Voting for Democracy in the Age of Trump
October 31, 2018
Michael Waldman / San Francisco Chronicle & Robert Reich / San Francisco Chronicle
The midterm elections have been marred by controversy over alleged voter suppression in Georgia, North Dakota and elsewhere. Once again, partisans want to make it harder for fellow citizens to cast their ballots. But something else is happening: For the first time in years, citizens have responded with a robust push to expand democratic rights. Tyrants create cults of personality. Trump is beyond that, equating America with himself and disloyalty to him with insufficient patriotism.
Democracy Itself Is on the Ballot
Michael Waldman / Opinion: San Francisco Chronicle
(October 28, 2018) -- The midterm elections have been marred by controversy over alleged voter suppression in Georgia, North Dakota and elsewhere. Once again, partisans want to make it harder for fellow citizens to cast their ballots. It's ugly.
But amid the dispiriting bid to curb voting, something else is happening: For the first time in years, citizens have responded with a robust push to expand democratic rights. Breakthrough ballot measures across the country would expand voting rights and improve representation. If enacted, they could add up to a democracy wave, regardless of which party prevails.
Start with Florida, where the presidential recount in 2000 launched the recent voting wars. The state has an extraordinarily harsh felony disenfranchisement law, one that dates to the Jim Crow era and bars citizens with any kind of felony conviction from voting for a lifetime. A drug-possession conviction at 18 means a 60-year-old can't cast a ballot. Today, 1.6 million otherwise eligible Floridians are disenfranchised, including 1 in 5 black people of voting age.
A measure on the ballot in November would restore rights for most people with criminal convictions. The proposal must win 60 percent of the vote to pass, but recent polling shows nearly three-fourths of voters support it.
Notably, the measure has united religious communities and skirted ideological splits. (The Koch-backed organization Freedom Partners gave a ringing endorsement.) Formerly incarcerated people have led the drive, going door to door to drum up support.
Then there's partisan gerrymandering. Politicians have manipulated district lines since the country's founding, but computers have transformed gerrymandering into a precision mechanism to blunt the voice of voters.
This year, the Supreme Court declined to make a major constitutional ruling to restrict extreme partisan gerrymandering. With Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing Anthony Kennedy, hopes have dimmed for a legal breakthrough at the court.
Here, too, while courts dither, citizens have acted. The best reform would have district lines drawn by a nonpartisan, independent commission, as in Arizona and California. In Michigan, despite a rebuff at first from party leaders and labor unions, activists are on track to garner 400,000 signatures for a ballot measure to create a nonpartisan panel to draw future districts.
Similar reforms are on the ballot in Utah and Colorado. Missouri voters will decide on a different but strong approach. Earlier this year, Ohio voters backed a measure to block the legislature from redistricting on a partisan basis.
This is all quite extraordinary. Gerrymandering was an arcane topic beloved only by political science professors and tobacco-stained party bosses. Last decade, similar reform efforts failed in states including Ohio and California. It speaks volumes about our electoral breakdown that ordinary citizens now seem to understand how badly the system is tilted.
Voters are also tackling one of the biggest barriers to effective elections: our ramshackle voter registration system. Today voters can fall off the rolls when they move or if there's a typo in their state's records. Some people never manage to sign up to vote in the first place. We are alone among major democracies in running our system this way.
At least 13 states, though, have approved a version of automatic voter registration that uses data supplied at their departments of motor vehicles or other agencies to securely and accurately update registration information. This paradigm shift would add tens of millions of people to the rolls, reduce costs and bolster election security. Next month, Nevada and Michigan voters will decide whether to adopt strong versions of the plan.
Will elected officials heed this shout from the electorate? Some signs are positive. House Democrats announced they will make democracy reform the basis of their first piece of legislation -- the auspiciously named HR1 -- should they win.
It would include national rules on automatic voter registration, redistricting reform and small-donor public financing of campaigns to curb the role of big money. Dozens of new members may form a reform caucus akin to the class of "Watergate babies" who won in 1974 and transformed Congress.
But don't trust incumbents to act, regardless of what they say. In the weeks after the midterms, we need to press lawmakers to put their votes where their tweets are. We also need to keep an eye out for legal challenges against these measures from forces that stand to lose from a fairer system.
