The electoral college has confirmed Biden as the new president. With all the carping and challenging and spleen-venting of the outgoing administration, one must pause for a few moments to consider their reaction had this much drama been generated when Hillary lost. It was certainly possible for the electors then to vote in defiance of the outcome announced in the November election. It is so constructed that they could choose to take a stand and since Clinton did win the popular vote, there would have been nothing technically wrong with them saying “No, we’re not letting this one through.”
There have been close elections in the past where this might have happened, but another consideration comes into play, that of maintaining the credibility of our institutions. Nixon opted not to challenge Kennedy in 1960. Gore let it go in 2000. Better to let things proceed even by such slim margins than risk shattering the balances in our systems. However one may feel about that, it is not the worst attitude to take. It leaves things in position for the next election.
The one variable that matters is voter turn-out.
It was recently pointed out to me that it appears votes don’t matter, because look at the polls. Seventy percent of Americans want MediCare-for-All, and have for a while, yet we don’t have it. Why? Well, when the average election only seems to get 50-some percent of people to the polls (and midterms are much lower) it hands the obstructionists the ability to deny a majority—a majority which failed to show up.
But we can rehearse all those arguments later.
The question now is, how do we move forward in this current situation? The Senate is still controlled by the GOP. Even if both Georgia senate seats flip in January in the run-off, the Senate will be 50-50, with Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. The House is Democratic, but if something isn’t done to ensure high turn-out in two years that could change. How does President Biden move us forward?
And to what?
I have been reading a new biography of John Maynard Keynes, the first superstar economist. Interestingly, he never started out to be an economist. He was a mathematician and a political analyst. He did not approach economics as a specialist field but as an underappreciated aspect of the total political and social landscape. One thing struck me: he for years attempted to make economics comprehensible to the average citizen. He pitched his language at accessibility. And the more he did that, the more he was shut out from the corridors of power. He didn’t get “in” until he changed tactics and started sounding like an academic.
He had to appeal to the priesthood.
This is the thing that grates on the sensibilities of people. The attitude that they cannot comprehend the complexities of government, of society, of the minutiae of civilization, of politics. While there may be some truth in this, it is the attitude that is offensive. Here in my state, we have just seen a provision stripped out by the “elect” who chafed at the notion that the citizenry actual understood what they wanted. Clean Missouri was an attempt to end gerrymandering. People understand how destructive it is. But too many people in the state legislature knew this would eat into their power, so they finally coupled its repeal with another measure that made it easy for voters to undo what they had already voted for.
This kind of thing infuriates people.
We should demand changes in procedure. One thing, it would be worthwhile to stop the practice of adding riders to bills. Riders are often poison pills. Even when they aren’t, if something is a good idea, it should be recognized on its own merits. Adding unrelated measures to bills muddies things up too much and risks the voice of the people being muffled.
I find myself beginning to agree with term limits. I’ve often felt these were antidemocratic, but I’m beginning to think they might cause people to pay more attention instead of just trusting that the officeholder who has been there for umpteen years is doing fine simply because nothing has happened to bother you. Times change, situations change. Representation should change to keep up.
I dislike filibusters, but I see their usefulness at times. We should however require that more than one politician is required to mount one. If an officeholder can’t get two or three colleagues to support it, then perhaps it should not be allowed.
Usually, I believe, fairly innocuous and simple changes will suffice to make things run better. We have gotten so used to looking for the blockbuster change, the hammer, the bunker-buster, thinking that only Samson in the temple can make things better. We forget that Samson was blind and that huge changes are often less effective than they purport to be.
Among the other things I would like to see, is prison reform. We should rid ourselves of private prisons. That has become one of the worst ideas we’ve ever embraced. When profit is at stake, justice takes a back-seat. I would like to see comprehensive drug reform. Drug addiction is an illness, just like alcoholism. We should treat it as such. In places where this is becoming the accepted wisdom, prison populations, crime, and death by overdose have all gone down. Treatment not punishment.
Of course, we love us some punishment here. For a self-proclaimed nation of freedom-lovers, we punish like crazy. Punitive measures to address social problems have been with us practically since the beginning. And of course, it’s not universal. People with enough money don’t receive punishment. So in a way, what we really want is for people to keep their bad behavior hidden, clean up their own messes. Combined with a toxic love of retribution, this has given us the largest per capita prison population of any so-called free nation in history. And we’re willing to pay for it. Solving the problems that create the conditions that lead to this state of affairs would cost a lot less than we pay for policing and the courts and incarceration.
Of course, that would require us to view communities as entities, whole and diverse, and get over this balkanizing idea that Different People don’t belong. But that might lead to immigration reform that makes sense and a retreat from this persistent evangelizing that sorts people into categories and makes us all vulnerable to manipulation.
Just some thoughts. But for now, we have a new president. Let’s see what we can do to make the next four years constructive rather than keep indulging the blame game.