28 October 2020

Some Reflections on the (Fingers Crossed) Post Trump Era

I know Trump's defeat is not inevitable even now. Continue to fight. Work. Vote. But indulge me in a little "post Trump era" reflection. Short term there's lots to say long overdue policy, etc. and we will all need to think about and become engaged in those issues to make the new government, assuming there is one, actually fulfill their promise to act in our interests.
But I'm thinking longer term here for just a moment. If there is one serious constitutional lesson to take from the Trump era, it is that to avoid the hijacking of the entire government by an ideological cult, as has happened over the last 40 years culminating in the full takeover of the Supreme Court this week, from happening again, we need more than just popular vote of the president. We need three enormous structural reforms and we need to work assiduously with the long term goal of achieving them, however long it takes.
1. We need to explicitly curtail the powers of the presidency. No one person should have the ability to completely derail the values, enterprise, and direction of our society. The presidency was never intended to be an elected monarchy, which is how the rightists see it, quite openly. The Constitution contemplates an ADMINISTRATIVE (synonym for "executive") branch, which may involve itself in crafting compromises, and propose legislation, but which fundamentally and necessarily leaves the determination of policy to Congress. Folded into this should be the obviously necessary elimination of the Electoral College and the direct popular election of the president.
2. Congress needs to be EXPLICITLY reformed. So that rules cannot be hijacked by one party to completely control the deliberations and actions of the whole body, as McConnell has done to an unprecedented extent in the Senate. There should be VERY FEW, maybe zero, supermajority rules. And any member of either body should be able to propose and put to a vote legislation. There is no valid reason for rules that prevent this; they exist only to undemocratically consolidate power. And folded into THIS reform must be a reform of the representation of the Senate. In the original 13 states the largest was not much more than 10 times the population of the smallest. Now, it is over 40 times, and that means 40 million people have the same representation as half a million in the Senate. A sensible and simple reform, that would retain at least half the "state" representation in the original Constitution, would be to increase the Senate to 120, with only ONE per state allocated that way, and the other 70 being allocated to those states which by population are entitled to additional senators as proportional to population as possible.
3. Court reform. It simply cannot be tolerated that a faction can control the judiciary for decades through political machinations. Term limits, expanded courts, explicit ethical rules requiring recusal when a justice has made statements indicative of prejudice. And not just the Supreme Court. The ENTIRE judiciary should be expanded and reformed. This area of reform, it should be emphasized, is urgent, and, apart from term limits, CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED simply by legislation under the current Constitution. We need to strongly push our own party leaders to take this seriously and act on it immediately.
Thank you to anyone who's read all the way to here.

18 October 2020

A sort of secular homily "What, then, must we do?"

 With the Trump campaign in what sure looks like collapse, perhaps we in the resistance to him need to take a look at a few things. I'll try to keep this brief. The title of my little homily was the title of a book by Gar Alperowitz. I think it comes from British utilitarianism, which essentially held that it is, always, the essential question of any and all politics.

We, as a nation and as progressives within it, are very lucky it was Trump, and not a competent right wing populist demagogue who was more than willing to trash norms, laws and even the Constitution to get what he wanted. Keyword competent, because of course Trump has been all the rest of that. We would not be looking at getting rid of him by means of a MERE election otherwise, of that you can be absolutely certain. The fact is, we dodged a bullet, and it's given us an opportunity. We probably won't get another, so we'd better make the best of this one.


We have to confront the reasons a Trumplike figure could win in 2016, and develop a comprehensive strategy of what we need to do to repair the degraded state of our society that made it possible. We have on the one hand the right wing enterprise to dismantle whatever extent of social democracy we had, from 1945 to 1975 or so, including remaking the courts into an almost Ayn Randian objectivist body intended to obstruct any reconstruction of that system, let alone progress in it. This is probably our biggest problem going forward in trying to do all the things we need to do to get our country functioning and addressing the real threats to our continued thriving as a nation... climate change, radical wealth disparity, inadequate public services. But we have also failed at developing an ethos that people can believe in. More than half of Americans think tariffs are the way to get jobs back after "globalization," and think deporting more "illegal aliens" will make them better off. We, as progressives, have to not only do a better job of messaging, but do a much better job of actually developing policies that will convince people who didn't study economics in college, don't work in the "new economy," and have watched their standard of living steadily falling over at least the last 40 years. And not just convince them, but actually deliver not just policies, but actually transformation. Development, infrastructure, research, and services that transform lives. Policies that not only promise, but actually deliver better jobs, more services where they live, better and fairer trade, industrial, and tax policies so that American products actually can compete in the world, and American wages are not only competitive, but matched by world class social services that make ordinary peoples' lives more liveable and less of a struggle. This is the mission of our politics. Things like democratizing workplaces, promoting a Green New Deal like nothing the world has ever seen, to develop renewable technologies and infrastructure that will not only be the envy, but quite literally the model and engine of the same development and equities worldwide. And we have to do this very quickly. Time is short. We have quite literally wasted the last 20 years, accomplishing almost nothing of what we need to do. We need to remake the American economy so quickly that everyone gets swept up in the enterprise, and becomes invested in it, believes in it because it is about them and for them.

This is an absolutely enormous challenge. Comparable at least to World War II. But if we fail in it, our politics will just whipsaw right back to right wing populism, and next time, it will probably mean dictatorship, full-on Depression, and a very, very bleak future for North America and much of the rest of the World.
Somehow we have to convey this vision, make this a reality, pull our leaders into a mode of leadership where they understand and seriously want to try to accomplish these kinds of goals. I fear we are not up to it. But, friends, we have no choice. This is our challenge. Our one chance. Our planet is in deep trouble and only by remaking the entire enterprise of our civilization towards a sustainable, equitable, and transformative economy with realistic but extremely ambitious goals can we hope to remain a thriving and prosperous society while we make the transformations necessary to proceed through the rest of this century.
I am 67. It is not my generation who must lead this. Biden really is, at best, transitional. But we need to convince him, and everyone who works for him, to do what it takes to make it possible for the next generations to get busy and do this, sweeping ethnonationalism and plutocracy away in a whirlwind of new enterprise that comes from the people and works for the people.

I am convinced this is possible. Not confident it will happen. But if we don't have a shared vision and determination it certainly won't, whereas if we do, we just might be able to do it.