Friday, May 24, 2019
So read the subject line of an email I received this morning, from a group (out of Chicago) called Progressive Takeover. They are asking for money for the Democratic campaign in the special election for the NC-09 House district. They promise to help increase turnout for the September 10 voting.
I won't deny that the race, which if won by the Democrat would be a symbolic vindication of the party's struggles against voter suppression (in this case, outright fraud by Republican operatives), has its importance. I have given for it and will do so again, but not now. There are other 'significant' off-year elections in the US (Kentucky governor, state legislature battles, other special elections), but I'm looking elsewhere.
A good case for the most important election of the year could be made for the Lok Sabha elections which just concluded in the world's greatest democracy, India. The result--renewed mandate for the Hindu nationalist government headed by Narendra Modi--was something of a foregone conclusion, but it turned to be far more decisive than expected. The opposition was headed by the Congress Party, which appears to be a spent force at this time, while Modi's party, the BJP, was buoyed by the economy and jingoistic emotions after a fresh military dust-up with Pakistan over Kashmir.
A case could also be made for the general election in Indonesia, the world's fourth (?) largest democracy (depends how you count them), held last week. The incumbent, a somewhat Obama-like secular centrist, Widodo, claimed victory, but the defeated military/Islamic nationalist candidate Prabowo sent his supporters to the streets to challenge it. Hard to tell what it portends there; I hope that is not exactly the model to anticipate, post-2020 election here.
No, I would pull for a strange choice, the European Parliamentary elections being held in the next couple days throughout the European Union. It will provide a thermometer reading on the global political battle in the liberal democracies, between the Right and the Center-Left, or between Nationalism and Globalism. As an example of the battles within nations expressed through these elections, the outcome I am watching most closely is between the party of French President Macron and the National Rally of Marine Le Pen. (There will be no partial results; then they will all come out Sunday night, Europe time.)
Both the overall turnout level and shifts in the distribution of seats among the various groups will be important to monitor. The social democrats and the liberal democrats (in English acronyms, the S&D and the EPP, respectively) have always been able to form a parliamentary majority between them, and will no doubt do so again after this time; however, many of those centrist parties have been weakened by centrifugal forces: Greens, regional autonomy parties, and, especially far-right nationalist parties.
The Europe-wide number to watch is the size of the fledgling far-right alliance being championed by Italian deputy PM Matteo Salvini. Salvini is a clever schemer, an opportunist of unusual talent. He has led the realization that the power center of the EU has more potential for developing a ring-fence around Europe than what he can achieve in his country alone (where he is currently Interior Minister). So, the nationalist leaders have largely changed their point of view, from lumping the regional authority with the hated global elite, to a useful target for their endless ambition. If their parties, and their provisional alliance, are strong enough, they may be able to add some major groups like Hungary's governing party. The question for this election will be whether the European far-right voters get the memo and turn out for their champions.
It appears they will do so in the election circus that is the UK's participation in these elections. That was not supposed to happen: In the original formulation, the UK was supposed to be out, and the deadline was specifically drawn to exclude their citizens' participation in this round. The May Mess persisted too long, though, so now they are in it--sort of.
Most UK voters have no clue for which party to vote to signal their opinion about the ongoing Brexit stalemate--with one major exception. England's answer to Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, has formed a new, improvised Brexit party which, according to polls, will likely lead the voting in the UK over all the other fragmented parties. (These elections are run proportionally, with party votes over large constituencies determining the shares of seats.) In particular, the two largest parties in the UK, the Conservatives and Labour, are having their vote shares shattered by the Brexit controversy and the parties' ambiguous policies. It is possible the Liberal Democrats, long taken for dead, may finish second, as the national party with the clearest pro-Remain viewpoint (though there are also significant Remain fragments going to a new party, Change UK, and to the Scottish and Welsh regional parties).
Labour's muddled straddle is not a success, but not a disaster, either, as the Conservatives are the ones that are (rightly) getting the most blame for the governmental crisis. Corbyn wants Brexit to die without having to be the one who kills it. A lot of Labour voters who do not want Brexit will either decode the message or just vote Labour anyway. At the end of the day, the UK participation is a comic sideshow: the EU would do well to deny them their seats (they won't), and nobody will care much about their votes on the EP's measures, if there are any while they're still around.
The European Parliament itself isn't all that important, as a governing body. This is not to say the EU as an institution is not important: EU rules govern the largest economy in the world, though US Americans are slow to realize it. Other parts of the world--China, Russia, Turkey, even Iran--have recognized how attractive the EU markets can be, and are courting them eagerly (as the US government, in general, seeks lame ways to annoy them). The EU punches below its weight in international affairs, but that has begun to change, as the threat of breakup recedes, and the ability to show increased turnout across the board would bolster the EU's bid to strengthen its roles in expressing the will of its people.
Bottom line: the US' domestic sparring will continue with no resolution through 2019. There is another special election in the same state (North Carolina) on the same day that will get no attention, though it has just as much relevance (the two, together even, are not critical for the Democrats' House majority). The real action is abroad this year; the US' turn is next year.
A great tactic in almost any tough negotiation is to show your counterpart the door. Present to them what you see as that which it will take to escape this mess.
Now that Attorney General Barr has shown his true colors, and thereby permanently trashed his name in the history of this despicable episode, he has only one decent option: to resign, and thus avoid further damage, through having to cravenly continue his dereliction of his duty, and the opprobrium--and worse--which will be due to him. Also, to avoid further damage to his office, one which has frequently been compromised by politics, but rarely so overtly contrary to the public interest. (OK, John Mitchell.) After his astonishing act of public misrepresentation with his press conference to announce the Mueller report, some immediately raised the call for him to resign. (Cory Booker, I know, was one of the first. ) Clearly, Barr will not do so.
Instead of bogging down themselves in proceedings involving him, which I am sure will get the House committees nowhere, the House Democrats should introduce immediately a motion of censure, for intentionally misleading Congress and the American public, and for failure to perform his duty to those who pay his salary. (Maybe also a bill making Trump pay for his services.) The motion to censure Trump should follow in due course. Censure has the benefit of being an act the House can do, by itself, laying out the damning truths. It has no practical effect, but neither does impeachment without conviction, and it will put on the record that these actions of Barr and Trump are not acceptable to the people or their representatives in Congress.
Impeachment inquiries should commence for Trump, Barr, and about half his Cabinet, with the general charge of investigating corruption and incompetence. Legislative efforts should commence to change the law to implement the emoluments clause of the Constitution and prevent future Executive Branch senior-level officials from running their offices for personal gain. Research for that legislation would be the reason to support the subpoena for Trump's taxes, though none is legally necessary.