An Omen?

In Indiana, early voting started yesterday, and my husband and I got to the City-County Building at 8:00 a.m., when the polling place in the Clerk’s office was to open.

We didn’t stay to vote–because the line, at 8:03, already wound entirely around the block–and our blocks are long. (My husband, who just turned 88 and has a bad ankle, cannot stand for long, so we decided to take a folding chair and try again Friday.) There were several hundred people there, before the Clerk’s office even opened, determined to cast their ballots, and while impressions can be misleading, I’m pretty sure they weren’t Trump voters. It was beautiful.

Posts to Facebook showed the line replenishing through the day, and some people reported a three-hour wait to vote.

Granted, we live in a city, and in a world increasingly polarized into red and blue, cities of reasonable size are all deep blue. If there is similar turnout in the rural, deeply red parts of Indiana, we’re unlikely to turn the whole of our retrograde state blue–but that incredibly long line was immensely heartening.

I know that every election is touted as “most important.” But this time, it is clearly true. This election is about policy, of course–but at its center, it is a morality play. It will test whether our fellow Americans are prepared to recommit to the American ideals about equality that we’ve yet to achieve–or whether a majority of us will adamantly reject the goal of e pluribus unum–out of the many, one.

At its core, this election is about whether we will disavow or endorse bigotry.

The moral significance of this election is why I am really, really hoping that Trump survives COVID-19. As conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote in yesterday’s New York Times,

We wish him well because if, God forbid, the president were to die this month, he would go down undefeated, a martyr to the tens of millions of Americans who’ve treated him as a savior. Trump’s death would guarantee a long life for Trumpism, with his children as its principal beneficiaries.

We wish him well because Trump’s opponents — Democrats and NeverTrumpers alike — need a clean political victory. If Trump survives but is forced to endure a difficult recovery, it could put the hideousness of last week’s debate behind him, mute the criticism of his performance and soften his image in the eyes of wavering voters. The longer he lingers, the better his chances may be, at least politically.

We wish him well because if illness keeps him sidelined and he winds up losing the election, he will surely blame the disease for the loss. This could well be untrue (see above), but it won’t stop his supporters from believing it. Again, Trump the man needs to live — and lose — because it’s the only way the Trump cult might die.

For me, by far the most depressing aspect of the last twelve years has been the need to come to terms with an ugly reality–the number of Americans who embrace white nationalism, who have “come out” and shown the rest of us who they really are.

Until Obama’s election, I naively thought that the percentage of the population that was racist and hateful was relatively small. I was stunned when the rocks they’d been hiding under lifted, and they crawled out, spewing venom; I was demoralized and disheartened by their enthusiastic agreement with Trump’s insistence that civility, empathy and human-kindness are evidence of weakness in the face of “political correctness.”

This election will tell us how plentiful these people really are. It will tell me if my longstanding belief in the essential goodness and common sense of most Americans was hopelessly naive, or justified.

I hope that line at the City-County Building was an omen.

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The GOP Platform

As most readers of this blog undoubtedly know, David  Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. These days, he is a “Never Trumper” who contributes to  The Atlantic, and he has weighed in on the GOP’s decision to  forego a platform in 2020.

Frum says  that, despite their reluctance to publish a document outlining  where the party stands, there is, in fact, wide agreement among party members on a number of policies.

The Republican Party of 2020 has lots of ideas. I’m about to list 13 ideas that command almost universal assent within the Trump administration, within the Republican caucuses of the U.S. House and Senate, among governors and state legislators, on Fox News, and among rank-and-file Republicans.

As Frum sees it, the question isn’t why the GOP lacks  policies to put in a platform. The question is, why is the party so reluctant to publish the policies that virtually all today’s  Republicans support?  The answer  to that question becomes pretty obvious  when Frum lists the thirteen areas of substantial Republican agreement.

1. The first–no surprise–is reducing taxes on the rich. (That  seems to be the  sum total  of  Republican economic policy.)

