January 6, 2017
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
President Dwight Eisenhower, farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961
Based on his choices to head his incoming administration, President-elect Donald Trump seems either unaware of Eisenhower's warning, or has ignored it. Trump has chosen three former top military officers to serve in his administration, more than any other recent administration. Several other cabinet positions are going to millionaire business persons from Wall Street or otherwise with close connections to the corporate elite. In some cases, the nominees have little evident knowledge of, or experience with, the subject matter covered by their departments. It does not bode well for good government, and calls into question Trump's reformist talk of "draining the swamp" in Washington.
Trump's most significant cabinet choice last month was that of Gen. (ret.) James "Mad Dog" Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. (Federal law requires Congress to pass a special authorization for any former military officer to serve in a civilian position if less than five years has passed since he or she left the service.) Mattis was reportedly angry that the Trump team chose someone (Vincent Viola, a businessman) to be Secretary of the Army without consulting with Mattis first. (See CNN.com.)
As noted on November 30, the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be Attorney General is controversial due to his weak record on civil rights issues -- so much so that legal experts and academics from across the country have mounted a campaign to get the Senate to reject him. [Some of his past statements on immigration are disturbing to me. Also controversial is Betsy DeVos, an Ohio billionaire/philanthropist who has been active in the school choice movement. She was a major donor to the Trump campaign. Since I believe that reforming our education system is a high priority, I'm willing to wait and see how she does as Secretary of Education.]
The table below summarizes the cabinet positions and other key advisory positions which Trump has already selected. The column showing each person's career background makes it clear how strong the military and industrial emphasis is. Apart from those two categories, nearly everyone else is a high-ranking Republican politician.
|Department (or position)||Name||Background|
|Defense||Gen. (ret.) James Mattis||U.S. Marines|
|Treasury||Steven Mnuchin||Goldman Sachs|
|Justice (Atty. Gen.)||Jeff Sessions||U.S. Senate|
|Commerce||Wilbur Ross||Investor / banker|
|Labor||Andy Puzder||CKE Restaurants|
|Health & Human Serv.||Rep. Tom Price||U.S. House|
|Interior||Rep. Ryan Zinke||U.S. House|
|Energy||Rick Perry||ex-gov. of Texas|
|Homeland Security||Gen. (ret.) John Kelly||U.S. Marines|
|Housing & Urban Dev.||Dr. Ben Carson||Ret. doctor|
|Transportation||Elaine Chao||ex-Labor Sec.|
|Environ. Prot.||Scott Pruitt||Atty. Gen. of Okla.|
|Amb. to United Nations||Nikki Haley||Gov. of S. Carolina|
|Nat. Sec. Adv.||Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn||U.S. Army|
|W.H. Chief of Staff||Reince Priebus||Repub. Nat. Chairman|
|W.H. Chief Counselor & Strategist||Steve Bannon||Breitbart News|
|W.H. Counselor||Kellyanne Conway||Trump campaign|
SOURCE: Washington Post, Google, politico.com
Today, Vice President Joe Biden presided as the electoral votes were officially tabulated on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the final step in making Donald Trump the President-Elect. The 438 people who comprise the Electoral College do not actually gather in the same place, so that term is a bit misleading. Instead, the electors from every state gathered in their respective 50 state capitals (plus D.C.) on December 19, at which point the actual election took place. This year there were rumors of widespread defections of Trump electors, which would have resulted in the election being decided in the House of Representatives, with each state having an equal vote.
The "widespread panic" over the prospect of Trump becoming president sparked a movement to persuade the electors to "vote their conscience," regardless of the popular vote in their state. (electorstrust.org) [Very little came of that effort, however, and as shown in the table below, more Democratic electors defected (5) than Republican ones did (2).] Somehow it was reasoned that the original intent of the Founding Fathers to entrust the selection of the president to an elite group of wise men should count more than the express legislation in the states, many of which impose harsh penalties for "faithless" electors. The most dramatic example of that phenomenon in modern times came in 1960, when Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-VA) received 15 electoral votes, 14 of which should have gone to John F. Kennedy: eight from Mississippi, six from Alabama, and one from Oklahoma. (270towin.com) As I pointed out on Facebook, it was ironic that some people cited a democratic ideal (the alleged individual rights of the electors to "vote their conscience") to justify a blatantly elitist manner of choosing the president.
(or states with faithless electors)
|Faith Spotted Eagle||1||WA|
SOURCE: politico.com, 270towin.com;
So, what are we to make of the fact that Hillary Clinton won 2,865,075 votes more than Trump? Other than an indication that Trump has only a weak mandate to enact his agenda, not much. Those who cite the popular vote totals to suggest that Trump is not the duly-elected chief executive are deeply mistaken, and their attitudes have a corrosive effect on our democracy. (Of course, Trump's own comments during the campaign about the election being "rigged" have had the same corrosive effect.) Democracies thrive when all the major players agree in advance on the rules, and abide by the outcome afterward. Those who think it is obvious that the Electoral College is hopelessly archaic apparently don't understand the constitutional basis for national unity, giving the states a prominent role in how the Federal government is chosen. Likewise, those who complain that it's too hard to amend the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College just don't get it.
Along those lines, there is a movement to nullify the Electoral College by getting most of the states to pass legislation that would award all of their (respective) electors to whichever candidate won the nationwide popular vote. Technically, it may be constitutional, since there are provisions for such interstate compacts, but it would be grossly (and ironically) un-democratic, in the sense that the will of the voters of those states [would be ignored]. See every-vote-equal.com
So, to repeat what I have suggested on Facebook, I would propose a consitutional amendment such that any candidate who wins an absolute majority (not just a plurality) the nationwide popular vote and a plurality of the vote in a majority of the states (i.e., 26 or more at present) is declared the president-elect. If those two conditions are not met, then the choice would revert to the traditional Electoral College system, except that the electoral votes would be automatically determined by the elections in each state, without the need for (potentially faithless) human electors. [States could apportion the electors in some fashion, if they so desire; at present, Maine and Nebraska choose electors from each congressional district, plus two statewide.]
(That title is a reference to a certain Elton John song.) It has been over four weeks since the last time I blogged about politics: December 3, to be exact. ("Congressional elections in Virginia: RIGGED!!?") Frankly, the mere thought of a Trump administration fills me with feelings of dread and depression. I understand that his style of outrageous remarks and gratuitous insults is all part of a strategy aimed at paralyzing his opponents, and judging by the way many Democrats (as well as Independents like me) have reacted, it's having the desired effect. It's the modern form of cyber-discourse known as "trolling," and Trump is an expert at it. But the cold, hard reality of a U.S. government led by Donald Trump is fast approaching, and it's time to face up to it.
(NOTE: I will deal with the controversy over the effect of Russian "hacking" on the elections tomorrow.)