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Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?

With there being no campaign left to trail, I reached out with my questions to someone on the inside, and got the following email:

Trump doesn’t care if three million Americans die from the virus as long as he can appear on nightly television, basking in the limelight with either immunologists or the CEO of Walmart obediently at his side.

Trump doesn’t care whether some community hospital has on hand enough masks, ventilators, aspirin, or Xeroxed copies of last rites, provided that he remains must-watch television and has better ratings than Joe Biden, who, by the way, must be the first person ever to run for president from the candidate protection program. Is Biden spending his days in a Wilmington panic room, on the phone with an aid who is explaining for the fifth time how to log into Zoom?

I digress, and the question you asked is: Will the election be cancelled?

I have no doubt that somewhere in the depths of the White House—my suspicions are on the Stephen Miller band—there’s a group that is exploring how Trump could suspend or otherwise manipulate the 2020 election to continue governing, as if some Latin American strongman given to rambling speeches from balconies.

Here’s what they would be thinking:

The most confusing clauses in the constitution are those dealing with the election and succession of the president and vice-president.

Everyone talks about the “electoral college,” as if it were Amherst or Williams, but the constitution only speaks about electors and all it says is that they have to show up in Washington every four years and choose a president and a vice-president.

How the electors get there and how they cast their votes remain a source of endless dispute, even though the constitution has been amended on several occasions to clean up the mess.

In Bush v. Gore (yet another big-time fix, in the 2000 election), the Supreme Court made the point that the states hold the right to choose presidential electors and that they only ceded that right provisionally to the people. At any time, so the court concluded, the states are free to reclaim their right and choose whomever they want as presidential electors.

In other words, the people don’t own the democracy; we merely have it on a long-term rental.

The drafters of the constitution were leery of direct democracy and giving citizens the right to choose their president. That was why they vested more power in Congress, notably the House of Representatives.

As conceived in 1789, the office of the president was more that of a sheriff or chief enforcement officer, and the occupant was there to make sure that the laws Congress passed were enacted.

The president wasn’t intended to be a king or prime minister. One of the most amusing debates in constitutional history concerned whether the members of Congress would stand up if the president ever entered the room in which they were seated. (Most thought him unworthy of such obeisance; after all, he was democracy’s footman.)

Nor did it bother the drafters of the constitution that most presidential elections would be determined with many thumbs on the scales. In this way, slaveowners could have their say in a weak branch of government (as they did until the Civil War, if not beyond), and the rest of the country could get on with the business of making money.

The delegation of presidential elections to electors is the opening that the Trump gang needs to keep His Rotundity (the name was first used for John Adams) in office beyond 2020.

Technically speaking, Trump, personally, cannot cancel the November election. Various federal statutes, Congressional oversight, and state laws are the reason that the presidential vote takes place every four years (on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November). But he can try and is not without resources to deal from the bottom of the deck.

Amidst a Covid crisis, it is easy to imagine Trump telling the nightly press conference that he’s “looking at” delaying the election “for the safety of all Americans” although he would have to persuade pliant governors and captive state legislatures to carry out his deferment wishes.

For this argument, let’s assume that he manages to postpone the popular vote in November 2020, at least in a number of states, including some that he needs to carry to be re-elected.

In that event, under the constitution, it would still be up to each state to send a slate of electors to Washington (“on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December”), and it would be that body (we call it the electoral college, as if it were choosing a pope) that would select the next president and vice-president.

For Trump what’s important is that nearly all the key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida, have Republican control of the legislature (thanks to the munificent Koch brothers and gerrymandering).

Throwing the presidential election into state legislatures might be Trump’s only chance for victory. (Mark Twain liked to say: “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”)

Especially during a recession, Trump could well lose then popular vote in places such as Michigan or Pennsylvania, but he could well win there if the state legislatures choose their own electors.

***

Here’s another angle that might excite Trump’s henchmen.

If Trump has no luck in calling off the popular vote in the election (perhaps by then the country will have figured out how to vote by mail), his next best game would be somehow to deny the Democratic candidate a majority of electors and to throw the election into the House of Representatives.

I realize that would be a long shot, but so you know, here’s how that game would be played:

In the case where there is no majority (270 electors for one candidate), the presidential election is immediately sent to the House of Representatives which chooses the next president.

You might think that, as the House has a Democratic majority, such a move would be against Trump’s interests, but here’s why you’re wrong.

