Where Privilege Intersects with Oppression

In the past few months I have been actively trying to be a better ally.  I have been immersing myself in writing and discourse, and I’m just now starting to take a more active role in promoting and educating on intersectionality in my various social groups.  The concept of privilege and intersectionality is not simple.  It is, by definition, complex.  But once you get the tools to understand what it all means, you can start deconstructing your interactions and reactions and you at least are speaking the right language.

One thing that has been a struggle for me, however, is transforming the idea of “ally” into something tangible.  Luckily, there are so many sources out there that exist to make this work make sense.  Last week I was reading one of my favorite writer’s tweets (not uncommon), and came across this:

I saw it while I was waiting for the train, and literally repeated it out loud, right on the platform.  Look for where your privilege intersects with oppression – that is where you act.  I thought about it for most of the commute.  I tried to think of examples of where my power was, where I could attack the system.  What I love about this phrase is that if you let it marinate, you start to convert the abstract to tangible action.  At various points in the past week, that phrase would rise to the forefront of my mind.  It is stuck in my head as my own rallying cry.

What does that mean for me?  Well, let’s start with my privilege.  I am a white attorney who works at a large law firm.  I’m heterosexual and married.  I was born in the United States (Alaska though, basically Russia according to some) and I speak English.  All in all, pretty privileged.  I am also female and Jewish, but I work in a city and in a profession that treats Judaism as normal, so I mostly “pass” there.  Jewish lawyer in Chicago?  Nothing to see here.

Where does my privilege intersect with oppression?  My workplace is the first place that comes to mind.  I think it helps to start small, so let’s start there.  As a heterosexual, white attorney, I am able to speak for others without the associated detrimental outcomes that might occur if those without my privileges took the same course of action.  For example, transgender accommodations are a huge topic these days.  I can comfortably sit in a conference room and opine on the need for gender-neutral bathrooms without feeling like someone will view me any differently.  In that context, I’m just a person stating my opinion.  When it comes to staffing, I can affirmatively request other women or people of color to be on my team, and I can check in with them to make sure they are getting the experiences they deserve.  That comes with the territory of being an associate, and can fit easily into my job description.

I also have been involved in recruiting.  Getting the right people in the room is essential, and if you are one of the gatekeepers, you can use that for good.  When I recruit, I consciously work to take it one step further instead of just connecting over similarities.  Similarities are the comfort zone, and like attracts like.  But if that’s all I look for, I’m going to have a bunch of petite women who really like reality television in the room.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but not the point.  Connecting through differences takes practice, and I’m happy to work at a firm that proactively trains on addressing unconscious biases during the recruiting process (and elsewhere).  You can do that important work too.

Once you have the mantra in your head, you see it everywhere.  Take the Grammy’s, where Adele used her acceptance speech to promote Beyonce.  I’m not going to go in to why I think Lemonade deserved to win Album of the Year, because lord knows the last thing the internet needs is another Lemonade thinkpiece by a white woman.  Let’s just say I’m a fan. So when Adele stood up and used her moment to promote a black woman, it meant something to me.

Was she perfect?  Probably not.  But she was real and she was authentic and she used her privilege to address something wrong with the system.  And as a white woman who is working on ways to be an ally, Adele was inspiring.  She gave ME strength to speak up from the heart, even if it’s scary or you might get it wrong.

So I’m taking my mantra and running with it.  Thank you to the women of color who have lived this their entire lives and still take the time to educate the rest of us.  I stand with you.

Privilege 102

My various Facebook groups have been blowing up with intersectional discourse, and I am HERE FOR IT.  I’m really excited that people are stepping up and putting themselves out there.  Not surprisingly, I am also seeing a lot of responses from white women that mirror the general responses people have to white privilege and intersectionality.  Today I’m going to talk more about the nuances of privilege and go through some of the responses you will get if you engage in these discussions.

Disclaimer: I am a white woman and I’m trying to be an ally but I do not know everything.  All I can do is listen and learn, and if you disagree with anything I say, please engage with me.  I am here to learn and I acknowledge I do not have all the answers.  I’m ready to do the work.