2. Cutting taxes has been Republican policy for many years; Frum’s second “plank,” however, is  new. The GOP overwhelmingly subscribes to the belief that the coronavirus is a “much-overhyped problem” that will soon burn itself out. Since  it’s overhyped and “just  a flu,”states should reopen their economies as rapidly as possible. (The casualties that  ensue are a cost worth paying.) And wearing masks is useless.

3.Speaking of “overhyped”–Republicans overwhelmingly believe that climate change isn’t a real problem. They doubt that it is happening, but even if it  is,  they’re confident  that  it will be countered by the technologies of tomorrow. Meanwhile,” regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.”

4.. China is our enemy, and our relations with China should be  assessed as “zero  sum.” “When China wins, the U.S. loses, and vice versa.”

5. Speaking of foreign policy, our longstanding alliances are outdated.

The days of NATO and the World Trade Organization are over. The European Union should be treated as a rival, the United Kingdom and Japan should be treated as subordinates, and Canada, Australia, and Mexico should be treated as dependencies.

6. Health care is a consumer good,  and people should make their own best deals. The government shouldn’t be involved in making rules  for the insurance market. People who can  pay more should get more, and people who can’t pay  will just  have  to rely on Medicaid, accept charity, or go without.

7. Voting isn’t a right;  it’s a privilege.

States should have wide latitude to regulate that privilege in such a way as to minimize voting fraud, which is rife among Black Americans and new immigrant communities. The federal role in voting oversight should be limited to preventing Democrats from abusing the U.S. Postal Service to enable fraud by their voters.

8. Racism is no longer a real problem, but “reverse racism” is.

9. The courts should  eliminate the notion that a woman has a constitutional right to sexual privacy, or control over her own body.

10. The post-Watergate ethics reforms were too strict, and conflict-of-interest rules simply keep wealthy, successful businesspeople from entering public service. The Trump administration has met all reasonable ethical standards.

11. Build the wall! If immigrants do  manage to enter the country, delay citizenship  as  long as possible.

12. Aside from a few  “bad apples,”  the policeman is your  friend. Lawlessness is a  result  of  groups  like Black Lives Matter.

13. In the face of the “unfair onslaught” against President Donald Trump by the media and the “deep state,” his “occasional” excesses should be excused as pardonable reactions.

Frum  says that this tacit platform works–to the extent it does– by motivating Trump supporters, exciting  the remaining Republican  base. If it were  to be spelled out,  however, even in an abbreviated form, as I have done above, it would invite backlash among a  majority of Americans.

As Frum  says,  “This is a platform for a party that talks to itself, not to the rest of the country. And for those purposes, the platform will succeed most to the extent that it is communicated only implicitly, to those receptive to its message.”

Unbelievable  as it  is, a substantial minority of  voters find these positions rational,  even inspiring. That minority will work for the  election of candidates  wedded to these positions, and  they will vote. Those of us who see  this  “platform” as appalling absolutely  must  turn out in great numbers. We have to defeat the efforts  to  suppress our votes. We  have  to vote  early,  vote absentee,  or mask up and march to our  polling  places  on election  day–whatever it takes.

Get out the vote has never been more important. America’s  future  depends on turnout.

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State By State By FiveThirtyEight

There has rarely been an election where turnout and (as Paul Ogden has repeatedly reminded us) accurate counting of the ballots cast by the voters who do turn out, has been more important.

In recognition of that reality, a number of state and national efforts are being made to help people register  and cast a vote: websites like Indiana Citizen, JustGoVote and a number of others–some, like that produced by NBC News, that are really impressive– have joined the official sites maintained by government agencies and the more established nonprofit sites like Ballotpedia.

There is no dearth of information and it is accessible to even the least “politically connected” voter.

That said, the recent state by state voting guide prepared by FiveThiryEight.com is one of the most comprehensive compilations I’ve seen. The “landing page” is color-coded, showing at a glance how difficult or easy it is to vote in each state, whether each state allows voting by mail, and if so under what circumstances (are excuses required? If so, what are they? Does fear of the pandemic count?)

