A look back at the Trump/Biden transition
Although I don't especially agree with it, it occurs to me again that the libertarian account of why our Presidential system started failing after 200 years is somewhat compelling: everything is now federal. Between the expansion of the welfare state, the federal bureaucracy, anti-discrimination statutes, and the federal judiciary, the person who controls the federal government now controls most of what people care about. A few examples from recent history:
- Can states require age-verification for online pornography? The federal courts say "no."
- Can California ban one-sided arbitration agreements in employment contracts? The Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by Justice Roberts says "no."
- Can Florida's universities change accreditation agencies every few years? The Education Department, which controls federal aid money, says "no."
- Can states categorically ban felons from owning handguns? The answer, according to some federal courts interpreting Bruen decision, is "no."
- Can local police experiment with a British "Section 60"-style approach to gun crime, where a commander designates in advance an area where pedestrians can be randomly searched for 24 hours? The answer, per 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Violent Crime Control Act, and courts, is no.
- Can your city kick homeless people out of the park and insist they relocate to a municipality that has cheaper housing and a larger number of rental vacancies? In the Ninth Circuit, the answer is no.
- Can West Virginia build a pipeline? Up until Congress passed Joe Manchin's bill stripping federal courts of all jurisdiction over the issue, the answer was "no," because federal regulations and lawsuits made it effectively impossible.
So whether you care about ideology or just your local quality of life, your state and municipal government is mostly irrelevant. If you care about public policy *at all* the only option is to seize control of the federal government. And Madison did such a good job dividing power across the federal government that the only option is to seize control of all of it. Whatever one thinks about the state laws I've discussed above, if those issues could be decided at the state level instead of in federal courts, Congress, and the executive agencies, there would not be nearly as much need for a fight to the death to control federal power.
In 1933 it was agreed that, given advancements in communication and transportation, the presidential inauguration could be moved up from March to January. A century later, I think the case can be made to further reduce the time available for lame duck mischief.
Whether Linz is right that presidential systems are inherently unstable, can we agree that the presidential power of pardon is a wholly unnecessary loaded gun in the Constitution?
Giving the executive the ability to pardon his henchmen -- and perhaps himself, if he has already stacked the judiciary -- is a recipe for unscrupulous abuse of power.
And the evidence from parliamentary systems suggests that whenever election to the executive gives you automatic immunity, then criminals will strive for high office as a literal get-out-of-jail card.
So the pardon power is a second structural instability, independent of presidentialism. And tfg is deadset on using it.
"The day’s events led to several deaths, including the murder of a Capitol Police officer."
That was believed to be true at the time but no longer. Maybe a footnote would be appropriate?
We should get rid of primaries. Bring back meaningful conventions and behind-the-scenes deal-making. Virginia Republicans did that, nominated Glenn Youngkin, and he won the gubenatorial election.
Also give power back to Congressional committee chairs. Congressional leadership has too much power and running everything through leadership decreases opportunities for deal-making. Gingrich was wrong and made a horrible decision. I get that there were a bunch of old, corrupt Democratic committee chairs before 1995, but the solution is to install better people, not take all power for the Speaker. At least McCarthy is trying let the committees have more say in budget negotiations over the next few months, even if I don't believe he will be successful.
We’re home. On schedule. And alive, for certain (exhausted, sleep-deprived, irritable) values of alive.
Ended up having the kind of journey that will make an interesting story with a few years’ remove:
Made it to Shenzhen on one of the last HSR trains from Wuhan after our original tickets were canceled and we discovered why… we frantically rebooked the last train of the day and a private car to get us there from my wife’s small (only 250k) hometown.
Got across the border to HK via private car as soon as the land border reopened the morning of our (night) flight because no one could tell us how bad the border crossing backlog snd roads would be.
Sat in the airport waiting for luggage drop to open for six hours while constantly checking wind speed indicators and other flights for hints that we should bail and book a hotel, then our flight turned out to be one of the first released to take off.
Arrived in Taipei to be put in an hour-long holding pattern and then sprinted through their customs screening (for transiting fliers???) to barely catch our second leg… which in turn was one of the last US-bound flights to get out before the next typhoon sideswiped northern Taiwan the next day.
Landed in LAX and stepped out of the airport to catch our hotel shuttle only to have the whole area cordoned off due to a bomb threat or something, then trekked out on foot with all our luggage far enough away to be able to catch an Uber.
Went back to LAX the next day to find a wildly delayed flight due to lightning strikes at Denver’s airport.
Got to Denver and our flight out was also delayed while they waited for stragglers from the mess that had built up, so our original four-hour layover was still a four-hour layover even though we were two hours late.
Finally got to PHL and they lost one of our bags for about two hours… fortunately it was the one with the AirTag lol.
Holy shit, it’s been almost a week. I haven’t been this exhausted since the last time I took a complicated itinerary to China to save some $$$, and this is a reminder to not do that, doubly so with a 5-year old along.
I think there’s something very frustrating about the way most people don’t care about process—and any kind of systemic reform is a sort of sore loser move, or penalizing someone.
Evidence that Matt's analysis was correct is that the MAGAs are doubling down on politicising the federal workforce, to inhibit it from checking a second Trump administration.
