Tag Archives: Snyder

Defeating Trump’s Coup d’état

Donald Trump is planning to take control of the U.S. government regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. I believe that deeply. Even if I’m wrong about that, we must prepare on the assumption that I’m right. If wrong, and he goes quietly, fine. If I’m right, saving the country and its republican form of democracy will likely depend on how we prepare in the next three months.

The classical definition of a coup d’état is the “sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.” But there are other, more subtle ways of accomplishing a coup. Trump himself, a master of the “I am a victim” trope, has argued repeatedly that the Mueller investigation was an attempted coup. Many Republicans have reiterated that “argument.” Now the argument has morphed into an attack on mail-in voting, a process similar to absentee voting and identical to the voting procedures used in five states: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Timothy Snyder, author of  On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from The Twentieth Century, has described Trump’s position as a “prime historical fascist tactic”: create a crisis, then use that as an excuse to reject the peaceful transfer of power. Snyder knows a thing or two about tyranny and how it can work to destroy a democracy. He has written that “Trump’s ‘Delay the Election’ tweet checks all 8 rules for fascist propagandahttps://wapo.st/3i0remw We ignore his warnings at our extreme peril.

Since Trump can’t legally delay the election on his own, his main task is to find someone to foul up the election so he can claim a right to stay in power. The tactic is not unlike the infamous “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest,” an utterance by a king that led to the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has launched a multi-front attack to get his way: undermining the U.S. Postal Service and claiming mail-in voting is the cause of massive voter fraud.

Let’s move from the sublime to the practical. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, there are about 200,000 polling places in the United States even after the Republicans’ massive voter suppression efforts in multiple southern states to reduce polling places so as to increase voter travel and waiting-in-line times. Election Administration & Voting Survey, 2018 Comprehensive Report to Congress. https://bit.ly/39UakD7

That Report notes that,

more than120 million Americans voted in the 2018 general elections, a turnout rate of 52 percent of the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) .… turnout in the 2018 general elections increased in nearly all states when compared to 2014. Some states saw turnout levels that approached those of a typical presidential election.

That was the glorious Blue Wave that swept Democrats into control of the House of Representatives. Moreover,

More than half of voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day, and one-quarter of participants cast their ballots by mail. Nearly one-fifth voted early at in-person early voting sites, a rate that more than doubled since the 2014 elections. In six states, more than half of ballots were cast at in-person early voting sites. Although the overall rate of by-mail voting has not changed significantly since 2014, the states of California, Montana, and Utah saw large increases in their statewide by-mail voting rates.

These remarkable results involved more than 600,000 volunteer poll workers. However, nearly 70 percent of responding jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to obtain a sufficient number of poll workers. That was, obviously, long before the coronavirus pandemic. This year the challenge will be massively greater.

There are numerous other obstacles to more robust voting. For example,

Thirteen states do not offer online voter registration

Fewer than half of states allow for same day voter registration

Only three states run their elections entirely by mail (4 others have all-by-mail voting in select local jurisdictions

About a quarter of states require in-person early voters to provide an excuse for doing so

Less than one-third of states have vote centers or allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in their jurisdiction.

That is what Republican control of many state legislatures, combined with active Republican voter suppression tactics, have left us.

Given the pandemic and ongoing threats to voting by Republicans in 2020, what could go wrong? Answer: everything; the signs are unmistakable.

Republicans, including Trump himself, have publicly admitted that, for example, changes like universal automatic voter registration and mail-in voting will favor Democrats. Therefore, Republicans conjure various bogus and non-evidence-based claims of massive voter fraud, mistakes and delays, even as Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. Postal Service works to cripple the Service’s ability to adapt to major volume increases for the upcoming election. And Trump urges the voter suppression work onward because, as Prof. Snyder has observed, he pretty well knows he’s going to be defeated in a fair election process.

What can Democrats do to avoid the roadblocks Republicans are going to place in the path of increased voter turnout?

The answer is to plan out every potential obstructionist scenario and prepare countermeasures accordingly.

At the most basic level, it is crucial to identify polling places where long lines are likely on November 3. For every such location, Democrats should provide portable toilets, snacks, water, rain ponchos and anything else that will make it easier for voters to stay in line as long as it takes. Virtually everyone who gives up and leaves the line will not return later to vote, so it crucial to help every Democrat stick it out as long as needed.

The actual voting process must be closely observed to assure that bogus obstacles are not thrown in the path of voters. In cases of asserted issues, poll watchers must insist that provisional ballots be provided, and a close count must be maintained of how many such ballots are collected. Watching the final tally at the end of the voting day is equally important. This process can be tedious and a bit complicated; trained observers are important, as their mere presence will discourage shenanigans during the counting and reporting process.

