Tuesday, December 6, 2016

HAIL MARY POLITICS


My thoughtful liberal friend Al has favored me with a reading list of several websites and blogs advocating that the Electoral College go rogue on December 19th and either elect Hillary Clinton or some as yet unidentified compromise candidate. Anybody but Donald Trump.

The anti Trump sentiment common to those writings is pervasive. He is called all kinds of hateful names and accused of all kinds of wrongdoing.

No matter that over 60 million Americans voted for the Donald. No matter that he won more than 300 electoral votes. The hue and cry against his victory has included tearful college students who are too distraught to go to class, and politically naïve teen agers who have marched out of school to parade down the avenue in protest of the national election.

All of which is by way of a contrast with the famous exchange during the last Presidential debate in which Chris Wallace asked both candidates if they would accept the results of the election and concede if they lose.

Trump dodged that question, saying that he felt the election was being “rigged” and insisting that he would not agree in advance to concede, but would wait to see what happens. Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, was adamant that a losing candidate ought to concede graciously, which has been the tradition in America. She agreed with Wallace that concession begins the national healing process.

So what has actually happened? The losers are mad. They cling to every far fetched hope or strategy which might reverse the election results.

We are favored with scholarly essays about the creation of the electoral college and the intention of the Founders. We are told that legally the electors can vote for anyone, even though several states have laws requiring their electors to vote for the candidate who carried their state.

The fact, of course, is that presidential electors are chosen by the political parties, and their loyalty is sufficient to assure that the vote will go as it always has; to the candidate who wins in each state. The effort to get the Electoral college to ‘go rogue’ has been compared to a desperate, last minute, “Hail Mary” pass in a football game.

There are valid arguments which favor improvement of the electoral college system. A number of responsible citizens have argued in favor of simply electing the President by the popular vote.

That idea has merit, but certainly it cannot by superimposed on an election which was conducted under the existing electoral college rules. Donald Trump conducted his campaign in a manner designed to win a majority of the electoral college. No doubt Hillary Clinton did, too. They both vied for the ‘swing’ states.

If the election was to be based on the overall popular vote, surely the candidates’ strategies would have been different. Under the present system, no sensible Republican will spend time, money and effort trying to win votes in California and New York. Ditto Illinois and Massachusetts.

The fact that Hillary won the popular vote is irrelevant. The election wasn’t about the popular vote. It was about the electoral votes in each of the several states.

The electoral college consists of 535 electors; each state getting a number of electors equal to their total representation in Congress. Because there are 435 Representatives in the House and 100 Senators, the Electoral College is 81% representative of the people and 19% representative of the States.

This ratio has been static for over one hundred years because the House of Representatives is frozen at 435 members. The Founders of our nation intended that the House of Representatives would expand as the population increased. It hasn’t, for the simple reason that incumbent members of Congress do not wish to dilute the power of their offices.

The British House of Commons has 650 members representing 64.1 million people. If the U.S. House were equally as representative we would have 3,200 Congress members. In that case the number of Electoral College votes allotted to the States rather than people would amount to only 3% of the electoral votes.

Bottom line, the Electoral College is no more archaic than the House of Representatives. What America needs is constitutional reform.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

BURNING THE FLAG


On April 25, 1976 during a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, a 36 year old native American named William Thomas and his 11 year old son dashed onto the field and tried to burn an American flag. Chicago Cubs outfielder, Rick Monday, snatched the flag away from them in an episode long revered as the Greatest Play in Baseball.


In the forty years since that historic episode, Monday has been honored many times, and Americans have celebrated his deed as evidence of their reverence and respect for the Stars and Stripes.

At 6:55 A.M. on Tuesday, November 29 2016, President-Elect Donald J. Trump tweeted out this opinion: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag. If they do, there should be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail.”

Like so many other things Mr.Trump has said, his flag tweet echoed the opinion of the majority of the American people. Even the substantial minority who accept or agree with the Supreme Court’s opinion that flag burning is merely an exercise of free speech mostly feel that desecration of the flag is not something to be encouraged.

Congress adopted the Federal Flag Desecration Law in 1968. It was enacted in response to a series of flag burnings in Central Park, as a generation of Americans recoiled from conscription to fight in the Viet Nam War.

That law, and a number of State laws to similar effect have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Congress went back to the drawing board in 1989 enacting the Flag Protection Act, which was thought to be less objectionable than the 1968 Desecration Law. This time, there was an outbreak of flag burnings done specifically to protest the new law. Then, in the 1990 case of United States v. Eichman (496 U.S. 310), the Supreme Court again held that flag burning is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.  

Over the last 27 years there have been several efforts to muster a two thirds vote in both Houses of Congress in order to propose a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag burning. They have all come up short.

All of which has tempted the Old Judge to weigh in with his opinion.

First of all, it is pretty obvious that burning or desecrating the flag, if speech at all, is symbolic speech. The plain undeniable truth is that flag desecration is an overt action which can be performed for any number of reasons.  