On that note, let’s dive in.  We previously discussed privilege a little bit here.  Feel free to check out that post for a high-level view of privilege.  Today we’re going a little deeper.  Before I start, I want to shout out to Saroful, from Crossknit.wordpress.com.  She has an incredibly helpful post, available here, which is also a great place to start.

What is “Privilege?”

Privilege, in this context, is about the way that society provides certain advantages to people based on a variety of factors that are outside of that individual’s control, such as race and sex.  It’s not about how you feel on the inside, but about how society treats you based on external factors.

We all come into the world with a set of traits that are out of our control.  I did not ask to be born as a white woman, but here I am.  I also did not ask to be born into a middle-class/upper-middle class family with two parents still together, who very much valued education.  Those factors provide me with certain privileges in how society treats me.

It’s not just race or sex, either.  This graphic provides more nuance:

chart

This can get pretty complicated, but I like to think of privilege as the following: I am privileged because I have the option to speak out, or I have the option to live my life.  I get to choose to be an activist, or I can say, not today, today I am focusing on myself.  Those can be separate things for me.  People without my privilege do not have that option.  They are the ones fighting every day to end violence against the black community because their brothers and sisters are dying.  They are the ones battling hypothermia to stop a pipeline being built over their sacred ground.  They are the ones who do not have access to clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan.  These are the dramatic examples, but they’re real.

There are thousands of ways my privilege makes life easier for me than it does for others who are on the bottom half of the graphic I posted above.  I previously discussed a few of those in my post on White Privilege, but here are a few more examples from my own life:

  • I am given the benefit of the doubt in the classroom and am trusted whenever something goes wrong, like my assignment is late.  Teachers do not look at me as a potential trouble-maker and value my opinion.
  • I walk down the street without fear of police bothering me.  I see them on my walk to my office building in River North almost every morning, and they are stationed there to protect me.
  • I do not know anyone who has ever been the victim of gang violence.  Unless I choose otherwise, I can spend my entire day not thinking about violence happening mere miles away from where I live and work.
  • I can afford access to reproductive healthcare without Planned Parenthood.  Even if I needed to travel to another state, I have the means and network to do so.
  • I can live my days without worrying about ever being homeless.  Even if I encounter a change in circumstance, I have parents who would welcome me into their home and would support me.
  • I never have to think about which bathroom I should use.  There is always a women’s bathroom available to me and I never feel like I don’t belong there.

If you start thinking about what privilege means to you, you will inevitably come up with countless examples of the way your privilege, whatever that might be, makes your life easier.

What is “Intersectionality?”

Intersectionality is how your different social identities overlap.  None of us are just one thing, and it is likely that you are advantaged, and disadvantaged, in various ways.  For example, I am white and heterosexual, which places me solidly above the line in the graphic above.  However, I am also a Jewish woman, and because of that, I encounter various obstacles and barriers in my life.  We all come to the table with different privileges and different disadvantages.  That’s what intersectionality is.  Each of us occupy a different place in society, and being an ally is doing what you can to support the people and communities around you who don’t have your level of privilege.

Concepts to Embrace

Talking about privilege is really hard.  It’s hard because it requires you to own the fact that you have advantages in life that you cannot escape.  It can make you feel guilty.  Why do you get the privileges and others don’t?  It can also make you feel angry.  You didn’t ask for these things, so why does it feel like you are being blamed for having them?

It is essential to understand that experiences with privilege go both ways.  You cannot help that you were born with your characteristics, just like others cannot help they were born with their characteristics.  It’s a total crapshoot.  To be an ally, you need to overcome the awkwardness and guilt that comes from existing in a position of power that you did not request, and work on understanding how others with less privilege have been experiencing the world.

It is impossible to fully understand what the world looks and feels like from another’s perspective.  The work is never done.  It literally is a journey and can never be a destination.  You need to listen to those around you, especially your black and brown brothers and sisters.  If they are telling you what they have experienced, it is up to you to hear that.  We do not come to this discussion on an equal playing field, and it is not a discussion occurring in a vacuum.  This isn’t a debate about which deep dish pizza is better, where everyone can have an equally valuable opinion.  This is a space for you to hear what people around you are saying and to learn from that.

What Does that Mean In Practice?

