Rothman At-Large

Accountability: Why the Press Needs to Ask ALL 538 Electors about Donald Trump

November 29, 2016

A century from now, historians may well turn to the Trump Time Capsule series.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows has told “what we knew, when we knew it, about the man who was trying to become president.” The series holds Republican politicians and others accountable to future generations. Donald Trump’s detractors regard him as a potential tyrant with little regard for the First Amendment, climate change measures, diversity, women’s rights and countless other concerns—hence, the close scrutiny by The Atlantic and others.

But the job isn’t done. The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR and other major news organizations should to talk to every member of the Electoral College before the vote on December 19.

The names of the 538 electors are not secret. They’re even in Wikipedia, and through state Web sites and otherwise, reporters should be able to catch up with their physical and email addresses and phone numbers. Let’s try to get all the electors on record as to how they feel about Trump and gather the individual answers in one place.

Perhaps this could be a joint project of several or even many news organizations, so we see all the answers as soon as possible. A clonable online database, in the public domain to make preservation easier and help protect the results from possible future censorship, would contain all the details. Ideally the interviews can be in audio, and if at least some are in video, then so much the better. Should the electors not talk, their name and reasons for declining (if given) should be mentioned.

Interviewing electors of both parties, the reporters should not lobby for or against Trump. But if nothing else in the interest of history, they should ask these questions or at least similar ones:

  1. Are you planning to vote for Trump? (No Democratic elector will say yes, but read on---see question 10.)
  2. If so, why? Is it because you presently believe that the system requires you to? Please list all the pro-Trump reasons, legal and otherwise. If you’re voting for him not just because of election results but also because you sincerely think his presidency would be good for the United States, then mention the specifics. If dislike of Hillary Clinton is one reason for your vote, say so and elaborate.
  3. Will you still vote for Trump even if he does not pledge to relinquish control of his assets and either sell them or place them in the control of independent trustees empowered in every way to eliminate conflicts of interests?
  4. Is it a conflict when Trump holds overseas properties or has his name otherwise associated with them? What to do about such situations as those in Turkey ("a little conflict of interest," as he himself has described it), India, the Philippines, and Argentina, where he and local partners rely on the goodwill of the local governments? And if his companies receive favors, will this violate the language in the Constitution prohibiting emoluments from foreign powers? Might Trump’s dealing with state-owned companies---or companies whose owners have close ties to the ruling politicians---be the same as actual dealings with these foreign states? Even or especially with members of his family running his businesses?
  5. Are there reasons other than the Constitutional ban on emoluments why you might not want to vote for Trump, such as his plea for less press freedom, the end result of “opening up” the libel laws? Dictators such as Vladimir Putin and their allies have used criminal and civil libel laws to stymie reporters investigating corruption, the reason why this question is germane.
  6. Does the First Amendment provide enough press protection, not enough or too much?
  7. If you’re from a state that requires electors to go by the election results, would you be open to the possibility of campaign donors or others paying your fine and legal expenses? Even if you’re in South Carolina, where faithless electors face possible criminal penalties, would you be willing to undergo the legal risks?
  8. Would the fact that Trump lost the popular vote on November 8 be at all a factor in making your choice?
  9. Should we abolish the Electoral College? Why or why not?
  10. Under any circumstances would you be open to a compromise under which Democratic electors agreed to vote for Vice President-elect Mike Pence in return for Republicans promising not to vote for Trump? Most Democrats would hate most of Pence’s policies, but significantly, he has supported a federal shield law to protect professional journalist from having to reveal anonymous sources in most cases. Although, as governor of Indiana, he called for a state news agency, he dropped this second proposal. Would the Pence approach possibly be tidier than throwing this into the House of Representatives without some kind of compromise beforehand? If not, why not? If so, why? Needless to say, Democrats would still be free to oppose Pence's policies on issues ranging from abortion to taxes.

The last question, of course, is one reason why the interviews should not be confined to Republican electors alone.

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Donald Trump and The Jill Stein Paradox: Get Out of the Race NOW, Jill

September 1, 2016

An endearing goal of Jill Stein, the Green Party Presidential candidate, is to “Protect the rights of future generations.” 


No, I don’t agree with Stein and the Greens on everything, but I certainly would here: “Lead on a global treaty to halt climate change. End destructive energy extraction: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, and uranium mines.” Bravo, Jill!


Isn’t it a bit of a paradox, however, that you hate gambling with the future sea levels and the rest, but you’re turning the 2016 Presidential race into too much of a crapshoot---and increasing the chances we’ll elect an oil-loving fascist like Donald Trump? Mind you, most pundits still favor Hillary Clinton. But here’s the word from NBC: “In a four-way general election match-up, Clinton leads with 41 percent, a 4-point margin over Trump (37 percent). Libertarian Gary Johnson maintains 11 percent of the vote and Green Party candidate Jill Stein holds steady with 5 percent.”


