Sunday, October 23, 2016

What if Trump Refuses to Concede?

So, Trump appears to have been brought to the realization that he went too far in saying he might not concede defeat in the election and is partially walking that back to say that all he really meant was that he may imitate Al Gore -- that if the outcome looks extremely close and possibly fraudulent in a key state, he reserves the right to challenge it in court.  Does anyone actually believe that for a minute?  While I continue to believe that Trump's campaign staff will probably force him to concede, and that if they are not able to, they will at least shut him up and let Mike Pence concede, I do not expect him to appear to mean it, and I expect him to go on a general rant in the following days. Starting November 28 will be the Trump University fraud trial, which cannot possibly reflect well on him.  

But I was nonetheless inspired by this column by Pat Buchanan defending Trump's right to refuse to concede and saying how harmful can it be, since Trump obviously doesn't have an army to march on Washington in revolt.*  So let me game out some scenarios of what Trump might do if he doesn't want to concede defeat and what harm they might do. Hint -- plenty.

Mildest scenario, Trump merely fulminates about a stolen election.  This is the most likely, that Trump will merely rant about the biased media, lying women who said he groped them, and vote rigging in major cities, but won't actually try to do anything.  What will be the result?  Well, given that the polls pretty strongly point to a Clinton victory and the evidence that he groped women looks overwhelming, my guess is that the main effect will be to further estrange his followers from any unwelcome reality.  They will retreat more and more into their media cocoon, probably finding even Fox News to be collaborating with the enemy and that only the real conspiratorial world where Trump won and was only defeated by vote rigging and all bad stories about him are lies.  Needless to say, it is bad for any country to have a large segment of its population lose touch with reality -- perhaps a majority of voters for one of its major parties; certainly a sizable and highly motivated minority of voters for a major party.

Trump blames traitorous Republicans, sets himself up as unofficial leader of the Republican Party.  This one also seems quite probable.  Certainly he will not do any of the actual work involved in leading a major party like fund raising, building a party organization, formulating policy and the like.  He would merely issue pronouncements on high about who is and is not a proper Republican, with the usual penalty of primary challenge against any who fail him.  And, this being Trump, his main measure of loyalty will be ideological or any set of policies, but loyalty to him personally and unswerving opposition to Hillary Clinton.  This being basically what Republican primary voters seem to care about anyhow, one would expect to see an ever more hostile and confrontational Congress -- legislation becoming impossible, blanket refusals to confirm any executive or judicial nominees, government shutdowns, endless investigations of absolutely everything, probably at least one impeachment attempt, and possibly even a debt ceiling showdown. In short, Californication -- government that becomes so dysfunctional as to be non-functional. 

Protests and demonstrations.  Trump could call on his supporters to take to the streets and protest, or they could spontaneously do so themselves.  These protests would not change the outcome.  It is not appropriate for a democracy to allow an angry majority to overbear the vote of the majority, as expressed through elections.  Our tradition of democratic transitions is very strong -- strong enough to withstand large-scale demonstrations by Trump supporters.  On the other hand, demonstrations by Trump supporters will no doubt be countered with counter-demonstrations by his opponents.  The police may not be able in all cases to keep the sides apart.  Violent clashes may occur, allowing each side to see itself as martyrs.  Such a storm will blow itself out in time, but it could be ugly in the short run.  The longer-term result will be to make Trump supporters feeling even angrier and more disenfranchised, more convinced that they cannot get a corrupt system to listen, and therefore more eager to demand absolute intransigence by their representatives in Congress and punish the faintest show of cooperation with an administration they see as illegitimate.  Or worse.  (See Second Amendment Solutions below).

Attempted coup by impeachment.  Some Republicans have already said that if Hillary Clinton is elected, they will seek impeachment over the e-mails. Of course, the upshot will simply be to hand the Presidency to Timothy Kaine, so there will still be a Democrat in the White House, an intolerable situation for your average Trump supporter.  So I suppose the Republican House could impeach Clinton and Kaine both for vote rigging, or impeach Hillary for the emails and Kaine for being so criminal as to serve in her administration.  If the Senate convicts, that will mean removing both the President and Vice President from office so Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House, will be the next President.  He can then name Donald Trump as his Vice President and resign in favor of the People's Choice.