The character of a flag burning; that is the reason why it is done and the effect or consequence of doing it should determine whether the act is right or wrong.

Obviously, a respectful burning of a worn out flag is of a different character from the disrespectful burning of a new one. So here is my suggested flag law:

The burning or other desecration of the flag of the United States in public, for the purpose and with the effect of inciting a riot or other  breach of the peace, or encouraging the destruction of property or injury to persons is unlawful.

Violation of this act shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 and, or imprisonment for not more than five years.

There is another, more serious motive for flag desecration. Section 3 of the Third Article of the United States Constitution provides:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Therefore, there should be a second section to my new flag law as follows:

If the burning or other desecration of the flag of the United States is done for the purpose of adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort, it shall be Treason and punished as provided by law.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

THE DINNER


It is reported that Mitt Romney is having dinner tonight in Trump Tower with the President-Elect. This is the stuff of which history is made.

On March 4 of this year, under the heading “Romney v Trump”, I posted this comment:

“I watched with profound sadness as Mitt Romney delivered a speech which will be in every history book in the twenty second century. It was a great speech; sincere, thoughtful, courageous. Clearly Romney felt he had to say what he said. And he meant every word of it.

“What he did, of course, without realizing it, was to persuade millions of Americans that Donald Trump is the true anti-establishment candidate.

“What he did was to confirm Trump’s theme that he is the only candidate who is not a part of the same-old--same-old Washington D.C. oligarchy of career politicians that so many Americans are sick and tired of.”

Now the pundits and commentators are buzzing with the improbable story that Donald Trump might just ask Mitt Romney to serve in his administration as Secretary of State.

Trump loyalists are buzzing. Kellyanne Conway. Trump’s principal campaign strategist, has taken to the airways to protest. She says that she speaks for the rank and file who voted for the President-Elect.  

No doubt she does. No doubt there are a lot of people who simply cannot fathom how Donald Trump could offer the top cabinet post to a man who publicly and emphatically denounced him during the campaign.

I think they don’t know Donald Trump. If nothing else, DJT is an executive. Whatever else can be said about him, the President-Elect has prospered in a career which involves choosing the right people to do the job.

Trump has been quoted as saying that Romney looks like a Secretary of State; that he would be picked for the part by Central Casting. Say what you will about Mitt Romney, no one has seriously suggested that he is not qualified to represent the United States around the world.

Donald Trump has made reference, more than once, to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful biography of Abraham Lincoln, “A Team of Rivals.”  As an outsider, not beholden to a political party, Trump is free to tap anyone for any job in his administration.

The President-Elect is known as a man who expects and rewards loyalty from the people who work for him.

But he is also a man who has enough ego to think that  he can win over those who are skeptical or even hostile.

He is not likely to be dissuaded by campaign loyalists. Indeed, some have suggested that Trump knew about Kellyanne’s intention to ‘go rogue’ and made no effort to stop it.

Indeed, I suspect that he enjoys dazzling the media with his unpredictable decisions.  In truth, by considering Romney, the President – Elect shows that he is above the pettiness associated with hurt feelings and bruised egos.

In the hurley burley of selecting his cabinet, Donald Trump has met face to face with dozens of hopefuls and prospects. Tonight’s dinner with Mitt Romney is the first and only such personal and extended contact. I believe it is significant.

Whatever may come of it, I would give a lot to be a mouse in that dining room. My guess is that those two men will find much about themselves and their relationship to laugh about.

And unless I am very mistaken, Mitt Romney is a good enough American and a big enough man to call Donald Trump “Mr. President” and mean it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

HAMILTON

It was another era, it was another time in America. In the summer of 1946, the men of Epiphany Parish on the West side of Detroit staged a minstrel show to raise money for the church.

Minstrel shows, or minstrelsy as it was known, were developed in the 1840’s. Throughout the 19th century, well into the 20th they were the most popular form of musical entertainment in America.

In these days of political correctness, the whole idea of minstrelsy seems preposterous. Caucasian men with blackened faces, singing, dancing and telling jokes in the dialect of Africans who had been brought to this country as slaves; what on earth were they thinking of?  

It’s difficult for Americans under eighty years of age to comprehend. Especially so for people of color. But the truth is that minstrelsy was fun. It celebrated the music and dancing and, yes, the humor, that came from the cotton fields of the South.

My Dad and my brother, Terry, were recruited to be in the show. I was in high school and not eligible to perform. Still, I attended some rehearsals and learned the songs. The following year, when I started college, Terry and I put together a minstrel show act, singing songs like Alexander’s Rag Time Band and Miss Malindy’s Jubilee Ball.

Somewhere down in the storage closet, there’s a photo of the two Brennan boys in our white tuxedos, our faces blackened to the teeth, hamming it up at one of several shows we did at church socials and at the University of Detroit.

