So, Trump.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the election, and my two readers have both asked me what I think about it. I came down with a cold the night before, and spent Election Night shivering in bed with the chills, as I watched the unfolding disaster, and spent most of the time since recovering, which sounds metaphorical, but isn’t.

For the first week, I was too ill and too upset to read much of the news. I’ve been about 10 – 14 days behind on Twitter for a while, and spent most of the past week catching up. It was hard reading all the pre-election certitude in the cold hard light of hindsight.

I’ve never been so sorry to be proven right. I was saying a year ago that Trump scared me, because I saw very clearly what a weak candidate Hilary Clinton was. In July, I wrote, “Hillary Clinton feels like Martha Coakley writ large; people will find a reason not to vote for her.” She seems unauthentic, doesn’t seem to be intellectually honest, and never defined herself well enough for people to vote for her; she relied on the belief that Trump was clearly unsuitable.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Trump won fair and square. It doesn’t matter that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump; in our system, the states elect the president, not the people. And there are enough states with enough people that the economy has left behind that have spoken. There have been protests of the election, but to my mind, that’s wrong. You don’t protest free elections, and that goes double if you didn’t vote. I felt sick enough to work from home Tuesday morning, but I still voted.

Next, I’m hoping I’m wrong about him. I’d like to be proven wrong, because the better he does, the better we do. One of the columnists in the Globe wrote, “I don’t want Trump to succeed. I want him to fail spectacularly.” I get what he’s saying, but I hope Trump manages to pivot away from his more extreme positions. and perform reasonably. My Uncle Kip claims that we’ll see a different Donald Trump, and I hope he’s right. So far, I haven’t seen it.

Finally, I’m seeing a lot on Twitter about opposing every move he makes. I despised the Republicans for doing that to Obama, and I’ll despise the Democrats if they do that to Trump. To my mind, the duty of an opposition party is to fight the policies they oppose, find common ground where they can, try to influence the president by providing an alternative, and remember they are Americans first and partisans second. President Obama seems to be taking that to heart, and I hope other members of his party do as well.

The thing that dismays me is that people either couldn’t see his character issues, or saw them, and decided they were OK. There are a lot of people who should have known better, but voted for him anyway.

What truly scares me is the outright fascism his victory has enabled. All the little neo-Nazis and white supremacists are crawling out from under their rocks into the light of day. It’s become more acceptable to be racist in public. I’m seeing reports of people being harassed just because of who they are. I worry about people like my friend Rami, one of the nicest, friendliest people around, getting hassled because of his name and appearance.

Trump hasn’t helped with his statements or his actions. He did make a point of telling people to “Stop it”, but then he’s gone on to appoint Stephen Bannon and Jeffrey Sessions to important posts. He’s still leading with his mouth. He still doesn’t seem to think through his actions. He still seems, well… nuts. And he’s already in line to be the most corrupt president ever – witness the foreign governments lining up to stay at the Trump hotels, and the settlement of the Trump University case.

Unfortunately, he also has a Republican Congress to back him up, and the Republicans in Congress so far haven’t shown any inclination to put country above party, or to consider the people their actions affect. I’m hoping there may still be enough institutional decency left – or at least, enough institutional protectiveness of their own prerogatives – to prevent the worst of the abuses.

I suspect that the way it will play out is that it will be Amateur Hour for the first six months or so – he is inexperienced in government, and doesn’t seem to be surrounding himself with good people. He will attempt to bully his way around, and manage to offend enough of Congress that he will engender opposition within his own party. As his policy initiatives become clearer, the media will find people who will be hurt by them, and allow them to tell their stories. The biggest advantage Obamacare has right now is that there are already a lot of people dependent on it. After a while, he’ll realize that if he wants to get anything done, he’ll need more experienced hands to help him, and hopefully, get rid of the strident right wingers.

In the end, it will come down to his willingness to be bound by the rule of law. If he recognizes that, while it won’t be great, we’ll be OK.

How Did We Get Here?