 Of course, this won't actually happen.  The chances of Republicans having the two-thirds majority in the Senate necessary to remove both Hillary and her Vice-President are essentially zero, and if they did, Ryan would presumably prefer being President himself to turning the country over to anyone as unfit for office as Trump.  But if it did happen, it would in effect establish that being a President of the party opposite to the majority in Congress is an impeachable offense.  Can anyone doubt that the Democrats would see no alternative but to retaliate in kind next time the positions were reversed?

Over the long run, this could be taken as a sort of transition to a more parliamentary form of government -- Congress establishes its supremacy by impeaching any President of the opposing party and putting the Speaker in his/her place.  Parliamentary government has much to be said in its favor and is arguably superior to presidential government because it avoids this sort of gridlock. But our system is not well suited to be parliamentary.  Successful parliamentary governments either have unicameral legislatures, or reduce the upper house to a mostly ceremonial role.  We have two houses with real power, so that the possibility of multiple veto points and gridlock would continue. Besides, a successful parliamentary system requires members of parliament to serve terms long enough to give them some buffer being constantly up for election and allow them to get on with the business of actually governing.  The two-year term in the House of Representatives is too short.

The short run effect would be immense anger and recrimination as yet another norm gets shredded.

Al Gore, made unrecognizable by steroids.  The usual rationalization being offered is that Al Gore challenged the outcome of an election, so why shouldn't Trump.  Well, not quite.  In the case of Al Gore, the election was extremely close, with everything coming down to one state (Florida) where the vote was so close that the margin of victory was less than the margin of error in vote-counting technology.  Florida laws were a bit unclear how such a situation was to be handled.  The spectacle that followed did credit to nobody, with everyone putting partisan advantage over any sort of principle.  If the recount took too long, there was a real possibility that Florida's vote would not be decided by the deadline for the Electoral College to meet and the election would be thrown into the House.  This means that the House of Representatives, voting by states, would choose a winner among the top three contenders.  This is a spectacularly bad system.  It has been used only twice, in 1801 and 1825.  Both times, it lead to a long period of paralysis and all manner of most unedifying intrigue.  The more charitable interpretation of Bush v. Gore is that the Supreme Court halted the recount in order to spare the country such a spectacle.

Right now, if Nate Silver is to be believed,  Hillary Clinton is well ahead, but her lead is starting to soften.  Right now she is shown as favored for 339 electoral votes, well above the 270 required to win.  Her weakest support is in Iowa (six electoral votes) and Arizona (eleven votes).  These two states could very well go for Trump, bringing her total to 322.  Ohio (18 votes) may also go to Trump, reducing her total to 304.  Less plausible, but still possible, would be for her to even lose Nevada (six votes) and North Carolina (15) votes.  That would leave her with 301 votes.  Even if Florida (29 votes) went for Trump, that would leave her with a razor-thin electoral majority of 272 votes.  The loss of even one more state would be fatal to Clinton, but all remaining states appear to be quite solid for her.  Indeed, not even a Clinton victory of 339 votes would have to bother him.  He could simply challenge the vote whichever states were weakest supporters of Clinton, just enough states to deny her a majority.  He could seek to tie the whole thing up in recounts and litigation just long enough for the deadline to run out and throw the election into the House.  Recall that in such a case, voting is by state, rather than individually.  That gives an advantage to the small states.  If Republicans hold a majority of the House delegations for 26 states, the could decide the election for Trump regardless of the vote.

Here again, the precedent could be devastating.  As with impeachment, Democrats would have little choice but to retaliate in kind the first time the positions were reversed.  The result would be to make the whole election process a meaningless formality and create as the real winner the candidate whose party controls 26 or more states.  That, too, would be a move in the direction of a parliamentary system, but one with a leader chosen by states instead of by individual votes.  Everything I said above, about the obstacles to a parliamentary system in this country, and about the short-run anger and recrimination apply here as well.

