Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis

A prior post reviewed the recent Ezra Klein column (and related book) that argued for “reducing the polarization of American politics by democratization, including “proportional representation and campaign finance reform; . . .[making] voter registration automatic and. . . [giving] Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico the political representation they deserve.” https://dwkcommentaries.com/2020/02/14/u-s-needs-more-democratization/

Two respected political commentators–Norman J. Ornstein, a noted author and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Ross Douthat, a self-proclaimed conservative New York Times columnist–have discussed the Klein book, which was the basis for his column.

Norman Ornstein[1]

The Klein book cites research by political scientists showing that split ticket voting in presidential and congressional elections has virtually disappeared, that self-proclaimed independents now vote more predictably for one party over another and that such voters are now more motivated by their antipathy for the other party rather than affinity for their own. Related to all of this is the emergence of political mega-identities: “Republicans have become more cultlike and resistant to compromise or moderation” while “Democrats have an immune system of diversity and democracy.”

Ornstein also endorses Klein’s opinion that “baked into the political system devised by our framers is an increasing bias toward geography and away from people. As the country becomes more diverse, the representation and power in our politics will grow even less reflective of that dynamism. . . . At some point, the fundamental legitimacy of the system will be challenged.”

Therefore, in the book, Klein calls for eliminating the Electoral College and the Senate filibuster, allowing Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to become states and taking steps to make the House of Representatives more reflective of the country. “Of course, even these measures , commendable though they may be, are a very heavy lift.”

Ross Douthat[2]

Douthat also takes on the more expansive statement of Ezra Klein’s opinions in his book, “Why We’re Polarized.”  [1]

This book, says Douthat, correctly debunks the theory that “the cure for division is just to educate people about the Right Answers to complicated policy disputes.”

Then Douthat counters Klein by relying on two other recent books, Christopher Caldwell’s “Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties” and Michael Lind’s “The New Class War: Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite.” 

According to Douthat, Caldwell, another conservative author and New York Times contributing opinion writer,  sees the current polarization as due to the 1960’s reformers creating “through the Civil Rights Act, a structure of judicial and bureaucratic supervision and redress that gradually expanded into a rival constitutional system. This so-called  ‘Second Constitution’ is organized around the advancement of groups claiming equality, not the protection of citizens enjoying liberties. And so the claims these groups make must be privileged over and against both the normal legislative process and the freedoms of speech and religion and association that the original Constitution protects.”

Lind’s book, says Douthat, sees the current polarization as “the consolidation of economic power by a ‘managerial’ upper class'” and the resulting weakening of “any institution — from churches and families to union shops and local industries — that might grant real power to groups outside the gilded city, the Silicon Valley bubble, the Ivy League gate.” This phenomenon coupled with libertarianism of Regan and Thacher promoted “economic and social permissiveness . . . [and] a new class divide, between thriving meritocratic hubs and a declining and demoralized heartland, . . . [that] explains both the frequency of populist irruptions and their consistent futility.”

The above two books, however, in Douthat’s opinion, fail to acknowledge the importance of the “secularization and institutional-Christian decline” and resulting religious polarization as important trends contributing to polarization. which Douthat will address in a future column.

Note that Douthat does not address Klein’s point about American polarization being connected with the structure of American government giving greater weight to geographical units than to the number of people.

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[1] Ornstein, Why America’s Political Divisions Will Only Get Worse, N.Y. Times Book Review (Feb. 9, 2020).

[2] Douthat, The Many Polarizations of America, N.Y. Times (Jan. 28, 2020).

 

Republican Congressman Thomas Railsback’s Courageous Support of Impeaching President Nixon in 1974

As noted in a prior post about recent comments during the Trump Impeachment trial in the Senate by Representative Adam Schiff, Thomas F. Railsback in 1974 was a moderate Republican Congressman from Illinois and a member of the House Judiciary Committee who exhibited political courage in supporting the impeachment of Republican President Nixon.

Subsequent research has uncovered further details about Railsback and his involvement with Nixon, including the impeachment.

Railsback’s Early Congressional Record[1]

Before that important engagement in 1974, he had been a Republican Congressman from Illinois for seven years and credited Richard Nixon with helping him win his first election to Congress in 1966 by campaigning for him. Railsback also had predicted a Nixon landslide in the November 1972 presidential election while expressing great admiration for Nixon, especially the opening of the door to China, which Railsbeck said “had to be the most brilliant foreign policy move ever.”

When the Democratic Party’s headquarters in the Watergate apartment building were burglarized on June 7, 1972 and the House Judiciary Committee became involved in investigating that event, Railsback admitted he was “ashamed and astounded by that event and by other alleged corrupt actions within the [Nixon] Administration.”

Railsback, however, “did not feel that . . . President Nixon had any part in the alleged corruption. The President is busy running the country. . . I certainly don’t think he would be involved in anything as Mickey Mouse and just plain stupid as the Watergate thing is.”

Early Stages of the Nixon Impeachment [2]

In February 1974, at the very start of the House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of possible impeachment, Railsback said in a letter to the student newspaper at his alma mater, Grinnell College, [4] “The need for objectivity when considering such a difficult and potentially emotional issue, is apparent. Most of the members of the House, and especially of the Judiciary Committee, which will conduct the initial inquiry, have exhibited from my vantage point at least, both a rational and objective approach to this problem. However, there are those few . . . who would impeach immediately, and others who wouldn’t vote for impeachment if they personally caught the President in a bank vault at midnight. Neither of these positions is acceptable.”

