Today’s Edition: Disaster averted, lesson learned.

September 15, 2021

          California Governor Gavin Newsom resoundingly defeated the Republican recall effort. Republicans ran against vaccines and masks. Newsom ran against Donald Trump. That was a smart strategy by Democrats. Newsom will defeat the recall effort by nearly 30 points, performing better than he did when he was elected in 2018. See NYTimes, “Newsom Survives California Recall Vote and Will Remain Governor.”

          Given that Republicans like Ron DeSantis have staked their political fortunes on opposition to vaccines and support for Donald Trump, Newsom’s victory should provide a ray of hope to nervous Democrats looking warily toward the 2022 elections. Let’s breathe a sigh of relief and take a well-deserved break—for about 15 minutes. We have elections to win in 2022 and 2024, and no time to waste.

Trump’s perilous last days.

          A soon-to-be-released book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa contains disturbing revelations about the final dangerous weeks of Donald Trump’s tenure. The first headline relates to efforts by Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley to prevent Trump from blundering his way into a nuclear war with China. According to previews of the book, General Milley made other senior military officers take an “oath” that they would not carry out an order for a nuclear attack by Trump without first involving General Milley. Because General Milley is not in the chain of command for combat operations, his effort to curtail Trump’s authority as Commander-in-Chief was extraordinary. But it was not the first time that an administration official acted to prevent an unstable president from stumbling into a nuclear war. Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger instructed military commanders that “any emergency order” from a drunken and depressed Richard Nixon should go through Schlesinger or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

          The legality and constitutionality of Milley’s actions will be endlessly debated—but the morality of his actions will not be. As described by Woodward and Costa, Trump was slipping further into delusion with each passing day. Milley’s actions served as a safeguard against armed conflict with China, whose military leaders apparently believed that Trump was planning an attack against China as a means of staying in power.

The problem with the scenario described by Woodward and Costa is not Milley’s actions but the fact that one man can unilaterally start a nuclear war. See Union of Concerned Scientists, “Limiting the President’s Ability to Start a Nuclear War.” That design flaw must be remedied so future generals are not forced to engage in self-help to prevent a deranged president from starting a nuclear war.   

          The forthcoming book also claims that Vice President Mike Pence nearly buckled under Trump’s pressure to reject the count of the Electoral ballots. In the end, Pence obeyed the Constitution and averted a crisis. Media reporting on how close the nation came to having Trump remain in office appears to be exaggerated—in part because it reflects Trump’s mistaken belief that he would remain president (or be reelected) if Pence refused to accept the Electoral ballot count. Trump was incorrect in believing that Pence had the ability to object to the count. He did not have that ability; Congress rules on the objections—and Democrats controlled Congress when the votes were counted.

          I don’t mean to minimize the gravity of Pence’s doubts, but there was not a straight line from Pence rejecting the count to Trump remaining president (or being re-elected). Remember that the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution says that a president’s term ends at noon on January 20th.  If the failure to count the Electoral ballots delayed the election of a president, Nancy Pelosi would have become Acting President until a president was duly elected by the Electoral College. See Presidential Success Act of 1947.

          The fact that Trump and Pence considered overriding the will of the people by rejecting the Electoral count highlights the need to reform the Supreme Court. Trump believed that his coup attempt would be upheld by the Court, a belief that was not groundless. The current Court has shown that it has neither the will nor the integrity to enforce the Constitution as interpreted by Supreme Court rulings. We must remedy that situation, post haste.  As always, the path forward involves eliminating the filibuster.

Senate Democrats propose a national voting rights bill.

          Speaking of eliminating the filibuster, Democrats have proposed a slimmed down, Manchin-friendly voting rights bill that was designed to garner support from Republicans. See NYTimes, “Democrats Propose New Voting Rights Bill.” Mitch McConnell had previously announced that “Republicans will not be supporting the billbecause it has the “same rotten core” as S.1.

Manchin will need to convince ten Senate Republicans to support the bill in order to overcome the filibuster—which he won’t be able to do. That is why Democrats have gone through the elaborate charade of negotiating a bill that is acceptable to Joe Manchin but unacceptable to Republicans.

          The bill includes important provisions, such as national early voting, redistricting standards, disclosure of dark money donors, and protections from state interference in election outcomes. (The NYTimes article cited above has a good summary of the bill, which is 600 pages long.) The bill also institutes an unpopular (among Democrats) provision for national voter-ID requirements. It omits stronger protections against gerrymandering, reforms of the Federal Election Commission, and public financing of congressional elections.

          Manchin will now be given the opportunity to find ten Republicans who will support the bill—or he could save himself the bother and beat his head against a brick wall. Democrats have coddled Manchin long enough. They should force a vote on S.1 by ignoring the filibuster rule. Manchin and Sinema can vote against the interests of tens of millions of Americans in order to preserve the filibuster. Democrats can then decide whether Manchin and Sinema deserve their support when they next stand for election.

Urge Congress to raise taxes to pay for the investment in human infrastructure.

          As Democrats struggle to pass the reconciliation package, they are simultaneously attempting to pay for the social programs in the package by raising taxes on corporations and the super-rich. A reader sent a note saying that she had attended a seminar on strategies for convincing Congress to pass the proposed tax increases, including a wealth tax. She referred me to a helpful website that has pre-packaged materials for distribution on social media and instructions on how to contact your congressional representatives to lobby for the tax. See Tax Billionaires Now.

          As the reader noted, “The proposal would tax 2 cents on every dollar over 50 million dollars. Hardly a "soak the rich" policy.”  Finding tax revenue to pay for the reconciliation package is key to its passage. Check out the website above to see how you can nudge your representatives in Congress.

Concluding Thoughts.

          It has been an emotional day in our household. Every shift in the wind seemed to promise disaster or redemption for our cabin threatened by fire in the Sequoia National Park. In the recall campaign, Republicans blamed Newsom for failing to control the wildfires in California. But almost all of the land that is currently burning belongs to the federal government. The state firefighting agency—CalFire—offers assistance to the federal government in fighting fires on federal lands.

          There are six agencies that are involved in the suppression efforts, and CalFire seems to be the most coordinated and effective. But Republicans blame Governor Newsom for wildfires that are (sadly) the result of 150 years of fire suppression in the Sierra Nevada. The effort to defeat Gavin Newsom with falsehoods typifies the GOP’s standard operating procedure. In the California recall, voters saw through the bad faith lies by Republicans.

The Democratic Party in California mounted an impressive “get out the vote” campaign that lifted Newsom from a virtual tie to a resounding victory. Many volunteers helped from home by texting voters with messages to “show up at the polls.” As someone who was skeptical of Newsom’s prospects, I am now a believer that we can overcome daunting odds if we show up at the polls. We can do that. In fact, we did it. Let’s do it again in 2022—and prove all of the skeptics wrong!

          Talk to you tomorrow!