Practicing allyship is lifelong and multifaceted.  Here are a few things you can do to start:

  • Put yourself in a position to be exposed to people who are different than you are.  Follow activists on Facebook and Twitter.  Here are a few individuals who are teaching me, along with thousands, every single day:  Luvvie Ajayi, Shaun King, Iljeoma Oluo, Jamil Smith, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Hend Amry, Preston Mitchum, Bree Newsome, Amanda Seales, and Franchesca Ramsey, to name a few.  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter and take it all in.
  • Start engaging people in the spaces you are already in.  There are a lot of discussions happening right now about whether the Women’s March was inclusive.  If you feel comfortable, start talking with other white women who are saying things that you think are coming from a place of privilege.  Too often we drop the ball and leave it for our Women of Color (“WOC”) sisters to deal with.  Lift their burden and start doing the work yourself.
  • Don’t limit yourself to online interactions.  Go to a Black Lives Matter rally.  Show up to protest the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines.  There are a ton of community events being held all the time.  Showing Up for Racial Justice (“SURJ”) is a great group for allies.  Their Facebook page is here and they have a ton of upcoming events.
  • Do your own work.  Don’t come to the conversation expecting others to do the work for you.  For example, I am explaining privilege and intersectionality to you right now.  You can also Google those things and start reading.  Do the groundwork on your own before you start asking WOC to do it for you.  Don’t enter a conversation and ask what you can do to be a good ally.  Read about it, think about it, and engage once you’ve taken those first steps.

Know that I am doing this work with you.  I have been complacent on these issues, safe in my own privilege, and the election of Donald Trump has jolted me out of that complacency.  I can no longer stand by and watch, so I am doing the work right along with you.

Common White Responses

If you start to engage in these discussions, even as a bystander, you begin to see familiar responses, from white women in particular.  I am going to go through some of what I have seen in the past few days, along with potential responses to those comments.  You might also be having some of these thoughts, which is part of the process of recognizing your own privilege.  Hopefully this will be helpful to you, either personally or as you engage with others.

You can’t group all white women together.  I personally am not racist.

As a general rule, if a conversation is happening and you are not the subject of said conversation, do not hijack that conversation and make it about you.  For example, if someone told you that they were at one of the marches and observed that white women did not cheer as loudly for Black Lives Matter as they did for other issues, do not take it upon yourself to respond that you, in fact, did cheer for Black Lives Matter.  The point is not about you personally.  It’s about someone’s experience and what they observed.

To respond to this rhetoric, point out to the person making the statement that it was not meant to be about that person individually, but rather about a group as a whole.  Explain that it is not enough to personally act one way.  We need to recognize that as a group, white women have not been there for our sisters, and the point of the conversation is to move it towards action and getting white women to stand with our sisters in the future.  If you’re there individually, great.  Take one step further and get others to join you.

I don’t appreciate being criticized when I was trying to help.  Criticizing people is not the way to win them over.

I get it, it doesn’t feel good to do something you thought was great, only to be told the ways you could have done an even better job.  First, it’s important to understand that it is not the job of people who are different than you to win you over.  If you care about understanding, you should be listening to what they say, even they’re not giving you the praise you think you deserve.

Second, I see a lot of this response when the person doing the “criticizing” was merely saying something along the lines of how we need to focus more on inclusivity in the future.  That is not an insult.  Have you heard about white fragility?  If not, now is the time to get educated.  White people, myself included, don’t like to talk about race.  That makes conversations about race uncomfortable.  For some of us, these conversations are so uncomfortable that we are unable to tolerate racial stress.  Whole article on white fragility available here.  It’s important to be cognizant of that when getting into conversations about race.  If you find yourself feeling defensive, sit with it and ask yourself why you feel that way before lashing out.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, you do not deserve a prize for doing the right thing.  It’s expected of you.  Your sisters have been busting their asses for centuries trying to make this world better for their communities, and just because you are now interested in getting involved does not get you a special seat at the table.

This talk is divisive.  We should be focusing on how to come together.

This is where intersectionality plays a huge role.  We all have different things we care about and different priority levels we place on those things depending on where we are in society.  Just because you may feel that discussing the speakers at the march or the different signs people were holding is a “detail,” it might be the most important aspect of an event for someone else.

