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Trump’s Season Finale

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Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

With just days left until the Electoral College meets to determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election officially, it’s becoming increasingly likely that we’re in the final episode of the Trump presidency.

While tumultuous at times, Donald Trump’s reign has had all the makings of a blockbuster television series. It’s been infused with lies, scandals, assassinations, and plenty of palace intrigue to keep both national and international audiences glued to their seats. The last few weeks have been no different. Trump surged to an early lead in the late hours of November 4. Still, like the 1972 Olympic men’s basketball final, Joe Biden won it all with buzzer-beater finishes in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

Unsurprisingly, those victories were not without controversy. Within days, the Trump administration and its surrogates took to Twitter, refusing to concede while making outlandish claims of widespread voter fraud and corruption. However, after multiple defeats in court for lack of evidence, it’s becoming increasingly clear that those claims have been without merit and that Joe Biden’s promotion from former vice president to sitting president is all but inevitable.

The truth is Donald Trump lost for a variety of reasons, but none of them included voter fraud. He lost because of his own shortcomings and inability to manage his administration strategically. The former television star turned politician, who was praised for his prowess in public relations, fought a war of attrition with the mainstream media and lost. Negative storylines peeled off his support the way water erodes rock, leaving a Republican coalition too undersized to repeat the anomaly that took place in 2016.

What’s striking is that the past four years before COVID-19 were actually reasonably good for the American people. Under the Trump administration, the United States achieved record unemployment and considerable economic growth, so much so that 61 per cent of Americans say they are better off now than they were three years ago. However, that did not translate into support for the president because of his failure to effectively communicate with the public. Instead of controlling the news cycle, President Trump fought battle after battle with the media over nanoscopic issues that often distracted the public from his successes.

In hindsight, those skirmishes brought self-inflicted wounds, but they didn’t bring down the orange swan. It was COVID-19 that acted as the kill shot.

In fact, according to NBC exit polls, the coronavirus pandemic was the most important factor for 17 per cent of American voters. Of those voters, 81 per cent of them favored Joe Biden. That, of course, is not an accident. Since the epidemic began, Donald Trump has failed to communicate consistently and has made it easy for his opponents to chastise his response to the virus. Casually dismissing the pandemic, publicly quarreling with the nation’s top medical expert, and eventually testing positive with the virus, amongst other such instances, were weaponized by Democrats to paint Trump’s approach as ineffective and unserious. And that’s precisely the impression millions of voters had when casting their ballots.

So voter fraud is not why Trump lost this election, but that doesn’t mean that the American electoral system is not without flaws. Indeed, American democracy is in a crisis right now, marred with widespread dissatisfaction, a concerning lack of political pluralism, and a decentralized set of election rules that set the tone for chaos. What the United States needs to do before 2024 is reform its electoral system. Here are ideas on how that could be done.

Break the Duopoly

According to the Pew Research Center, almost 60 per cent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way their democracy is working. Obviously, there are multiple reasons for that, but the Republican and Democratic Parties’ duopoly over the American political system is ostensibly the most fundamental cause of this discontent.

As Harvard’s illustrious Michael Porter has pointed out, the two parties might seem like bitter rivals, they actually have colluded in creating rules that guarantee their dominance and prevent competition. For example, the Federal Election Commission requires a presidential candidate to have a 15 per cent polling threshold to participate in a nationally televised debate. This was a rule obviously set to benefit the establishment parties. What it means is that although candidates like Gary Johnson (Libertarian) who polled at 10 per cent and represent millions of voters are never given an opportunity to make their case in front of the broader American public.

There are numerous examples of laws and rules like this that make it hard, if not impossible, for third-party candidates and alternative voices to compete. Consequently, we’re left with an alarming lack of thought diversity, millions of people discouraged from participating in politics, and a bipolarized electorate that is being increasingly pushed to extremes. Thus, there needs to be a systematic review and reform of the laws and rules surrounding elections. The barriers to entry for third-parties have to be lowered, allowing for more open competition and equal opportunities.

Introduce Ranked Choice Voting and Get Rid of the Electoral College

Another aspect of the two-party system and this prevailing dissatisfaction is the winner-take-all nature of American elections. Congressional seats are determined on an all or nothing basis, which means the candidate who wins a majority or plurality wins everything. The same goes for determining the presidency, where 48 states give all the electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state popular vote.