And, just to add another twist, while the President is chosen by the House, the Vice President in such a case is chosen by the Senate, voting individually.  If opposite parties controlled the Senate and House, it could lead to the President and Vice President being of opposing parties, with all the complications that could result.

Coup by objection to electoral votes.  Apparently there is another alternative I had not realized.  Members of Congress can object to each state's votes, so long as the objection is in writing and signed by one member of each house.  An objection can be sustained only if both houses vote to uphold it.  But one can imagine that if both the Senate and the House remain in Republican hands, the threat of primary challenge could compel Republicans in both houses to reject enough states that went for Clinton to deny her an electoral majority throw the election into the House.  Once again, this would be a way of moving away from a Presidential and toward a parliamentary system, with all the dangers I listed above.

Second Amendment solutions.  All these approaches would be technically legal, though they would massively violate political normal and exceed what is appropriate to a loyal opposition.  But an appeal to Second Amendment solutions would be the ultimate act of disloyalty.  Don't get me wrong. I am well aware that Trump does not have an army at all, and would not be able to raise one any time soon that could challenge the electoral outcome.

But the Overton Window is at work here, with its Unthinkable -- Radical -- Acceptable -- Sensible -- Popular -- Policy distinction.  Once upon a time, long, long ago the idea that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to make violent revolution possible against the US government would have been Unthinkable.  By now, it has probably moved to somewhere between Acceptable and Sensible.  The idea that the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to stockpile large arsenals and form private armies for possible armed rebellion, once even more Unthinkable, is probably somewhere between Radical and Acceptable.  That it would allow armed standoffs with the federal government when the private armies decide it is out of line remains Radical, although with the Bundy Ranch standoff there was at least some attempt by Hannity to nudge it in the direction of Acceptable.  But if more and more people respond to a Hillary Clinton victory by forming private armies, they will increasingly move toward Sensible.  And the idea that the losers of an election may reasonably engaged in armed rebellion against the winners may start moving from Unthinkable to Radical.  I have little doubt that the number of armed groups will grow in the wake of a Hillary victory.  The question is whether Trump will encourage them or not.

The good news here is that I think Trump is more likely to take the milder options than the more extreme ones.  The bad news is that even the milder options are dangerous to our body politic.

*And at the same time hinting without quite saying that violent rebellion just might be justified if Trump loses.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Worst Offense a Candidate Can Commit

It is not such a stretch to say that Donald Trump, in refusing the accept the result of an election if he loses is committing the worst offense a candidate can commit.  Worse than murder?

Well, let's just put it like this.  Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel.  But in 1824 the campaign split four ways with four candidates.  Jackson won the largest number of both electoral and popular votes. In such a case, the House of Representative, voting by states, chooses the winner from among the top three candidates.  Speaker of the House Henry Clay, the last finishing among the four, persuaded the House to choose John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson.  Adams then named Clay as his Secretary of State.  It is also known that the two men met in private shortly before the vote, although owing to a mysterious eighteen and a half minute gap in JQA's journal, the exact contents of that meeting are unknown.

Jackson, rather understandably, denounced the decision as a "corrupt bargain" and believed he had been cheated of his due.  He nonetheless accepted the outcome and later had his revenge by running again in the next election and winning handily.

So come on, Donald, Jackson was a man easily provoked, and he had a whole lot more provocation than you will.  Let's see if you can live up to his example.

My General Impressions of the Final (Thank God!) Debate

Above all else, my strongest impression was that the candidates lived in entirely different universes. In one universe, Hillary Clinton has committed crimes of unprecedented severity, the Clinton Foundation is crooked to the core, the Democratic Party is a vast criminal conspiracy rigging the election, and all accusations the Trump groped women are debunked lies invented by the Clinton campaign.  In the other, the Russians are interfering in our election and treating Trump as their (presumably) unwitting puppet.  Partisans of either side have decided which universe they live in.  I have no idea what political bystanders will make of it all.

At the beginning of the debate, Trump seemed a bit Palin-esque, particularly about the Supreme Court.  It had the feeling of a debate between a candidate who knew what she was talking about and one who was spouting canned talking points, mostly about the Second Amendment.