There is no one feminism, and if you think that there is,  you’re probably thinking about white feminism (getting equal pay in the workplace, for example).  We don’t all agree because we all have different priorities.  The point of having these conversations is not to extrapolate all the things we care about until we can find one common denominator that unites us all.  The point is to learn from each other and realize that other people’s perspectives are valid and deserve to be heard.  Listening and standing with each other is the uniting factor, not whether we all agree on a specific outcome.

I hear your opinion, but why doesn’t my opinion matter?  Who gets to say which opinion matters?

If you are white and trying to engage someone on privilege or race, it’s pretty safe to say that you are not the arbiter of whose opinion matters.  If someone tells you they did not feel included or feel that white women as a group did not show up for them, it’s not responsive to say that you feel otherwise.  You should listen to lived experiences.

Like I said earlier, this is not an argument that occurs in a vacuum.  It’s not two people debating something based on opinion.  It’s people having a conversation about how they feel.  When in doubt, listen!

We shouldn’t shame people for trying.  Any action helps.

I don’t want to discourage people from action.  Action helps, but don’t you want your actions to actually benefit the people you say you care about?  If a WOC tells you that she felt excluded by an event, what good does it do to say that you had good intentions?  We should want to do better, and focusing on how any criticism is somehow shameful gets us nowhere.

We’ve come a long way on the march to progress, and we’re now at the point where the details matter.  We’re no longer talking about whether women have the right to vote – we’re talking about voter access and voter suppression.  We are no longer talking about whether women should be in the workplace – we’re talking about promotion and mentoring and getting women into corner offices.   As we move past those big targets, it’s no longer enough to say we tried to include our sisters, or that our intentions were good.  We need to start focusing on the actual impact of our actions.

This is just a start, but hopefully it will be a good start.  Get out there and start engaging!

White Privilege

Day 2 folks, time to do the work.  I’m jumping in with a big one.  Yesterday was amazing and I loved being part of it.  I saw many women who had never protested before putting themselves out there and taking their first activist steps, which was beautiful.  But it’s important to remember that this is just a first step.

There’s an image that has been making the rounds on the internet.

white-women

This is a great photo that encapsulates a very important point that allowed white women to vote for a man who has espoused sexist, racist, and ignorant views.  A huge part of the ability to make that choice comes from the privilege that white women have in society.

White privilege is an uncomfortable concept because it’s difficult to accept that it applies regardless of how you feel on the inside.  Privilege doesn’t care if you’re not racist.  Privilege doesn’t even care if you’re an activist or an ally.  Privilege is based on the way you look and the way society treats you based on those looks.

I first learned of the concept of privilege when I was a freshman in college.  It abhorred me.  I didn’t ask to be born as a white woman.  I wanted to give it away, get rid of the privilege.  But you can’t do that.  And really, saying that you want to is disingenuous.  Privilege makes life easier.  That’s the entire point.

There are a few pieces of literature I read during that time period that literally blew my mind.  One is “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” by Peggy McIntosh.  Please read it, and sit with it.  If it makes you uncomfortable or defensive, sit with that too.  If you don’t believe that privilege exists, here are the ways that I see and experience privilege in my own life.

I’ll start with male privilege.

  • Males do not have to fear for their safety when they walk alone.  They can spend time thinking about whatever they want, while I think about how I will escape a potential attack.
  • Men can wake up and get out the door in 15 minutes.  I cannot.  I will be penalized at work, subconsciously or consciously, if I do not do my hair and wear makeup.
  • Men can wear comfortable clothing to work.  I need to wear heels to appear taller.
  • Men are not looked at as someone who might get pregnant at any moment.  Their bodies are not ogled, their beverage choices are not monitored, and their co-workers do not worry they might be unable to complete an assignment due to pregnancy.
  • If a male becomes a father, he does not need to stay home to feed the baby for the first few months of its life.  He is not criticized for working when the baby is young.  He does not have to interrupt his career to have a baby.
  • Men do not have to worry about being groped, manhandled, or cat-called in public spaces.  They don’t need to watch their drinks in a bar.  They don’t even have to think about these things.  Men can spend that time thinking about whatever they want, while I worry about my safety.
  • Men do not need to police their tone and speech in the same way women do.  They can be forceful and they will never be called a bitch.  They can ask for opportunities – in fact, they are more likely to be given these opportunities – and they will not be viewed as bossy or aggressive.