So, yes, Dana Milbank at the Washington Post was on the money with his commentary headlined From Jill Stein, disturbing echoes of Ralph Nader. The election really might be close enough for you to make the wrong kind of difference. A Green vote cast in Georgetown won’t do any harm. But it might in a state like Ohio.


You attack “the politics of fear.” Well, I’ll confess to fear, a rational emotion. I live within easy roasting range of an H bomb dropped on D.C. I’ve already told how, while in elementary school, Donald Trump gave a teacher a black eye “because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.” And now Trump says his current temperament “is not that different.” Do we really want Trump to be the one dealing with Putin if the two fall out of favor on Twitter? Everything is personal to The Donald.


Granted, Hillary isn’t my favorite---I voted for Bernie Sanders myself. I think establishment Dems stacked the deck against him, and I’d also worry about Hillary relapsing back toward her old trade policies and not caring sufficiently about labor, health, and environmental protections. Not to mention the email server questions. Furthermore, I take it for granted she’ll be more of an interventionist abroad than I would like. Still, at least Clinton has not been described by a U.K. research firm as being among the top ten risks facing the world. 

If nothing else, Trump will do his best to roll back Obama’s environmental policies, which, although not everything you and I prefer, are a far cry from what The Donald would give us. 


Oh, and how would you like Trump-nominated members of the Supreme Court to stymie progressives for decades? And do you want The Donald’s attorney-general  to be able to fire the FBI director when Trump himself rose to prominence with help from the mob-tied lawyer Roy Cohn? Or how about massive deportation raids ruining the lives of productive people who’ve lived here for years?


Jill, you don’t go to a Trump casino to roll the dice. But in this volatile race, that’s actually what you’re doing in a sense by not withdrawing and endorsing Clinton. There’s always next election. With Trump, given the risk of an outright dictatorship, there just might not be another “next time” for years to come. He talks of rigging---methinks that’s self-projection. 


Needless to say, while I myself am a progressive, I would also encourage my libertarian and conservative friends to vote for Hillary Clinton. 

I take it for granted they hate her politics and personality. Still, remember the alternative, Trump’s jack-boot politics. Under him we’ll be the antithesis of the America of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts---and very possibly even Ronald Reagan. This gamble we don’t need.

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President Trump's Enemies List

July 31, 2016

Richard Nixon’s enemies list was a black-tie affair. What a party! The twenty original names included such luminaries as film star Paul Newman, Congress member Ron Dellums, and journalist Daniel Schorr. Some powerfulVIPs almost felt slighted not to make The List.


The Nixon people later added scores of other individuals, as well as groups, but they could conveniently amass only so many names, given how primitive the technology was compared to today.


Of course, there was also the earlier McCarthy era, with its less exclusive blacklists of scads of subversives. But at least Sen. Joseph McCarthy didn’t sit in the Oval Office. Nor could he track ordinary Americans to the extent that law-enforcement and intel agencies can today—if nothing else, by monitoring social media postings on Facebook and elsewhere.


Now flash ahead to the possible presidency of one Donald Trump and consider the need within the bounds of ethics to pull out all stops to prevent him from sullying the White House. We already understand how vindictive and litigation-minded The Donald can be—just look at his  dreams of using the presidency to make antitrust trouble for Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, to name one of many examples. But did you know that Trump has his own indirect McCarthy ties, by way of the late Roy Cohn


Having served as one of McCarthy’s most vicious aides, Cohn went on to eventually become a thuggish lawyer for Trump, as documented in The Truth about Trump, a well-researched biography by Michael D’Antonio, a veteran journalist who helped Newsday win a Pulitzer.


Cohn tutored Trump in press manipulation and during the Nixon administration did his best to bully a young Justice Department attorney working on an anti-discrimination suit against The Donald.


Might Trump and his allies give us a turbocharged reinvention of McCarthyism, using databases to track his enemies with far more than Stasi- and KGB-level efficiency? And could an outspoken ebook, pbook or blog turn into a genuine threat to your health—maybe even a fatal one, if Trump emulates his hero Putin, under whom so many Russian journalist have died under suspicious circumstances? Keep in mind Trump’s own love of violence, as demonstrated by his incitement of it at his rallies.


The conventional wisdom among establishment Republicans is that the usual suspects would tame Trump rather than the other way around, one excuse that major GOP politicians have used to justify their party’s bizarre nominee for President. I’m not so certain of that. If you read the D’Antonio book, you’ll find a recurring pattern in The Donald’s life—a grotesque swollen ego and a hair-trigger temper mixed with an eagerness to inflict pain on others. “At Kew-Forest,” D’Antonio writes of his subject’s elementary school days, “Donald Trump was a bit of a terror. He once said that he gave a teacher a black eye ‘because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.’ According to Trump, he was then already the person he would always be. ‘I don’t think people change very much,’ Trump would tell me. ‘When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same. The temperament is not that different.'”


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