Six overarching matters in the new presidency.
November 9, 2016 — Trump’s win was confirmed early morning on the 9th — marked exactly 27 years since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. In a sense, in 27 years we’ve traveled from Berlin to Brexit, from multitudes freed from Communist tyranny to voters seeking release from rule by remote dictatorial elites. Though the former were worse than the latter, the elites were moving towards global transnational governance increasingly less accountable to those they govern. Setting aside myriad substantive policy initiatives, there are six overarching matters that should promptly command the new president’s attention.
Pardon My Sa(w)rong. (Apologies go to Abbott & Costello for my adding an extra letter to their famous 1942 film title.) Already, voices have raised the question of a presidential pardon for Hillary, despite her countless serious felonies and heedless betrayal of public trust in exposing our deepest diplomatic secrets, plus many intelligence and defense secrets too. In pundit Charles Hurt’s words, “She is the most corrupt, compromised, dishonest, self-dealing, delusional and unlikeable candidate perhaps to ever run for president.” At first blush, it is hard to imagine a less worthy recipient of mercy than Hillary, who never once gave quarter to her adversaries, and abused vast government power in pursuit of them. Mercy should go to those who themselves offer it. But the harsh reality is that prosecuting Hillary would shove Trump’s presidential governing agenda to the sideline, enrage her supporters, and could lead to an O.J.-style nullification verdict. Both New York and Washington, D.C. are solid blue.
However, if the trial were held in reliably red-state Arkansas, where Little Rock hosts the Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s chance of winning an O.J. nullification verdict are considerably less; but even there a single holdout could hang the jury. Were that to happen prosecutors might not retry. Were a second trial to result in a deadlock there would surely be no third trial.
To clear the deck for the GOP agenda may entail the distasteful step of getting Hillary out of the way, despite crimes that dwarf Richard Nixon’s Watergate offenses. If President Obama does not pardon Hillary and her wayward underlings, Trump, painful though it would be, may have to do so. Utterly undeserving of mercy they all are; but Trump’s agenda could be toast if Hillary & Co. are put through a prosecutorial ordeal, however it turns out. Her having lost the prize she coveted for a half century may have to be punishment enough. But to ease the pain of so doing, our new president should review all cases of people doing jail time for mishandling classified information, and pardon everyone whose offense was less serious than Hillary’s cavalier blanket disregard for protecting sensitive data. This last step is necessary to serve the maxim “equal justice under law.”
However, if Trump decides to grant clemency, he should insist on Hillary first making an “allocution” (legalese for admitting guilt in open court) as to her major crimes: pay-for play, obstructing justice and mishandling classified information. This would settle the predicate facts and make Hillary’s supporters acknowledge her guilt, as Nixon’s supporters did. Given the substantial risk of jury nullification, which her supporters would then treat as exoneration, avoiding trial may be the most prudent course. But some form of genuflection to equal justice must be made, lest rule of law be further undermined.
Investigate Institutional Corruption. First, we need to take steps to see that no one is allowed to evade the protection of secure government networks, by resorting to a homebrew server. Second, letting Hillary & Co. off the hook should not deflect Congress from probing into the workings of the Justice Department, FBI, and the IRS. We need to take steps to make less likely the compromise of these critical, powerful agencies. As “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer said, we need to know which laws were broken. The investigation should NOT be personalized, but instead aimed at institutional reform applicable to Trump’s and future administrations.
All non-classified emails should be published. The public must know the full extent of wrongdoing by Hillary, by her subordinates, and oh yes, by the Clinton Foundation. The Foundation’s devoting less than 10 percent of donations to genuine charities, with the remainder funding such charming items as Chelsea’s lavish wedding, suggests that its operations should be shut down. The few truly legitimate charitable ventures should be sent elsewhere.
Congress: Out of 4 Rs, 2 Rs. Four watchwords: Rules, Repeal, Replace, and Regular order. (1) Rules should be the same for repealing and replacing Obama laws passed by circumventing or abolishing prior legislative rules; (2) Rules for new business should be Regular order. Obama created new precedent; we can use it too.
