Monday, November 14, 2016
We could always hope that Trump won't actually implement these proposals. Maybe his bark during the campaign was worse than his bite. Maybe, as many have said, he doesn't really want this job, didn't expect to get it, and will just enjoy being president the way a reality show contestant enjoys winning the contest, without showing much interest in actually governing the country. I would not count on this outcome. The reality of power is too intoxicating. Given the opportunity, few shy away from exercising it, especially if they are as enamored of themselves as Donald Trump appears to be. We should therefore fully expect that Trump will try to do most of the things that he has repeatedly promised he will do. As I am suggesting, Trump may wait for a suitable pretext to get public opinion on his side before implementing some of his more dangerous ideas, and by that time it may be too late for the political system to resist.
The government's expanded powers might not seem unacceptable at first. Most people will probably support them. We will get used to showing our papers and alerting the authorities to suspicious behavior. And mass protests probably won't be effective in preventing these expansions of executive power; instead protests will probably be used to justify even more curtailment of freedoms.
Unlike the expansion of police powers that we allowed after 9/11, when the government paid some attention to avoiding profiling, and President Bush went out of his way to assure Americans that Muslims were not being targeted, I would not expect the same degree of care in the next expansion of power. Candidate Trump has already been explicit about his desire to engage in profiling and targeting of various minority groups.
I would also expect that crackdowns against allegedly dangerous elements in the country will start to take on a more political cast, and that Trump will not hesitate to paint his political opponents as terrorist sympathizers, or coddlers of disparaged groups, thus making opposition seem illegitimate.
Given the prospect that a more authoritarian form of government will emerge from a Trump administration, and that by the time it happens, it will be too late to resist, it is understandable that demonstrations and other forms of resistance are already occurring only a few days after the election. My fear is that these demonstrations may end up being counter-productive. First because it is offensive to our electoral process to protest the results of a fair election. Second because demonstrations will themselves be used as a justification for new security measures in the name of law and order.
If mass protests won't protect us from the gradual accumulation of executive power, the expansion of legalized discrimination, and increased restrictions on freedom of expression, what will? I draw some comfort from my faith in the federal judiciary, and our country's strong commitment to the rule of law. Donald Trump can be expected to press the courts to recognize expanded executive powers. In keeping with past behavior, he may try to intimidate judges at all levels. He is no stranger to litigation, and would probably relish a fight in that forum. We have to have some confidence that the third branch of government will rein in any excesses, as it was designed to do. People are worried about who the next president will appoint to the Supreme Court. It's an important issue, but even more important is whether judges of integrity, whether a John Roberts or a Sonia Sotomayor, remain free to halt unlawful expansions of governmental power, and whether their orders are respected.
Mamy of the concerns being expressed about the next administration revolve around policy issues: health care, women's rights, environmental regulation, education, etc. Of course these issues are important, but we have to respect the right of those who win elections to affect policy. And we ought to work together with political adversaries to find common ground. To focus only on policy issues, however, is to treat this election as a normal transfer of power from one party to the other, and perhaps to lose sight of serious looming threats to the rule of law, to our democratic process, and to the protection of Constitutional rights and liberties. These are the values that define our nation, and that we must protect vigilantly above all else.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Monday, March 21, 2016
Friday, March 18, 2016
So why did President Obama "give in" to Senate Republicans and appoint such an acceptable candidate, instead of trying to make a more bold choice? President Obama's tactic is already encountering a small amount of displeasure from his own base, and runs counter to what some other presidents have done when they spar with the Senate over confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. Reagan, for example, played to his base by putting forward the very conservative Robert Bork, but when Bork was rejected by the Senate, Reagan backed down and submitted the more moderate Anthony Kennedy. When Nixon's conservative pick Clement Haynesworth was rejected, in a fit of pique he first tried to double down and submit someone even more unacceptable to the Senate, Harrold Carswell, but Nixon eventually relented and appointed Harry Blackmun. President Obama is making the opposite play, giving in to the Senate up front by appointing a moderate, rather than provoking them with a liberal.