I. The Candidates

In the years that I’ve been able to vote, I don’t recall disliking both candidates as much as I do these two:

  • I voted enthusiastically for Reagan in both 1980 and 1984.
  • I voted for George Bush, but also respected Dukakis in 1988.
  • In 1992, I voted for George Bush. I really respected his pragmatism, and the way he was able to pull together a bunch of disparate countries during the Gulf War.
  • In 1996, I felt comfortable voting for Bob Dole. I didn’t like Dole’s ‘attack dog’ persona, but felt that at core, he was principled and honest.
  • In 2000, I simply couldn’t decide. I neither liked nor disliked either candidate. In the end, I ended up voting for Gore, rooting for Bush on the way from the poll booth, then rooting against Bush during all the legal maneuvering. I didn’t care for either one, but I didn’t dislike either one either.
  • In 2004, I voted for Kerry.  I wasn’t enthusiastic for Kerry, but I respected him.
  • I voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. I’m happy with these votes. I don’t think he’s nearly as liberal as his vilifiers make him out to be. He’s pragmatic, and he thinks before reacting.

Which brings us to this year. Ugh. Out of all the people in the country, these two are our choice. A raging racist narcissist/fascist, and a power hungry politician whose only guiding principle appears to be a desire for power.

Trump taps into the anger and frustration– and, let’s be plain– the racism of a lot of white Americans. There are a lot of people who are worried by him, but for a lot of people, he’s talking the kind of trash these people want to hear.

Even worse, I think Hillary Clinton is an incredibly weak candidate. You never get the sense of a set of core values, like you did with Bernie Sanders. You might not agree with Sanders, but it was easy to see that his positions arose out of a consistent set of values and philosophy that drove them. I don’t have a sense that Hillary stands for anything other than Hillary.

She is not an inspiring leader or politician. She can’t work a crowd like her husband, or inspire like Reagan. She can say the lines, but in her mouth, they sound hollow.

There is the sense that both Clintons feel they are above the law; that they are willing to bend the law or facts to suit themselves. The problems with the State Department emails speak for themselves.

Hillary Clinton feels like Martha Coakley writ large; people will find a reason not to vote for her.

Trump really worries me. I do see the parallels to the rise of Nazism in Germany in his campaign.

He doesn’t seem to understand the Constitution. He doesn’t seem to understand what the role of the President is in our system.

He leads with his mouth, and doesn’t appear to think at all.   He’s changed his stands on so many things that I can’t credibly predict how he would react on anything. He is reckless and hateful and doesn’t give a damn who he hurts, or who he provokes.

I think the thing that worries me most about Trump is his lack of understanding or respect for the Constitution. The two main reasons our system of government works are the divided structure of the government, preventing a concentration of power in any branch, and a cultural respect for the institution of the government, instilled by our Founding Fathers.

It’s this respect for the law that fundamentally keeps office holders in bounds. In 1952, in response to a steel mill strike, Harry Truman nationalized the steel mills. The owners sued, won the case, and Truman obeyed the court, returning the mills to their owners. Once this respect for the law breaks down, it’s all over, and we’re in the same boat as any banana republic.

He is incredibly dangerous, and I think he has a decent shot at winning.

II. How Did We Get Here?

So how did we get here? How is it that these two are the choice we’re left with?

Civics

I think the first place to look is the educational system. Instead of teaching history and civics, we teach “social studies”. Kids don’t learn American history — we were playing a game one evening, and none of my nephews knew who George III was — and they don’t have a sense of how things work. They learn the trappings of patriotism — red, white and blue, let’s wave some flags — but they don’t know the meaning. They don’t know of the sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War, or of the service to country made by both the soldiers and the home front during World War II. They have little sense of civic duty; what we owe our country and our countrymen, in return for what it provides us. We’ve come to see voting or serving on a jury as a chore, let alone making sacrifices for the larger good.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is the “is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.” The way it works is you concentrate your political opponents into one or two districts; you may lose that district, but you’ve strengthened your hand in the rest of them. My friend Barbara recently sent me a long an interesting article about how the Republican party gerrymandered its way into Congressional dominance. What you wind up with is long rambling Congressional districts that resemble a salamander on a map, designed to create “safe” districts for incumbents.

Primaries

Once you’ve created safe districts, you’ve moved the electoral action from the general election to the primaries. In a general election, you have to appeal to the full electorate; in a primary, you only have to appeal to party members, and primaries on both sides favor the extremes on both sides, as the more extreme candidates are more likely to fire up their supporters. This is how the Tea Party became a force in Congress, and what explains the radical turn to the right of the Republican party; with safe Republican seats, the battles turned to the primaries, and a number of more moderate Republican congressmen and senators lost their seats in the primaries.

(It also explains the rise of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.)

The Media

Coverage of the election by the media has been piss-poor.