In politics, the Code of Hammurabi — “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” — applies. The egregious independent counsel law was a picnic for Democrats when it bedeviled the GOP during the Reagan-Bush Sr. years; but when Hillary found herself before a grand jury, and when rising Democratic star Henry Cisneros was toppled, Democrats joined Republicans in voting in 1999 to repeal the offending law.
Democrats passed Obamacare by circumventing long-established Senate rules; they put three appellate judges on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — the venue for more federal regulatory cases than any other federal appeals court — by exercising the “nuclear option” — bypassing the Senate filibuster rule. The GOP should install Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement via the nuclear option. Although the Democrats did not apply the nuclear option to the Supreme Court, they surely would have done so in a Hillary administration. Another Senate rule, adopted by the Democrats after they exercised the nuclear option, purports to lock in a 60-vote confirmation threshold by empowering the minority party to require a supermajority. This rule should be repealed, if necessary, to enable filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court with a constitutionalist.
Until Democrats feel the lash, they will not abandon expedient bypass tactics that have worked for them. After that, let Regular order reign.
Count Every VALID Vote. We need to separate voter fraud from voter access. By conflating the two, Democrats have for a quarter-century dominated the debate, tipping it in favor of ballot access and the expense of ballot integrity. There are measures that can be put in place to improve ballot access, but the first step should be to try to ensure that valid votes are not nullified by invalid votes.
This requires mandating voter identification. All duplicate registrations should be cancelled. Voters thus struck from voter rolls can show ID at the polling place on Election Day. We show ID cards to get into office buildings, fly on airliners, etc. If some exceptionally timid or apathetic voters stay away, their loss should be thought less harmful than fraudulent voters nullifying those who cast valid ballots. Making a fetish of ballot access obscures the cost in valid votes nullified.
To improve voter access, a 24-hour voting period over a weekend should be instituted, with a rolling start and finish, midnight to midnight in each time zone. The usual obvious exceptions — military personnel, voters with other special needs that thus have trouble getting to the polls — can be factored in.
One more reform is needed: For federal elections in presidential years: all valid absentee votes must be counted. Currently that is not the case. Some states — notably New York and California, only count outstanding absentee ballots if their number exceeds the margin of already-counted ballots. Thus in 2000, when Al Gore “won” the popular vote by 500,000, in California alone 2 million absentee ballots were not counted, because Gore had won already-counted votes by more than that margin. Typically the GOP wins absentee ballots — military, students and those doing business overseas — by a 2-to-1 margin; applying that to California in 2000 would have given George W. Bush a 667,000-vote margin, and made him the national popular winner by 167,000 votes.
The AP’s November 13 tally put Hillary’s lead at 630,877, roughly 0.5 percent out of over 121 million votes cast. California’s November 10 report shows nearly 4.4 million ballots unprocessed, with 3.2 million vote-by-mail, 1.1 million provisional and just over 100,000 damaged, unreadable or being reviewed. Given Hillary’s 2.7 million vote lead, there is no danger of her win there being reversed; but if the GOP margin of 2:1 holds for absentee votes, it is possible that her nationwide lead could be eclipsed. In either event, Congress should pass a law requiring that every absentee vote be counted in presidential elections. The Democratic mantra in 2000 and since has been “count every vote.” Let’s do so.
Constitutionalism Trumps Progressivism. Since Woodrow Wilson, Progressivism — the idea that governmental elites are expert enough to guide a public less enamored of their philosophy and hence deemed less endowed with wisdom — has long been regnant in the Democratic Party. President Obama carried this doctrine one step further in claiming that, in default of Congress enacting the president’s agenda, the president acquires plenary power to enact legislation. In such event, the president becomes legislator, and Congress is reduced to being an advisory council. Obama selected judges — as surely would have been the case with Hillary — based upon their case-specific impressions of what is just; this discards rule of law. Judicial empathy for favored groups — think of Justice Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” — is the antithesis of legal interpretation. Constitutionalist judges follow their understanding of law and recognize the need to apply it as much as possible independent of a judge’s own feelings and inclinations.
