The Extinction-Level Event

Sometimes it’s best to get down to basics. The whole idea of this place was that kings and tyrants of any sort made no sense. People can govern themselves, and should. We needed no king. We’d vote on what should be what, and vote again, and again, to adjust for any mistakes we made – but not really. We’d elect those who would vote for us, those we trusted to make decisions about stuff we had no time to investigate. We’d not have a democracy. We’d have a representative democracy. And we’ve spent two hundred and forty-three years working out the details. One hundred years ago we passed the Nineteenth Amendment – okay, women can vote. And there was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment that had been ratified just after the Civil War. Reluctant southern states actually had to let black folks vote – no more poll taxes or literacy tests – no more nonsense. This might work, but there was the Electoral College that made rural votes count ten to one hundred times more than the votes of city folks. Small states with tiny populations had as much say as big states that had millions more voters. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. Al Gore had more votes than George Bush. The Electoral College has assured a particular minority wins, rural and oddly western at times. The majority does NOT rule here – and add gerrymandering to that. At the state level one party can neuter the other party, the one that represents most of the people, by how congressional district lines are drawn. That seems unfair but the Supreme Court just ruled that they won’t touch this at all – that’s a political issue, not a legal one. One man, one vote, is a fine idea, but the states can work this out, or Congress can. The Supreme Court has other things to worry about.

None of this, however, alters the basic concept. We can govern ourselves, and should, and will. We’ll vote for the right people to represent our interests, and vote again if we get it wrong. It’s an iterative process. That’s how the country runs. And no one had better mess with it. It’s not perfect, but this is all of who and what we are.

And that may end:

The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded Thursday that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016, an effort more far-reaching than previously acknowledged and one largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time…

The report – the first volume of several to be released from the committee’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference – came 24 hours after the former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III warned that Russia was moving again to interfere “as we sit here.”

While details of many of the hackings directed by Russian intelligence, particularly in Illinois and Arizona, are well known, the committee described “an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure” intended largely to search for vulnerabilities in the security of the election systems.

And the Russians found those vulnerabilities in all fifty states. Voter rolls could be hacked – show up to vote and you don’t exist in any records of any kind, so you cannot vote, and there’s no way to correct that easily, if at all. Actual vote tallies can be changed – and many states have no “paper trail” to verify anything at all. The last time around no votes were changed. Maybe, but now everyone knows they could be changed. And have they been changed? No one would know. And anyone could claim victory, and might. That would rip the country apart. Now everyone can expect that this WILL rip the country apart – so the Russians did no damage but did massive damage already. Now, nothing is certain.

But this is certain:

While the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings were bipartisan, they came on a day when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, moved again to block consideration of election security legislation put forward by Democrats.

Mr. McConnell has long opposed giving the federal government a greater hand in an institution of American democracy typically run by the states.

And despite the warnings about the Russia threat, he argues that Congress has already done enough – passing $380 million worth of grants for states to update their election systems and supporting executive branch agencies as they make their own changes.

This is the logic of states’ rights. The states supervise elections. Let them deal with the Russians. The federal government has no role to play here at all, but there is this:

Some administration officials have suggested that the issue is not getting enough high-level attention because President Trump equates any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory.

Of course he does, and there’s this too:

McConnell said Democrats were just trying to make political hay on the heels of the Mueller testimony in their attempt to bring up a House bill that would mandate the use of paper ballots in states’ election systems and provide additional funding to the federal, nonpartisan Election Assistance Commission.

“This is partisan legislation from the Democratic House of Representatives,” McConnell said, noting that the bill garnered just one GOP vote in that chamber and was designed to give Democrats the political upper-hand.

In short, this is no big deal, but Nancy LeTourneau remembers where this started:

By early fall of 2016, members of the Obama administration had concluded that Russia wasn’t just attempting to interfere in the upcoming election, but that they were doing so to support Donald Trump. When they briefed a bipartisan group of house and senate leaders about Russia’s interference, the officials were primarily concerned about the hacking of voting equipment.

The intent of the intelligence briefing was to ask congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voter-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions. McConnell refused the request and said that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

McConnell told Obama that any word of this and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and all the rest would scream bloody murder – fixing those voting machines with federal funds was an impermissible attempt to get his friend Hillary elected. Any mention of it was an impermissible attempt to smear the Republican candidate. And as so then, so now – fixing this is a Democratic power-grab.

