Today’s Edition: What we’ve overcome.

October 18, 2021

          The upcoming elections cycles are producing more than the usual amount of anxiety among Democrats. So, too, is the daily news feed. We have experienced government shutdowns and congressional gridlock previously. Why, then, does this time feel so much more intense? It is because Democrats are playing by the rules within a democratic system while Republicans are trying to destroy that system as a means to holding onto power. That asymmetry is stressing the Democratic Party as it attempts to govern in a world where political opponents have been replaced by enemies of democracy. Added to that volatile mix is the fact that Republicans have abandoned truth, science, character, and decency. The question is this:

          Assuming the above, how should Democrats respond?

          The only logical, legal, and moral answer is to work within the system to overwhelm those who seek to destroy it. That answer may be unsatisfying to some, but the quickest way to achieve the dissolution of democracy is to engage in the tactics adopted by Republicans. I am not prescribing complacency. To the contrary, we must re‑dedicate ourselves to the radical idea on which our nation was founded: Consent of the governed. The Framer’s gave us a single tool to grant our consent—the right to vote.

          Without meaning to dismiss the gravity of the threats posed by Trump and the anti-democratic GOP, the answer to the GOP’s slow-rolling coup is blazingly simple: Get more people to vote. We must do so with greater urgency and effectiveness than ever before. If you are engaged in that effort, you are performing the most important task any American can do to defend our nation. Of course, there are hundreds of related tasks that we must tend to, as well. But they all pale in comparison to increasing voter participation. Donald Trump increased his popular support by 11 million votes between 2016 and 2020. Joe Biden still beat him by 7 million votes.  In 2020, turnout mattered above all else. That lesson should be emblazoned in our minds as we look ahead to 2022 and 2024. Despite the unfair, Machiavellian regulations enacted by Republicans after the 2020 election, people can still show up at the polling booth to grant (or withhold) their consent.

          Don’t accept the defeatist narrative and the hand-wringing predictions of the end of democracy. The threats we face are serious, but we still have the right of self-determination. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it!

Joe Manchin is holding America hostage.

          Joe Manchin is threatening to tank Biden’s Build Back Better legislative agenda because he does not support the key program to fight climate change. See Vox, “Joe Manchin won’t support a key climate program. Alternatives won’t be enough.” Manchin, who is chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has objected to the “Clean Electricity Performance Program” that will encourage users of fossil fuels to switch to clean energy sources of electricity. Manchin opposes the program because it will discourage the use of coal—one of the main products of West Virginia and a primary source of Manchin’s wealth.

          As noted in the Vox article, experts say that the Clean Energy program is the “backbone of the transition” to renewable energy sources. Manchin’s objection may be enough to kill the program. His threat amounts to economic hostage-taking. On behalf of a tiny constituency representing a small fraction of the U.S. energy sector, he is blocking the path to independence from fossil fuels. Let’s take a look at the facts.

          Manchin owns two coal processing companies that provide him with over $500,000 in dividends per year. He is the top recipient of campaign donations from the coal industry, the mining industry, and oil and gas producers. West Virginia produces only 12% of nation’s coal. Coal from all U.S. producers generates only 19% of U.S. electrical energy—but is responsible for 54% of carbon emissions in the U.S.  There are 6.8 million jobs in the U.S. energy sector, only 13,980 of which are located in West Virginia. Got that? Of 6.8 million jobs in the energy sector, only 13,980 involve coal production in West Virginia. Manchin is prioritizing the coal mining jobs in his state (and campaign donations) above the devastating threat of climate change caused by fossil fuels.

          To add insult to injury, the U.S. provides about $4 billion in subsidies to the coal industry annually. And worse (for the constituents that Manchin’s represents) the effects of climate change in West Virginia have been devastating. See NYTimes, “As Manchin Blocks Climate Plan, His State Can’t Hold Back Floods.”

          Senator Manchin can hold climate change hostage to a fraction of a percent of the energy jobs in the U.S. because Democrats failed to flip vulnerable seats in 2020 (notably, Susan Collins and Joni Ernst). Of course, Joe Manchin represents the people of West Virginia, but he is also a United States Senator. Surely, he owes some duty to the nation at large. At the very least, he should not be voting against a provision in the reconciliation package in which he has a large, personal financial interest. We need to make Joe Manchin irrelevant by defending and expanding the Democratic majority in the Senate.  

More on the reaction to the preliminary report from Supreme Court reform commission.

          The reaction to the initial draft report from the Supreme Court reform commission appointed by President Biden has been harsh. As noted last week, the initial report put a thumb on the scale against enlarging the Court but suggested that term limits made sense. Two conservative members of the commission resigned, while Democrats in Congress were livid over the seemingly impractical direction of the commission. See HuffPost, “Democrats Trash Findings From Biden's Supreme Court Reform Commission.” Biden, meanwhile, seemed to reject the notion of term limits out of hand.

          Much of the dissatisfaction arises from the fact that the commission was intended to buy time for Biden, who did not want to take a position on enlarging the during the campaign. Having temporized for as long as possible, the issues remain as thorny as ever.

          It does not appear that any reform of the Court will occur before 2022 (when Democrats have a chance to enlarge their majority in the Senate and the House). Until then, it is helpful to think about reforms in two groups.

The first group includes reforms that require a constitutional amendment—and ratification by the legislatures of 38 states—a result that seems unlikely any time in the next century. Those reforms include term limits and rotating justices between the courts of appeal and the Supreme Court.

          The second group includes reforms that require only a majority vote in Congress (assuming the filibuster is abolished). Such reforms include enlarging the Court, eliminating its jurisdiction to hear certain categories of cases, and requiring transparency in how the Court conducts its business and regulates itself. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time and energy discussing reforms that require a constitutional amendment. Focus on reforms that can be enacted by legislation in Congress.

Concluding Thoughts.

          A reader sent a note about the passing of civil rights activist and people's historian Timuel Black of Chicago at age 102. Black wrote a history of the “Great Migration” of Black Americans to the North. His parents were part of that migration, which landed Timuel in the south side of Chicago as an infant.  A reviewer quoted Black’s observations as a lifelong activist and observer of the struggles of Black Americans—an observation that seems appropriate for everyone in America today who values freedom and democracy. Timuel Black said, “There is still a lot to overcome. But we have overcome a lot, and we need to remember that. We can still do the impossible, maybe even the miraculous.”

          We have overcome a lot in the last five years. It was only three years ago that Republicans controlled the presidency and both chambers of Congress. We have reversed that situation completely. Whatever frustrations we feel over our present struggles, they are frustrations about the challenges of accomplishing great things as the governing party. We should welcome those challenges and accept the accompanying frustrations as a sign of our desire to accomplish more on a faster timeline. Those are good frustrations to have—compared to waking every day to a GOP-controlled government intent on dismantling the rule of law and democratic norms. We have overcome a lot, and we need to remember that.

          Talk to you tomorrow!