Sometime in late October, I mentioned in a conversation on Facebook that one main concern I had about Donald Trump is that it would be impossible to unelect him. His authoritarian tendencies, which have also been exhibited by the Republican Party in the past 16 years, mean that the rules would be changed to such an extent as to return either the same candidate or his surrogate to power for a long time to come.
How would this be possible? Anyone controlling the Presidency, the Congress and soon the Supreme Court has extraordinary power to influence elections, even though voting is a state responsibility.
Here is a simple catalogue of the alarming trends that are occurring:
1. Voter Suppression
Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from voting. (Wikipedia)
Voter suppression has been actively used in key battleground states like Florida (famously in the 1999/2000 vote recount) and Ohio. A complete list of voter suppression techniques seen in the United States can be found on Wikipedia.
The Center for American Progress has a detailed list of actual cases of what it claims are voter suppression in a well-documented article here. Together with the fact that over 6 million convicted felons cannot vote, it is clear that a significant number of the American people are systematically being deprived of their right to vote.
Donald Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the electoral result, stating that he won by “millions of votes”, and suggesting that voter fraud is the reason he lost the popular vote despite all evidence to the contrary (to date). Given this approach, it is easy to understand how a Trump Administration will choose to ignore further activities in voter suppression in key states.
Gerrymandering is the process by which a state sets its voting district boundaries in order to achieve a disproportionate political result for certain groups. Several states in the US have extremely complex voting districts which have been defined as a result of partisan gerrymandering.
For more information on this, please see:
- The Guardian article on North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District
- Washington Post article on what US voting districts might look like without gerrymandering
- Harvard Political Review brief on gerrymandering
Partisan gerrymandering is illegal according to both the US Constitution and subsequent US law. As Wikipedia notes:
Various constitutional and statutory provisions may compel a court to strike down a gerrymandered redistricting plan. At the federal level, the Supreme Court has held that if a jurisdiction’s redistricting plan violates the Equal Protection Clause or Voting Rights Act of 1965, a federal court must order the jurisdiction to propose a new redistricting plan that remedies the gerrymandering. If the jurisdiction fails to propose a new redistricting plan, or its proposed redistricting plan continues to violate the law, then the court itself must draw a redistricting plan that cures the violation and use its equitable powers to impose the plan on the jurisdiction
How would a Trump Administration enhance gerrymandering? Three ways:
a. By packing the Supreme Court
b. By weakening the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for instance by creating for intrusive needs for voter registration and reducing the franchise
c. By refusing to actively enforce these acts through the Attorney General’s office.
Jeff Sessions, who was recently confirmed as Attorney General, has already been rejected by a Senate confirmation panel in 1986 due to allegations of voter intimidation of blacks in Alabama. Mr. Session was, at that time, being nominated as a federal judge.
It is sadly notable that conduct that condemned Mr. Sessions in 1986, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, is considered acceptable in the Senate during Donald Trump’s first term.
3. Fake News / Terrorism
Donald Trump has, both during his campaign but also as President, repeatedly trumpeted fake news, and has conflated or wrongly attributed incidents of terrorism.
The list of fake news is now too long to catalogue, but several parties have made valiant attempts. Here are some:
- The New York Times inventories some of the fake news spread by Donald Trump since 2011.
- CNBC focuses on fake news during the 2016 election
- Buzzfeed reporting on hundreds of pro-Trump websites managed from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
- Kellyanne Conway recently referred to a non-existent “massacre”, the Bowling Green Massacre, to justify the travel ban on refugees and citizens of 7 foreign countries
Why does this matter? Donald Trump has now normalised the fact that he spreads fake news. Prior to his inauguration, this was considered acceptable by the people who voted for him. He is now President of the United States, and it is clear that fake news is not going to go away anytime soon.
How will fake news affect future elections?
a. It will be spread not only by the usual ecosystem of political surrogates and trollers, but increasingly by elected officials. This is already occurring.
b. The virulence of attacks on people for refusing to believe in fake news is now at an all-time high. Note the language of Donald Trump’s recent twitter attacks on John McCain over the Yemen raid.
c. It will increasingly conflate anti-terrorism with patriotism and with supporting Republic candidates. This is an old script, first pioneered by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, and repeatedly enhanced since by the Republican party.
4. The Family Business
Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest are increasingly well-documented. He remains involved in the Donald Trump Organisation, and has assigned management of this to his two sons.
The Trump organisation has hundreds of business relationships with both foreign countries and with key lenders such as Deutsche Bank, that the US government is currently involved with in regulation.
His daughter Ivanka, who has her own business interests, remains an advisor, as does his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The Trump organisation has announced plans to expand nationally.
Trump’s past record of work in dealing with complex property development codes and requirements in New York, as well as his record of strategic bankruptcies and non-payment of suppliers indicate that he knows how to use the public sector.
USA Today has counted 4,095 lawsuits against Donald Trump over the past 30 years. How will a US District or Federal Court rule in a case where the ultimate defendant is a sitting President?
It is apparent that the incentives for using the Presidency to expand the personal wealth of Donald Trump and his family members are fully aligned.
5. The 1930s Playbook
Nearly every aspect of Trump’s business policy as expressed today could have been taken from a 1930’s authoritarian playbook:
- Condemn US companies for “moving jobs abroad”
- Condemn free trade, when recognising that more American jobs will be lost by pulling out of key trade agreements such as NAFTA, particularly in key US sectors such as automotive assembly and agricultural exports
- Threaten successful foreign exporters, such as BMW, with a 35% tariff, while refusing to recognise that Germany can retaliate with the same tariff
- Ignore the tremendous inequality in the US tax system and household earnings by promising yet more tax cuts for the very wealthy
- Appoint ideological members of Cabinet who are intent on sabotaging and destroying the very entities they have been appointed to lead
- Condemn the press for “fake news” and “fake polls”
- Condemn specific companies for failing to carry Ivanka Trump’s clothing line
- Create an unspecified foreign enemy (all refugees, all Muslims, all Chinese, all Mexicans) and promise a grateful and impoverished nation protection and strength.
The list is long, and will no doubt continue to grow in the next few years.
6. Draining the Swamp and Lobbying
The United States government is the largest financial organisation in the world. It is also the world’s largest single debtor (at the Federal level) and the largest absolute debtor when combining the Federal Government, 50 State governments, municipalities, the Federal Reserve, and organisations such as Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.
The incentives of doing business with the US Government, as well as seeking regulatory abatement from it, are simply too high to counteract. Donald Trump is a billionaire who is appointing a Cabinet of billionaires. Does anyone really believe that the business interests that gain so much from the government will suddenly change their course?
If anything, they will be emboldened. This pattern has been repeated throughout history.
The question is really why this is being done. The Republicans control all three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, Judicial (at least embodied in the Supreme Court). This sets the stage for a period of time in which they will be able to implement their policy agenda, subject to the limit where internal Republican conflicts interfere with the process.
Given where things stand now, I increasingly believe that protecting and extending political power is as important as policy making for this Party. We see this in the patterns of gerrymandering and voter suppression in Republican-controlled states.
We also know what happened when the Democrats lost the House in the first mid-term elections in 2010 the Senate in 2014.
We see no hope of a rational policy debate or voting system in the United States, and we see growing corporate interests and other special interests influencing policy and voting results.
We see that these interests flourish regardless of the political party in power.
As a result, I am increasingly pessimistic as to whether the United States can ever unelect Donald Trump, or someone like him.
As I have written in another post, the United States resembles to me the Roman Republic in its final days. We have just elected our man on a horse. Such men never go quietly.
© Philip Ammerman, 2017