Trump can’t hack a postal ballot – but, then again, neither can Russia.

To post or not to post?

There’s a moment in the Orson Welles classic film Citizen Kane when the main character, Charles Foster Kane— based on the newspaper and business tycoon William Randolph Hearst—is running for election as governor of New York. The editor of his New York daily has prepared two early editions, one of which will appear the morning after the result of the election is announced. One reads ‘KANE ELECTED’ the other reads ‘FRAUD AT THE POLLS’. With a long face he is forced to go with the latter when Kane loses (so did Hearst, in 1906). 

It appears from his tweet today—the one about the possibility of postponing the November Presidential election, not the 87 other ones—(this was written before midnight so that figure might no longer be accurate!)—that President Donald J. Trump is of a similar mindset. Either he will defeat Joe Biden in November, or he will have been the victim of massive electoral fraud, most of it coming via mail ballots.

So, what does history tell us about a) the postponement of a US Presidential election and b) US electoral fraud.

The first thing to be reiterated is that the President cannot release his inner spider yet again and sign another Executive Order to postpone/cancel/exclude/deport/pardon a Presidential election. He may be able to rename Mars as Planet Trump (I’m not sure if that actually happened but I saw it on Twitter) but according to Article 2 Clause 4 of something called the United States Constitution (apparently we have one too, but the UK hasn’t gotten around to it yet) … 

‘The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.’

Americans seem to have adopted the standardised spelling of ‘choosing’ since the 18th century, so it’s probably only a matter of time before they overcome their loathing of the letter ‘U’ and begin to spell ‘labour’ ‘flavour’ and ‘savour’ properly as well. 

As to the date, the American election has not always taken place on the first Tuesday after the 1 November. That practice began on 7 November 1848  when the USA staged the first national election that was held on the same day in every state. Zachary Taylor became President. (Me neither!) The 1848 election date was based on a snappily titled 1845 law – ‘An act to establish a uniform time for holding elections of electors of President and Vice President in all the states of the Union’ which did exactly what it said on the tin and settled on ‘the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November’. That is the way it was been ever since.  

Any change would require an amendment to that act, approved by both Houses of Congress. To the Democrats, who have a majority in the House of  Representatives, it is an non-runner, dead duck, non-starter, ‘just ain’t gonna happen’ –  and even Republicans in the Senate have no stomach for such a move. Trump Enabler in Chief, Mitch McConnell has described the date as ‘set in stone’[1]

And even if it was postponed when would the USA go for a reset? No election (bar the first in 1788) has failed to take place in the final full year of a presidential term. This is not the Olympic games. Any postponement beyond the end of December would require a constitutional amendment. This would have to be ratified by 38 of 50 states!  If you’ve been watching Mrs. America on the BBC you’ll have some idea how difficult it is to pass a constitutional amendment. (Spoiler Alert – I’ve probably just given away the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment was never enshrined in the US Constitution. Oops! Sorry).  

And it’s not as if American Presidential elections haven’t gone ahead in spite of a few minor difficulties!

In 1812 James Madison and DeWitt Clinton had to face the electorate despite the USA being in the middle of a war with their former colonisers, the British. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln had to fight an election against one of his former Generals, George McClellan even though the Civil War was still raging.

Lincoln and McClellan in more convivial times

According to Michael Burlingame, Professor emeritus of History, Connecticut College:

‘No other democratic nation had ever conducted a national election during times of war. And while there was some talk of postponing the election, it was never given serious consideration, even when Lincoln thought that he would lose.’[2]  Lincoln’s chances weren’t helped by a rebellion in his own party that threw up a charismatic third candidate in John C. Fremont. But the Lincoln Project was ultimately successful (fnarr, fnarr!)

Not to mention the fact that FDR was re-elected, for the seventeenth time, in 1944 during a global conflict. 

Then there is the mail / absentee voting issue.

Is voting by mail more liable to produce a fraudulent result? Well, nearly 1 in 4 voters cast 2016 presidential ballots that way, and Trump won (albeit losing the popular vote by a narrow 3,000,000 margin). Being permitted to post off your ballot in October or November, rather than appearing in person to pull the lever, would make it less likely that electors would be required to die for their country, of Covid-19. It would also be more difficult for Cozy Bears, APT29 or whatever those talented Russian hackers are calling themselves now, to game the system. Not even Vladimir Putin is patient enough to stand over every postal voter and steal their ballot. 