For each state, the site’s text explains how to register, how to request and submit an absentee ballot, whether the state allows early voting, and whether the state plans to close polling places or otherwise make in-person voting more difficult. It also has a category called “what we’re watching.”

Here’s the information on Indiana’s page (without, however, the colorful graphics that make it both attractive and easier to read.) There is a similar page for every state.

Indiana
Registration
Register to vote by Oct. 5. You can register online here.

Voting early
Counties must offer early voting Oct. 6-9, Oct. 13-16, Oct. 19-24, Oct. 26-31 and Nov. 2. Counties may also offer it Oct. 10-12, Oct. 17-18, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1; check with local election officials for locations and the exact schedule in your area.

In-person voting
So far, no plans to close polling places have been announced.

Requesting an absentee ballot
In order to vote absentee, you must have an excuse, such as being age 65 or older, sick or out of town on Election Day. You can apply for an absentee ballot online here. Election officials must receive your application by Oct. 22.

Submitting an absentee ballot
Absentee ballots must be received by noon on Nov. 3.

What we’re watching
Indiana waived the need for an excuse to vote absentee in its June primary, but it may not do so in the general election. A pair of lawsuits are still pending that would allow anyone to vote absentee and extend the deadline by which ballots must be received.

Share the URL and share it widely– then prepare to help friends and neighbors cast their ballots! Make sure they have the documentation required by our ridiculous “Voter ID” law, offer them a ride to the polls, call them the day before and again in the afternoon of November 3d…whatever it takes.

And if you want or need a reason to work harder than you ever did before to get SANE people to the polls, go listen to Nate Silver’s 2020 election forecast.

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Excellent Advice

Last Tuesday, Jamelle Bouie had a truly useful column in the New York Times.

On this blog, I cite and link to a wide variety of opinion and research, mostly because I’m sharing information I consider interesting, factual and important. It is much rarer to come across information that is both illuminating and practical– useful.

Bouie began with a prediction that won’t surprise anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the past four years: if the first returns on election night show him even slightly ahead, Trump will declare victory and have his minions doing everything they can to stymie the counting of additional, mail-in ballots. (In 2018, as the results of absentee ballots came in, the Democrats’ advantage grew substantially–what had looked like an anemic victory turned into a blue wave.) Recent research confirms that–for reasons that remain obscure–later counted votes have routinely benefitted Democrats.

If Trump is leading on election night, in other words, there’s a good chance he’ll try to disrupt and delegitimize the counting process. That way, if Joe Biden pulls ahead in the days (or weeks) after voting ends — if we experience a “blue shift” like the one in 2018, in which the Democratic majority in the House grew as votes came in — the president will have given himself grounds to reject the outcome as “fake news.”

Unlike the pundits who simply point out the ways in which disaster might strike in November, however, Bouie proposes a remedy; he tells us what we can do to avoid that disaster.

The only way to prevent this scenario, or at least, rob it of the oxygen it needs to burn, is to deliver an election night lead to Biden. This means voting in person. No, not everyone will be able to do that. But if you plan to vote against Trump and can take appropriate precautions, then some kind of hand delivery — going to the polls or bringing your mail-in ballot to a “drop box” — will be the best way to protect your vote from the president’s concerted attempt to undermine the election for his benefit.

Here in Indiana, our Republican Governor and Secretary of State  have thus far refused to allow no-excuse absentee voting. But thanks to previous lawsuits brought by Common Cause, we have a reasonable number of satellite voting locations, and we have 28 days of early voting. My husband and I had already decided that we would “mask up” and (as usual) vote early in person.

As Bouie reports, and we all know, Trump is increasingly desperate to hold on to power. If the polls are even close to correct, he probably can’t win a fair fight.

His solution, then, is to do everything in his power to hinder the opposition and either win an Electoral College majority or claim victory before all the votes have been counted.

