Well, so I took the autumn off to take the LSAT and apply to law school and it seems like things took a turn for the worse while I was away. It’s too late to stop that last election, and we’ve got things like Swing Left, the Wall of US, Indivisible, WolfPAC, and the Justice Democrats working on the next one. So it feels like the role of a podcast and a blog that catalogue our backfiring efforts to make the world safe for democracy abroad might be to chart the way that our methodology and its effects are now coming home to roost.
I want the series to fall somewhere between Doug Muder’s Weekly Sift, which is a weekly roundup and blog post with clear-eyed, compassionate and brilliant analysis and Paul Slansky’s The Clothes Have No Emperor, which is a brutal, day-by-day account of the scandals, corruption, and rank incompetence of the Reagan Administration quoted directly from the news. Like Muder, I’m going to pair the weekly news post with a piece on the blog, and they’ll go up on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays or however it falls.
This first edition is going to be much longer and at the same time much less comprehensive than the norm—I’m going to breeze through the last four months or so, and I’ll both have too many words and be leaving too many out.
So What’s Been Happening
Donald Trump was elected on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016. He took office on Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2017. We all thought we’d have a few more months to enjoy our outgoing President, but the Republican Party, both in DC and across the States, wasn’t waiting that long.
In North Carolina, the GOP used its lame-duck session to cripple the governorship, now that they’d lost it. They destroyed the governor’s ability to make appointments, making two-thirds of outgoing governor Pat McCrory’s 1,500 political appointments into permanent state employees. More than that, they took an already painfully-gerrymandered state election system and politicized it further.
The election reform reworks the state board of elections and combines it with the state ethics commission. Previously, the state board of elections had a 3-2 majority in favor of the governor’s party, while every county board had a 2-1 advantage for the governor’s party. Under the new rules, the state board will have eight members, four of each party, appointed half by the governor and half by the legislature. County boards will have four members. The chairmanship will rotate, but appears to guarantee that Republicans will lead the board during crucial even-numbered election years for the foreseeable future. Supreme Court elections, which have been nonpartisan but handed a majority to Democrat-aligned justices this November, will now be partisan.
There wasn’t much North Carolina Democrats could do to stop the ‘legislative coup,’ but GOP conniving did not go unnoticed. In the early days of the new year, the Electoral Integrity Project, which has measured more than 200 elections in more than 150 countries, released a report which placed North Carolina outside of the realm of democracy.
In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.
North Carolina also helped to spearhead what has become a national Republican obsession: outlawing protest.
The proposed legislation would “make it a crime to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official in the course of, or on account of, the performance of his or her duties,” Bishop said.
Kempenich said he was spurred to act after Dakota Access Pipeline protesters last year moved to block public roadways, scaring some of his constituents.
“It turned from a protest to basically terrorism on the roadways, and the bill got introduced for people to be able to drive down the roads without fear of running into somebody and having to be liable for them,” he told CNN.
Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2017
Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2016
Meanwhile, in the Swamp
Not to be outdone by their colleagues in the states, GOP legislators in Washington, before the 2017 session even opened, tried to “strip the independent Office of Congressional Ethics of its powers to speak publicly, report crimes, get anonymous tips, and act independently.” Their objective was to return sole ethics control to the House Ethics Committee, which is run by the same legislators it’s supposed to investigate and has been famously reluctant, as a result, to investigate anybody.
The plan was foiled by massive grassroots liberal resistance, flooding House and Senate phone lines for the first time just three days into the new year.
Donald Trump followed up on that ethics disaster with one of his own, first refusing to say what he’d do with his business interests and then refusing to put them in a blind trust, like every other President in recent history. The excuses were many and varied—that Trump couldn’t manage the sale of his enterprises without the appearance of impropriety, that leaving them in the hands of his daughter Ivanka would create enough separation, and that the President couldn’t have a conflict of interest—but the outcome was pre-ordained. The President-elect would pass his businesses to his kids and use his position to advance their interests.
He then used the press-conference that was supposedly about divestiture to scream at CNN.
We don’t need to get into the specifics that you’ve been hearing about everywhere for months, but suffice to say that Trump have have nominated the first cabinet wholeheartedly devoted to the destruction of the cabinet departments it’s in charge of. Little did we know back in December that ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis would be the most even-handed man in the room.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been the most audible voice of dissent in the Senate during the confirmation process, and last week, Mitch McConnell decided that not only had he had enough of liberal protesters, but that he’d silence Democratic lawmakers too. When Warren read from letters by Coretta Scott King and Ted Kennedy condemning Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, McConnel used an arcane rule to prevent her from speaking on the floor.
Despite senatorial resistance and an unprecedented number of callers shutting down the Senate switchboard for weeks, all of Trumps nominees so far have won confirmation. Anybody during the #NeverTrump days who imagined the GOP might stand on principles has been thoroughly disappointed.
Caligula, the mad Roman emperor, infamously appointed his horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate, and that has been for millennia a byword for cracked authoritarian action. But we now know what would happen if Caligula appointed his horse to the Senate if the modern Republican Party happened to be in the majority there: first the Republicans would say that they didn’t want to get into disputes about the Emperor’s personnel choices, and then they’d quickly see how the presence of the horse could help justify dismantling regulations in the horse-chariot industry. (“Well, you know, he’s an unorthodox kind of Emperor, so I don’t want to get into that, Jake—but I will say that, whatever the Emperor’s beliefs, we have a very inclusive party, and, if we’re slackening regulations on the stables, I want to point out it’s with the full and welcome participation of a horse.”) The Emperor’s lunacy and the senators’ larceny match perfectly.
What’s even more disturbing is that even with a cabinet full of anti-government sycophants, Trump has been relying so far on just two men to run the government by fiat. His son-in-law Jared Kushner and confirmed white supremacist Steve Bannon together penned the executive orders that have defined the Administration’s first weeks without any input or oversight from the departments they affect.
The most visible result to date was the disastrous Muslim travel ban, which started off Trump’s government with a fully fledged Constitutional crisis. When a federal judge issued a stay for the executive order that mandated the ban, the White House ordered border and customs officials to continue applying it.
In our system, the legislature makes law, the judiciary rules on it, and the executive enforces it. That’s an excellent division of powers as long as the branches play by the rules. When the executive starts making its own law by way of executive orders and then refusing the acknowledge the judiciary’s right to rule on them, it throws every man and woman who serve the executive—from soldiers and police to border officials and Justice Department lawyers—into a place where they have to decide: do I follow the courts or the orders from above? This is how you start to bring about the end of democratic government as constitutionally conceived.
Things Look Bleak
But that’s not the end of it. This post is getting way too long to do a full run-through, but in coming weeks, when the blog will be up to date, I’ll be including news of the resistance to what’s going on.
For now, there are a few encouraging signs of what’s to come. The press, for one, has started to get a handle on how to manage Trump and his cronies.
SNL, for its part, has had an incredible run of sketches that are reportedly driving the President up the wall.
And leaving all the other massive, organized protests aside for now, the Women’s March kicked off the first day of Trump’s administration with what might have been the largest protest in US history.