They’ve been voting by mail in Oregon since 1998 and out of over 15 million ballots cast the conservative Heritage Foundation detected fourteen cases of fraud.[3] That’s a rate of .0000009%. A study that was funded by by those celebrated bastions of Marxist/Leninism, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation, found an “infinitesimal” number of fraud cases in elections between 2000 and 2012. They detected a total of 2,068 illicit ballots cast, amounting to one in every 15 million eligible voters.[4] And those were not all mail-in voters, some of the fraud took place at election booths. 

If about 150,000,000 Americans vote on 3 November that’s a potential incidence of around 10 fraudulent ballots nationwide. I’m sure the Democrats would be happy to ease President Trump’s mind by giving him a ten vote start? He can even take them all in Wisconsin or Minnesota if that helps.

BTW – President Trump himself voted by mail during New York City’s mayoral election in 2017. He cast an absentee ballot the following year, and again used a mail ballot in Florida’s primary election in 2020.[5] What’s that old saw about sauce, goose and ganders again? So, unless Democratic members of the House of Representatives are accidentally locked in a broom cupboard before a vote on electoral postponement, the poll will proceed as planned on 3 November. 

Incidentally, the last time a Presidential election was held on 3 November was 1988, when a Republican incumbent (George H.W. Bush) was defeated after serving a single term in the White House. Just sayin’ 

Caveat – all sources cited here are, of course, fake news outlets, like Snopes.com, Reuters and NPR. So, you can safely take it all with a pinch of salt. 


[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/07/30/897111969/trump-floats-delaying-the-election-it-would-require-a-change-in-law

[2] https://millercenter.org/president/lincoln/campaigns-and-elections

[3] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-vote-by-mail-explainer-idUSKBN2482SA

[4] https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/mail-in-ballot-voter-fraud/

[5] https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/mail-in-ballot-voter-fraud/

FH#55 Is Presidential impeachment actually worse than the Salem Witch trials?

 

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Late last year a penitent Donald Trump wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking full responsibility for his actions in the Ukraine scandal and admitting to a whole host of impeachable offences.

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a second or two we just need to switch the dial and journey back from that parallel universe. Because, of course, President Trump did precisely the opposite. The bit about the letter is true though, you may remember it. It was six pages long, only the numbers at the bottom of each page made much sense, and the President, who is, of course, an acknowledged expert in 17th century US history, observed that …

I have been denied the most fundamental rights under the constitution … more            due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch trials.

Far be it from me to challenge the authority of a man who has obviously spent hours poring over dusty and obscure documents from the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, when he should have been reading his daily CIA briefing, but his controversial utterance does seem to invite some rigorous analysis. So, let’s examine the validity of the suggestion that the impeachment process is odious in comparison with the procedures employed in the prosecution for witchcraft of a large number of women, and a much smaller number of men, in the rural community of Salem village, Massachusetts, in 1692.

Perhaps we should start with the response of the current Mayor of Salem, Kim Driscoll, to the President’s thesis.

‘Oy vey…again. Learn some history’ she tweeted,  ‘Salem 1692 = absence of evidence + powerless, innocent victims were hanged or pressed to death. #Ukraniegate 2019 = ample evidence + admissions of wrongdoing + perpetrators are among the most powerful and privileged.’

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Straightaway we need to enter a caveat here. Because Kim Driscoll is a lazy ‘do-nothing’ Democrat, and is also the Mayor of Salem Town, not Salem village where, in 1692, the uproar actually took place. Back in the 17th century the two entities were deadly rivals, Salem town being much wealthier than the adjoining village of the same name. The patent lack of objectivity in the Mayor’s tweet, as well as her gender, suggests that Kim Driscoll may indeed be a witch herself.

The Salem witch trials were symptomatic of suspicion of one’s neighbour and the fear of outsiders, a phenomenon that, happily, has no place in President Trump’s America.  Were Arthur Miller alive today he would undoubtedly focus on the agony of Presidential impeachment rather than the Salem witch trials for his allegorical play about McCarthyism, The Crucible.