The next 16 months are going to be a complete shitshow. The “system” allowed us to kick the can down the road. It got lucky with Nixon. His party urged him to resign, and he did it. Some sort of Honor Code still existed. Not so much with Trump. All systems require regular maintenance, periodic upgrades, and eventually become obsolete and require a new one. Failure to do any of that over the last 50 years is the real problem here. Whatever workaround that was in place to keep a demagogue from becoming and staying president failed.
Taking the thesis of this post (and the American Democracy is Doomed article) seriously, I think one of the most important implications is that mainstream liberals who are ordinarily inclined towards an ameliorative incrementalist approach should put serious work and thought into contingencies for what is to be done in the event that the system truly does collapse and key actors are not able to successfully patch it.
For the most part, people who take seriously the possibility of such a collapse seem to be those who are already fundamentally at odds with the current system. This is typically either survivalists in bunkers (who are of little concern) or political extremists who see a moment of crisis as the only possible opportunity to usher in their preferred system of Monarchy or Anarchy or White Nationalism or whatever else. Like the Bolsheviks, they hope that by organizing sufficiently ahead of time, they will be in the right place at the right time to decisively seize that opportunity while everyone else is paralyzed and unable to quickly coordinate through the collapse of normal order. Such groups have no hope of achieving their goals in ordinary times, but should such a collapse occur, their preparedness could be decisive.
As someone with mostly ameliorative incrementalist instincts, I do hope that we can muddle through and avert collapse through the ordinary course of good people doing good work on one problem after another, and with key leaders acting with wisdom in moments of crisis. But I do take seriously the prospect that this could prove insufficient. If so, and our political systems collapses, I hope that there are people who are otherwise aligned with the core principles of American democracy but have done enough contingency planning that they can effectively work together through a collapse and have a better chance at establishing the future than those who dream of a darker path.
History suggests that rather than truly going back to the drawing board, which is a much taller order than impeaching a president, we’ll eventually find some bandaid solution that keeps us lurching until the next crisis. We’ve done it for more than two centuries and somehow a whole Civil War wasn’t enough to persuade us to seriously rethink the whole thing.
We have an ideological cold war in a bipolar system in which each side views the other as an existential enemy, so one possible solution is to make it a multipolar system to encourage multi-partisan deal making. We could significantly expand the House and make congressional districts multimember, making it easier for independent and third party candidates to win and gerrymandering ineffective. Matthew also identified as a problem that unlike a parliamentary system the President is elected independently from Congress, but I believe that the Founders thought most Presidents would be elected by Congress (not anticipating the rise of political parties). With three or more major parties, it will become more likely that no Presidential candidate will get a majority of electoral votes, and will have to stitch together a coalition in Congress to be elected President. We also need to make the Senate work better than it does now, in which nothing can be enacted unless it can pass a Byrd Bath to get included in a reconciliation bill. The filibuster has to be reformed so that while the minority still gets plenty of time to debate, in the end the majority still gets to enact legislation. We also need to address the over representation of the rural white minority in the Senate. D.C. and Puerto Rico should be immediately admitted as states, and the territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa encouraged to hold referendums on statehood. None of these reforms require an impossible to obtain constitutional amendment, and I believe they will also get people more invested in democracy, because they will have more choices than "the lesser of two evils" and Congress will actually work to deliver the change the majority votes for.
"What happened is that the system did not work". Au contraire. The system did work. Who's president?
I recall thinking at the time that the better approach to considering Pence's interactions with the military on Jan 6 was that he was doing so not as the Vice President, but as President of the Senate. Part of the military - acting under direction form the Secretary of the Army, who had authority to do so in the chain of command - was going to be active on the Capitol. *Of course*, given the separation of powers and the comity of the different branches of the government, this (that is the use of the military at the Capitol) would only happen after consultation with (and agreement from) Pelosi as Speaker of the House or Representatives and Pence as President of the Senate.
In the days after, and the indications around eg use of the military by Trump (or nuclear weapons, or whatever), that could easily be viewed as respecting the dual roles of the Presidency and the Congress. Yes, Trump was commander-in-chief, but the use of nuclear weapons would involve a declaration of war, which is something reserved to Congress, and the possible uses of nuclear weapons at the time would almost certainly involve the commission of war crimes, something that everyone in the military is forbidden by law (and the serious criminal penalties) from taking part in. Nothing wrong with a representative of Congress pointing this out.
That all seems correct, but if we are working around these flaws the prosecutions look even more risky. They aren't necessary to deter future bad behavior, just the opposite, since staying in office is a way to avoid prosecution but if ppl are acting technically unconstitutionally to save the system the threat of prosecution could make things much worse.
I mean, if Trump can be prosecuted for asking the GA governor to behave illegally could Pelosi be prosecuted for asking the military to violate the constitution? Maybe not in this case, but you can easily imagine it going further next time and suddenly people who were working in good faith to save the system start to fear they'll end up in prison if they lose and they become part of the problem.
I think it's somewhat instructive to look to how Jefferson dealt with the Alien and Sedetion acts. Adams essentially started throwing his political enemies/critics into prison to stay in power but Jefferson didn't try and pursue some kind of punishment and that worked out pretty well imo.
I do not see Jan 6 as very much related to the Linz problem. There have been various periods of non-trifecta government or a Congress/President divide with out that posing much of a problem.
And the reason given for US exceptionalism does not seen to be the absence of "ideologically" aligned parties. We still don't have ideologically aligned parties. Most issues are just historically coded Red tribe Blue tribe. There is a tincture of redistribution for the rich among Republicans but most issues are just pure tribe.