AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE POTUS (1)
December 17, 2016
My fellow Americans: I know that for many you these are trying times. We have gone through a very long, frustrating, confusing and often hurtful election process and outcome. The majority of voters, 51.1%, voted for the candidate who lost the election on the basis of the electoral college votes (2). As a result, millions of Americans are in shock, are depressed, have disturbed sleep and anxiety when thinking about the next 4 to 8 years. On the other hand, voters who cast ballots for the now President-elect also have mixed emotions ranging from jubilation to a sense of trepidation among some.
As a result, the American people are seeking, and need clear and strong leadership now more than ever, to help them cope, put the election into some kind of perspective, ease their troubled minds and plan for the future.
It is my intent today to be that leader.
The 2016 Election
First I want to talk about the election, and the various factors that have cast doubt on it’s validity. These factors include:
- the Electoral College
- cyber attacks, or hacking, apparently sponsored by Russia
- an announcement by the Director of the FBI late in the campaign concerning the emails of one candidate while she was Secretary of State
- fake news on the internet, specifically social media
- and finally, a consistent pattern of telling lies, validating fake news, and attacking women, immigrants, minorities and other groups of “others” by one of the candidates.
Following my discussion of the above list, I will talk about where we go from here.
The Electoral College - The Constitution established the system of electors in Article II, Section 1 and was amended in Amendment XII (ratified in 1804). The system of electors for the election of president and vice-president was established to ensure that the most populous states did not always dictate the results of elections. This system also theoretically provides some protection against the popular election of a demagogue.
There have been other elections in which the candidate winning the popular vote did not win the electoral vote, and thus did not become president. There is a hue and cry from some quarters to abandon the electoral college system and simply select a president and vice-president by popular vote. This would require an amendment to the Constitution ratified by the states, something difficult to achieve, especially in the present political climate.
At this point in the 2016 election, the electors in each state will cast their ballots next week and convey the results to the President of the Senate (the Vice President of the United States) who will open and tally them in front of Congress. If the electors fail to achieve a majority vote for a candidate, the House of Representatives then chooses the president from among the candidates (Amendment XII).
A small number of electors has asked for a complete report on the Russian cyber attacks before they are required to cast their votes. The outcome of this request is unknown at this time; however, it seems unlikely that anything significant will result from this request.
It is most likely that the Electoral College will meet in the various states, cast and convey their ballots, and that the now President-elect will be certified to be the next President of the United States.
Russian cyber attacks - Our intelligence community has concluded that cyber attacks against the Democratic Party were not only carried out by Russian operatives, but that Russian President Putin was directly involved in this action. Intelligence and counter-intelligence activities between nations are part of business as usual; however, when one nation interferes in the elections of another, this activity has risen to an unacceptable level. Many Americans now question the validity of the 2016 election based on the knowledge of the Russian cyber attack. There is no evidence that the Russian attack changed ballots in any state; instead, the publication of Democratic National Committee emails may have influenced the votes of some American voters.
Would the outcome of the 2016 election have been different absent the Russian cyber attacks? This question has no answer; there is no way to determine how many voter’s minds were changed by this information. We have to accept, therefore, that this information was one more data point for voters to consider, and for the candidates to discuss prior to election day. This does not mean that we have to accept cyber attacks, and the United States will continue to study this incident, take measures to prevent them in the future, and also consider some form of retaliation for them.
FBI Director’s announcement - Late in the election process, the Director of the FBI informed Congress that the agency had discovered additional emails, related to another investigation, that might have some connection to the investigation of the former Secretary of State’s private email server. This revelation late in the election process provided fuel for attacks by one candidate, and put the other in a defensive position. Shortly before election day, the FBI Director announced that the newly discovered emails had been found to have no influence on the prior FBI decision not to continue the investigation into the emails.
Many people wonder if the FBI Director’s announcement was a political move designed to harm one candidate and enhance the other. There is no evidence to support this; however, it is likely that it was a political move on the part of the Director to avoid accusations of a cover-up after the election.
Did the FBI Director’s actions have an affect of the outcome of the election? Again, we have no method to determine this, and we have to accept that it was another data point for voters to consider and candidates to discuss.
Fake news - Fake news stories have become commonplace on social media and elsewhere on the internet. There is a question about the impacts of fake news stories on people’s opinions and decisions, specifically now following an election. Facebook has recently announced that it is putting in place methods to try to identify fake news, provide warnings to users, and provide ways for users to tag suspected fake news. This will be helpful.
I also think it is important for the federal government to establish rules and regulations to require internet providers and social media sites to monitor and self-regulate news feeds in order to eliminate or minimize fake news on-line.
Lies, falsehoods and attacks on civil rights by candidates - No individual person is 100% factually correct when they speak, and this includes candidates for political office. However, it has become commonplace for some candidates to very often make statements that are not factually correct, and may often be outright lies. In the 2016 election, the now President-elect was called out very often by impartial fact-checker organizations and journalists for making statements that were absolutely not true. The other candidate had a much smaller number of statements determined to be not factual.
The pattern of lies by the now President-elect became the norm. It appeared that for some voters, if the candidate said something, it had to be true, or it didn’t matter to them if it wasn’t true. This kind of “post-truth” environment has serious implications for democratic elections. If the truth doesn’t matter, then a candidate can say anything he thinks will help get him elected, whether or not it is truth.