Paul Waldman actually agrees with that:

McConnell is right! Legislation to secure our elections is partisan. And the fact that it’s partisan shows just how pathological the Republican Party has become in its determination to hold on to power.

So here are some things that, in our system today, are “partisan” in the sense that if we were to do them they would advantage the Democratic Party over the Republican Party Securing our voting systems from foreign hacking – allowing every American to vote – making it as easy as possible for Americans to vote – ensuring that all votes count equally.

Now consider what it says about your party if doing those things would make it much more likely that you’d lose.

These folks may have a problem:

So much of what plagues our election system works to the advantage of Republicans, in part because their voters tend to be older and wealthier, and in part because of all the effort Republicans have put into erecting obstacles in the path of Democratic-leaning constituencies attempting to vote, not to mention the gerrymandering that makes Republican votes worth more and the electoral college that does the same.

And of course, let’s not forget that the leader of the Republican Party said publicly that if a foreign power offered him help in his reelection bid, he’d accept it. Republicans just aren’t willing to impede the progress of any thumb on its way to the electoral scale, especially if the thumb belongs to Vladimir Putin. We don’t know if there are any hostile foreign governments ready to hack our elections in order to defeat Trump, but there’s at least one that is probably ready to help him.

So yes, securing our elections is partisan. So is making it easier to vote, because as Republicans surely know, the population of nonvoters as a whole is younger, less white and more liberal than the population of voters.

And that leaves this:

If every American voted, more Democrats would win. Anything Republicans can do to keep them from getting the polls, they’ll do. That’s where we are today: The last thing Republicans want is elections that are secure, fair, free and open. And they’ll make sure that’s not what we have.

Dana Milbank goes farther. He argues that Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset:

This doesn’t mean he’s a spy, but neither is it a flip accusation. Russia attacked our country in 2016. It is attacking us today. Its attacks will intensify in 2020. Yet each time we try to raise our defenses to repel the attack, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocks us from defending ourselves.

Let’s call this what it is: unpatriotic. The Kentucky Republican is, arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.

That’s the tale Milbank tells:

Robert Mueller sat before Congress this week warning that the Russia threat “deserves the attention of every American.” He said “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election are among the most serious” challenges to American democracy he has ever seen. “They are doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” he warned, adding that “much more needs to be done in order to protect against these intrusions, not just by the Russians but others as well.”

Not three hours after Mueller finished testifying, Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went to the Senate floor to request unanimous consent to pass legislation requiring presidential campaigns to report to the FBI any offers of assistance from agents of foreign governments.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) was there to represent her leader’s interests. “I object,” she said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) attempted to move a bill that would require campaigns to report to the FBI contributions by foreign nationals.

“I object,” said Hyde-Smith.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to force action on bipartisan legislation, written with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and supported by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), protecting lawmakers from foreign cyberattacks. “The majority leader, our colleague from Kentucky, must stop blocking this common-sense legislation and allow this body to better defend itself against foreign hackers,” he said.

“I object,” repeated Hyde-Smith.

So this was going nowhere:

The next day, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, asked for the Senate to pass the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, already passed by the House, that would direct $600 million in election assistance to states and require backup paper ballots.

McConnell himself responded this time, reading from a statement, his chin melting into his chest, his trademark thin smile on his lips. “It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia,” he said. “Therefore, I object.”

Milbank is now disgusted:

McConnell has no shame. He is aiding and abetting Putin’s dismantling of Americans’ self-governance. A leader who won’t protect our country from attack is no patriot.

Milbank may be disgusted, but someone else is angry:

“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough berated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Friday morning for his efforts to block election security legislation in the Senate this week just hours after the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released a report outlining Russia’s cyber-attacks on states in 2016.

“How can ‘Moscow Mitch’ so willingly turn a blind eye not only this year to what his Republican chairman of the Intel Committee is saying, to what Robert Mueller is saying what, the FBI director is saying, what the DNI is saying, to what the CIA is saying, to what the United States military intel community is saying? How can ‘Moscow Mitch’ keep denying that Vladimir Putin continues to try to subvert American democracy?” Scarborough said, after suggesting that perhaps McConnell had a conflict of interest related to Russian investment in his home state.