To the extent consistent with local laws, videos and photographs should be taken of the physical setup of each polling place. Record any incidents of potential voter interference outside the polling station. The recent incidents in Minnesota, for example, in which armed “protesters” demanded removal of mask requirements and opening of lockdowns at state legislatures and elsewhere are evidence suggesting that armed groups may appear at polling places in “open carry” states to try to intimidate voters by their presence.

Democratic watchers must be present to record any such incidents and to reassure waiting voters that they should not be deterred from exercising their right to vote. Armed “militias” should not be allowed to, for example, interrogate voters approaching the polling station about why they are there. Poll-watchers should be equipped with contact information for the State and Local Police as well as key media outlets in the area. The more eyes on the situation, the less likely actual acts of intimidation will be successful. In polling places located where potential disruptions are considered most likely, Democrats should always have more than one person on-site from opening to reporting of the final tally.

These recommendations are a tall order, requiring a large commitment from many people. Nevertheless, the stakes are also extremely high — nothing less than the survival of American democracy. Trump intends to steal the election by whatever method works and he has started multiple paths to that end. Having sent federal “troops” to Portland and other cities on the pretext of protecting federal property, with the predictable result of further destabilizing the situation and increasing the violence, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The people must stop at nothing to thwart his plan to undermine democracy.

It’s important to remember that Trump’s hard-core supporters are a minority of the voting population. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote was larger by just under 2.9 million votes. Her defeat was a product of many things, not least of which was Russian interference and the Electoral College, the vestige of a past time that enhances the voting power of the smaller states and thus, for example, enlarges the impact of southern state resistance to social policies favored by Democrats. It is likely Trump is getting help from Russia again this year. The election rules are fixed for now so the answer to Trump is maximum Democratic voter turnout.

Also keep in mind that Trump has lied repeatedly about his agenda. Just one example — his lawyers are in court right now trying to end insurance protection of pre-existing conditions. If re-elected, Trump will have free-reign to bring down what remains of America’s best institutions. If defeated, we can immediately begin rebuilding a civil society that treats all citizens fairly and promotes the common good of everyone, including recovery from the pandemic.

It’s up to you. If you can do it, please volunteer to help on Election Day. We must prepare for the worst case if we’re going to win.








Most important Book You’re Not Going to Read This Year

I have just finished reading Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass Sunstein. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University where he founded its Program on Behavioral Economics. He is the author of, among many others, Impeachment, A Citizen’s Guide, which you are also not going to read, but should.

The contributors of the essays in this stunning book are mostly distinguished law professors from Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Columbia, NYU and Duke. These people know whereof they speak.

And speak they do, sometimes a bit turgidly as law professors are wont to do, but also brilliantly and incisively addressing the sources of risk that the United States could lose its hold on democracy. It’s important to understand that this is not an anti-Trump screed, although, as you might expect, Trump’s conduct as president figures prominently in many of the essays. The reason is that his behavior is in the classical line of actions taken by political strong men who have undermined democracy in their countries. It’s also important to remember the United States has some blood on its own hands from past episodes of authoritarian behavior induced by crises such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The threats to American democratic institutions, free press, elections and other features of a free and open society in which we have grown up are real and immediate. While some of the essays are guardedly optimistic about the resiliency of our Constitution and institutions to resist the imposition of an authoritarian regime, you will find cold comfort in most of the essays. They are, along with other recent works like Elaine May’s Fortress America – How We Embraced Fear & Abandoned Democracy, compelling, history- and fact-based accounts of how democracy can fail, and may actually be failing, under the relentless pressures of an autocratic president supported by a single-party Congress. These are conditions not contemplated by the Founding Fathers whose Constitution, as brilliant as it is, may lack sufficient safeguards against one-party rule that does not respect the values on which that document was based.

If you are serious about understanding what is happening in American politics today, this book is a must-read.

To give you a taste, the chapter entitled “Constitutional Rot” observes that “These four horsemen — polarization, loss of trust, economic inequality, and policy disaster — mutually reinforce each other.” Further, “In an oligarchical system, regardless of its formal legal characteristics, a relative small number of backers effective decide who stays in power.”

In the chapter entitled “Beyond Elections: Foreign Interference with American Democracy,” Samantha Power discusses how non-mediated social media opened the door to Russian influence in U.S. elections. The chapter “Paradoxes of the Deep State” addresses little-known history of the so-called “Deep State” with surprising observations about the “leaks” in the Trump administration. Then, the chapter “How We Lost Constitutional Democracy” sets out grave and chilling warnings about the erosion of democratic norms and the limits of the Constitution as an obstacle to the destruction of democracy as we know it.

As I said earlier, this book is serious stuff and not an easy read. Yet the issues analyzed in it are critical to a deep understanding of what is happening and the extent to which we can “count on the Constitution” as a defense against loss of freedom and democratic process.

