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Though it is mostly true, it is not completely true that Donald Trump is swinging around wildly trying to stay in power. He has a playbook, or at least his advisors do. It is an old playbook that has only worked once, but when it worked, it produced the most controversial election results in American history.: the election of 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden.

The 1876 election was the first national contest since 1860 that was not essentially about the Civil War. In his two terms as President, Ulysses S. Grant had made “Reconstruction” a priority. In practice, Reconstruction meant sending federal troops to the South to guarantee the voting rights of freed slaves. Grant understood, as Lincoln had also, that adding millions of new African-Americans to the voter rolls in the South would be tremendously difficult, but would fundamentally reshape the culture through democratic means. …


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When Abraham Lincoln gave his First Inaugural Address, the nation was, for all intents, already at war. Seven slave states had seceded from the union and proclaimed the social compact dissolved. Eight more were watching and waiting to see what happened with the new president. From the first day of his presidency, Lincoln faced a divided nation where his name had not even been on the ballot in ten states. …


Politics, Elections 2020

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Here, in a nutshell, is the Law of Bad Numbers: In an election involving millions of votes, it will always be possible to find reasons to dispute results that you don’t want to accept, and none of them will affect the final tally.

Think about the enormity of the task. In a typical American national election, more than a hundred million people will vote in thousands of different places. Some people will vote on election day. Some will vote early. Some will vote by mail-in ways that require the cooperation of a postal system. Others will fill out provisional ballots because something has made them ineligible to fill out a regular ballot. …


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The executives at Fox News didn’t create the false equivalency between “fair” and “balanced,” but they certainly turned it into a national catchphrase before abandoning their network tag line in 2016. The phrase itself invokes an intuitive human belief that fairness means treating all sides of a dispute equally. This is flat-out wrong, but it can sometimes lead to better reporting by encouraging journalists to compensate for their own biases — which is indeed an important element of critical thinking. …


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In a two-party system, political parties are not really coherent ideologies. There are simply too many ideological positions in a large republic for two parties to represent. Parties are ideological coalitions that come together out of the electoral necessity of narrowing the choices down to two, ensuring that someone will win something resembling a majority.

There is no inherent reason that abortion opponents and gun enthusiasts should belong to the same party. Or that labor unions and environmentalists should back the same candidates. These are alliances of political necessity, as are the larger, defining ideological partnerships that make up our current party coalitions — social traditionalists and business conservatives on one side; progressive leftists and classical liberals on the other. This is how the sausage is cut up right now, but it could all change. …


Politics, Elections 2020

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The Lincoln-Douglas Debates — seven engagements that occurred in different Illinois cities between two candidates for the US Senate in 1858— remain the gold standard for political debates in our nation. Partly this is because of the format. A one-hour opening speech, a 90-minute rebuttal, and a 30-minute response from the first speaker. But part of it too was the content. Lincoln and Douglas actually disagreed about how to value a certain set of agreed-upon facts.

If Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had not debated the morality of slavery — and brought two different moral propositions to the table to be examined and dissected as moral propositions — the history of the United States would have turned out very differently.


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“Originalism” may be a reasonable way to interpret 99.99% of Constitutional questions that come up. But the Supreme Court exists to handle the other .01%. Justices of our highst court need to have more than one tool in their belt.

  1. “Originalism” pretends to distinguish itself from other theories of interpretation but really doesn’t. And it creates an imaginary opponent called “Living Constitutionalism,” which (originalists pretend) means judges who disregard the plain meaning of the text and just make the Constitution mean anything they want it to mean. This is just silly. …


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The current conservative shibboleth “we’re a republic, not a democracy” is deeply flawed as both history and as contemporary English usage. The modern term “democracy” completely includes what our 18th-century Founders meant by the term “republic,” and the eighteenth-century definition of “democracy” describes a kind of state that has not existed in 2,000 years (if it ever really existed at all). If the United States is not a democracy, as the term is understood in the 21st century — we need to try harder to be one.

When politicians like Mike Lee play the “republic, not a democracy” card, what they are really saying is that the United States is, or should be, a certain kind of democracy — one that enshrines the rule of law, protects minority rights, safeguards freedoms, and ensures a reasonably free market economy. This is not what “republic” means, of course. A republic is basically just another name for a country. The People’s Republic of China is a republic, and so was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. …


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The “We’re-a-Republic-Not-a-Democracy” crowd really likes the Electoral College. It is, they believe, the last vestige of republican rule in the United States. The argument goes something like this: “the United States was designed to be a republic where individual states create a federal system that protects the sovereignty of the states. …


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Joe has not asked me, and I seem to have lost his cell phone number. So I will just leave this here just in case he wants to use it.
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My fellow Americans,

In 2016, Republicans discarded 150 years of precedent and destroyed the norms of the Senate by holding up a Supreme Court nomination for 11 months. At the time, they said that they were just following precedent and that they would do exactly the same thing if a vacancy occurred during the final year of a Republican President’s term. Lindsey Graham even told reporters, “use my words against me” if he approved appointing a nominee during Donald Trump’s final term. …

About

Michael Austin

Michael Austin is a former English professor and current academic administrator. He is the author of We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America’s Civic Tradition

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