Conservative activists could try to convince the Supreme Court's new conservative majority that ballot measures instituting electoral reform are unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court tries to choke off the voice of the voters, it would demolish public confidence and provoke a constitutional crisis.
For now, all eyes are on election night. This is not just an important midterm cycle politically speaking; it's also a chance for democracy itself to prevail at the ballot box.
Michael Waldman, author of The Fight to Vote, is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The Brennan Center helped write ballot measures in Florida, Michigan and Utah. Copyright 2018 Special to the Washington Post.
Democrats, Don't Go High or Low. Go Big and Bold
By focusing solely on Trump,
Dems risk falling into his trap
Robert Reich / San Francisco Chronicle
(October 26, 2018) -- Donald Trump says the midterm elections are a "referendum about me." Of course they are. Everything is about him.
Anyone who still believes the political divide runs between Republicans and Democrats hasn't been paying attention. There's no longer a Republican Party. The GOP is now just pro-Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump is doing all he can to make the Democratic Party the Anti-Trump Party. "Democrats," he declares, are "too dangerous to govern." They're "an angry left-wing mob," leading an "assault on our country."
Never before has a president of the United States been so determined not to be president of all Americans. He's president of his supporters.
Tyrants create cults of personality. Trump is beyond that. He equates America with himself and disloyalty to him with insufficient patriotism. In his mind, a giant "Trump" sign hangs over the nation. "We" are his supporters, acolytes and toadies. "They" are the rest of us.
When everything and everyone is either pro- or anti-Trump, there's no room for neutral expertise, professional norms, good public policy or the rule of law.
Trump is reportedly on the brink of firing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, whom Trump suspects is "sort of a Democrat." Mattis' real sin has been to believe the military should be neutral and professional. To Trump, that smacks of disloyalty.
Trump calls military generals "my" generals. He expects the FBI director, the attorney general and the Justice Department to be "his." He proudly points to "his" judges and justices.
Republican members of Congress are part of "his" government -- unless, like Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, they're not.
He believes the nation's news media are either for him or against him. Fox News is indubitably for him -- now a virtual propaganda arm of the White House. The rest are against him even when they merely report the news.
We're all being taken in by this Trumpian dichotomy -- even those of us in the anti-Trump camp.
When Trump is the defining issue in America, he gets to set the national agenda. All major debate in this country revolves around him, his goals and the objects of his vilification.
The Trumpification of America hardly ends if Democrats take over the House or possibly the Senate. Trump will blame them for everything that goes wrong. He'll make up problems they're supposedly responsible for. He'll ridicule them and call them traitors.
He'll do the same to anyone who shows serious interest in running for president against him in 2020.
Naturally, Democrats will want to defend themselves. Naturally, they'll also want to attack Trump.
If they flip the House, they'll use their subpoena power to dredge up whatever dirt on him they can find -- summoning his tax records, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Mueller's investigative findings -- and perhaps even beginning impeachment proceedings.
Trump and his Republican enablers will fight back, condemning Democrats for weakening America, engaging in fishing expeditions and witch hunts. Trump and his lawyers will tie up the subpoenas in court, claiming executive privilege.
Aspiring Democratic candidates for president will join in the brawl.
Opinion writers, editorial boards and pundits will argue over the best ways for Democrats to proceed against Trump -- going low or going high. Pollsters will tell us which Democratic candidate is seen as being most effective against him.
But all of this is a giant trap. It accepts and enforces Trump's worldview that nothing is more important than Donald Trump, that he embodies all that's good or bad about America, and that our most significant choice is to be for him or against him.
It allows Trump to continue to dominate the news and occupy the center of the nation's attention.
We'd talk about nothing else for two years. We won't be discussing how to restore wage growth, get health insurance to all Americans, reverse climate change or get big money out of politics.
We won't be envisioning how a new America can widen opportunity, expand voting rights, end racism, reduce poverty and work constructively with the rest of the world.
We won't be aspiring to be more than we were before Trump. We'll debate and dissect the damage done since Trump.
Of course Democrats have to fight him. But they also have to lift America beyond him.
The central question shouldn't be whether we're pro- or anti-Trump, or whether we go low or high in fighting him.
The question is where America should go -- and what we, together, can become.
Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, is the author of "The Common Good," and the documentary "Saving Capitalism." Copyright 2018 Robert Reich.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.