A Stress Test for the Constitution

Soon after the election, a friend envisioned Trump’s presidency as “a stress test for the Constitution and all of its institutions.”  This is proving to be the case, for reasons that are both collective and peculiar to Trump and his administration.

Collectively, his presidency has halted, and aspires to reverse, the direction American government took under President Obama, a direction decried in some quarters but one charted in careful accordance with the law.  The Affordable Care Act, which some Republicans so revile, was nonetheless “ratified” after a protracted but open struggle by both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.

In other areas, President Obama’s use of executive power, though politically unwise, was legally defensible.  His approach to reducing carbon emissions, so hated and feared in some quarters, took shape only after a long period of public comment and after his legal team was certain the new guidelines could withstand a Constitutional challenge.  President Obama exercised discretion in whether and how to enforce immigration laws, but, as Richard Lugar, a former US Senator from Indiana, has observed, every president has done the same, since all have lacked the means to see that the laws on the books were fully enforced.  Lugar, a moderate who was one of Capitol Hill’s most influential Republicans before a member of his own party “primaried” him from the right, driving him from office, wrote in the New York Times that, given the howls of outrage over Obama’s immigration policies, one would never guess that his administration had “vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush,” just as Bush’s had vastly exceeded those of President Clinton.

President Obama sought to move the nation and the Democratic Party in a new direction, but he was not a party leader, and he did not wait for a bipartisan consensus that he knew was never coming to emerge.  In his second term, he focused increasingly on what he could do without Congress–but to the extent that his victories lacked Congress’s active assent they were unsustainable.  They were simply too far ahead of the collective political will.  In the meantime, Obama’s dogged pursuit of his own grand vision hid the senescence of the Democratic Party.

As the first person of color to occupy the presidency, Barack Obama symbolized the America we are fitfully becoming–a nation that is truly inclusive and color-blind.  As a symbol and agent of that change, he aroused a lot of resentment and fear, emotions that candidate Trump and some other Republicans inflamed to their benefit in the campaign.

The stunning political triumph of a charismatic outsider, the shattered GOP’s success at hanging on to power, and the dangerous eclipse of the Democratic party: these are the three huge interrelated events whose consequences are shaking the political community, from the nation’s most powerful institutions to its polarized citizenry, united only in its demand for responsible governance.

Image: “Save yourself”
@2017 Susan Barsy

The Face of Power

Western home in junk-strewn landscape.
Election 2016 delivered a shock to conventional wisdom, to liberals and conservatives, to the political establishment, and to people like me who write or talk about politics professionally.  Even though I correctly predicted a Trump victory, still when it came to pass, I was shocked.  Now, when I wake up in the morning, I sometimes feel a sense of foreboding.  At other times, though, I feel guardedly optimistic—about the body politic, if not about Trump.

Because conventional wisdom, the professional politicians, and the party establishment, all needed to be shocked.  For at least five years, I have been writing about the stale condition of the parties and their ideologies.  I have been writing about how the parties need to reorganize themselves around new ideas, about how the nation needs to get organized around a new constellation of goals appropriate for our times.  Nothing less than the victory of a Donald Trump was required to shake the political parties and all their personnel out of a state of perpetual complacency.  Both GOP and Democratic leaders must wake up: they are under much greater pressure now to use what power they have responsibly and constructively.  If they do not deliver better government for the electorate, their parties are going down.  I firmly expect that the next two to four years will be a time of constructive ideological ferment in the United States–and that politics will attract a new generation of leaders committed to reform and a renewed focus on commonly shared ideals, like a generally enjoyed prosperity and peace.

Like most intellectuals, I enjoy a life of privilege.  I live in a city.  My circumstances set me off from the rest of the population who are not part of ‘the creative economy,’ a term used to describe the formation of elites who make things and make things happen–who enjoy a sense of influence and autonomy.  This election has rudely reminded all of us to broaden our vision and consider what is really happening in our country: how a system that used to work for most Americans, providing sound education, civic consciousness, and secure livelihoods for breadwinners–has been gradually slipping away.  Great swathes of the nation are cut off from the expansive prospects that cosmopolitan Americans find so exciting.  The election has forcefully re-directed our gaze–back to the ordinary places where democratic power dwells.

Recounting Election 2016

Cartoon of Uncle Sam waking up with a surreal hangover

Jill Stein, who ran for president as the Green Party candidate, is demanding a recount of election 2016.   Stein, who garnered some 1.2 million (or roughly one percent) of all votes cast, says her aim isn’t to alter the election’s outcome but to verify its integrity.  She has netted over $6.2 million in online donations, enough to challenge the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swing states that went for Trump narrowly.  Stein claims that vote counts in some areas of these states are anomalous, at odds with exit polling, raising the possibility that the election was hacked.

Stein was a spoiler in the presidential race, in that she and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson drew off votes that might have boosted Clinton to victory over Trump.  Now, though, Stein is receiving a ‘miraculous’ flood of support from disappointed Clinton backers.  Clinton racked up a substantial lead over Trump in the popular vote, winning by over 2.2 million, but her support was too geographically concentrated to translate into an Electoral College victory.  Last week, Michigan was officially declared for Trump, bringing Trump’s electoral-vote tally to 306, versus Clinton’s 232.

Stein’s request for a recount rests primarily on the views of computer-security experts like J. Alex Halderman, who speculates that self-destructing malware could have been deployed to swing the results in a minimal number of counties.  Halderman thinks that electronic-vote records and machinery should be carefully examined and that paper ballots should be manually counted and checked against electronic returns in places where the digital-scanning method is employed.

Unlike in the 2000 election, when specific evidence from a specific locale provided clear evidence of procedural irregularities (the infamous ‘hanging chads’), Stein’s challenge is based mainly on speculation and theory, leaving open the possibility that another embarrassment for the big-data crowd is looming.

Given that Wisconsin’s recent gubernatorial recount of 1.5 million votes took more than a year, a recount of its larger presidential vote will likely be even more timeconsuming.  Meanwhile, though both President Obama and Hillary Clinton declared that Trump’s election represents the will of the people, the Clinton camp has since decided to get involved in the recount, ostensibly to see that the process is fair to all sides.  Earlier, Clinton, in considering whether to mount a challenge, had found no indication of foul play.

It’s doubtful whether a vote recount in three states could be completed before the Electoral College votes on December 19;  for states to participate, their elections must be certified by December 13.  Which brings us to the upshot of Stein’s undertaking: if recounts in the three states are ongoing, their 46 electors will be sidelined during the Electoral College.

 

Image: “The Morning After,” by Udo Keppler
for Puck magazine, November 6, 1912,
from this source.