Just The Beginning

In my lifetime, an election was usually a beginning.  Most of the time, it was a positive beginning as proponents of opposing candidates and political parties were happy or sad, justified or disappointed, but generally supportive of the process and willing to give the new president a chance to see what he could accomplish.  The election was over, and so most folks took a time out and turned towards the holidays and the approaching new year, and didn’t think much about politics again until Inauguration Day or later.

This year I worry that the most fractious campaign in our lifetimes will not end on Tuesday at the voting booth.  Two flawed candidates are limping towards the finish line, but I am not sure how things will play out when the results are tallied.  I am out of the prediction business as I have no idea who will win on 8 November but you already know what I think as to which of the two will do less harm to our country. That said, I do try to be balanced, or at least fair, in presenting my views in this space.  I will endeavor to do so again today, but I am concerned that not everyone involved in the two campaigns, the most ardent supporters or haters as the case may be, will be satisfied with the outcome.  I am worried that  some will not only be upset about the results but that they will act on their dissatisfaction in negative ways.  And let’s be blunt, when one candidate whines about the election being “rigged” because he is losing, suggests that “poll watchers” go to the inner city to make sure that voters are not “cheating” and other similar statements, the probability of a conflict increases greatly.  (And I note that he only cites the “inner cities” — code for minority areas — and not rural areas or small towns. He often suggests that they exercise their Second Amendment rights while watching the polls. Can you imagine what would happen if a group of armed African-Americans showed up in a small town in Kansas to watch the voters vote?)

Having said that, I am more worried about the impact on our form of government, our law makers ability, indeed their desire, to do their jobs and the unpredictable actions of our fellow citizens.  Which ever candidate wins, there are huge problems ahead.  Let’s look at a Hillary Clinton victory first.

Votes are yet to be counted, results are yet to  be certified, and no one knows who will win on Tuesday. Yet, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Michael McCall (R-Texas) Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), among others, have already stated publicly that they plan to begin impeachment proceedings against Secretary Clinton should she be elected.  Additionally, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), John McCain (R-Arizona) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), among others, have clearly stated or with a wink and a nod hinted at confirming none (repeat: none) of Secretary Clinton’s appointments to the Supreme Court.  Wow.  Even with a sense of leavening that these statements were made under the stress of campaigns and the emotions of the moment, these men still made astounding, and frankly, un-American statements about using the law of the land to punish an election winner that they do not like. The will of the people be damned, I suppose.   You will note that there is a pretty good likelihood that the Democrats will regain control of the Senate, yet I have not heard a single Democrat running for office promise not to confirm Mr. Trump’s nominees or that they will begin impeachment proceedings against him as soon as he is sworn in as president.

Some argue that there is no need for nine justices and that we have had different numbers on the Supreme Court over our history.  True.  But there have been nine since 1869.  With Justice Scalia’s untimely death early this year, the Court has been functioning (although deferring some cases until a ninth judge is confirmed) with only eight.  However, if the Republicans follow through on their threat, what is the right number?  Seven?  Six?  No one knows what deaths may occur, or retirements may occur, or other unforeseen circumstances that would further reduce the number of Justices.  Really? And what happened to the current Senate Majority Leader’s,  Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), promise that the next president gets to nominate a Justice, and of course the fact that our current president (we only have one at a time) has a nominee on the floor for going on seven months?

As if that is not enough, Mr. Trump himself made a similar promise in the second debate this fall.  In the context of the “lock her up!” cries at his rallies, he made the following statement in response to a debate question about it should he be president.

“I am going to instruct my Attorney General to get a Special Prosecutor to look into your (Clinton’s) situation.”

The next day he reiterated his plan to prosecute Secretary Clinton when he is president.  Besides being unheard of in American politics — no winning president has ever threatened to jail his losing opponent in our history like we are some kind of third world banana republic — it also exhibits Mr. Trump’s desire to use the government for his personal vendettas.  It also demonstrates his lack of knowledge in that president’s are not authorized to order specific criminal investigations of individuals, not to mention political opponents.  To lose the impartiality of the Department of Justice in order to pursue his own ends would undermine the very fabric of justice in our country.

These examples alone would be cause for alarm as to what will happen after the election.  Actions that could destroy the delicate balance between a functioning two-party system and one where the rule of law and our Constitution is used only as a prop when it suits one’s purpose.

Of additional concern, and this really really bothers me, is the ongoing hacking of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.  By the Russians.  And I have heard very little concern expressed about it by any Republican, and especially none by Mr. Trump himself.  Indeed, last summer he invited the Russians to hack Secretary Clinton.  This is serious, people.  And yet all I hear about is what is in the emails and not that they were illegally stolen by a foreign government and used to disrupt our election.  (By the way they may be embarrassing but there are no “smoking guns” about illegal activity and I would argue that any large organization or campaign would be embarrassed if their internal discussions and unvarnished proposals were made public.)

Intelligence and law enforcement officials are preparing for some kind of additional cyber attack before, or on, election day.  The attack could come in any number of ways, but will probably be designed to further undermine the perception of a free and fair election process.  Democrats and Republicans should both be deeply concerned about this prospect.  But it seems to be of little concern as compared to petty fighting over minor issues.