The letter went on, “The decision to impeach or not to impeach must be founded on a fair, intensive investigation of the allegations and charges, and only on this basis. We on the Judiciary, I feel, are taking the first steps in this direction. Under the Committee’s supervision, a highly qualified staff is now proceeding with the investigation on a daily basis. In addition, the House  . . . has adopted, with bi-partisan support, a resolution granting subpoena authority to our committee for its investigation, and I fully supported this action. With the granting of such authority, the House has taken a significant step forward in achieving a responsible answer to the numerous allegations, questions, and doubts which encompass the Presidency. . . . The President in his State of the Union message, declared his intentions to cooperate with our Committee and we are encouraged by his remarks. . . . But regardless of the cooperation we receive, I am convinced that the Judiciary Committee is determined to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to conduct a thorough and bi-partisan impeachment inquiry.”

Nearly seven weeks later (circa March 22, 1974), Railsback submitted an article about the status of the inquiry to the Grinnell student newspaper. He reported that he had received from his constituents 900 pro-impeachment and 600 anti-impeachment communications (plus others outside his district). . . .  [However,] “no direct correlation exists between political parties and a particular position on this issue.” And his annual survey of his district’s sentiment is about equally divided on the issue. Therefore, he had concluded “the ‘politically safe’ decision does not exist. . . . When the hour comes to cast a vote on the issue of impeachment, I am convinced that the vote must and will be cast on the basis of evidence fairly gathered and fully evaluated and not on the basis of party affiliation or political fears.”

These communications to his alma mater’s student newspaper undoubtedly were in anticipation of his participation in the College’s hosting the Iowa Impeachment Forum on April 27, 1974. At that event, he said, “I don’t think a majority of the minority [Republicans] would accept edited transcripts [in response to a congressional subpoena]. The White House does have the right to determiJames St. Clairne what sort of initial response to make to the subpoena. I do support the informal suggestion that the four-man screening group [Representative Peter Rodino (Dem., NJ), Representative J. Edward Hutchinson (Rep., MI), Albert Jenner (Committee Minority Counsel) and John Doar [Committee’s Lead Special Counsel] go over to the White House and meet with [Jim] St. Clair [White House counsel] present, and listen to all the tapes we subpoenaed, on our equipment. . . But I would not be about to buy having them turn over on a unilateral basis transcripts which they themselves have edited.”

At this April Forum at Grinnell, Railsback remarked that his serving on the House Judiciary Committee during its deliberation on the impeachment question “has been the most difficult responsibility of my eleven years in public office” while noting “the barrage of press people focusing in on the committee members as well as the pressures which constituents were placing on their representatives.” That became more intense “after the firing of Special Prosecutor Cox, referred to as the ‘Saturday Night Massacre. Congressmen were flooded with a storm of mail from outraged constituents.”

Railsback also told  the Grinnell audience that the 1974 “Judiciary Committee’s investigation got off to a shaky start when Rodino proposed that, as chairman, he be given the sole right to subpoena all relevant data. The minority [the Republicans] resented this proposal because of the tradition of cooperation which had been a hallmark of the Judiciary Committee through the years.” It then “became apparent there would be no successful impeachment inquiry unless there was some kind of bi-partisan participation and cooperation. . . Since that time, the Judiciary Committee has conducted itself judiciously and with dignity, trying to prevent leaks.”

The Forum audience also heard Railsback note that he had been very favorably impressed with the work of Majority Counsel John Doar and Minority Counsel Albert Jenner. “They have conducted themselves extremely well, trying to work as a team, rather than on different pursuits.”  Railsback also agreed with Democratic Iowa Congressman Edward Mezvinsky, who also appeared at this College program, “that not only the President , but the Congress as an institution was on trial. Bear in mind that according to the latest polls, Congress appears to have a lower approval rating than does the President.”

Later Stages of the House’s Nixon Impeachment [3]

In the later stages of the Judiciary Committee’s inquiry, however, Railsback dinotback Nixon’s defense. In fact, the Congressman led what he called a “fragile bipartisan coalition” between his fellow Republicans and the Democratic majority on the House Judiciary Committee in supporting impeachment. That summer, this bipartisan group met in his office to develop an article of impeachment that they all could vote for.

One of the participants in that bipartisan group was Representative William S. Cohen (Rep., ME), then in his first term, who later became U.S. Senator from Maine and Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration. Cohen said the first time he had met to discuss this impeachment was at Railsback’s invitation in the latter’s office. “The seven of us met that morning, and as we went around, we said abuse of power, obstruction of justice, we can all agree on those things. And if we hang together, we can make sure this passes on a bipartisan basis. And it wasn’t really until that moment that I decided without any reservation I was going to vote for impeachment.”

“On July 27, 1974, the judiciary committee voted 27 to 11, with Railsback and five other of the panel’s 17 Republicans joining all 21 Democrats, to send to the full House an article of impeachment. The article accused the president of unlawful tactics that constituted a ‘course of conduct or plan’ to obstruct the investigation of the break-in at the offices of the Democratic opposition in the Watergate complex in Washington by a White House team of burglars.”