A key element of Trump’s strategy is to undermine the Postal Service’s ability to deliver and collect mail. The president’s postmaster general has removed experienced officials, implemented cuts and raised postage rates for ballots mailed to voters, increasing the cost if states want the post office to prioritize election mail. And Politico reports that Trump’s aides and advisers in the White House have been searching for ways to curb mail-in voting through executive action, “from directing the Postal Service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.”

The polls also reflect a huge partisan split on the issue of mail-in voting, with 54 percent of Biden supporters preferring  mail compared to only 17 percent of Trump supporters. If those percentages are reflected in the early returns, Bouie’s election-night scenario becomes terrifyingly possible.

The best defense for the president’s political opponents is, if possible, to vote in person. For some, this will mean going to the polls in November, in the middle of flu season, when the spread of Covid-19 may worsen. In most states, however, there are multiple ways to cast or hand in a ballot. Every state offers some form of early or absentee voting, and 33 states — including swing states like Arizona and Wisconsin — allow absentee voting without an excuse. Trump supports absentee voting — it’s how his older supporters in Florida vote — and his opponents should take advantage of the fact that those systems won’t be under the same kind of attack. Many vote-by-mail states also offer drop boxes so that voters can deliver ballots directly to the registrar. And if you must mail in your ballot, the best practice would be to post it as early as possible, to account for potential delays.

The best possible outcome would be a massive election-night repudiation of Trump and his enablers–so massive that it leaves no room for doubt that the majority of Americans want to begin the hard work of repairing the incalculable damage  done to both our institutions and Americans’ self-respect.

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Well–For Once, He’s Been Honest, Even If Accidentally

As if being confined to our homes–or worse, going to essential jobs and worrying whether we were inevitably going to contract the Coronavirus–wasn’t stressful enough, those of us who follow such things watch in frustration as the Trump Administration reverses environmental protections and amasses powers the Constitution previously denied to the Executive branch.

Not to mention increasing worries about the upcoming election.

It is beginning to look as if  mandatory social distancing will extend right through what should be campaign season, and disrupt the ability of millions of Americans to vote in November. Republicans may have demonstrated their utter inability to govern in the public interest, but political observers are well aware of their consummate skills in vote suppression–their ability to use any disruption, any excuse, to keep people from the polls.

The one bright spot is the jaw-dropping idiocy of Trump himself. (As a friend frequently reminds me, just think how much more harm he could do if he had an IQ or was even minimally competent.) As the Guardian recently reported, 

Donald Trump admitted on Monday that making it easier to vote in America would hurt the Republican party.

The president made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting as states seek to safely run elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Democrats had proposed the measures as part of the coronavirus stimulus. They ultimately were not included in the $2.2tn final package, which included only $400m to states to help them run elections.

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends.

Talking Points Memo also commented on the admission.

You’re not supposed to say the quiet parts out loud, Mr. President!

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump told the co-hosts of “Fox and Friends” that House Democrats had tried to include “crazy” proposals in the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed last week, including measures aimed at easing the voting process for Americans during the coronavirus outbreak.

It isn’t that We the People have been unaware that the country has millions more Democrats than Republicans. The Electoral College is fiercely defended by GOP operatives who know that it gives disproportionate influence to rural Republicans; thanks to GOP gerrymandering, Republicans dominated Congress after the 2016 election despite receiving a million and a half fewer votes than Democrats–in 2018, in order to overcome that advantage and retake control of the House, Democrats had to win by staggering percentages.

This isn’t new. The Guardian  went back to 1980.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative activist, said in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

In the wake of the Depression, Americans demanded changes to governance that shaped the America most of us grew up in. The GOP has fought most of those changes–especially those that strengthened the social safety net–and has relied heavily on voter apathy and the party’s ability to suppress the votes of minorities and poorer Americans to erase them.

There really is no debate about what sorts of policies the majority of Americans want–or about the tactics Republicans intend to employ to ensure that those policies never get implemented. Trump has admitted what every sentient person already knew.

The unanswered question is: will the current pandemic be as much of a wake-up call as the Depression?

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