“Seriously, he is – he is aiding and abetting Vladimir Putin’s ongoing attempts to subvert American democracy, according to the Republican FBI, CIA, DNI, Intel Committee, all Republicans are all saying Russia is subverting American democracy and ‘Moscow Mitch’ won’t let the Senate take a vote on it. That is un-American,” Scarborough yelled.

But it is lucrative – Mitch McConnell Received Donations from Voting Machine Lobbyists before Blocking Election Security Bills – not that that sort of things matters any longer.

What does matter? Andrew Sullivan is not sure now:

The Mueller hearings told us almost nothing that we didn’t know already. We knew that the president welcomed assistance from a foreign power in order to win an election, and he has fawned over his political patron in this endeavor, Vladimir Putin, since he became president. We knew that though he was not competent enough to construct a conspiracy, he was eager to collude with a foreign foe to defeat his domestic one. And we knew that he then lied about it as baldly as he lies about almost everything, and tried repeatedly to obstruct the investigation into the affair. His attorney general then blatantly lied about the key conclusions of the Mueller report, distorting the public debate for weeks as he kept the contents under wraps, and then bet that Americans, with our gnat-like attention spans, would simply move on.

We also knew that in contemporary America, none of these facts matter in the slightest. The notion that the average citizen should care deeply about the rule of law and constitutional norms – and even actively defend them – has become terribly passé. Now, all that truly matters is whether we are entertained by someone who can command televisual excitement the way Trump does on a daily, hourly basis. If he can’t, whatever the underlying facts, no one gives a damn.

And forget the Democrats:

The president’s assault on the Constitution has merely revealed the Democratic Party as the lame farce we knew it was. Its ancient, pusillanimous congressional leadership was never going to do what duty, rather than politics, requires. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, moreover, has set an extraordinary precedent: that clear evidence, meticulously collected, that a president has committed what she calls “crimes against the Constitution” does not constitute sufficient grounds for impeachment, even when those crimes were designed to cover up an alliance with a foreign power. If more than that is needed, the impeachment power has effectively been nullified.

But forget the Republicans too:

The Republicans, meanwhile, are quite simply a cult behind a lawless wannabe strongman, led by cable news conspiracy theorists. Cults guarantee total unanimity, expel dissenters, and seal themselves off from outside information – and the GOP now does all three. That’s why the only actual conservatives left in the Congress, like Justin Amash, have had to leave the party to make their case.

And watching today’s Trump party on Wednesday further turn Robert Mueller, an old-school law-and-order Republican, into a stooge for the Democrats, revealed just how deep the cult has gone. They mocked and scoffed at a war hero and honorable public servant in order to defend a draft-dodging liar and corporate fraud. For every through-line of fact, they concocted an equal and opposite farrago of fantasy.

The truly chilling thing about the hearings, however, is that the Republicans were obviously not trying to persuade the wider public; they were each vying to ingratiate themselves with one audience alone: their dear leader. This is how parties behave in authoritarian states, not liberal democratic ones.

And thus there is the man himself:

The president, of course, is a shameless liar who can declare, as he did this week without any widespread outrage, that Article II of the Constitution allows him to do “whatever I want,” including ending any possible investigation into his own crimes. He has an attorney general who shares this view of executive power, and he has compiled a massive bench of new judges and justices who hold one belief in common: that the Executive branch has legal and constitutional impunity.

And thus this is the end of it all:

The awful truth is that the American constitutional system is failing on almost every level. The system, it turns out, is not even strong enough to withstand one Trump term, let alone two. Trump intuited this in 2016, and if he wins reelection, as he now has a good chance of doing, what’s left of liberal democracy will be under acute duress.

The “extinction-level event” that I feared in the spring of 2016 is already here. Look around you. And it wasn’t even a fight.

But it was such a good idea. We can govern ourselves, and should, and will. But it seems we won’t.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Extinction-Level Event

  1. Ivory Bill Woodpecker says:

    If the Treason Party (aka GOP) succeeds in making peaceful change impossible, they will only make violent change inevitable–and it will go no better for them than it went for our country’s original Treason Party, the Confederate States of America.

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