Railsback also helped draft a second article of impeachment, charging the president with abusing his authority while also defeating a Democrats’ proposal for further articles citing allegations concerning Mr. Nixon’s tax returns and his covert bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

During the House debate over the resolution for impeachment, Railsback introduced an amendment to the articles that was approved by a voice vote. “Originally the article charged that Mr. Nixon ‘made it his policy’ to obstruct the investigation of Watergate and to protect those responsible. The amendment “charged instead that the President engaged ‘in a course of conduct or plan designed’ to impede and obstruct the investigation. Railsback said he had difficulty believing that Mr. Nixon at any specific time formulated a policy of obstruction, but . . . [that] the record shows a ‘course of conduct’ amounting to obstruction.”

In colloquy before the vote on the amendment, another member asked, “‘What’s the difference between a policy and a plan?’ Railsback acknowledged he also had trouble judging the difference, but said that committee counsel believed that the word ‘policy’ had the connotation of an ‘orchestrated’ effort to obstruct.” Railsback added, “’I believe that certain events occurred to which Mr. Nixon didn’t respond or responded to in an improper way.’ Railsback also responded to another member’s question as to whether he meant “Mr. Nixon intentionally acted in such a way as to delay or impede the investigation? Railsback said he meant that Mr. Nixon acted knowingly for the purpose of delaying and impeding it.”

“His pivotal votes provoked vitriolic reactions from some constituents. . . . But [soon thereafter] he received a standing ovation from a local chamber of commerce, and he was re-elected to four more terms.” However, in 1982 he lost the Republican primary election to run for another term, a defeat he attributed to his vote for Nixon’s impeachment.

Subsequently Railsback said,“I don’t feel very good about it. I feel badly about what happened to Nixon. On the other hand, after listening to the [White House] tapes and seeing all the evidence, it was something we had to do because the evidence was there.”

Conclusion

His daughter, Kathryn Railsback, now provides the appropriate benediction for her father and his importance to the current struggles over the impeachment of President Trump.[5]

She writes, “He and others showed that it was possible to transcend partisan divisions as they sought to defend our democratic institutions.”

“As a young Republican representative from Illinois, Dad took his responsibilities as a legislator and a lawyer seriously. He believed in fairness and in upholding the rule of law. His father, Fred Railsback, had been city attorney for several small Illinois towns. Public service was viewed in our family as an honor and a privilege.”

“Dad believed we should strive to get along with others, including those with opposing political views. A committed Republican himself, he truly valued his lifelong friendships with both Republican and Democratic colleagues. His ability to work closely with lawmakers from across the political spectrum helped him forge agreements that addressed pressing national concerns and benefited the country.”

“During those momentous impeachment proceedings more than 40 years ago, Dad used his skills as a lawyer and lawmaker to review the facts and evidence carefully. He worked collaboratively with members of both parties for the good of the country and refused to be pressured by partisan leaders.”

“In a nutshell, he did his job as a legislator. Although he suffered some political repercussions, he remained proud of his actions in support of impeachment until the end of his life. Our family remains proud of the courageous steps he took in putting loyalty to country and the rule of law above partisan and personal concerns. In fulfilling his constitutional duty as a member of the legislative branch, he left us and our country with a lasting legacy of which we can be proud. He did what he believed was right to uphold our carefully crafted system of checks and balances.”

“I believe that senators now have, as my father did, a unique opportunity to play a pivotal role at a critical time in our country’s history. I greatly value our country’s freedoms and the ability to hold our government accountable when excesses and injustices occur. . . . Our country’s relatively young government, with three strong, independent branches, works well because of its foundational system of checks and balances. The healthy functioning of our government depends on the members of each branch taking their responsibilities seriously and fulfilling their duties without interference from the other branches of government or partisan or personal interests.”

“I know from my father’s experience that the decisions senators make in the coming days — and the ways in which they make them — may well determine how they are remembered throughout the rest of their lives [and after they are gone]. I beseech them to be thoughtful, serious and independent, to uphold the rule of law, and to be ever mindful of their critical role in protecting our country’s precious system of checks and balances. . . . I believe there remain lawmakers of good will, good intellect and good courage in both parties who will, as my Dad did, rise to the occasion in these difficult times for the good of the country.”

Thank you, Ms. Railsback!

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[1] Roberts, Tom Railsback, Who Reconciled G.O.P. to Oust Nixon, Dies at 87, N.Y. Times (Jan. 22, 2020); McCann, Thomas Railsback, Illinois Republican who helped write impeachment articles against Nixon, dies at 87, Wash. Post (Jan. 22, 2020);  Simon, Remembering a Congressman Who Bucked His Party On An Impeachment, npr (Jan. 25, 2020); Wylie, Railsback: Penal Reform, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 2 (Oct. 26, 1972); Hon. Thomas F. Railsback, Wikipedia Biography; Tom Railsback, Wikipedia.