This inevitably forces voters to coalesce around the two major political parties. For example, a person might favor the Green Party, but knowing that the Green Party is in the minority and has no chance of winning, that person will either abstain or vote for the candidate they view as the “lesser of two evils.” This once again stifles political competition and disincentivizes participation.

The way to solve this is through ranked-choice voting at both the congressional and presidential levels. Ranked-choice voting means that voters vote for more than one candidate and rank their choices by their first, second, and third preference. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election. However, if there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an “instant runoff.” The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until there’s a majority winner or a candidate won with more than half of the vote.

This system of voting encourages more participation, political diversity, and promotes majority support. However, to make it possible, Congress would have to abolish the electoral college, which would bring even more benefits. It would force candidates to campaign across the whole country instead of focusing solely on a few swing states. In fact, Republican voters in deep blue states and vice versa would have more reason to participate because their vote is no longer meaningless. More meaningful participation translates into more satisfaction.

Standardize Federal Elections

The next step is to standardize the federal electoral process. Standardizing the election will bring more fairness and clarity—and less controversy and chaos.

A major source of the chaos that has followed this year’s race is the fact that each state has its own rules concerning elections. How you can vote and when you can vote depends on the state you’re in. This means there are unequal opportunities to vote, as some states have more days and fewer barriers to voting than others. It also leads to misguided accusations of voter fraud based on citizens misunderstanding the election process in states different from their own.

There is no reason someone in Pennsylvania should have more or fewer opportunities to vote than someone in Georgia. And likewise, there is no reason an election that determines the leader for the entire country should have different rules based on different locations. This is an easy and obvious fix.

That said, we should be realistic in the actual potential for reform. The truth is that American politicians love telling other countries how to improve their democracies, but rarely do anything to improve democracy within the borders of the United States. Republicans and Democrats have very little incentive to break up their duopoly, provide voters with choices, and cede authority to a standardized system that might threaten perceived advantages.

For that reason, it’s unlikely that lawmakers will make any fundamental changes. However, if you’re someone who wants to see American democracy succeed, then making such reforms should be a priority not taken lightly.

From our partner RIAC

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The 4 groups of Senate Republicans that will decide Trump’s impeachment trial

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With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing back the Trump impeachment trial to mid-February to make sure things cool down, Senate Republicans’ positions on the vote are far from crystallized yet. Here are the four groups of Senate Republicans, according to views and likely vote. The numbers and composition of these four groups will decide Trump’s future political faith. Which group Mitch McConnell chooses to position himself in will also be a deciding factor in the unusual and curious impeachment trial of a former US president no longer sitting in office.

Group 1: The Willing Executioners

There surely are those in the Republican Party such as Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Ben Sasse who cannot wait to give that Yea and the final boot to disgraced former President Trump, and will do that with joy and relief. Both the Utah Senator and the Nebraska Senator may be vying for the leadership spot in the Republican Party themselves but that is not the whole story. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska openly said “I want him out.” This group is unlikely to reach as many as 17 Senators, however, needed for the two thirds Senate majority to convict Trump.

Group 2: The Never Give up on Trumpers

There are also those Republican Senators who will stick with Trump through thick and thin until the end – some out of conviction, but most as someone who cannot afford to alienate the Trump supporter base in their state – a supporter base which is still as strong. 

At least 21 Republican Senators are strongly opposed to voting to convict former President Trump, as reported by Newsweek. They realize that doing so would be a political suicide. Republican voters, on the whole, are unified in their belief that the presidential elections were not fair and Joe Biden did not win legitimately, with 68% of Republican voters holding the belief that the elections were “rigged”. The majority of the Republican Party constituents are Never Give up on Trumpers themselves.

Among them are Senators Cruz and Hawley. Both will fight at all cost a vote which certifies as incitement to violence and insurrection the same rhetoric they both themselves used to incite the Trump crowd. Cruz and Hawley will try to avoid at all cost the legal certification of the same rhetoric as criminal in order to avoid their own removal under the 14th Amendment, as argued already by Senator Manchin and many others.

Senator Ron Johnson even called upon Biden and Pelosi to choose between the Trump impeachment trial and the Biden new cabinet confirmation. Group 2 will fight fierce over the next weeks and you will recognize them by the public rhetoric.

