the Cabinet wouldn’t have to do anything until January 11th. At that point, they’d either have to reinstate Txxxx or declare again that he’s unfit.

Saying again that Txxxx is unfit would immediately turn the matter over to Congress. Congress would then have at least 21 days to debate the issue, while Pence would still be Acting President.

Fortunately, Joe Biden would be president after 10 days, so Congress could let the clock run out on the worst presidency in history without taking a vote.

Reporters are quoting anonymous sources in the administration who say the president is delusional or out of his mind. Of course he is. Pence is already on the maniac’s enemies list for doing his job earlier today as Congress began adding up the electoral votes. After watching this president incite right-wing insurrection, maybe he and a group of his associates will finally agree with a majority of Americans that we can’t wait for this president to go.

Note: Here’s the 25th Amendment flowchart Prof. Brian Kalt included in his book.

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The Trümperdämmerung Is Finally Upon Us

It’s The New Yorker, so you get articles with titles like “The Trümperdämmerung Is a Fitting End to 2020”. Susan Glasser has recollections and a piece of advice:

As the awful year of 2020 and the awful tenure of Dxxxx Txxxx both come to an end, the President has partied with the unmasked in Palm Beach and taken credit for a vaccine against a virus that he once counselled could be beaten with bleach. He has pardoned mercenary child-killers and Paul Manafort. He has golfed. He has raged. He has vetoed the annual defense bill and threatened to shut down the government over the holidays. He has turned against even some of his most loyal henchmen, and some, in turn, have finally flipped on him. “Mr. President . . . STOP THE INSANITY,” the New York Post blared on Monday, after four years of relentless cheerleading.

But, of course, the President did not, and he will not. He continues to refuse to accept his defeat in the election, and just the other day he retweeted a claim that “treason” kept him from winning. Injecting still more political drama into the most ministerial of constitutional processes, Txxxx and his most fanatical supporters now want Congress to refuse to confirm Joe Biden’s Electoral College win on January 6th—which is both pointless, in that it will not happen, and incredibly destructive. Meanwhile, more than a hundred thousand Americans have died of the coronavirus just since the election, and only two million Americans—not the hundred million he once promised—have so far received the vaccine.

The Trümperdämmerung is finally here, and it is every bit the raging dumpster fire that we, the unlucky audience for this drama, have come to expect. Is there anyone left who is surprised that the President is careening through the last days of his Administration with a reckless disdain that simply has no precedent in American public life? Still, the hardest thing to accept is that 2020 is not merely the year that Dxxxx Txxxx’s luck ran out but that with it the country’s did, too. Sadly and yet inevitably, this terrible, wretchedly toxic year of pandemic death and economic distress, of [hatred and protest], is the culmination of all that Txxxx has wrought and all that he is.

Now that 2020 is finally almost over, I find that I don’t want to remember it at all. . . .

. . . I can barely summon the concerns and controversies of a year ago, when the most pressing political question in Washington was whether Txxxx’s former national-security adviser John Bolton would have to testify in the impeachment trial of the President. . . . This was back when Txxxxian outrages seemed less threatening to the literal health of the nation.

How much worse was 2020? Well, NBC’s list of the President’s ten biggest lies in 2019 included Txxxx perennials like the idea that windmills, because of their noise, “cause cancer,” and “people are flushing toilets ten times, fifteen times,” and the U.S. will “be going to Mars very soon.” All are bad, absurd, and embarrassing coming from a President, but would not even rate in this year’s far deadlier, more consequential tally. Txxxx was not just a circus this year; he was an actual catastrophe. . . .

. . . On February 24th, . . . Txxxx tweeted, “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” We already knew that this wasn’t true. I had spent the previous weekend haranguing my visiting parents about the virus . . . But somehow I did not fully recognize until that moment that Txxxx was going to approach the biggest public-health emergency of our lifetimes with a strategy of outright denial. The Big Lie of 2020 had begun. So many more followed that it’s hard to remember the breathtaking simplicity of this first untruth, the foundational lie from which so many deadly consequences would flow.

“Just stay calm. It will go away,” Txxxx said on March 10th, when thirty-one Americans were dead. “It’s going to go away,” he said on August 31st, by which point nearly two hundred thousand had died. “It’s going to disappear,” he said on October 10th. “It is disappearing.” He said that the coronavirus was a Chinese plot and that concern over it was a Democratic hoax, that he knew how to treat it better than the doctors did, that it was just like the flu, and that, if you got it, you would get better, as he eventually did in October. “That’s all I hear about now. . . . covid, covid, covid, covid,” he said before the election. “By the way, on November 4th, you won’t hear about it anymore.” But that wasn’t true, either, and, since then, millions of Americans have been infected with the disease, and December has been by far our deadliest month yet.