Trump, though not schooled in the Constitution, can restore its institutional constraints by foregoing excessive executive power. Power exercised within a constitutional framework entails the exercise of restraint; the greater the power at a leader’s disposal, commensurately greater must be the personal restraint of those leaders in the exercise of such power.
Media Management. As for the media’s cultural bubble, Maureen Dowd quotes one observer: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” The elite “punditocracy” predicted (1:52) an easy Hillary win even on Election Day. In this they echoed the 1972 reaction attributed to famed film critic Pauline Kael, resident in Manhattan, upon hearing that Nixon had won in an epic landslide. She reportedly exclaimed that she couldn’t believe the result, as no one she knew had voted for him. At MSNBC Joe Scarborough braced his fellow mainstream media types (6:55) for openly working to elect Hillary; he cited a statement by the editor of the New York Times openly proclaiming that it was the media’s job to defeat Trump. Indeed New York magazine prepared a “Loser” cover over Trump’s face. As president Trump must supplement good performance by taking advantage of many ways to bypass mainstream filters. And he must call out politically correct efforts to silence or talk over his bully pulpit.
Why Trump? — “It’s the Culture, Stupid!” Teasing out of the numbers the reasons underlying the Trump win will keep many folks in various professions employed for a long time. A few assessments offer clues. Shelby Steele notes the “culture of deference” that enabled the rise of multicultural political correctness, arising from revulsion against slavery. Steele writes that deference — in essence, a form of apology — to favored groups transferred political and cultural power from formerly favored groups (whites, Christians) to newly favored groups (nonwhites, women, etc.). Deference is a form of cultural submission, to avoid being stigmatized as a bigot. Social policy maven Arthur Brooks cites a “dignity gap” as driving support for Trump, with millions of working class Americans deprived of the dignity of earning their keep by the fruits of their own labor. Peggy Noonan sees an uprising of the unprotected against the protected.
Philosopher theologian George Weigel framed the magnitude of Trump’s task in seeking to restore America’s culture:
[W]e are, and have been since at least 2000 and arguably 1996, a country badly divided along what a philosopher or theologian would call “anthropological” lines — a country riven by two very different and likely incommensurable ideas of the human person.
One believes that there are truths built into the world and into us and that respecting those truths makes for happiness, civility, and human flourishing. The other believes that there are no such truths, that everything in the human condition is malleable and plastic, and that you are what you say you are or aspire to be, even if the elementary facts of biology beg to differ. The latter camp may have overreached recently in its quasi-fascist campus antics, its bathroom campaigns, and its determination to force lifestyle libertinism on the entire country through state power. But there is little indication that either political party, to date, has found either the will or the way to affirm the universality of human dignity while saying “Enough is enough” to the partisans of plastic human nature, who have weaponized “gender” ideology and confusions into a blunt instrument of intimidation and coercion.
The Frank Sinatra Factor. Donald Trump and Frank Sinatra? How so? Like the Chairman of the Board, Trump does things his way; and like the Chairman, his best self is oft hidden, and his worst self oft put forward in public. To marshal public support for policies likely to be strongly opposed by Democrats and their media/pundit allies, Trump should channel the better side of The Voice. He can “croon a tune from the heart of D.C.” (an apology to wordsmith Irving Caesar for my amending his Swanee “Dixie” lyric) that draws people into his orbit, and use his considerable political charisma to neutralize inevitable opposition.
At the end of his presidency, win or lose, Trump may feel like singing these famous lyrics (written for Sinatra by Paul Anka):
And now the end is near
So I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.…
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.
And if successful, The Donald can say, “Ring a ding ding!”
DonkeyHotey/Creative Commons (based on photo by Gage Skidmore)