[2] Railsback, Impeachment: the Call for Objectivity, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 2 (Feb. 8, 1974); Railsback, Impeachment: The Public Reacts, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 6 (Mar. 22, 1974); Shaub, Impeachment Forum to Air Diverse Views, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 3 (April 19, 1974); Weil, Panel Ponders Constitutional Complexities, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 2 (May 3, 1974); Weil, Mezvinsky, Railsback Assess Impeachment Procedures, [Grinnell College] Scarlet & Black at 3 (May 3, 1974).

[3] Lyons & Chapman, Judiciary Committee Approves Article to Impeach President Nixon, 27 to 11, Wash. Post (July 28, 1974); Ephron, Rising To the Occasion: A Case Study, New York Mag. (Aug. 19, 1974) Flander, To Impeach Or Not? Two Who Must Decide, Wash. Star News (July 21, 1974); The Vote to Impeach, Time (Aug. 5, 1974); Luo What House Republicans Can Learn from the Bipartisan Effort To Impeach Nixon, New Yorker (Nov. 7, 2019).

[4] Railsback received his B.A. degree from Grinnell College in 1954 and his law degree from Northwestern University in 1957, after which he served in the U.S. Army. Subsequently Grinnell awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his service in the Nixon impeachment proceedings and for “his contributions in the fields of civil rights, anti-crime legislation, and prison reform. He has also worked energetically and effectively on behalf of Grinnell College as a member of the college’s Advisory Council, as vice-president and president of the Alumni Association, and as a successful volunteer fund-raiser. Named an Outstanding Young Man of America in 1968, he was one of 200 young men and women cited in the July 22, 1973, issue of Time Magazine as most likely to provide leadership for the country in the decades ahead.” (Grinnell College, Commencement Program (May 18, 1976).)

[5] Kathryn Railsback, Senators confronting impeachment can learn from my father’s example in Watergate, Wash. Post (Jan. 28, 2020)  Ms. Railsback is an immigration attorney in Boise, Idaho and a Lecturer at the Idaho College of Law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering the Political Courage of a Republican Congressman During the Impeachment of President Nixon

On January 24, 2020, Representative Adam Schiff in his closing argument in the Trump impeachment trial remembered the political courage of a Republican Congressman, Thomas Railsback, during the 1974 impeachment of Republican President Richard Nixon. Here is what Schiff said.[1]

“One of the things that we in this fellowship of officeholders understand that most people don’t is that real political courage doesn’t come from disagreeing with our opponents but from disagreeing with our friends and with our own party because it means having to stare down accusations of disloyalty and betrayal: He’s a Democrat in name only or she’s a Republican in name only.”

“Just this week America lost a hero, Thomas Railsback, who passed away on Monday, the day before this trial began. Some of you may have known or even served with Congressman Thomas Railsback. He was a Republican from Illinois and the second ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee when that committee was conducting its impeachment inquiry into President Nixon.”

“In July of 1974, as the inquiry was coming to a close, Congressman          Railsback began meeting with a bipartisan group of Members of the                House–three other Republicans and three Democrats. Here in the Senate                they might have called them the Gang of 7.”

“They gathered and they talked and they labored over language and ultimately helped develop the bipartisan support for the articles that led a group of Republican Senators, including Barry Goldwater and Howard Baker, to tell President Nixon that he must resign.”

“Some say that the Nixon impeachment might not have moved forward were it not for those four courageous Republicans led by Congressman Railsback, and it pained the Congressman because he credited Nixon with giving him his seat and with getting him elected. He did it, he said, because `’seeing all the evidence, it was something we had to do because the evidence was there.’ One of his aides, Ray LaHood, eulogized him saying: He felt an obligation to the Constitution to do what is right.”

Conclusion

These words and discovering that Railsback was a fellow alumnus of Grinnell College in Iowa have sparked research confirming these comments by Representative Schiff that will be the subject of a subsequent post.

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[1] 166 Cong. Record at S564-65 (Daily Edition, Jan. 24, 2020); DeBonis, Adam Schiff delivered a detailed, hour-long summary of the Democrats’ impeachment case. Some Republicans dismissed it because of one line, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2020).

 

Critique of John Bolton’s Consistent Advocacy of Using Aggressive Force

On April 17, as criticized in a prior post, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in Miami additional U.S. sanctions against Cuba on the anniversary of the 1961 failed U.S. invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girõn).[1]

 

Now Dexter Filkins, an award-winning journalist, reminds us that Bolton has a deserved reputation as the  “Republican Party’s most militant foreign-policy thinker—an advocate of aggressive force who ridicules anyone who disagrees.”  Bolton also is a consistent opponent of multilateral institutions and treaties.

For example, In the George W. Bush Administration Bolton was Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs and a strong advocate for the 2001 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He re-endorsed that opinion in 2015 when he said, “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct.”

In May 2002, still as Under-Secretary, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation he said the Cuban government was developing an ambitious biological weapons program and collaborating with Libya and Iran, all contrary to the opinion of  the State Department’s internal intelligence bureau.

Today he presumably would admit that Venezuela poses no immediate threat to the U.S., but believes it is dangerous because it was allowing Russia to gain a foothold in the region and because it has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. On the other hand, presumably he would not concede that U.S. hostile policies towards that country and Cuba were providing Russia with the opportunity to expand its influence in the region.