Group 3: I’d really like to but I can’t be on the record for convincing a President of my own party

Then there is a large group of Republican Senators – maybe the largest – who would really like to give that Yea vote and leave Trump behind but they do not wish to go on the record as having voted to convict a US President from their own party. Some of these Senators will share their intention to vote Yea in private or off the record with the media, but when push comes to shove and the final vote, they will be hesitant and in the end will vote Nay. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida falls under Group 3.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is also the illustration of the average Republican Senator right now – someone who said that Trump committed “impeachable offenses” but who is not sure about convicting him through trial, so that probably means a Nay. 

The BBC quoted a New York Time’s estimate from mid-January that as many as 20 Republican Senators are open to voting to convict Trump, but it should be recalled that in the first Trump impeachment trial in 2020, several Republican Senators also shared in private and off the record that they would be willing to convict. After so much discussion, calculations and prognosis, in the end, it was only Senator Mitt Romney who broke ranks on only one of the two impeachment articles, and voted to convict.

The Capitol events, of course, are incomparable to the Ukraine impeachment saga, but it should be accounted for that the trial vote will likely take place sometime in March 2021, or two months after the Capitol events, when most of the tension and high emotion would have subsided and much of American society will be oriented towards “moving forward”. Group 3 will host the majority of Senate Republicans who in the end will decide to let it go. Most of the 21 Republican Senators who already expressed their opposition to convicting Trump actually belong to Group 3 and not Group 2 Never Give up on Trumpers.

Group 4: I am a Never Give up on Trumper but I really want to look like Group 3

And finally, there is the most interesting group of Republican Senators who are secretly a Never Give up on Trumpers but would like to be perceived as belonging to the hesitant and deliberative Group 3 – willing and outraged but unwilling to go all the way on the record to eliminate a former Republican President.

Senator Ted Cruz might move into Group 4 in terms of rhetoric. Never Give up on Trumpers will vote Nay willingly but will try to present themselves as conflicted Group 3 politicians doing it for different reasons.

Which group Mitch McConnel chooses will be the decisive factor in aligning the Senate Republican votes. McConnel himself seems to be a Group 3 Senator who, in the end, is unlikely to rally the rest of the Senators to convict Trump even though McConnel would really like Trump out of the Republican Party, once and for all. The very fact that McConnel is not in a hurry and is in fact extending the cool-off period places him in Group 3. 

Yea voters don’t need time to think about it and look at things. It took House Democrats exactly three days to get it over and done with. McConnel is quoted as willing to give time to “both sides to properly prepare”, allowing former president Trump enjoy due process. But Trump’s legal team will notice quickly that there is not much to prepare for, as they won’t find plenty of legal precedent in the jurisprudence on American Presidents’ incitement to violent insurrection for stopping the democratic certification process on an opponent who is the democratically elected President.

McConnel himself has said that he is “undecided” and that speaks volumes. He is a Group 3 Senate Republican, and with that, Group 3 will describe the mainstream Senate Republicans’ position in the impeachment trial. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set 8 February as the start of the impeachment trial, pushing earlier McConnel’s time frame. This is when it all starts.

It is my prediction that when all is said and done, there won’t be as many as 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict former President Trump. Trump will walk away, but not without the political damage he has incurred himself and has also left in American political life.

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Two Ways that Trump Spread Covid-19 in U.S.

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

1. Encouraging infected workers to continue working even if it infects others:

On 12 May 2020, two hundred and twenty five labor organizations signed a letter to Antonin Scalia’s son Eugene Scalia who was Donald Trump’s appointed Secretary of Labor, and it urged his Department to change its policies “that address the standards that apply under the federal U[nemployment] I[insurance] law to determine when workers remain eligible for regular state UI or P[andemic] U[nemployment] A[ssistance] if they leave work or refuse to work due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.” In more-common language, an economist Jared Bernstein headlined in the Washington Post six days later on May 18th, “The Labor Department is forcing workers back to jobs that could make them sick” and he explained that Scalia’s Department “has issued guidance that virtually ignores health risks and encourages employers to report workers who refuse job offers [while unemployed] so their unemployment payments can be taken away. The agency is busy urging employers to snitch on ‘claimants that have turned down suitable work.’” Trump’s Labor Department ignored the labor-organizations’ letter. Then, a barista headlined at Huffpost on 22 January 2021, “I Work In A Coffee Shop In Montana. Anti-Maskers Have Made My Job Hell.” She complained that the many customers who refused to wear masks were causing her to fear working there — she was blaming those customers, but not Trump. However, Trump and his Labor Secretary were responsible and simply didn’t care about the safety of workers, such as her, and were instead encouraging employers to force these workers to stay on the job, though doing so endangered themselves and their co-workers. Millions of infected workers were infecting others because not to would cause them to become fired and could ultimately force them into homelessness. Maybe the billionaires who funded Trump’s political career profited from such exploitation of their employees, but nationally this policy helped to increase the spreading of Covid-19. Also: since so many of those bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees are Blacks and Hispanics, etc., this Trump policy helped to cause the drastically higher infection-rates that have been reported among such groups.