It used to be that newscasts were something networks and television stations ran to satisfy the public service obligations of their broadcast license. And then, somewhere along the line, broadcasters realized newscasts could be incredibly profitable, and that’s all she wrote.

It used to be that journalists would report what a candidate said, but then they would also report whether what was said was accurate.  Now, they’re so afraid of looking “partial” that they do not call either side on whether they’re lying or not.

It used to be that reporters would focus on the important stuff. Now they’d rather report on what’s become viral on youTube.

Most pernicious, it used be that the media reported on where the candidates stood. Now, they’d rather report on the polls.

They’d rather broadcast highly stylized “debates” that say nothing, and are more about each candidate scoring off each other, than in-depth interviews explaining how each would govern.

The Electorate

We’ve become an electorate that would rather “send a message” than elect someone to serve us. People don’t take the election seriously enough. Voting is perceived as a nuisance rather than a duty to be taken seriously.

III. What’s to Be Done?

Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump is far too dangerous to risk voting for anyone other than Hillary Clinton. He scares the hell out of me. If he means what he says, a vote for Trump is a vote for repression, for shooting from the hip, of risking war because our president can’t be trusted to think before he acts. And if he doesn’t mean what he says, then what the hell does he stand for?

There are a lot of disaffected Bernie Sanders followers, and a lot of people disaffected by both candidates, who are talking about write in votes, or not voting, or voting for a third party. Normally, I believe in voting for who you want to vote for, but I feel that Trump is such a clear and present danger that there is no choice but to hold one’s nose and vote for Clinton.

But we also need to examine what brought us to this place, and what we can do to prevent ourselves from being in this bind again.

Education

There needs to be more emphasis on history in schools. History does repeat itself,  and if you can recognize the historical patterns, you can act on that recognition. There needs to be more emphasis, both at home and at school, on civics, on duty, on being part of something larger than oneself or one’s family.

Districting

I think the day of manually drawn electoral districts needs to come to a close. One technique that has worked is bipartisan districting commissions; if both sides are part of the process, there is less likelihood of shenanigans. Both sides need to recognize that gerrymandering is a two edged sword. What I would like to see is both sides agree ahead of time to accept a computer generated district map. The algorithms for the mapping software should favor compactness, equal populations, natural boundaries and existing municipal boundaries.

The Media and Us

The media need to stop with the horse race coverage already. I don’t want to know what the percentage points are; I want to know what the candidates stand for, what their biases are, how they plan to run things. How do they plan on dealing with Congress? Do they understand the powers and limitations of the office? Are they honest? Do they tend to parse the truth? What’s their past experience?

I’ve never cared for the debates. I think they’re just theater, and they’re more about scoring points off one’s opponents than communicating what the candidate is about.

What I’d really like to see is a long one-on-one interview with each candidate with a really skilled interviewer. Charlie Rose would be great. I don’t want someone to “nail” the candidate; I want someone who can talk with them about themselves, and dig a little bit and find out what makes them tick.

No president gets to do exactly what they want to do, so for me, individual promises and stands of the moment aren’t particularly important. I want a President who is intellectually honest, has a set of core values that I can generally live with, and the competence to work toward those values.

A lot of the British population voted for the Brexit, hoping to send a message about immigration and the sovereignty of British law, and then, when it won, when the pound dropped, and they saw the prospect of  international markets closing against them, had second thoughts. Elections do have consequences.

What people tend to forget is that a campaign is a long job interview, and at the end of the day, we’re not sending a message, we’re hiring someone. To serve us. Not their own interests, not their career, not their egos. Us. All of us.

I Expect My Leaders to be Grownups

One of the things the media enables is bomb-tossing. It encourages extreme reactions on both sides. And so, it was disappointing, but not surprising, that within hours of the announcement of Justice Scalia’s death, the Senate Majority Leader was talking about not allowing a nomination for his replacement to come to a vote.

Just as parents expect good behavior from their children, I have certain expectations from my leaders. In neither case, is an expectation a guarantee. In both cases, when expectations are not met, there should be consequences. 

I expect my leaders to do their duty.

I expect them to fulfill the requirements of the jobs they chose to run for, and were elected to. If they want to grandstand or pontificate, they should get a job in the media. At the end of the day, I expect them to be grownups, to understand they can’t hold us hostage until they get exactly what they want. I expect them to come to an accommodation with each other.