The Monroe Doctrine, Bolton recently admitted, is a prohibition against outside powers interceding in Latin America that does not include U.S. use of armed forces in the region. But the Roosevelt Corollary, he added, provides for that use of force, and Bolton says, “I haven’t invoked that—yet.”[2]

Given the Trump Administration’s currently not having a permanent Secretary of Defense and no Secretary of Homeland Security and Ambassador to the U.N., “Bolton would have extraordinary latitude in a crisis., and as long as Trump’s  base is applauding, then Bolton can do whatever he wants.”

Dexter Filkins, the author of this New Yorker article, has been called “the premier combat journalist of his generation” for his reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and a National Book Critics Award for his “The Forever War.”[3]

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[1] Filkins, John Bolton On the Warpath, New Yorker (May 6, 2019). See also, John Bolton’s New threat Against Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 2, 2019); U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018); Zakaria, Does a Trump doctrine on foreign policy exist? Ask John Bolton, Wash. Post (May 2, 2019) (Bolton has “a dark view of humankind” which requires the U.S. to be “aggressive, unilateral and militant;” and a “longtime fan of regime change”).

[2] State Dep’t, Office of the Historian, Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904.

[3] Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker; Dexter Filkins, Wikipedia.

 

Difficulties in Diversifying Sections of the U.S.

This blog consistently has advocated the need for more immigrants in the U.S., especially in those states, mainly rural, with declining and aging populations.[1] Several  recent articles have emphasized difficulties in pursuing such a goal.

Northern New England[2]

Northern New England has an aging, declining and overwhelmingly white population in a “huge collection of very, very small towns.” These states—New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine—therefore, need new residents, including immigrants.

A major obstacle to attracting new residents is the presence of the huge presence of whites. The  reasons for this white population “stem from a variety of factors, including a lack of big urban areas, where jobs are more plentiful, [where] a wider range of housing is available and [where] cultural differences are a little more accepted than in smaller places.”

According to Peter Francese, a demographic analyst based in Exeter, N.H., “’Housing is at the core of why there aren’t more immigrants — there’s no place for them. An ethnic person who wants to come in with a family of four or five people is not going to find a home they can afford, and there’s almost no rental housing whatsoever.’ In addition, Northern New England has the nation’s highest concentration of second homes, making the housing market especially tight.”

In addition, he said, “much of any newer housing is only for people 55 or older. If developers built housing for younger people, they would likely have children, which means a need for schools, which means higher property taxes — anathema in a place like New Hampshire, which has no income tax.”

Some New Hampshire residents came up with the following ways the state could enhance its ability to draw people of different backgrounds: “a better understanding of licensing and skills that refugees bring with them so they could more easily work here; a system of rewarding businesses that hire a more diverse array of workers; a central location with a database, speakers’ bureau and training opportunities that could help companies understand what ‘diversity and inclusion’ means and how it could benefit them; and a focus on keeping workers as much as hiring them in the first place, since many leave after finding the state inhospitable.”

A possible solution to the woes of Northern New England is a new program, Welcome Home, which is sponsored by the International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental organization that globally provides services to displaced people, and TripAdvisor and which has started in New York City and Northern California. This program seeks to provide refugees “an understanding of where they now live and help them integrate into their new communities.[3]

Some Whites’ Difficulties in Adjusting to Minority Status

There is a need for everyone to have understanding and empathy for some white persons who are  thrust into a situation in the U.S. where they are now in the minority.

This was the theme of a sensitive article about Heaven Engle, a 20-year old white woman who does not know the Spanish language while working in a rural chicken plant where virtually all of the other workers are Latina or Latino who do not speak English. During the work-day she often feels lonely, alienated and frustrated. She also feels threatened. This takes place in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, with a mainly white and conservative population of 1,500, isolated in Lebanon County, population 140,000, which is becoming more Hispanic.[4]

Racialized U.S. Politics[5]

This young white woman’s perspective ties in with a column about U.S. “racialized” politics by David Leonhardt, a former Washington bureau chief for the New York Times. He asserts, “American politics have become more racialized over the last decade. Over the long term, that trend will probably help the Democrats — the party of the country’s growing demographic groups. In the short term, though, it presents some real risks.” (Emphasis added.)

“Many white Americans,” he continues, “felt threatened by both . . .[Obama’s] election and the country’s increasing diversity.” Then “Trump ran the most race-obsessed campaign in decades . . . . [and] won the White House, thanks largely to a surge in white support across the upper Midwest, the Florida panhandle and elsewhere.”

Now “Trump and other top Republicans have made clear that they plan to continue their racialized strategy. They evidently think it’s their best chance to win elections. Cynical as their approach is, they may be right.” Why? “About 68 percent of the voting-age citizen population is white non-Hispanic. . . .  and “these whites vote more often than nonwhites.” Moreover, “when white people are frequently reminded of their racial identity, they tend to become more politically conservative.”

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[1] E.g., More Immigrants Needed in U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 23, 2018).

[2] Seelye, New Hampshire, 94 Percent White, Asks: How Do You Diversify a Whole State? N.Y. Times (July 27, 2018).

[3] Vora, From Trip Advisor, a Program to Help Refugees Get to Know the U.S., N.Y. Times (July 31, 2018).

[4] McCoy, White, and in the minority, Wash. Post (July 30, 2018).