One of the candidates in 2016, the now President-elect, also used tactics of intimidation, hate and fear to gain support of certain segments of voters. He used name-calling to single out and label specific groups of people. These verbal abuses included code words such as “rapists,” “murderers,” “terrorists,” “immigrants,” and “Muslims.” He goaded his supporters at rallies to physically attack protesters. He fat-shamed people. He made fun of a journalist with a physical impairment. He labeled his opponent as “crooked” and a criminal, and encouraged chants of “lock her up.” He encouraged the ugliest forms of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-minority hate speech.
These actions by a candidate for President of the United States are not illegal, although there may be a basis for individuals to bring civil lawsuits against him. But we have to ask, as members of a democratic society, if these kinds of actions and behaviors are acceptable. Do they fall under the concept of free speech, or do they fall outside the norms of this concept? This is a critical question we have to address before the next election.
In conclusion to the above discussion, I have to say that this is the way our democratic system works, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Certainly the framers of our Constitution could not have, in their wildest imaginations, foreseen the internet age and all the other factors of modernity that stretch the limits of democracy. And yet our system has endured for more than two centuries. Will the election of 2016 become the beginning of the end for American democracy? Not very likely. In the minds of many Americans there will be setbacks, while in the minds of others there will be progress. If the losing side is unhappy, there is another election in two years, and another presidential election in four years, and they can change the equation once again.
Where do we go from Here?
I count myself on the losing side of this presidential election. But I am still here, I am still standing. I will not go away.
I see many dangers ahead, both perceived and real, under the next administration. The warning signal is as plain as the winning candidate’s tag line: “Make America Great Again.” This desired greatness has nothing to do with jobs or income or health care or education. The numbers for all of these are relatively good; unemployment is at a record low, incomes have been rising, more than 20 million more Americans now have health insurance compared to 8 years ago. No, the greatness that the president-to-be’s supporters aspire to is the perception of a past America, a dominant white and Christian America, an America where the promise and privileges of democracy only apply to whites, particularly white men. This is the real danger.
This perceived great America is also a place where government does not intrude into and interfere with people’s lives and the business of business. As we watch the filling of cabinet and agency director positions for the new administration, we see very clearly that the intent is to deconstruct government. It is apparent that the main qualification sought by the president-to-be is not expertise and experience, but intent to tear down the existing structure and replace it with one that serves special interests. We see unfolding before us very different domestic and foreign policy directions, directions that seem very wrong to so many of us.
The installation of the new administration a month from now seems to be a juggernaut heading towards us at increasing speed and strength. Will we survive? Can we resist? The answer to both is a resounding yes! It will be hard work. It will at many times be daunting and depressing and seemingly impossible. But together we can resist, and together we can prevail in the end.
Those of us on the proverbial left side of the political spectrum, and I think an increasing number of those in the center and somewhat to the right, will find that the change from vision to reality of the new administration will increasingly be unacceptable. This does not mean that every initiative of the new administration will be this way; there will certainly be some apparent successes, if even temporary, that will buoy the new administration and it’s supporters. But overall, the new administration is bound to fail in every way that is meaningful for the majority of Americans. And it is these failures that we must collectively take advantage of.
One problem on the left is that we tend to be fractionalized into single issues. We need to find ways to come together around a single strategy. We cannot afford to continue to be distracted by one political bandwagon after another. We need to be coordinated and smart. We need smart and creative leadership. We need to educate ourselves and others. We need to be able to distinguish truth and fact from post-truth and fakery. We need to build community.
Here are a few things we can do starting right now:
- research the process of confirmation hearings that will start in January and understand which Senate committees will have hearings for each nomination;
- determine which committees, if any, the Senators from your state are on
- call your Senator’s office often to urge them to ask specific questions, or to vote no on specific confirmations
- understand that it is extremely rare for presidential nominations to not be confirmed; however, the more truths that are revealed in the process, the more information we have to use in future actions
- track pending legislation at the federal level in the House and Senate
- there are numerous on-line sites that track legislation
- bookmark and visit the websites of your progressive representatives; they post information about pending legislation
- call or email your representatives to urge them to support, or not support, critical legislation
- be a resource for your friends and family for this information and actions
- focus on facts; point out lies (social media is a great place for this)
- write letters to the editor of local newspapers
- do all of the above at the state and local level
- find organizations that work on issues important to you and support and join their efforts
- be smart about your choices; which issues are most critical, and does the organization have a strategy that builds community and cooperation with people focused on other issues?
- build community; reach out beyond your comfortable inner circle; meet new people; diversify your sphere of friends and acquaintances; focus on inclusion, understanding, building-up.
Does this sound like a lot of work? Yes. Democracy is not free, it is not easy. We have become too complacent in many ways. And so I’ll end with a song lyric. The song is Pass it On, music by George Kleinsinger, lyrics by Millard Lapell, written as the theme song for the 1964 movie The Inheritance, a documentary about the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
Freedom doesn't come like a bird on the wing
It doesn't come down like the summer rain
Freedom, freedom is a hard-won thing
You've got to work for it, fight for it
Day and night for it
And every generation got to win it again
Pass it on to your children, mother
Pass it on to you children, brother
You've got to work for it, fight for it, day and night for it
Pass it on to your children
Pass it on.
- Paul of the United States (POTUS). This is the speech I had hoped our President would give. He did, however, say a lot of this in his last press conference, which is very much worth listening to or watching.
- Popular votes: Clinton 65,762,564; Trump 62,914,474. Electoral college votes: Trump 306; Clinton 232.