It's hard to know how to begin. In addition to the insane outside world, my family is falling apart. Regular readers know that I lost my beloved husband earlier this year, and last week, I lost my oldest brother. Adding to that, an older sister and brother are in bad shape. But I used the axiom of "the personal is political" because I want to talk about the end of life and how cruel current conditions can be.
Although my brother was 90, he enjoyed relatively good health until just two days before his death. We are fortunate to have an extraordinary genetic history, with one of our aunts getting her driver's license renewed at age 99. Nor did COVID isolation bother my brother much, as he regularly e-mailed and phoned a long list of people. He was the oldest grandchild on both the Norwegian and German sides of our family; together, these second-generation immigrants in Minnesota farm country had nineteen children, so we have literally dozens of cousins.
Most of them and dozens of longtime friends would be at his funeral in ordinary times, but attendance will be limited, masked, and socially distanced. There will be no food before or after the burial, which was always important in the past. My Arkansas sister and I decided not to go; we don't want to travel and possibly expose others, including a granddaughter in the last weeks of pregnancy. And the idea of going and not hugging each other simply makes us cry. I'm choosing to cry alone in Florida.
But it's my Georgia sister that is the greatest source of my grief -- and anger. I'm sorry to make this partisan, but it is. Despite a couple of bad-apple cops who brought a lot of negative publicity to Minneapolis, Minnesota is governed by sensible people, and not coincidentally, they are Democrats. My brother's assisted living facility operated with good sense, allowing some of his family to visit and arranging for others, including his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to communicate through glass.
My brother-in-law in Georgia, however, has not been able to see his hospitalized wife for more than three weeks. He is a retired Army pilot who did four tours in Vietnam, but nothing in his life has been as painful for him as this involuntary separation. They have been married for 67 years, and the possibility of that ending without being able to say good-bye is just cruel and inhuman. Georgia's Republican governor, like our own, is perfectly happy to open bars for the frat boys and motorcycle gangs, while mandating that the elderly and sick die alone and uncomforted.
NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE
So you see I need a change of topic. Shirley Arcuri provided that. You may know her; she's an attorney and a longtime activist in the League of Women Voters. The League is pushing for the National Popular Vote, a compact between states that would bring us closer to genuine democracy, as opposed to the archaic Electoral College. Although there are shades of differences between organizations working for this, the basic argument is that presidents should be elected like every other elected official: the winner is the one with the greatest number of votes.
I have advocated for abolition of the Electoral College for decades. Indeed, I taught the elections of 1824 and 1876, in which the loser won, and at both the high-school and college level, my students were amazed. They always inquired why it hasn't been changed. Since I stopped teaching, we have had elections in 2000 and 2016 when the Electoral College's winner-take-all system effectively cancelled democracy because it prioritizes states over people.
It clearly is time to end this antiquated and elitist vestige of the past, but doing that by constitutional amendment seems nearly impossible. The Constitution requires any changes to itself to meet extremely high hurdles: approval by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures, both chambers in each. But although the Constitution created the Electoral College, it did not mandate how states choose their electors, so change is possible by agreement between states – and that is what the League and other progressives are pushing.
As it is, every state is entitled to the same two senators, regardless of their population, and thus the less-populous states always have had a huge advantage in Congress and in the Electoral College. There are eight states with populations smaller than our 1.5 million here Hillsborough County – to say nothing of the 21.5 million in Florida – and each of these eight states has two senators and therefore two additional members of the Electoral College. It means that a vote in Wyoming or Vermont is mathematically about 16 times more powerful than ours here in Florida. This inequality needs to change.
I saw a blog recently that even proposed the notion of the Electoral College as a national security threat. Its existence does indeed make it easier for Putin and other authoritarians to target just a few counties in particular states to reverse the national will of the people. And yes, that happened in 2016, when Hillary won some three million more votes than The Donald. In an attempt to appeal to rural Americans, some blogs also are showing how presidential campaigns visit only ten of the fifty states because those are the ones that decide the Electoral College. The other forty could benefit from visits if their minority votes mattered in a simple national count.
Yes, this is a complicated topic, but the League of Women Voters will help you get a handle on it. It is sponsoring a Zoom speech and Q&A, complete with maps and charts, on October 20 from 5:30 to 6:30. The session is free and open to the public. You can register by e-mailing NPVIC@hclwv.org or calling 813-649-4309 to get the Zoom link. Let's make it our highest priority for 2021.