Later on, Trump reverted to form, citing very convincing-sounding but false facts and starting to lose his temper, though interrupting less.  Clinton smiled in a superior sort of way and was sometimes worth listening to, sometimes empty blather.

Both candidates showed considerable skill about changing the subject when a question got uncomfortable.

Trump did make a few good points, most notably about the folly of backing rebels you don't know anything about.  True!  On the other hand, his overuse of superlatives gets annoying fast.  You just won't believe how annoying it is.  In fact, Trump's overuse of superlatives is the most annoying habit of any politician in the history of this country!

But by far the most important moment of this debate was when Trump was asked if he would respect the outcome of the election and he said he hadn't made up his mind yet.

Here is my prediction on that.  I doubt that Trump did anything impressive enough to create a large-scale swing in his favor tonight, so I think he will lose the election.  I am guessing that when he does, one of two things will happen.  Either his campaign staff will put a concession speech up on the teleprompter and force him to read it, at gunpoint, if necessary.  Or else he will refuse, his staff won't be able to force him, and they will have no choice but to handcuff him, stuff something in his mouth, and lock him up in the closet with Mike Pence reads the concession speech.  I am being hyperbolic here, of course, but you get the general idea.  Either way, for the next few days he will go on an unhinged rant trying to walk the speech back and convincing everyone within hailing distance of reality that this is not anyone we want anywhere near the Oval Office. How many people are not within that distance is something I fear to speculate about.

On the comforting side, we are seeing the limits of how far the Republican leadership is willing to go. They will go to a lot of appalling places, but they won't go there.  Impugning the integrity of the electoral process is a bridge too far, presumably because they know that once you impugn the electoral process, the whole democratic experiment really does face mortal danger.  The bad news is that it is far from clear how many of their followers agree.

And that, of course, is why I have included this post under my "failures of democracy" label.

Will He or Won't He

Well, the game ain't over till the fat lady sings.  While it seems most unlikely at this point that Trump will win, Hillary's bounce seems to reached its peak and perhaps be starting to decline.  After spending the last ten days in paranoid ravings about conspiracies of international bankers and rigged elections, Trump has made at least some token gestures toward proposing serious political reform. The latest revelations about Trump are starting to become old news, while Wikileaks is leaking a lot of sleazy but no more than the usual sausage making revelations about Hillary, so this last debate looks like Trump's last chance to turn it around.  A win remains an outside chance but not impossible; a respectable defeat is not too far-fetched.

I had resolved to spare myself the final debate by working late at an office with no sound on the computer, but my mouse chose this very night to give out, so I was forced to go home.  I will not be live-blogging or anything foolish, but I might as well steel myself for this last final ordeal.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Lock Her Up!

I differ from all the VSP's who say that it is particularly horrifying that Donald Trump expressed his intent to imprison Hillary Clinton if elected.  My feelings on the subject are more mixed.

We went through this once before when George Bush left the White House.  Some people were calling for him to be prosecuted as a war criminal, but the VSP's all insisted that it was out of the question, prosecuting political opponents is what banana republics do, and that such things don't happen in the US.  The same thing is happening now with Hillary Clinton.  Whether she committed any significant crime by sending State Department e-mails on a private server, or by deleting e-mails when they were subpoenaed I don't pretend to know.  But the VSP's all insist that only in a banana republic would she actually be prosecuted.

Indeed, the same even applies to Trump himself.  After all, his entire business career was based on fraud.  At least some of it is probably prosecutable.  But it will look like a partisan witch hunt if it happens.  This has led at least some VSP's (can't bother to look for link) to call for a preemptive pardon from Trump as well.

In short, only banana republics actually expect their leaders to obey the law.  In solid, working democracies, we have an ironclad principle that our leaders should be immune from prosecution and able to get away with any crimes they may commit in office and perhaps even before.  I have a serious problem with this.

Indeed, that appears to be a major reason the whole Hillary's e-mails story has legs -- not so much that Hillary's offense is particularly heinous, but that it represents all the ways in which our political class and ruling bigwigs seem to get away with everything while the little guy is punished.  I think there is some legitimacy to this complaint.