To be sure, there are many, many other Txxxx-isms from 2020 that would have been mind-blowing in another context, in any other year. That’s the thing about historic, world-changing times; so much happens that you can’t remember it all. . . . It’s just all too insane.

When I Googled “craziest shit Txxxx did in 2020,” a column I wrote in September, on “Twenty Other Disturbing, Awful Things That Txxxx Has Said This Month” popped up. Although it was published just a few months ago, I realized that I did not remember many of the examples cited in it—the “super-duper” new “hydrosonic” missile that does not actually exist; Txxxx’s accusation that Biden got a “big fat shot in the ass” of some unknown drug; Txxxx’s admission that he was getting his information about the uselessness of mask-wearing from “waiters.” This, as George W. Bush was reported to have said about Txxxx’s ominous Inaugural Address, was some weird shit indeed.

Remembering all of this is already both hard and painful. There is still much more to learn about the disastrous events of the past four years in Txxxx’s Washington and on his watch. But I recognize that there are powerful forces—in human nature, in the politics of both the right and the left—that will push us toward forgetting. The urge to move on from Txxxx is understandable, and potentially very, very dangerous. As of noon on January 20th, no matter what other madness comes between now and then, America will start to move on anyway.

[Of the books] I read this year . . . the one that resonated perhaps the most was Those Who Forget: My Family’s Story in Nazi Europe — A Memoir, A History, A Warning, an account by the French-German author Géraldine Schwarz of postwar Europe’s, and her own family’s, not entirely successful effort to reckon with the crimes of the Second World War. It made the very convincing case that, until and unless there is a full accounting for what happened with Dxxxx Txxxx, 2020 is not over and never will be. I still don’t want to remember, but I know that forgetting is not an option, either.

Small States and Minority Rule

Every four years we elect a president. Almost every four years, we discuss the Electoral College. From Jesse Wegman of The New York Times:

As the 538 members of the Electoral College gather on Monday to carry out their constitutional duty and officially elect Joe Biden as the nation’s 46th president and Kamala Harris as his vice president, we are confronted again with the jarring reminder that it could easily have gone the other way. We came within a hairbreadth of re-electing a man who finished more than seven million votes behind his opponent — and we nearly repeated the shock of 2016, when Dxxxx Txxxx took office after coming in a distant second in the balloting.

No other election in the country is run like this. But why not? That question has been nagging at me for the past few years, particularly in the weeks since Election Day, as I’ve watched with morbid fascination the ludicrous effort by Mr. Txxxx and his allies to use the Electoral College to subvert the will of the majority of American voters and overturn an election that he lost.

The obvious answer is that, for the most part, we abide by the principle of majority rule. . . . 

In the last 20 years, Republicans have been gifted the White House while losing the popular vote twice, and it came distressingly close to happening for a third time this year. 

Since 2000, we’ve had six presidential elections. The candidate who got the most votes only won four of them. This year, shifting 44,000 votes to the loser in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin would have resulted in a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College. That would have moved the election to the House of Representatives, where each state’s delegation gets one vote, regardless of population. Since most states have Republican-majority representation in the House — even though the House has more Democrats — DDT would have presumably been re-elected, hard as that is to imagine. 

Among the comments the Times article received, one person said the Electoral College is fine, since we’re a collection of states, the United States of America, not a collection of citizens. He said it’s only fair that we pick a president based on which states the candidates win, not how many votes they get. Besides, he added, votes in the Electoral College are “roughly” assigned by population.

I don’t agree that because we’re called the United States, we should ignore majority rule when it coms to picking a president. After all, the states we live in are supposed to be “united”. But his statement about the Electoral College being “roughly” based on population made me wonder.

How would the 2020 election have turned out if votes in the Electoral College were “precisely” assigned by population, instead of “roughly”? Today, the largest state, California, gets 55 electoral votes and the smallest state, Wyoming, gets 3. But California’s population is 68 times Wyoming’s. So if the Electoral College were precisely allocated by population, California would get 204 electoral votes, not 55. Quite a difference. The next largest state, Texas, would get 150 instead of 38.

Would that have made the result in the Electoral College much different? It was surprising to see that it wouldn’t. If you do the same precise arithmetic for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Joe Biden receives 974 electoral votes instead of 306 and DDT gets 730 instead of 232. That looks like a big difference, but the percentages are about the same. Biden would get 57.2% of the electoral votes with the precise arithmetic and 56.9% with the rough arithmetic. It works out that way because some big states, like California and New York, went for Biden and some, like Texas and Florida, went for DDT. When you average it all out, the Electoral College result would be about the same either way.