Any of that ring true to you?  That’s what privilege is.  Men didn’t ask for the privileges but they get them anyway.  They cannot give them to you even if they wanted to.  Now let’s talk about race.

As a white woman:

  • When I need to find a band-aid, it’s easy to find one in my own skin color.  In fact, they’re all in my skin color.
  • When I get pulled over by the police, I get the benefit of the doubt.  It is unlikely the police will harm me.  I can look at police and believe that they exist to protect me, not to protect others from me.
  • Signs around me are in my native language.
  • I can work with people who look like me, and spend my days with people who look like me.  I am comfortable at work and do not feel like I am looked at differently.
  • My opinion is generally my own.  I do not speak for all white people, and I do not have to live with the responsibility that my words might be taken to apply to others.
  • I can walk into any hair salon and someone will know what to do with my hair.
  • I will not be denied housing, shown a different property, or given different rates based on how I look.  Brokers and real estate agents have no reason to distrust me.
  • I can feel secure in my accomplishments because no one looks at me and thinks I am there as the product of affirmative action.  No one thinks I took someone else’s place, either at school or at work.

You cannot underestimate the impact of privilege.  These lists are not exhaustive, and were just things that come to mind easily.

It does not matter if you did not ask for these privileges.  You cannot change the fact that they exist, just as people who are not in positions of power cannot change what they look like.  Everyone has different privileges, and the different things we bring to the table lead to our intersectionality.

White women have let our black and brown sisters down time and time again.  We pushed them out of the suffrage movement.  We sacrificed their civil rights for our own advancement.  We ask them to show up and fight for us, but we have not shown up or fought for them.  They showed up.  Only 4% of black women voted for Trump.  A staggering 53% of white women voted for Trump.  Where were we a few months ago?  Complacent?  Disillusioned because of leaked emails?  Were we lazy?

It does not matter if you were there.  Our demographic was not there.  The fact that you voted for Hillary did not mean that our demographic voted for Hillary, and we did not win the election.  We have an obligation to show up for our sisters who have been showing up for us for decades.

Let’s quote Spiderman.  With power comes great responsibility.  Privilege is power, and we have a responsibility to use that privilege.  I stand with my sisters and am working on being an ally every day.  If you are interested in being an ally, start doing the work.  Sit with the concept of privilege and let it make you uncomfortable.  Start getting active, even if it’s not the cause that affects you directly.  If you want to learn more about being an ally, ask your friends who are already doing the work.  Do not burden your black and brown sisters or make them explain things to you.  They have enough on their plates, and it’s our responsibility to show up for them.  We’re all in this together, and it’s time we start taking responsibility and acting like it.  I don’t have all the answers and I’m working through it every day, but I’m happy to work through it with you.

One more thing.  It’s not enough to sit back and let things happen around us anymore.  We cannot be complacent.  Complacency got us here, and we won’t stand for it anymore.  The millions of women who took to the streets yesterday made that very clear.  Be an active ally, not a passive bystander.  We all lose when we let injustice happen on our watch.

blm-march

Damn straight.

Why I March

Today I had the privilege in participating in the Women’s March in Chicago.  To the protesters of Chicago, it was an honor to march with you.

It’s hard to put into words what it felt like to be part of the 250,000+ in Chicago, and the 1,000,000+ in the world who showed up today to speak out, but I’ll try.

It was peaceful.  It was filled with families spanning generations.  Daughters, mothers, and grandmothers marched together, hand in hand with their brothers and partners.  We moved for the strollers, we gave balloons to the kids, and we kept the chants clean.  I did not see one person push or shove, not one piece of property destroyed, not even one person littering.  This protest was built on respect and unity.

It was smart, inventive, and heartfelt.  I was so impressed with the effort people put into their signs and outfits.  Little girls were dressed as superheroes, women were dressed as Rosie the Riveter, and we even had our own Lady Liberty.

 

It was fun!  We danced, we sang, and made new friends.  We took pictures of slogans that were particularly thoughtful or moving and shared those pictures with our friends.  We talked about what we do next and how to keep this momentum.