2. Refusing to deal with the pandemic on a national basis:

On 15 July 2020, the Washington Post headlined “As the coronavirus crisis spins out of control, Trump issues directives — but still no clear plan” and reported that, “health professionals have urged the White House to offer a disciplined and unified national message to help people who are fatigued more than five months into the crisis and resistant to changing social behaviors, such as wearing masks and keeping a distance from others. Trump, for instance, refused to be seen publicly wearing a mask until last weekend, when he sported one during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ‘You can get a really strong and eloquent governor who can help at the state level, but it does seem like we need some more national messaging around the fact that for many people, this is the most adversity they’ve faced in their life,’ said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.” Every country (such as China, Vietnam, Venezuela, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and Finland) that has been far more successful than America is at having a low number of Covid-19 cases (and deaths) per million residents has dealt with the pandemic on a national and not merely local basis, but all of the worst-performing countries (such as America, which now is at 76,407 “Tot Cases/1M pop”) have not.

It therefore also stands to reason that 

which ranks all 50 states according to how high is the number of Covid-19 infections per million inhabitants, shows (and links to the data proving) that “In 2016, the top 17 [most Covid-infected states] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump.” The correlation of high Covid-infection-rate with Trump-voting was astoundingly high. Trump, it seems, gave the high-infection-rate states what they had wanted. But what he gave to America is the highest Covid-19 infection-rate of any nation that has at least 11 million population. It is the 7th-highest Covid-19 infection-rate among all 219 reporting nations. Trump’s policies produced the type of results that had been expected by well-informed people around the world.

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A Most Unusual Inaugural

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President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden enter the inauguration platform during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes worldly glory, which seems an apt phrase for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20th, and earlier  Donald J. Trump departed the White House quietly for Florida — his last ride on Air Force One as president — leaving behind a generous and gracious letter for Biden.  So it is described by Joe Biden himself.  Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first president not to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, who remained inside the Capitol building because of poor health while his successor Warren G. Harding was installed.

It was a most unusual inauguration this time.  There were no crowds on the lawns outside; instead row upon row of American flags representing them.  The official attendees all wore masks and included three former Presidents (Obama, the younger Bush and Clinton).  President Carter, who is in his 90s and frail, sent his apologies. 

The usual late breakfast before the ceremony and the lunch afterwards were also cancelled — one cannot eat with a mask in place!  No evening inaugural balls either.  These were sometimes so many that the new president and his lady could only spend a few minutes at each.  In their stead, there was a virtual inaugural celebration hosted by Tom Hanks the actor.  It consisted mostly of pop-singers who supported Biden plus a disappointing rendering of Amazing Grace by Yo-Yo Ma on his cello. 

Biden’s first act was to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of Trump’s policies.  He announced the U.S. would not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and would continue to contribute to it.  On climate change a complete policy reversal now means the U.S. will abide by the Paris climate accord.   

Biden’s other executive orders totalling 15 responded to the coronavirus crisis with the goal of giving 100 million vaccine shots by the end of April.  He proposes to establish vaccine centers at stadiums and community facilities and also plans to speed up production of the supplies required for making vaccines.

The U.S. now has lost 406,000 lives (and counting) from COVID-19.  That number is noted to be greater than U.S. deaths during WW2.  The virus has so far infected 24.5 million people.  However, the problem is more complicated than simply inoculating everyone.

Swedish authorities report that 23 people, mostly elderly and having other health issues, have died after being given the Pfizer vaccine.  Its side effects apparently can be severe and mimic the disease itself.  Thus given a choice, one would prefer the Moderna vaccine.  

Old age is a poignant sight to behold.  Biden the ex high school football star now having difficulty lifting his feet to walk.  Very gamely, he even tried a jog or two to say a quick hello to bystanders during his short walk to the White House.  We wish him well and hope for a successful presidential term.  Thirty-six years as senator and eight years as vice-president certainly make him one of the most experienced to sit in the White House Oval Office.   Good luck Mr. President!  

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