There would be a big difference, however. Big states would be much more important in the Electoral College than small states. If California got 204 electoral votes instead of 55, it would make even less difference who won a bunch of little states like Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska. In fact, assuming precise arithmetic, the 25 largest states would get 1,423 electoral votes vs. 288 for the 25 smallest. 

What this shows is that the current Electoral College is significantly skewed to benefit smaller states. Voters in those states play a bigger role than they should, based on how few of them there are. Being precise about population wouldn’t necessarily change the winner every time, but a more accurate Electoral College would reflect where people actually live in these “united” states. It would also reflect the cultural divisions in this country, since smaller states tend to be more rural.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the Electoral College that is skewed toward smaller states. According to the Constitution, each state gets as many votes in the Electoral College as it has members of Congress. Wyoming gets three electoral votes because it has two people in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. California gets 55 electoral votes because it has two senators and 53 representatives in the House. If seats in Congress were precisely allocated by population, California would still have two senators, but it would elect almost four times as many members of the House of Representatives as Wyoming. The ratio in the House would be California’s 202 to Wyoming’s one, not 53 to one.

If the makeup of the House of Representatives isn’t unfair enough, consider the US Senate. Each state, regardless of population, gets two senators. It was designed to give small states the same representation as big states, so each state, regardless of population, gets to elect two. Maybe that made sense when there were only 13 states and they were relatively close in population. Now we have 50 states with a very wide range of populations.

In 1790, for example, the largest state, Virginia, had 13 times as many people as the smallest, Delaware. Today, as noted above, California has 68 times more people than Wyoming. Furthermore, the 50 members of the Senate from the largest 25 states represent almost 275 million people. The 50 senators from the smallest 25 states represent 49 million.

The imbalance is made even worse by the fact that the Senate is responsible for approving nominations to the Executive Branch (including all the officials in the president’s cabinet) and the federal judiciary (including the Supreme Court), as well as approving treaties. Because of the way senators were to be chosen, the authors of the Constitution assumed that members of the Senate would be more responsible than the unruly members of the House of Representatives. That’s hardly the case today.

In addition, smaller states, which tend to more rural, tend to vote for Republicans. Of the 25 largest states, 15 voted for Biden and 10 for his opponent. Of the 25 smallest, 10 voted for Biden and 15 for the other guy. That’s why the Senate is where progressive legislation goes to die and liberal nominees fall into comas waiting to be approved.

Add this all up and it’s easy to see that a Constitution written in 1789 doesn’t work very well for a large, complicated country in 2020. The Senate is skewed to benefit smaller, more Republican states, while the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, which chooses the president, are skewed the same way, although less so. This unfairness explains why Hillary Clinton could beat her opponent by 3 million votes and lose, why Joe Biden could beat the same opponent by 7 million votes but not necessarily win, and why forward-looking legislation that would make the United States a much better place to live has so little chance of success. Maybe shifting demographics will eventually help, but in the short run, we have to assume the United States will be subject to minority rule from Washington in important ways and much too often. 

Let This Sink In

The president and members of his political party continue to file frivolous lawsuits attacking the results of the election, despite an overwhelming series of losses.

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From The New York Times:

The . . . campaign’s unsuccessful strategy was to try to delay the certification processes in the key battleground states that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won. As of Monday, Nov. 30, all of those states had certified their results.

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From Wired:

On December 14, Electoral College members will formally cast their votes based on their states’ certified results, resolving any possible ambiguity that Biden is the president-elect.

“It’s [officially] over on December 14,” says Elaine Kamarck, director of the Brookings Institute’s Center for Effective Public Management . . . . “We forget that the electors are actual people, but they go to their state capitals and sign their ballots. Then the US Senate opens them, reads them out, and does the count on January 6, but there’s nothing else the Senate can do. Once they’re signed on the 14th and are on their way to Washington, that’s the end of the game.”

From The Washington Post:

Just 25 [out of 249] congressional Republicans acknowledge Joe Biden’s win over President Txxxx a month after the former vice president’s clear victory of more than 7 million votes nationally and a convincing electoral-vote margin that exactly matched Txxxx’s 2016 tally.

Two Republicans consider Txxxx the winner despite all evidence showing otherwise. And another 222 GOP members of the House and Senate — nearly 90 percent of all Republicans serving in Congress — will simply not say who won the election.

Those are the findings of a Washington Post survey of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate . . . 

The results demonstrate the fear that most Republicans have of the outgoing president and his grip on the party, despite his new status as just the third incumbent to lose reelection in the last 80 years. More than 70 percent of Republican lawmakers did not acknowledge The Post’s questions as of Friday evening. . . .

Of the 14 House Republicans who recognize the true winner, six are retiring from politics at the end of this month . . . 

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When Joe Biden is inaugurated as our 47th president on January 20th, the Orange Menace will still have ten tiny fingers and a Twitter account.