Let’s look at a Donald Trump victory.  My concerns for our nation are not in any way lessened should Mr. Trump win.  As hard as it is, I will momentarily forget that the man is temperamentally unsuited for the office, and that he has shown a remarkable lack of intellectual curiosity to learn even the basics of how the government works under the Constitution or our most basic foreign policies.

Mr. Trump currently has approximately 75 lawsuits actively pending against him.  Many are long-standing complaints against him ranging from discrimination to failure to pay contractors.  Most notable, a trial in a class action lawsuit against him for fraud surrounding Trump University starts 28 November.  That is one of three state lawsuits against Trump University.  The Trump Foundation is also under legal scrutiny for illegal fund-raising efforts and for violating laws on how such money may be spent.  It is a long list.  How does that impact his ability to carry out the duties of his office?  How will the trials be impacted if he is president?  This creates yet another opportunity for the public perception of justice to be tainted by politics.

Mr. Trump continues to refuse to release any of his tax returns so we know nothing of his business dealings, except for what he chooses to brag about. Multiple responsible inquiries have shown him to be far less successful in business than he gives himself credit for having accomplished.  (By the way, it was pointed out that his final 2015 tax returns were due about two weeks ago.  There is nothing to stop him from releasing those as he would not know if they were going to be audited.  Not to mention that the Internal Revenue Service repeatedly stated that there is nothing stopping him from releasing them while under audit.)

The primary reason this is important, among many reasons, is that he claims to have extensive business dealings overseas, which is the basis of his claimed knowledge of foreign policy.  If so, we should know what those dealings might be so that potential conflicts of interest may be identified.  What checks and balances would be in place to make sure that foreign policy decisions were made to further the interests of the United States and not merely to help his business?  Without this knowledge it is possible that foreign agents could compromise our interests overseas.

In this vein I find his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin troubling.  I am not so bothered by Mr. Trump’s claims that Mr. Putin is “a great leader.”  Strange, but less troubling than the fact that the Russians are hacking and attempting to influence our election.  The Russians, and others, are using propaganda, psychological operations (PSYOPS) and intelligence to undermine our election and thereby demonstrate to their own citizens that there is no such thing as a real democracy, it is all a sham and rigged by the powerful.  This message to their own people, by using us as an example, can be very effective in keeping their own power.  Mr. Trump received classified briefings on this effort.  And yet, in the debates, he claims that there is no evidence that the Russians are involved and further claims that he does not trust the U.S. intelligence agencies.  Wow again.  He either willfully ignores the information he is given, or he is frighteningly uncaring, or he is glad that it is going on, especially if it helps him.  Any one of those reasons are scary.  Perhaps most scary would be that he does not believe the information because he already knows it all — a statement he has repeated concerning foreign policy, military affairs, and a host of other issues.  (“I know more about ISIS than the generals do.  Believe me.”  — 12 November 2015)

Here is the kicker and perhaps the most dangerous of all the unknowns.  How will the American people react over the long run?  My question reflects how we ended up in our current presidential predicament. In my view, the current atmosphere was created by politicians promising to do things that they could not, or in some cases, never intended to deliver.  Many of our fellow citizens feel abandoned by their government and suspicious of the leaders in Washington.  Mr. Trump tapped into that and we are now on the verge of being one vote away from him as president.  Many will rejoice and think “finally, we have someone to change things.”

That is what is worrisome.  Hear me out, please.  First, we have prominent Republican law makers promising that if Secretary Clinton is president they will block essentially everything she tries to do and tie her up in impeachment hearings and other vindictive investigations and hearings — mostly about things they have been investigating for four years or more and have yet to find anything of substance. In other words, more of the same from the last six years.  Lots of promises but no substantive action. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place? What makes Republican law makers think that more dysfunction and lack of, you know, actual governing is going to make things better?  Four more years of doing nothing is not going to heal the country and it will not endear the Republican party to future voters. Such an approach is more than a little short-sighted politically and not good for the future of our nation.

The first test is coming up soon.  On 29 September 2016, about 36 hours before the government would shut down, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded until 9 December and then promptly left town and haven’t been in session since.  They must now come back in a lame duck session to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. However, the members of the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Tea Party group, are threatening to block all federal funding unless certain of their pet demands are met.  They are also threatening to unseat Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) as Speaker of the House if he doesn’t go along with their demands, which run counter to the overall objectives of the Congress as a whole.  Welcome to the post-election honey moon.

Most disturbing to me is that during his campaign Mr. Trump promises many things that he cannot do under the Constitution or that are unlikely to be supported by the Congress.  When that happens, will the country react with more disappointment and lack of trust, or will something else occur?  Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric has often bordered on inciting violence and I fear that rather than finding himself frustrated in not being able to do what he wants, he will put out “a call to action.”  No one knows what form that call may take, or more to the point, how some on the fringe may interpret it.  Whatever the case, it will not be good for our country.

I hope that I am wrong and that my worries are unfounded.  But the indicators are not good.  There will be no post-election honey moon and the prospects for civil political discourse to address urgent issues and to keep our nation on track are not promising.

Or as cartoonist Walt Kelly said in his comic strip Pogo:

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 

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