Of course, Trump is the last person who has any sort of standing to make it.  His whole career was based on fraud, on gaming the system, and on wealth and power meaning getting away with things the little guy can never get away with.  That was, after all, the real point of the "pussy" tape -- that his wealth and power allowed him to get away with manhandling women in a way that regular guys never could.  His response to all this is that yes, he made his career gaming the system, he knows more than anyone about how the system is played, and he is therefore uniquely qualified to put an end to it.  It is not, in his case, the appeal of a repentant sinner.  (Trump repent of anything?  Be real!) Rather, it is essentially the appeal of a bigger scoundrel saying that he can stop the smaller scoundrels.  And another article (don't remember where to look) suggests that every time the establishment makes clear that they oppose Trump, it simply reinforces the impression that they fear him because of his ability to shut down their crooked games.

At the same time, looking to Trump to restore the rule of law is sort of like hiring a wolf to guard the hen house from foxes.  We are talking about a man who threatens libel actions or anti-trust actions against newspapers that run stories that criticize him.  A man who threatened to use the power of his office to investigate a judge who ruled against him in the Trump University lawsuit.  A man suspected of bribing an Attorney General to drop the investigation of Trump University.  (And who definitely resorted to subterfuge to conceal the illegal donation).

Certainly it is laughable to suggest that his more rabid followers are motivated by a concern for the rule of law.  Already at a recent rally some began expanding the call to "lock her up" from Hillary Clinton to the People Magazine reporter who accused Trump of groping her.  And perhaps other accusers as well.  Indeed, one account even claims that Trump supporters are calling to lock up other critics in the press as well.  And, of course, Trump is insisting that if he loses the election, that will be proof that it is rigged.

So, the choice appears to be between letting our criminal justice system be corrupted by letting powerful bigwigs get away with breaking the law, or letting our criminal justice system be corrupted by using it for partisan witch hunts.  I am not sure which poison to pick.  But of this much I am certain.  If we want to restore the rule of law, Donald Trump is absolutely not the person to do it.

If Donald Trump Said That Pigs Can Fly

Donald Trump really does have an extraordinary ability to lie convincingly, with complete sincerity, and in a way that can be remarkably hard to refute.  But his speaking style is also remarkably easy to caricature.  So maybe a little mockery is the best way to show up his lies.

Suppose Donald Trump decided that pigs can fly.  (Some of his statements are only marginally less absurd).  He would probably say something like this:
Pigs can fly, I tell you.  You see them flying around all time time.  I get all sorts of calls from voters all over the country complaining about the pig droppings falling out of the sky.  One of them landed not two feet away from me when I was coming out of the building just a few days ago.  Nowadays I never go out without a steel umbrella.
So what do you say to that?  How do you refute it?  Proving a negative can be extraordinarily difficult, even so obvious a negative as that pigs cannot fly, that Trump has not been getting complaints from voters all over the country about flying pigs, that he was not almost hit by pig droppings any time recently (or ever) and that he does, in fact, often go out without a steel umbrella.

Well, that last, I suppose, will be the easiest because it is not an attempt to prove a negative.  All you need is photographs of Trump going out for the last few days without a steel umbrella.  But what about the rest?  What do you do?  Ask aerodynamic experts to prove, in excruciatingly dull detail, why it would be impossible for pigs to fly?  Have the Russians or Wikileaks hack Trump's emails to prove that none of them so much as mention flying pigs?  (The Russians and Wikileaks seem uninterested in cooperating).  Interview everyone who has accompanied Trump out of a building lately to see if any of them saw any pig droppings narrowly miss him?

And doesn't the mere fact that he has people investigating any refuting anything so ridiculous mean that he has won already?