By the way, isn't it interesting how much our organizational life has changed in the last few months? When my daughter had her Harvard class reunion by Zoom in early June, I never had heard of it. Now everyone is Zooming or Going to Meeting or Webinaring or something. It's almost as great a revolution as the internet itself, which was as great as the medieval printing press. And you don't have to get dressed to participate.
OTHER SEMI-RELATED THOUGHTS
Speaking of elections, political scientists are having a field day with the "what ifs" of succession. Some are saying that the third in charge, following Vice President Pence, is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, so I want to clarify. That was the case prior to 1947, when President Harry Truman successfully urged Congress to make a change. Having inherited the presidency himself with the 1945 death of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman was mindful of these possibilities. At his urging, Congress adopted a Presidential Succession Act that changed the third in line to be the Speaker of House.
The argument was that the Speaker is the "elected of the elected," and not an unelected Cabinet member. So if this happens, it will be Nancy, not Mike. There is absolutely no ground for a Supreme Court decision on this fully-debated law – especially because we already have a precedent. When Republican Speaker Gerald Ford replaced Republican Richard Nixon and his former vice president, Spiro Agnew, the party had no problem with the law. It is not "untested," as some are saying, so get over it, guys. Follow the law and order that you claim to respect, and respect Nancy Pelosi.
Semi-related: I'm going out on a limb to predict that Amy Coney Barrett will be a footnote in history. First there's the Republican hypocrisy of wanting the Senate to confirm her less than a month before a president election – while using that excuse for almost a year to refuse even holding committee hearings on Obama's nominee. People, including Kentuckians, are seeing through this duplicity, and even Mitch will have to leave Washington to put out the fire under his own seat. The same is true of other senators in close races, and with several Republican senators now under COVID quarantine, I doubt that Amy will be confirmed.
But I do want more publicity on her two black children. I had to research this, as the White House has been very quiet about this mixed-race family. Everyone knows that she's anti-abortion, but not everyone knows that she and her Catholic husband lived their faith by adopting (separately) two children from Haiti. I was motivated to do that research by the younger one, a boy whose joyful face I'd seen in two photos. He was in the front row at the Rose Garden, with his feet dangling from his chair, and he was almost dancing on air when the family proceeded up the White House hall that passes the kitchen.
I recognized this from having been there, and I thought about the fact that, until recently, the kitchen would have been the only place for a black kid. If the Trump administration cared about creating racial harmony, they would publicize these minority children. That they haven't probably shows that they care more about support from their white nationalists. I even wonder if the president knew about these children prior to the nomination. I suspect that the judge's affiliation with the right-wing Federalist Society was enough for him to wave past any papers. He rarely gives a second thought to family and likely would not notice a little black boy.
I started to make a list of former Trump associates who have quit or been fired – but it became too long, and I'm not going to try to complete it. But please think about this and ask others to do so, too: Can you name a single Obama supporter who has backtracked on that? I can't. In contrast, there's Rex Tillerson, who served in the highest-ranking position as Trump's first secretary of state. It lasted a just a year, until Tillerson quit, publicly saying that Trump was "a moron." Trump's juvenile response was to challenge his former appointee to an IQ test.
Then there's John Bolton, who lasted less than a year as Trump's National Security Advisor. Bolton's recent book is full of examples of the president's ignorance, including his belief that Venezuela was part of the United States. Bolton, who is a very hard line militarist, openly declares that Putin elected Trump. You can go online and find a video in which a CNN reporter asks Bolton if the president is lying, and he unequivocally replies, "Yes." Can you imagine an Obama appointee doing that?
Others who once supported Trump have faded from the scene: Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, as well as Michael Steele, once the head of the National Republican Party. Several former consultants, including Rick Wilson and George Conway (Kellyanne's husband), now are leading the Lincoln Project, dedicated to defeating the man for whom they once campaigned. There's a string of retired Pentagon people, including generals and admirals, who endorse Common Defense and Vote Vets, websites devoted to ending the career of Cadet Bone Spurs.
And of course, there's his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, doing time in federal prison for crimes he committed on behalf of the president. Roger Stone would be doing the same if the Constitution didn't give the president the right to pardon someone, even in advance of the trial. And I'm not even mentioning his taxes and the guys he no doubt will blame for that mockery of justice.
Please forgive me, but I just can't stand anymore. Next week I may go back to writing about literature. But first this internet tidbit, obviously from Britain given the spelling. Advice for the Proud Boys: "Break into Walter Reed and free the president from socialised medicine."