[5] Leonhardt, The  Politics of ‘White Threat,’ N.Y. Times (July 31, 2018); Klein, White threat in a browning America. Vox (July 30, 2018).

 

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake Issues Another Challenge for All Americans

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), now self-released from the pressures of running for re-election, has been speaking truth to the power of President Donald Trump. Last October he did so in a speech on the Senate floor and an op-ed article in the Washington Post followed by responses to the many letters he had received.[1] Then this January he did so again in another speech on the Senate floor condemning Trump’s tweets and “fake news” tirades.[2]

The latest was on May 23, 2018, at the Harvard Law School at the invitation of its law students.[3] Here is what he said.

Senator Flake’s Harvard Speech

I am . . . humbled by this moment in the life of our country. You see, you are set to inherit the world in just the nick of time.

I am also especially humbled given the fact that I come to you today from the political class. In utter seriousness, it is I who could benefit from listening to you today rather than speaking to you, as I am not so sure that there is much distilled wisdom to be imparted from Washington these days, given what has lately become the tawdriness of my profession. I am here today as representative of a co-equal branch of our federal government, which is failing its constitutional obligations to counteract the power of the president, and in so doing is dishonoring itself, at a critical moment in the life of our nation.

And so, with humility, let me suggest that perhaps it is best to consider what I have to say today as something of a cautionary tale –

  • about the rule of law and its fragility;
  • about our democratic norms and how hard-won and vulnerable they are;
  • about the independence of our system of justice, and how critically important it is to safeguard it from malign actors who would casually destroy that independence for their own purposes and without a thought to the consequences;
  • about the crucial predicate for all of these cherished American values: Truth. Empirical, objective truth;
  • and lastly, about the necessity to defend these values and these institutions that you will soon inherit, even if that means sometimes standing alone. Even if it means risking something important to you, maybe even your career. Because there are times when circumstances may call on you to risk your career in favor of your principles.

Not to be unpleasant, but I do bring news from our nation’s capital. First, the good news: Your national leadership is…not good. At all. Our presidency has been debased. By a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division. And only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.

And our Article I branch of government, the Congress (that’s me), is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily. I do not think that the Founders could have anticipated that the beauty of their invention might someday founder on the rocks of reality television, and that the Congress would be such willing accomplices to this calamity. Our most ardent enemies, doing their worst (and they are doing their worst), couldn’t hurt us more than we are hurting ourselves.

Now, you might reasonably ask, where is the good news in that?

Well, simply put: We may have hit bottom.

(Oh, and that’s also the bad news. In a rare convergence, the good news and bad news are the same – Our leadership is not good, but it probably can’t get much worse.)

This is it, if you have been wondering what the bottom looks like. This is what it looks like when you stress-test all of the institutions that undergird our constitutional democracy, at the same time. You could say that we are witnesses to history, and if it were possible to divorce ourselves from the obvious tragedy of this debacle, I suppose that might even be interesting, from an academic perspective. The way some rare diseases are interesting to medical researchers.

But this is an experience we could and should have avoided. Getting to this state of distress did not occur naturally. Rather, this was thoroughly man-made. This disease of our polity is far too serious to not be recognized for what it is, the damage it threatens to do to our vital organs is far too great for us to carry on as if all is well. All is not well. We have a sickness of the spirit. To complete the medical metaphor, you might say that we are now in critical condition.

How did we arrive at a moment of such peril – wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens – on Fox & Friends, historians will note — to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? And just this week, the President – offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process – not to defend the country against further attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power.

I pick this egregious example of recent presidential conduct not because it is rare in terms of this president’s body of work, but because it so perfectly represents what we have tragically grown accustomed to in the past year and a half.  Who would have thought that we would ever see encouragement coming from the White House for chants at rallies calling for the jailing of a defeated political opponent. When you don’t even know that there are limits on presidential power, then you might not even care when you are abusing that power.

How did this happen to us? And what might we learn from it? How did we get swept up in this global resurgence of the authoritarian impulse, which now has democracies teetering on the brink, strongmen placing themselves above the law, and in our own country a leader who reveres some of the most loathsome enemies of democracy in our time?

Have we really grown tired of democracy? Are we watching its passing, cheered on by the America First crowd even as we cast aside global institutions that have fostered freedom, prosperity and peace for more than a half-century?

For just a moment, let us marvel at the miracle that is the rule of law. We have seldom been moved to pause for such an appreciation, as we have been too busy taking it for granted and assuming its inviolability – like gravity. But unlike Newton’s Laws, the rule of law was neither innate nor inevitable. What goes up must come down is a piece of cake compared to curbing the impulses of man and asking free people to abide rules and norms that form a country, and foster civilization.

It took centuries of war and sacrifice and social upheaval and more war and great civil rights struggles to establish the foundational notion that no one is either above the law or unworthy of the protections afforded by a robust legal system, a system that took us from feudal servility to a constitutional model that is the envy of the world. And will continue to be, with your help.

We trace the beginnings of this radical egalitarianism – of the awesome and leveling effect of the law – to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw the death of the divine right of kings, as even the monarch from that point forward would be subject to the law – and the parliament even threw in a bill of rights for good measure.  