When you are finished being frightened to death, I continue to urge everyone to read On Tyranny-Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder, a measly 126 pages. Finally, if you want to dig deeply into some of the mysteries of the behaviors of voters whose conduct you consider self-defeating and borderline insane. I commend to you two tomes that I guarantee will open your eyes to ideas you never dreamed of: Thinking, Fast & Slow, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, and Behave – the Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky [skip the details on endocrinology, unless you really dig that sort of stuff].

To conclude, for now, I believe the following to be more likely true than not:

1. Trump’s election was unlawfully procured through interference by, and his collusion with one or more foreign powers; the more he fumes and fulminates against this idea, the more likely it seems to be true;

2. Trump has violated Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution by failing to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed;”

3. Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Article I, Section 9;

4. Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice, which qualifies as a “high crime” or “misdemeanor” under the Constitution, Article 2, Section 4, and, in the specific circumstances, is guilty of treason as well;

5. Trump and members of his family and officials appointed by him, along with Republican members of Congress, have engaged in a conspiracy to conceal evidence of crimes by them and others and to prevent the full investigation and prosecution of such crimes by appropriate government authorities.

I also believe the following truths are now indisputable:

1. Democratic norms are under active siege by a president who neither understands nor cares about such norms;

2. While the prospect of indictment of the president as a result of Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation is highly appealing, there is little chance that such a move is going to occur soon and it will, in any case, provoke a lengthy constitutional crisis that will end up in the Supreme Court and therefore not afford a near-term solution to the governance crisis that confronts the nation;

3. The most immediate and most important defense against the oligarchical theocracy, or the theocratic oligarchy, if you prefer, that the president, vice president and Republican Congress want to establish, and to some degree have already established, is for the Democratic Party to take control of Congress in the 2018 elections;

4. Democratic control of both houses of Congress would immediately create an insurmountable bulwark against further destruction of democracy by the administration and lay the framework for removal and prosecution of the Trump gang and its enablers;

5. Trump’s sycophantic supporters are preparing to defend him with aggressive voter turnout and contributions of huge amounts of money. Nonetheless, Democrats must overwhelm them at the polls if we are to turn the tide against the fascist practices of this administration. If we fail, we will face two more years of entrenchment, destruction of the independence of the judiciary and undermining of the free press. The loss of those two elements of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances will make it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to turn back the tide. It’s 2018 or nothing.

6. Every American should view this situation as a grave threat to their well-being and the well-being of their families present and future. It is time for the Democratic Party leadership to start leading politically and for the personal ambitions and agendas of the old guard to yield the floor to the generations that will have the most to lose if the foundations of democracy are not restored. Remember that those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

7. It is time for a game plan that does not repeat the same mistakes that led to the disastrous defeat in 2016. The Republicans know the same things we know about what happened. They have a keen understanding of their political base and how to stimulate it to action on behalf of their agenda. Trump’s base is uninterested in the truth about him or his policies; they have created their own truths in which they choose to believe and nothing is going to change most of them. It is therefore absolutely essential that every potential Democratic vote be cast in every district. There have been a few interim wins in replacement contests, but these are no laurels on which to rest. Democrats cannot afford to give up any seat that is potentially winnable. It’s now or never.

On Tyranny – Read It Now

On his CNN show last Sunday, Fareed Zakaria recommended that viewers read On Tyranny, by noted Yale University Professor of History, Timothy Snyder. You can read about him here: http://history.yale.edu/people/timothy-snyder.

The subtitle of the 126-page book is “Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.” Using examples from the history of Europe and other places where dictatorships and far-right authoritarian regimes have arisen, Snyder sets out advice, well-grounded in history, of how people in the United States should respond to the threats to democracy that are now flourishing in the United States. Some of the “lessons” may seem simple in their expression, but Snyder powerfully connects them to historical experience elsewhere. It is a “how to” guide to resisting the slide toward authoritarian governance.

The compelling first chapter, for example, is entitled “Do not obey in advance” and explains the concept of “anticipatory obedience” and where it can lead. I found Chapter 17 particularly compelling. It’s titled “Listen for dangerous words” and explains it this way:

“A Nazi leader out-maneuvers his opponents by manufacturing a general conviction the present moment is exceptional, and then transforming that state of exception into a permanent emergency. Citizens then trade real freedom for fake safety.” [On Tyranny at 100].

On Tyranny is an important work that should be read by everyone interested in the disrupted and disruptive political situation faced by the United States under the Trump administration.

I have thought a lot about the source of this book’s power. In part, I think, it derives from the very brevity of the messages and supporting material. The 126 pages are only 4.5 by 6.75 inches – you can carry in the back pocket of your jeans

But the call-outs are not merely cheap and easy aphorisms. They are deep concepts that should be absorbed and acted upon by all who want to preserve the Land of the Free. If you are concerned about what is happening to America under the Trump administration, you should read this book. You can find it here: http://amzn.to/2ouLXHs and here: http://bit.ly/2oRXmx8.