So far all we're hearing from the White House is that there is no reason to wait until the lame duck session in December. But I wouldn't be too surprised if President Obama's next negotiating move is to tell Senate Republicans that if they don't confirm this nominee before the election, his name is going to be withdrawn. Deadlines are also a risky tool in negotiations, but they also can be used as a display of strength. I don't usually counsel parties in negotiations to employ deadlines and ultimatums, because too often parties need to back down from them when they are tested. The tactic might work in this case, however, depending on how bad the Republicans' November prospects end up looking this summer. On the other hand, President Obama may feel no need to add additional pressure, and he also probably feels that Merrick Garland would be a great addition to the Supreme Court, even if he has to wait until December for that to happen.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Friday, November 6, 2015
Friday, October 2, 2015
"This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loves ones because of our inaction. When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. The notion that gun violence is somehow different—that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt, and protect their families, and do everything they do under such regulations—doesn't make sense." —President Obama on the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon: http://go.wh.gov/7Gk8Eh #UCCShootingPosted by The White House on Thursday, October 1, 2015
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Thursday, July 30, 2015
It seems obvious, and is pretty much accepted in principle, that those who use and benefit from federal highways ought to pay for their construction and maintenance. We have been operating under that principle at least since the creation of the Interstate Highway system. And the federal gas tax, while not a perfect way of collecting the necessary funds from the users and beneficiaries of those roads, does a pretty fair job of spreading the burden. But the gas tax isn't collecting enough money now. Cars are using less gas. And the tax, because it is still a fixed 18 cents per gallon, is far lower as a percentage of the cost of driving than it used to be. So the obvious solution is to raise the gas tax. And doing that would bring a host of other benefits in addition to making many needed repairs to roads and bridges, such as reducing air pollution, encouraging the use of public transportation, putting construction workers back to work, and generally making the world a more livable place.
Why aren't more people outraged by this? Congress's behavior on this issue is disgraceful, but Congress would probably get its act together if people cared enough to demand that they fix the problem. So why are we not mailing in petitions and marching in the crumbling streets to demand an immediate increase in the gas tax? Granted there are a lot of other pressing problems out there, but this problem is important too, and it is also easily solvable. It doesn't reflect well on ourselves to be so selfish as to be unwilling to pay for the roads we use every day.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
So the protesters beautifully fulfilled their purpose. And attendees got a much more revealing look at the candidates than we would have obtained from hearing out their campaign platforms.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
But maybe it's not so remarkable that the critics have not even bothered to make what I think is the only relevant comparison. Maybe it would be a futile effort to try to walk them through the text, because their opposition springs from more fundamental concerns than the terms that have been negotiated. They would probably object to any deal that Iran would agree to, because any deal that lifts sanctions will make Iran a more powerful, and therefore dangerous influence in the region. Any deal that allows Iran any weapons development capability at all can be viewed as an attempt to appease a dictatorial regime. Any deal that puts the world on better terms with Iran leads the world into a false sense of security.
It should be acknowledged that the critics have legitimate concerns, and that their arguments cannot be refuted by logic or reason. That is not to say that any of these arguments are right. I happen to think they are all wrong, or at least they are outweighed by the tangible benefits of making peace, and that the alternative of failing to reach agreement is far more dangerous. Still I don't think it's possible to persuade the implacable foes of Iran--or President Obama--of that. They can still respond with cries of appeasement, or with fears of the dangers posed by the Islamic Republic. They can't be proven wrong except by time. I have dealt with parties in conflict enough to know that they usually can't be persuaded by a mathematical demonstration of the benefits of the deal on the table vs. the costs and uncertainties of continued conflict. Instead they must in some other way reach a point where they feel that they can let go of the conflict and accept the deal.
Signing on to a deal with a partner that has attacked or betrayed you in the past always requires a leap of faith, no matter how airtight are the verification procedures for the deal's strictures. Peace always represents a leap of faith. And the arguments in favor of maintaining conflict, and distrusting one's adversaries are usually powerful. That must be why humanity so often resorts to war at the drop of a hat, while establishing peace is a fraught and difficult process.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Are they supposed to dance in the streets the way supporters of LGBT rights did, to cheer the Court's permission to use harmful drugs for lethal injections in death penalty cases? Should they be happy that the EPA will have more trouble keeping the skies clear of air pollution?
Maybe justices like Scalia, Alito and Thomas aren't upset just because they found themselves on the losing side of some important constitutional decisions. Supreme Court Justices can handle losing. They don't mind writing dissents. It could be instead that conservatives are angry about being forced to applaud death and pollution, while at the same time they are forced to try to prevent people from getting health care, or marrying the people they love. Being compelled by ideology to take those hateful positions could make anyone grouchy.
Notice that Justice Roberts did not seem nearly as unhappy as the three conservative justices to his right. In the marriage equality case, he was only a little bit grumpy. Roberts was willing to concede that proponents of marriage equality have something to celebrate, even though he would have preferred that they use the political process to achieve that, instead of the courts. And in the Obamacare case, Justice Roberts went along with the majority's construction of the statute, and therefore avoided being in the difficult position of trying to take away people's access to medical care in order to support a different construction. If Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas want to avoid the ill effects that come from all their scowling, sputtering and screaming, maybe they would do well to follow Roberts's example.