But we are now testing the durability of this idea that William III first had the good sense to agree to, an idea which was then forged and tempered over the ensuing centuries. And we are seeing its vulnerabilities. In other parts of the world where democracy’s roots are not so deep, we are seeing it being torn down with sickening ease and shocking speed. And worse, we are seeing the rise of simulated democracies, Potemkin democracies, democracies in appearance and affect only.

Rule of thumb: If the only acceptable outcome in a matter of law or justice is a result that is satisfactory to the leader, then you might live in a democracy that is in trouble. If the leader attacks the legitimacy of any institution that does not pay him obeisance – say, the independent judiciary, or the free press – then you might live in a democracy that is in trouble. Further to that point: when a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

It will be the work of your generation to make sure that this degradation of democracy does not continue – to see to it that our current flirtation with lawlessness and authoritarianism does not become a heritable trait to be passed down from this presidency.

The rule of law is an elemental value, a value that preceded and gave rise to our Constitution. It is not an ideology subject to the pendulum swings of politics, or something to be given a thumbs-up or thumbs-down in a call-in to your favorite morning show. It is the basis of our system of self-governance. America without the rule of law is no longer America.

I am a conservative Republican, a throwback from the days when those words actually meant something, before the collapse of our politics into the rank tribalism we currently endure. My sounding this alarm against a government that was elected under the Republican banner and that calls itself conservative makes me no less Republican or conservative. And opposing this president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy – it is, rather, an act of fidelity. 

Because we forget this fact far too often, and it bears repeating a thousand times, especially in times such as these: Values transcend politics.

As a conservative Republican, I dare say that my idea of government may differ with the beliefs of many of you here today. I will be thoroughly presumptuous and assume that in terms of policy prescriptions, we disagree on much.

But I have long believed that the only lasting solutions to the problems before us must involve both sides. Lawmaking should never be an exercise in revenge, because vengeful people are myopic, self-interested, and not fit to lead. I believe that our government should include people who believe as I do, just as I believe it must include people who believe as my friend Tim Kaine does, or as my friend Cory Booker does, to name but two.

The greatness of our system is that it is designed to be difficult, in order to force compromise. And when you honor the system, and seek to govern in good faith, the system works.

Which brings us back to our current peril. It is a testament to our times – and to the inflection point that we face – that I am here today. For, setting aside the usual requirements of politics, and the usual ways that politics keeps score, the things that normally divide us seem trivial compared to the trials that have now been visited upon our democracy.

In the face of these challenges, we agree on something far more important than a legislative program, even more important than our thoughts on the proper role of government in the economy and in the lives of individuals: We agree on the need to safeguard the health and survival of constitutional democracy in America and the preservation of the American idea itself – at a time when the values underpinning our constitutional system and that extraordinary idea are under threat, from the top.

The values of the Enlightenment that led to the creation of this idea of America – this unique experiment in world history – are light years removed from the base, cruelly transactional brand of politics that in this moment some people mistakenly think is what it means to make America great.

To be clear, we did not become great – and will never be great – by indulging and encouraging our very worst impulses. It doesn’t matter how many red caps you sell.

The historian Jon Meacham, in his splendid new book, “The Soul of America,” reassures that history shows us that “we are frequently vulnerable to fear, bitterness, and strife.” The good news, he says, “is that we have come through such darkness before.”

Perhaps. But not with both nuclear weapons and Twitter. And certainly not with such an anomalous presidency as this one. But I take your point, Mr. Meacham, and am heartened by it.

We will get through this, of course. But at the moment, we are in it, and we must face it squarely. Because too much is at stake for us to turn away, to leave it to others to defend the things we hold most dear.

A culminating event such as the election of our current president scrambles normal binary notions of politics, and I am as disoriented as many of you are at this dealignment. We find that many of the day’s biggest issues simply don’t break down neatly to familiar ideas of left v. right, but rather more along these lines:

–Do you believe in democracy, or not?

–Are you faithful to your country, or to your party?

–Are you loyal to the law and the Constitution, or to a man?

–Do you reflexively ascribe the worst motives to your opponents, but somehow deny, excuse, or endorse every repulsive thing your compatriot says, does or tweets?

These questions have sent some of us wandering into the political wilderness.

Well, the wilderness suits me fine. In fact, I so love the way Washington has become that in recent years, during congressional recesses, I have taken to stranding myself on deserted islands in the middle of the ocean to detoxify all these feelings of love out of my system. I once spent a week alone, voluntarily marooned, on a tiny island called Jabonwod, a remote spit of sand and coconut trees in the central Pacific, about 7,000 miles from Washington.

As penance, and determined to test my survival skills, I brought no food or water, relying solely on what I could catch or collect. That, it turned out, was the easier part.  More difficult was dealing with the stultifying loneliness that set in on the first night and never left me. 

Now, I would not recommend such drastic measures to escape your situation, but I hope that should you be presented with the hard choice, you too will eschew comfort and set out into the wilderness rather than compromise your conscience.

I urge you to challenge all of your assumptions, regularly. Recognize the good in your opponents. Apologize every now and then. Admit to mistakes. Forgive, and ask for forgiveness. Listen more. Speak up more, for politics sometimes keeps us silent when we should speak.

And if you find yourself in a herd, crane your neck, look back there and check out your brand, ask yourself if it really suits you. From personal experience, I can say that it’s never too late to leave the herd.