It was very pink, and very diverse.  I looked across the crowd during the inauguration yesterday and I saw a sea of white.  Today we had a sea of color and gender, and it was beautiful.

Tomorrow we continue this fight, but today I remember Why I March:

  • I march to speak my truth.
  • I march to protect and promote access to reproductive health care for people in Illinois and neighboring states.
  • I march to protect our children from negative policies built on hate and distrust.
  • I march to stand with my sisters and brothers of color.
  • I march to stand with my indigenous sisters and brothers.
  • I march to stand with my Latina sisters and brothers.
  • I march to stand with immigrants, who now feel unsafe in their own homes.
  • I march to support the LGBTQ community and to make it clear that they are welcome wherever I am.
  • I march to support the women who felt they did not need to march today.  I march for you too.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, the arc of justice is long, but it bends towards justice.  We cannot take the progress we have made thus far for granted, and we are the change that creates the movement.

I stand with you, as you have stood with me.  I’m not going anywhere.

Resist the Beginnings. Consider the End.

I have been told that it is counterproductive to liken our current situation to Nazi Germany.  I have been told that it weakens my arguments and statements, that it makes me seem emotional, irrational.  I’ve even said those words to others before.  In an argument, when someone brought up Nazi Germany, it seemed like a fallacy, a stretch.  It’s actually called Godwin’s Law – as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches – that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler.  How can you compare our world a world that allowed the slaughter of millions?  Not here, not now.

The problem is, it’s impossible to see the end when you’re at the beginning.  We have no idea how this story ends.  People in Germany in the 1930s didn’t know either.  But we do have one benefit on our side.  We have the benefit of history, and we can speak now, speak often, speak loudly.

Soon after the election, I read an excerpt from a book called They Thought They Were Free.  This book was first published in 1955.  The book is a collection of interviews with ten German individuals who lived in Germany during WWII and participated in the Nazi movement.

Here’s part of that excerpt, from a chapter titled “But Then It Was Too Late:”

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway… Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“You see, one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’  And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.”

This is a punch to the gut.  This one hits close to home.  This is the reason I wanted to start blogging about politics.

Do you know what I see right now?  I see our President-elect revoking the press credentials of the Washington Post during the election, calling the publication “inaccurate” and “dishonest.”  I see our President-elect conflating “fake news” with anything he dislikes in an effort to decrease the credibility of publications that criticize him:

I see our President refusing to answer questions from CNN because now, CNN is fake news:

I see our President-elect shutting the media out from its traditional watchdog status.   Priebus, Trump’s Chief of Staff, just told Variety that they the administration is considering ending the daily press briefings, which have been a tradition since Eisenhower’s administration.  Yesterday, Trump held his first press conference since July 27, 2016 (wherein he asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails via hacking).

The press conference was a long time in the making.  Trump had previously canceled a press conference in which he promised to share his plan to remove all conflicts of interest.  This was not the first time Trump had promised to share something and then reneged on that promise.  Mother Jones has an excellent collection here.
During that press conference, in the face of heavy questioning, Trump finally acknowledged that Russia hacked U.S. intelligence.  However, he lauded what the Russians found, stating:

“But remember this: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.

That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing.”  Read the full transcript of the press conference here.

I see our President-elect slamming comedians who portray him negatively.

Just a sample of what our President-elect has in store for us.

Are you scared?  I am.  Who knows what the end here is.  I don’t, and I am not saying that it will end in internment or genocide, like Nazi Germany.  I have no idea how this will play out, but I will not let uncertainty or timidity stop me from speaking.  Speak loudly, speak often, and stay informed.  Be the canary in the coal mine.  I pray that I really am an alarmist.  I pray that this is all for naught, but nothing our President-elect has done so far has proven otherwise.  I am taking him at his word and pledging to stand up to it, even if it starts small.  Resist the beginnings.  Consider the end.

Trump’s Squad II

Time for the second installment of Trump’s Squad.  Check out the first installment here.  Trump has been naming people to his cabinet for weeks now, but some of his recent nominations have really stirred things up.  We’re going to cover a couple of those today.

Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson

rex-tillerson

Rex Tillerson is Trump’s choice for Secretary of State.  This is another big position.  The Secretary of State is in charge of the Department of State and United States Foreign Service, and is the outward-facing cabinet member for foreign policy.  As Secretary of State, Tillerson will be the primary negotiator with other countries.  Like I said, big position.