It’s absurd to expect the Court to run with a vacancy for a full year. It would mean too many tie decisions, too many cases put over for re-argument, too much delay processing certiorari petitions.

It’s also absurd to say that there can’t be nominations made during an election year. Many justices have been confirmed in presidential election years, including Anthony Kennedy.

What I Expect From the President:

I expect the President to nominate someone Senate Republicans can live with. I’m not saying he should nominate someone they would whole-heartedly endorse, just someone they can accept. The President needs to accept the fact that the majority of the Senate is controlled by conservative Republicans. I’m not saying he needs to nominate another Scalia; I’m saying it’s not a time to nominate another Kagan (not to disparage Justice Kagan; I like her a lot).  He needs to find a middle of the road candidate. He should in fact, solicit the advice of both sides of the Senate. He would probably be better off if he did this privately.

What I Expect From the Senate:

I expect the Senate to give whomever the President nominates an honest consideration and an honest vote. I expect the Senators to recognize that he is the President, and that, according to the Constitution, it is his duty to make the final nomination. They need to recognize that whoever replaces Justice Scalia is not going to be as conservative as he was, just as liberals in 1975 had to accept that whoever President Ford appointed would not be as liberal as Justice Douglas.

If the President solicits their advice, they should give it. It would be more productive if they gave it to him directly rather than through the media.

I do not expect the Senate to rubber stamp a nomination. If the President were to send them a nomination that was clearly unsuitable, constitutionally, they do have the right to withhold their consent. But they need to recognize unpalatable is not the same as unsuitable. I do expect them to act on his nomination.

What I Expect from the President and the Senate:

I expect both sides to remember that the other party has prerogatives, and a Constitutional role in this process. I expect both sides to realize that the Court should not be expected to limp along for a year. I expect them all to be grownups, and realize that they are all not just members of political parties, but Officers of the United States of America, and (like any job), their office requires them to sometimes do things not exactly the way they want it. Realistically, I also would remind them that what comes around goes around, and at some point, their political fortunes will be reversed.

I expect them all to do their duty to the country I love.

Headline Foolishness

I saw this headline earlier today, and found it irritatingly foolish:

Court Holds Secret Vote on Health Care

It makes it sound like the justices were in some sort of secret conspiracy to do whatever they’re going to do to the health care law. The article went out over the news syndicates, and it appeared on a number of sites, usually with the same headline.

In fact, though, it was just their normal Friday conference where they discuss, in private,  the cases they’ve heard during oral arguments over the week, and once you read the article, it made that clear, and also had a fairly accurate description of the decision process. More accurate headlines would have used “tentative” or “private” to describe the conference today, since the eventual vote will become public, but of course,  that doesn’t sound as sinister.

SOPA

I’m leaving in an hour for Bonaire, and am a jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But before I leave, I wanted to  write to my two senators about the pending Stop Online Piracy Act/ Protect IP Act. These bills would require sites that allegedly host pirated material to be shut down– not to remove the material, but to remove the entire site. My hosting company has weighed in and so have the creators of WordPress. This is what I sent to Senators Kerry and Brown:

Dear Senator,

I have never written to an elected official before, but I feel strongly enough about the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) that I feel I must write to ask you to PLEASE not vote for them.

I have been a web developer for over 10 years, and recently started my own blog (tedohara.net). These acts propose tinkering with the DNS system in the name of blocking theft of intellectual property. We already have tools to deal with IP theft, such as the DMCA. Currently, if an IP owner feels they have a grievance, they can file a request to have the offending resource removed from a site. SOPA would shutter the entire site, without allowing the site owner any recourse or hearing.

Furthermore, to my mind, there’s a LOT of potential for mischief here, especially for sites that allow for user provided content. (Mine does not). Say for example, there was a political site that had message boards, and allowed users to upload content. Someone in opposition to that site could upload some protected content (possibly using a proxy), then have the site shut down for being in violation. In addition, big companies have deeper pockets and can afford to drag on legal proceedings. Small companies and individuals cannot.

As Apple has shown, the way to deal with online piracy is to compete with it. They’ve shown that if you can make it easy to download content legally and at a fair price, most people would rather do that. While I do agree that creators do have the right to protect their rights to their creations, these bills are heavy handed and go far beyond what is necessary.

America is not like this. America is about freedom of expression, not censorship. America is about due process of law, not about taking heavy handed action to shut entities without recourse.

I’m asking you to please stand for freedom.

Thank you,