The Salem commotion arose when two young children began to have fits and accused a number of local women of bewitching them. The resulting witchcraft trials led to the hanging of nineteen women and the formal crushing to death of the single male victim, Giles Corey, husband of one of the alleged witches.  Much of the testimony at the trials was so-called ‘spectral evidence’ where the witnesses recounted incriminating dreams rather than offering factual accounts of their experiences. As the record of the House of Representatives will show, spectral evidence, though encouraged by the Republican minority, was not accepted during the impeachment process. Neither is it likely that President Trump will ever be pressed to death under a pile of stones (the fate of Giles Corey).

One other major point of contrast is that in 1711 a shamefaced Massachusetts legislature retrospectively exonerated the condemned witches and offered financial restitution to their families. Impeachment, however, is not subject to retroactive pardons (unless the President opts to pardon himself) and it is unlikely that Ivanka, Eric, Donald Jr. or any other Trump dependent will be getting a cheque in the past anytime soon from a chastened House of Representatives.

So, is the impeachment process actually worse than the Salem witch trials? Given that no one has ever been executed for high crimes and misdemeanours committed as US President, thus far at any rate, that’s probably fake news. Sorry, I obviously meant fake history.

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Subterranean Barack Blues or Hey Mister Tangerine Man

 

 

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Ten years ago, I found myself living for six months in Berkeley, California. A recently announced candidate for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination was due to hold a rally in nearby Oakland, on St. Patrick’s Day. Like most people living in the USA in 2007 I was intrigued by this young, gifted and black politician (actually, as half-white and half-black he could just as easily be described as ‘white’). Of course, he hadn’t a hope against the Clintonafia but he was definitely one for the future.

 

It was a toss-up. The San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or Barack Obama. Curiosity won out. I put my ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ tee-shirt back in the drawer, and took the BART to Oakland. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

 

There is no need to describe how electrifying he was. Everybody knows the man is a rhetorician non pareil. He stood on a dais projected into the crowd, and introduced himself. He spoke for about twenty minutes without notes. Afterwards he shook hands with anyone who wanted to press his flesh. There were green tee-shirts on sale bearing the legend ‘🍀’Bama for President—St. Patrick’s Day, 2007, Oakland, California.’ I’m a sucker for commemorative tee-shirts, so I bought one. I still have it, though I was a bit surprised when the young vendor insisted on getting my email address before she sold it to me. Since that day I’ve had a decade of personal emails from the man himself. Where does he get the time?

 

He inherited a nightmare dreamed up by neo-liberals and deficit Republicans. He leaves with approval ratings touching sixty-percent (George W. Bush was at thirty-nine). His finger has been in the dike for eight years. When he withdraws it—forced into doing so by the twenty-second amendment—his successor’s fist will gleefully smash through the hole Obama has been protecting.

 

Granted, he campaigned in dizzying poetry and often governed in leaden prose. He has disappointed his progressive constituency. He acted as judge and jury on a number of Middle Eastern radicals, left the vultures of Wall St alone or strengthened, kept Guantanamo open, disregarded the misery of Aleppo.

 

Perhaps his greatest achievement—aside from the now-imperilled Affordable Care Act—was incumbency. While he was in the White House, albeit gelded by a resentful Congress, he was a bulwark against the regressive forces that have now been released.

 

If we apply the Monty Python test—‘What has Obama ever done for us’—he has bled, read, healed, smiled, cried, soothed, embraced, turned the other cheek repeatedly (perhaps too often) and exercised a level of adult self-control unfamiliar in once and future presidents. His grace, example, open-mindedness, charm, articulacy, folksiness, intelligence, humour and calmness were provocations to those affronted by the sight of a black man in the White House.

 

And what about that jump shot?

 

On 9 November 2016 anyone with even vague pretensions to progressivism or leftism experienced the pain felt by Breitbart-man on 2 November 2008.  We can only hope that four years from now (please let it not be eight) the right will be as disappointed with the actual results of a Trump presidency as the left is with Obama’s. They certainly won’t be disappointed by Trump’s style. I wonder. Is this the first time an incoming President has read fewer books than his predecessor has written?

 

As usual Shakespeare has it covered. Act 3 Scene Four of Hamlet. The Prince of Denmark is closeted with his mother. He presents her with a picture of the late King, her husband. Simply substitute the word ‘President’ for ‘husband’ and away we go.

 

Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear …

 

Let’s hope for some 2020 vision. Best case scenario, four years from now Barack Obama returns to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as consort of the first woman President.

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