These days, every comedian and commentator seems to be paraphrasing Bette Davis in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy election.”
For 2016, I would add: cinch up your Kevlar vest and tighten the chin strap on your battle helmet. While you’re at it, change your password, encrypt your data files, and polish your legal briefs as well. The most cherished institution of our democracy—voting—is under attack from without and within, from above and below.
One good thing that’s been happening lately is: court cases that could have a significant effect on the election, are being won before the election. I’m talking about the many voter restriction laws passed in states controlled by Republicans. They characterized these laws as bulwarks against voter fraud, but in reality (to quote the appellate court ruling that rescinded a North Carolina law), these laws “…target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” Less than a month after that early August ruling, the 4-4 stalemated Supreme Court refused to reinstate the law.
I reserve a special place in Hell for the perpetrators of this kind of voter fraud, where government creates a law that disenfranchises people because their politics differ. In 2016, court rulings have rescinded those laws in Texas, Wisconsin, and Kansas. These successes are an apt demonstration of the old adage, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” These days, vigilance also requires a law degree.
Of course, the resistance continues: some local election boards controlled by Republicans stand accused of disobeying the court ruling. Lawyers and activists, don’t holster your legal briefs and petitions just yet.
This article from The Nation said of Republican legislatures’ voter suppression: “In 2012, ten major voting restrictions were blocked in court before the election and a similar trend may be occurring in 2016. …[The North Carolina] decision is the third voting rights win in two weeks. There are still too many barriers in too many states, but it’s a good sign that courts are starting to call out these laws for what they really are.”
Other efforts are not going quite as well. Many states restore voting rights to felons after they serve their time and probation—but hardly all. Virginia Republicans foiled an attempt by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe to reinstate voting rights for felons. GOP leaders filed a “contempt of court” motion to stop the Clinton ally from extending voting rights to over 200,000 felons. He has already done so for 13,000.
I want to say this before it gets relegated to the end of my essay: another cherished institution of democracy is under attack as well. Free speech, otherwise known as the First Amendment. San Francisco Forty Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent the 2016 NFL preseason protesting the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police with a simple pre-game act: sitting as the Star Spangled Banner was played.
No one who follows the news can deny that unarmed black men are dying in situations as ordinary as traffic stops. And no law exists instructing people to stand during the national anthem. Finally, Kaepernick is hardly the first black athlete to use his time on camera to protest.
But the negative public uproar in response has been deafening, even though the act itself has the same threat level as the President forgetting to wear his flag pin to a speech or to conclude his remarks with “…and God Bless the United States of America.” Think of it: the very fabric of freedom is somehow being injured when a black man exercises his, um, freedom.
Trump scolded Kaepernic with “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him.” Trump then went on, as he does at every rally, to scream at his followers about how shitty our country is, how stupid our leaders are, and how desperate are “The Blacks” who apparently all live in hell-holes. I’m thinking that maybe Donald should find a country that works better for him. And take your raging friends with you!
I’ll close this subject with a legendary quote from author James Baldwin: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Back to the Russian Front…
Vladimir Putin appears to have declared cyberwar on our election. Through proxies, he has been hard at work destabilizing the U.S. and by extension, NATO. And it’s not just hacking; it’s the old Soviet technique of distributing false rumors—now modernized through social media and other digital channels. Those emails Putin’s hackers got from the DNC and Hillary’s campaign? They’re not simply releasing them piecemeal, they’re altering the contents first—as reported in the Daily Kos—for example, as to imply that the Democrats have taken money from questionable donors:
“…the Russian operators apparently edited some documents, and in some cases created new documents… A file called donors.xls, for instance, was created more than a day after the story came out, on June 15, most likely by copy-pasting an existing list into a clean document.”
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wonders if Putin has an October Surprise up his cybersleeve. Scary. And personally disappointing. It kills me to write such things about Russia because I have worked with many Russian natives for a dozen years, in a software company that employs them, and me. They are people just the same as us. They are my friends and colleagues, and many are naturalized U.S. citizens.
The disconnect between Putin’s Russia and my Russian friends reminds me of the eight-year reign of George W. Bush and the twelve-year reign of Reagan-Bush. Why? Because my own country doesn’t always do what I feel is The Right Thing. Sometimes, almost never. See: my remarks near the beginning of this week’s rant, about voter suppression right here in these United States.