I got to thinking about those days when I read about the fuss created after the performance of ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway, attended by Vice-President Elect Mike Pence and his family.

Like the minstrel shows of old, Hamilton confronts the matter of race head on. Black actors play the roles of white historical figures. The history of the American Revolution is told in the rap music of the inner city.

And like the minstrel shows, Hamilton’s music knows no prejudice. Steven Foster’s tunes swelled hearts and titillated ears of every color. Hamilton’s score enraptures audiences without fear or favor.

In truth the theater drives the culture. Music and dancing, stories and songs, the vast and wonderful storehouse of make believe that emanates from Broadway and Hollywood molds our lives and our thoughts as surely as they reflect the reality around us.

Hamilton has been lauded as a vehicle to acquaint the younger generation with the history of our nation. Surely a smash hit Broadway musical can get the attention of young people who manage to get out of high school and indeed college with zero knowledge of our first Secretary of Treasury.

But if there is some trickle down educational benefit in Hamilton, there is also the insouciant confrontation of the status quo inherent in its casting.

The ‘cattle call’ for the casting of Hamilton specified that they were looking for NON WHITE rap singers. That is a pretty unusual message which would raise a lot of eyebrows at the Equal Employment Opportunity Office if it had said NON BLACK.

The company was recruited for its diversity, and American diversity is the theme of the show. The gratuitous curtain call lecture to the next Vice President of the United States was unnecessary, juvenile and tacky.

Friday, November 18, 2016

MOSEY THOUGHTS

It was 47 degrees in Harbor Springs today. The sun was shining. I couldn’t resist the temptation to play golf.

The electric carts have all been stowed away for the winter, but hand pulled trolleys are available. I loaded my clubs on one of them and headed out to the Farms Course for a nine hole adventure.

Most of the trees have given up their leaves by now, but there are still a few that remind us of the autumn tableau that makes Michigan such a special place.

The big toe on my right foot sends me a shooting pain every third or fourth step. I am tempted to take the shoe off, but I don’t.

There’s not much to think about alone on the golf course. I move at a slow but steady pace, and I get to thinking about how I am walking.

My gate is somewhere between John Wayne’s bold and threatening full shouldered swagger and Tim Conway’s hilarious octogenarian shuffle.

It’s not a stroll. Stroll suggests pointless wandering. I know where I am going. It’s not a walk. You take a walk. You go for a walk. A walk is a complete endeavor, an undertaking, a mission. You walk the dog. You walk to church.

And I was not ambling. That is too aimless. Nor was I hiking. That suggests  
boots and a back pack. I ruled out marching. That would require music and some kind of rhythm.

Was I strolling? Or sauntering? No, those are too carefree for traversing a fairway.  I ruled out waddling. I am not fat enough to waddle. Nor am I young enough to toddle. My gate was too steady to be a stagger, or a stumble.

I wasn’t dawdling, or loitering; that would be too slow. Nor was I creeping or crawling. That suggests getting down on your knees. I ruled out schlepping, I think you have to have your shirt tails out to schlep.

I eliminated trudge and plod. Those things require mud and boots. Saunter, dawdle and traipse sounded too uncommitted. I was playing golf.

So what was I doing out there? It finally came to me at about the seventh hole. I was moseying.

I hit the ball and moseyed down the fairway to hit it again. Then I moseyed up onto the green and putted it onto the hole.

When you are eighty-seven years old, you mosey a lot. After supper, I mosey down to the basement and get on my computer. Maybe I’ll fight the spider solitaire game for a while. Maybe I’ll pour over my email. Maybe I’ll Google the news and see what is happening in the world.

Maybe I’ll end up writing another blog. The blogesphere is rampant with Trumpetry. His cabinet. Who’s in and who’s out. Who the President Elect has talked with, who hasn’t been able to see him.

And big news, like it’s not easy to get through to Mr.Trump on the telephone. The Prime Minister of Australia couldn’t find a phone number for the President Elect. He finally had to call Greg Norman. The Shark knew how to get hold of the Donald.

Mitt Romney is going to the Trump National Golf Course in New Jersey to meet the owner on Saturday. That has generated a lot of speculation. Will he be considered for Secretary of State? A stunning possibility given Romney’s full throated opposition to Trump’s candidacy.

I recall noting some time back that Mr. Trump has spoken admiringly about Doris Kearns Goodwin’s famous book “A Team of Rivals” in which she celebrated the political genius of Abraham Lincoln whose cabinet consisted of the men who had opposed his nomination.

No one ever accused Abraham Lincoln of egotism. Indeed, his modest humility is considered one of his greatest virtues.

I do not see Donald Trump as a particularly humble man, but I can envision him acting the part of a gracious winner. I recall that when asked to say something nice about Hillary Clinton, Trump was quick to acknowledge that she is a fighter who simply doesn’t quit.

I think a Trump-Romney handshake will be good for America.