In an election decided by the House (it happened in 1800, 1824, and 1876), each state delegation in the House of Representatives gets one vote. Meaning: the Montana delegation gets to cast one vote for the next president, as does the California delegation.

A vote in each state’s House of Representative delegation would determine how that state’s one vote would be cast for president.

That means, while Trump would lose by huge majorities in the New York and California delegations, he would gain votes in southern and western states that have a Republican majority in their state delegations.

In the current Congress, Republicans have a majority in twenty-seven states, and those votes would re-elect Donald Trump as the next president (27-23—the District of Columbia does not get a vote if the race goes to the House).

By the way, if, on January 20, 2021, neither the electors nor the House of Representatives have chosen a new president, the current vice-president, Task Rabbiter Mike Pence, would become the acting president until a new one is chosen.

Maybe during that time he could pardon Trump? Already he takes the End of Days view that God gave us the coronavirus so that the world would finally recognize the infinite wisdom and judgment of our lord and savior, Donald J. Trump.

***

Is it far-fetched to think about the election in these dire terms? Not really. In the Covid disaster and great recession to follow, Trump is going down for the count.

I know, you think that his approval rating is up and that Americans are rallying to their president “in a time of national crisis” and there is a lot of television palaver about how he has become a “wartime president” with increasing public support.

That’s a sugar high of political polling, and once the out-of-work public sees Trump presiding over a daily Pearl Harbor, telling everyone who will listen how he’s done a “fantastic job” ordering up all those body bags from China, he’s finished—unless, of course, he can rig the election.

Why does Trump need to put the fix in?

For starters, if he is turned out of office in January 2021, he will almost certainly face criminal charges as Individual-1, in the District Court for the Southern District of New York proceedings that sent Trump bagman Michael Cohen up the river for three years.

Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator in those charges, and only by winning re-election (and serving in office for another four years) can he beat the rap by letting the statute of limitations expire in New York.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s great contribution to constitutional theory was to conclude that it was up to Congress alone to decide on the indictment of a sitting president. Otherwise, Trump would have been charged in New York, irrespective of what Congress decided over impeachment.

If Trump loses the 2020 election and leaves office, he will be indicted in New York. And not many presidents win re-election when the unemployment rate is 30%. So he has a personal stake to remain in office.

As I see it, Trump’s only get-out-of-jail card is to steal the election. To find willing partners in such an enterprise (especially during a national emergency) should not be very difficult. Look at the phalanx of lackeys who surround his lectern each evening and nod solemnly, no matter what fantasy he is peddling. (“We have it totally under control…”)

***

Second question: will the Democrats cut their losses with Joe Biden and try to nominate someone else at the national convention, even if it’s held on the world’s largest video conference call?

Let’s get real about Biden. He’s a dead candidate running, whose only role in this campaign was to deny the Democratic nomination to the bomb-throwing Bernie Sanders.

Did anyone vote for Biden for his intellectual prowess, leadership qualities or record in crisis management? I didn’t think so.

The only reason anyone voted for Biden in the primaries was because his name wasn’t Sanders and because he was seen as someone who would endorse bailout checks to corporate America—whatever the crisis. The rest hardly mattered.

Now, a month into what is called his “presumptive” candidacy, Democrats are waking up to the fact that their nominee cannot string together three comprehensible sentences and is just as clueless as Trump and Mike Pence in dealing with a national health crisis (“brought to you by Walmart, for all your testing needs….”)

I trust you have seen a few of the videos circulating online of Biden broadcasting from his undisclosed location.

He sounds like an old man on a golf club membership committee, complaining how it’s impossible to find a parking place near the men’s grill on Saturdays.

And now there’s another of Joe’s #MeToo moments. In case you missed it, a report has surfaced that back in the 1990s Biden mashed one of his staffers, Tara Reade, up against a congressional wall and, with his hand roaming around her skirt, asked for a little senatorial privilege.

I don’t know the woman personally, but at the very least she captured Joe’s pattern of speech, when she quoted him as saying (while she struggled to free herself from his grinding): “I thought you liked me, man?”

For not putting out, Reade was assigned to a windowless office and then fired.

The Reade drop came amidst the virus pandemic and so far her allegations have largely vanished without a trace, although not before Biden apologists trashed her as a Russian plant, cultist, political wannabe, and stalker of the Squeaky Fromme variety.