I’ve written about how easy it is to hack some of the computerized voting systems in crucial states. Now read this Miami News-Record story with a scary map of states with poor-to-no safeguards in their voting machines. This CNN Story on hacking of Illinois and Arizona voter databases has one comforting element: the reporter explains that voting machines themselves are not connected to the internet, so they could not be hacked en masse.
That’s way better than I thought, although off-the-internet is a concept not repeated in subsequent stories I’ve seen elsewhere. But the scariest part posits that hackers could disrupt the election without ever affecting the votes cast: by deleting or corrupting voter registration lists.
The Russians have already hacked voter databases in Arizona and Illinois. Do you live there? Imagine being told at your polling place on election day,“Sorry, but your name’s not on the rolls. You can’t vote.” There are provisional ballots for such circumstances, but imagine millions of provisional votes needing processing before an accurate count can tell us who won. Imagining the instability following that is not difficult, if you recall how recounting a fraction of that many votes dragged on until the Supreme Court halted it in December 2000.
That instability could prevent us from fully participating in NATO, and defending the Baltic States that Putin is eyeing like a sixth-grade bully in front of fourth grader.
Tampering in the governing processes of other countries… unfair? Illegal? Oh yes. An heinous act below the morals of Western nations? Hardly. We’ve been messing with other countries in that way for more than a hundred years. Occasionally in a justifiable way, as in this CNN story by Tim Naftali:
“In 1940-41, London directed its intelligence services to help Franklin Roosevelt make the case for U.S. intervention. With Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s approval, British spies and intelligence officers spread rumors to discredit [isolationist leader] Charles A. Lindbergh. … They also broke into the embassies of enemy countries in Washington, tapped their telephone lines and provided information of their activities to Roosevelt and to U.S. newspapers.”
At other times, such as our interventionism in Latin America during the latter half of the 20th century, or more specifically, Nixon’s people tampering with the Vietnam peace process in 1968—it is not so easily justified.
We’re pretty good at tampering with our own elections by disenfranchising our own voters, as I noted earlier. But it doesn’t stop there, not in this warped election year.
As his poll numbers slumped in August, Donald Trump began trying to discredit those polls and the election that they were predicting. Combine that with the prospect of foreign tampering and we could see a major loss of confidence in our own democratic process.
Now I read that a Texas elector threatens to violate his duty and not vote for Trump—no mater who wins the state. And apparently he’s not the only one with that in mind!
In a microcosm example of election tampering, a group of right-wing white male writers known as (of all things!) the Sad Puppies, has tried hard during the past few years to tilt the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Hugo awards exclusively into the hands of those selfsame white males, their supposedly rightful owners.
I’ll summarize one on-the-nose comment following that article:
“[Previous comment: The fight over the Hugos reflects the larger cultural struggle that led to Trump—and the trolls aren’t winning.]
“I’d say this is half-right. The part that’s wrong is that they are in fact winning in a larger sense, in exactly the way that Trump looks likely to win. They’re delegitimizing the whole process—shitting in the punch bowl.
“So, yeah, the Puppies won. They peed in someone else’s pool, which was pretty much all they wanted to do in the first place. Now carry the analogy back to Trump and the basic concept of American democracy and you’ll see the problem.”
Have we sunk this low in Presidential politics? IMO that happened more than a quarter century ago. I’m still wiping the slime off my soul from 1988 and Lee Atwater’s brilliant campaign of divisiveness and hatred. Trump’s doing his best, to best that. Of course he would!
As the polls tighten—and my sphincter along with them—consider an emotional truth about elections: feelings vs. facts. Here’s a video of Newt Gingrich explaining to a reporter that the facts don’t matter, that people vote based on feelings. And he’s right.
I’ve quoted statistics showing how much lower the crime rate has been during the Obama administration, most especially reflected in the seriously reduced number of on-the-job police deaths: almost half of the number under Reagan. But what does the national mood believe? That crime is up. That the police are under siege.
The current campaign seems full of lies and innuendo that way too much of the electorate is inclined to believe. If they vote on it, then we’ll all get the government that those fools deserve.