Trump, CEO Politicians, and Corruption

In 1953, President Eisenhower nominated Charlie Wilson, CEO of General Motors, as Secretary of Defense.  At his confirmation hearing, the potential for conflict of interest came up.  He assured the Senate that he had no problem going against the interests of his company, and that in any event, he did not believe a conflict would come up because, "[F]or years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”  This got morphed by Democrats into "What's good for General Motors is good for America" -- clearly an accusation of corruption on his part.  But what kind of corruption were they accusing him of?  I have always assumed it was the broader kind, i.e., that "General Motors" meant big business in general and that they were accusing him of equating the public good with the interests of the 1%.  But I have occasionally heard it suggested that they were accusing him of the narrower kind of corruption -- of giving special primacy to his own company.

Which leads us back to Donald Trump (of course).  And once again, to the point that while we have had CEO politicians before and even one CEO President, but none of them have been anything like Donald Trump.

Herbert Hoover made his fortune in mining.  Ross Perot founded a data processing company.  Herman Cain ran various restaurant chains.  Carly Fiorina was CEO of Hewlett-Packard.  Mitt Romney worked in finance.  And, of course, Donald Trump's made his mark in real estate development.

So what, one may say?  There are many fields of business.  All provide useful services.  Why should one be any more or less honorable than any other?  Well, there is the way one conducts business.  So far as I know, there is not much to criticize on how Hoover, Perot or Cain did business.  Fiorina's tenure as HP CEO is generally regarded a failure, but an honest one.  Romney ran for President as head of a financial company at a time when finance was decidedly unpopular, and one involved in some of the less winsome aspects of finance, such as leveraged buyouts and general "vulture capitalism."  I do not pretend to know enough about finance to know if his activities served a useful purpose.  But certainly no one accused Romney of any sort of fraud or illegality, even in his less winsome business activities.

Trump, by contrast, appears to have built his entire business career essentially on fraud.

Before running for President, Romney had been Governor of Massachusetts.  Hoover had been Secretary of Commerce.  Fiorina had run for Governor of California.  Perot had never held office before, but he took a serious interest in policy and cared and had strong positions on important issues of the day.  Cain had been a lobbyist, but was ultimately ignorant of policy beyond a narrow range of matters involving business regulation.

But not even Cain was as aggressively, proudly, and utterly ignorant as Trump.  With Cain, one at least hoped that given enough time, he might learn something.  Trump appears to be incapable of focusing on anything for more than a few minutes and thus of being brought up to speed.  Besides, with Cain one could hope that he would know enough to realize his own ignorance, choose advisers who knew something, and listen to their advice.  Trump has left no grounds for hope on any of those points.

CEO's are more autocratic than US Presidents and may have difficulty adapting themselves to the give and take of democratic partisan politics.  As I understand it, there were some complaints of that sort when Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, but he learned.  And certainly there is nothing to suggest that he was ignorant of such basic concepts as the rule of law, the separation of powers, or basic democratic norms.  Hoover, though a brilliant administrator, was a poor politician and some have suggested that this was responsible for his disastrous failures.  (I disagree).  The others have not held office.  Cain appears at least a likeable guy, though how he would have behaved as President is anyone's guess.  Fiorina, as I understand it, was indeed abrasive and overly authoritarian as a CEO, traits that were part of her undoing, and that would serve her even worse in the White House.  And Perot appeared truly ignorant of our basic form of government and regarded us as a sort of elective dictatorship.  He showed plenty of signs of paranoia, which serves as an uncommonly ill omen for his future as President.

But if once I would have placed Trump marginally ahead of Perot in this regard, as Trump spirals out of control he is making even Perot's most autocratic tendencies and paranoid ravings look rational by comparison.  Perot, after all, merely wanted to be dictator.  Trump's warnings have become so apocalyptic and his promises so extravagant that it is hard to tell whether he thinks he is running for dictator or for messiah.

But above all (and this leads back to my original point), while some of these other CEO's may have believed that what is good for General Motors is good for America in the broader sense that what benefits the 1% benefits the economy as a whole, none of them ever showed any sense of adhering to that doctrine in the narrower sense, i.e., of thinking it acceptable to use the office to advance their own personal fortunes.  Trump shows no evidence of having any concept of the distinction.  And increasingly, he is losing the concept of any distinction between his political fortunes and the country's or between political opposition and criminality.

This is a very dangerous man, and he is going completely off the deep end.