But I am sure the Trump campaign will have taken note of her complaints, and will use of them, should the Democrats try to trot out any of the twenty-two women who have come forward publicly to say that the current president groped, fondled, or otherwise forced himself on them against their wishes.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton was unable to exploit Trump’s legacy of perversion, given her own husband’s touchy record on the subject.

Now in 2020, the Dems seem to have gone out of their way to confront a seventysomething incumbent with wandering hands and crooked kids with their own nominee who seems cloned from the same source code. Heck of a job, Brownie.

***

So will the Dems dump Biden before or during the national convention? I think they will, based either on the Reade allegation or his incoherent response to the Covid crisis. (“We have to take care of the cure that will make the problem worse no matter what, no matter what…)

Just as Republicans are good at rigging elections, Democrats are skilled at marking the cards in their primaries and caucuses.

The reason Bernie hasn’t thrown in the towel and endorsed “my friend Joe” is because he knows how the Democratic game is played, and the party will do to Biden as it did to him—namely screw him out of the nomination. It’s about all the party does well.

Getting rid of Biden will be a lot easier than getting tested for the virus. If the remaining primaries are postponed or cancelled (“a national emergency…this grave crisis…”), Biden would arrive at the virtual convention with 1,217 delegates (where the count stands today) while 1,991 are needed for the nomination.

Nor do we know at this point what happens to the outstanding primaries. It’s only the party hierarchs who will decide.

Right now Bernie has 914, but it feels like we’re done with voting. No matter how bad the health crisis becomes, the party will never turn to Sanders. No one likes a prescient loser.

If no Democratic candidate at the convention gets a majority on the first ballot, the 771 superdelegates become eligible to vote on the second and all subsequent ballots.

That bloc should be sufficient to throw the nomination in whatever direction it chooses, especially given that superdelegates come from the ranks of senior Democratic office holders and members of the national committee.

My guess is that, as a group, the superdelegates are tired of YouTube watching Weekend at Biden’s (“A lively comedy about a guy who isn’t…”) and despair that their man could lose to the criminally negligent, emoluments-rich, woman-abusing, narcissistically incompetent Trump.

At this point, the Democrats would happily nominate some tough-talking, Covid-fighting governor on the 38th ballot so long as it was not Sanders or, now, Biden.

***

Standing in the way of rational behavior, of course, is the Democratic Party itself, which has been in self-destruct mode since it loaded the dice in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016, if not long before. Remember Mike Dukakis and John Kerry?

Note the ages of the party leadership: Biden is 77 and Nancy Pelosi is 80. (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 69, which makes him, relatively speaking, “the kid”.) And the runner-up in this race, Bernie Sanders, is 78. Even China has done away with its gerontocracy.

Is it any wonder that the Democratic party has so run out of ideas that all it can think to do, during a time of national crisis, is to nominate Clueless Joe?

The bungled Trump impeachment should have been an indicator that the party is over its head in national politics.

My take is that Pelosi only went ahead with the impeachment trial (knowing it would fail) to consolidate her position as speaker in the face of opposition from the Democratic left, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wing of the party.

Pelosi’s fear had nothing to do with Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors in office but everything to do with not wanting her party to slide too far to the left and for AOC’s squad to remove her from her beloved speakership.

Pelosi gave committee chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler the go-ahead on impeachment, knowing that the far left of the Democratic party would be the loser. (“You wanna impeach the guy? Here you go….”) Maybe along the way some mud would stick to Trump’s shoes in the 2020 election but the goal was always to consolidate her position as speaker.

It was a cynical power grab on Pelosi’s part, as was her part in the camarilla that decided to put the boot into Sanders after New Hampshire and turn Biden into an inflatable candidate.

Now she and the Democratic party are stuck in the middle with Joe. (As he said: What I’m suggesting is that I know what has to be done and that in the following is that faster is better than slower…”) How is that working out?

The great irony of the 2020 Democratic primaries and the general election is that the two candidates who ran largely on medical reform—Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—stand discredited, while the last two (tired old white) men still in the race—Trump and Biden—have nothing coherent to say about medicine (or anything else).

And you wonder why the crisis is out of control.

Stay safe or, as they ended letters during the Depression, write when you find work.

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Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Rails and, most recently, Appalachia Spring, about the coal counties of West Virginia and Kentucky. He lives in Switzerland.  

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