When you peel off from the herd, your equilibrium returns. Food tastes better. You sleep very well. Your mind is your own again. You cease being captive to some bad impulses and even worse ideas. 

It can strain relationships, to be sure, and leave you eating alone in the senate dining room every now and then. But that’s okay. To revise and extend a remark the president himself may recognize: You might say that I like people whose minds weren’t captured. That one was for you, Senator McCain. We’re all pulling for you.

Politically speaking, I have not changed my beliefs much at all. But my goodness, how I have changed. How can we live through these abnormal times and not be changed?

Our country needs us now. Our country needs you.

We need each other, and it is a scoundrel who would prosper politically by turning us against each other.

From our time, let us send a message into the future that we did not fail democracy, but that we renewed it. That a patchwork of populist resentments and authoritarian whims that for a while succeeded in its cynical mission of discord had the ultimate effect of shaking us from our complacency, reminding us of who we are and of our responsibilities to each other. Of reawakening us to our obligations as citizens.

Let us be able to say in the future that we faced these forces that would threaten the institutions of our liberty and tear us apart and that we said: NO.

I leave you today with more good news and bad news. This time I will start with the bad news, which is: All of this is yours to fix. All of it.

And that of course is also the good news: All of this is yours to fix, and our country could not be more fortunate than to have people of your high character, strong principle and awesome talent soon taking the helm.

[It] is our obligation to assess the condition of our politics, then to mitigate and repair the damage.

It is the story of America, though, that we will be better for the hard lessons of this experience. We are much better and more decent than Washington shows us to be. We are a good people. And we are a deeply resourceful and resilient nation, and our greatness is based on no one man – no one man who “alone can fix it,” but rather on enduring ideas of self-governance and the rule of law that have been a model for the world for centuries. Ideas that can be mocked, but not marred.

[We] must gain the high ground, and survey the damage. And the thing about gaining the high ground is from up there you can see beyond the damage, too. You can see everything. Everything that is good and decent.

That is the job before us – to get through this, and beyond it. And you’re just the ones to take us there.

Conclusion

Thank you, Senator Flake, for your speech and your challenge to us all.

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[1] Senator Jeff Flake’s Courageous Defense of American Values and Democracy, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 6, 2017).

[2]  Senator Jeff Flake Condemns President Trump’s “Fake News” Tirades, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 20, 2018).

[3] Press Release, Flake Delivers Class Day Speech at Harvard Law School (May 23, 2018).

 

 

The Antiquated Constitutional Structure of the U.S. Senate 

This year’s U.S. election re-emphasizes, for this blogger, the antiquated nature of the U.S. Constitution, especially the U.S. Senate.

Alec MacGillis, a government and politics reporter for ProPublica and the author of “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” points out that Democratic voters are increasingly concentrated in certain cities and urban areas while the Constitution allocates two Senate seats to each state regardless of population. The juxtaposition of these phenomena “helps explain why the Democrats are perpetually struggling to hold a majority. The Democrats have long been at a disadvantage in the Senate, where the populous, urbanized states where Democrats prevail get the same two seats as the rural states where Republicans are stronger. The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.”[1]

Nevertheless, Democrats are seeing signs that they may gain control of the Senate this election.

However, Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post columnist, points out that this control may last only two years. The reason? In the next election in 2018, 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election are currently held by Democrats, and five of these Democratic seats are in states that then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (and even Trump is likely to carry on this year’s election): Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Three other Democratic seats are far from “safe” seats:  Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida) Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin). The Republican seats up for election in 2018, on the other hand, look like difficult challenges for the Democrats.[2]

These consequences of the current constitutional structure of the U.S. Senate suggest, as argued in a prior post, “that the U.S. Senate in particular needs radical reform if we are to retain a bicameral national legislature. To require 60% of the Senators to agree in order to do almost anything [due to the filibuster rule,] for me, is outrageous. It should only be 51% for most issues. This deficiency is exacerbated by the fact that each state has two and only two Senators regardless of the state’s population. Yes, this was part of the original grand and anti-democratic compromise in the late 18th century when there were 13 states. But the expansion of the union to 50 states has made the Senate even more anti-democratic.” [3]

Since “I believe that it would not be wise to increase the size of the Senate to reflect the population of the states (like the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives) and that each state should continue to have two Senators in a bicameral upper house, I suggest for discussion that there be weighted voting in the Senate. Each Senator from Wyoming (the least populous state in 2010 with 564,000) would have 1 vote, for example, but each Senator from California (the most populous state in 2010 with 37,254,000) would have 66 votes (37254/564 = 66.05). This approach would produce a total Senate vote of 1,094 (total U.S. population in 2010 of 308,746,000 divided by 564,000 (population of Wyoming) = 547 x 2 = 1094). The weightings would be changed every 10 years with the new census population figures.”

Such changes would aid the U.S. government in addressing the many problems facing the nation, instead of the continuation of the gridlock that has helped to prevent progress on these many problems.

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[1] MacGillis, Go Midwest, Young Hipster, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2016).

[2] Cillizza, Even if Democrats Win the Senate in 2016, their majority is unlikely to endure, Wash. Post (Oct. 23, 2016).

[3] The Antiquated U.S. Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 28, 2012).