Tillerson is currently the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil.  As an initial matter, Tillerson has never held public office.  He has worked for Exxon since 1975 in various capacities, and has been CEO since 2006.  Since Tillerson has never held public office, it’s difficult to get a sense of where is politics lie.  He has been a longtime supporter of the Republican party, has expressed his impatience with government regulation, has stated that he does not support sanctions, and although he has acknowledged that climate change is happening, has stated that it is not yet clear “to what extent and therefore what you can do it about it.”

The most we know about Tillerson is his connection to Putin.  Apparently the two are pretty close.  Tillerson has known Putin since 1999, when he began representing Exxon’s interests in Russia.  There’s a quote that’s making the rounds from John Hamre, the President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Tillerson is on the board of that organization.  Hamre has said that Tillerson “has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American, with the exception of Dr. Henry Kissinger.”

As a representative of Exxon, Tillerson has worked closely with Putin.  In 2011, he struck a deal with Russia which gave Exxon access to Arctic resources.  In 2013, the Kremlin presented Tillerson with the country’s Order of Friendship.  The Order of the Friendship rewards foreign nationals whose work, deeds, and efforts were aimed at bettering the relations between foreign nations and Russia.  If you want a refresher on why connections with Putin might be bad, check out my previous post on this topic.

Russia might be a big issue for Tillerson during the committee and Senate hearings.  Tillerson will have to be approved by a majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and then a majority of the Senate.

The Foreign Relations Committee includes:

  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • James Risch (R-ID)
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Ron Johnson (R-WI)
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Christopher Coons (D-DE)
  • Cory Gardner (R-CO)
  • Tom Udall (D-NM)
  • David Perdue (R-GA)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Rand Paul (R-KY)
  • Edward Markey (D-MA)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)

If you’ve been counting, that is 10 Republicans to nine Democrats.  Rubio has already come out saying he has serious concerns about Tillerson as Secretary of State.  If Tillerson’s not for you, start making your calls!  It only takes one Republican to cross the line.  As always, you can contact your senators for the main vote.

Labor Secretary – Andrew Puzder

andy_puzder-jpeg

Trump  has nominated Andrew Puzder for Labor Secretary.  Labor Secretary is in charge of protecting the nation’s workers, determine how to distribute benefits to unemployed Americans, and is runs unemployment and jobs reports.  Puzder also has never held a political office, and is currently the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

Puzder has criticized the Affordable Care Act, argued against raising the federal minimum wage beyond $9 an hour, and worked for years as an anti-abortion lawyer in Missouri.  Under Puzder’s leadership, Carl’s Jr. has led an aggressively disgusting campaign of scantily clad women eating burgers.  He stands by that decision – he just “like[s] beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis.”

I’m personally disgusted by this guy, and I’m nervous about what he means for workers across the country.  If you feel the same, way, here’s what you can do.  Puzder first needs to receive a majority vote from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and then a majority vote in the Senate.

The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee includes:

  • Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Michael Enzi (R-WY)
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
  • Richard Burr (R-NC)
  • Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
  • Rand Paul (R-KY)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Susan Collins (R-ME)
  • Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Bill Cassidy (R-IA)

You’ll probably notice that some of the listed senators will no longer hold their position in next iteration of the Senate.  Once the new senators begin in early January, the Senate will reallocate some positions.  I will update as that becomes available.  In the mean time, feel free to start calling!  There are 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the committee, but we have some heavy hitters (Murry, Sanders, Warren).  For Republicans that may be easier to convince, I would reach out to Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, but feel free to contact whomever you want.

As always, you can contact your senators for the main vote, in which Puzder will need a majority as well.

Treasury Secretary – Steven Mnuchin

steven

If you’re keeping track, this is our second Steve and our eighth white male!  Mnuchin is tapped for Treasury Secretary, the position in charge of establishing economic policy, tax policy, financial policy, and any financial sanctions against foreign nations.  Mnuchin, like all others listed today, has never held political office.  He was the national finance chairman of Trump’s campaign, and worked in the banking world, including Goldman Sachs, prior to joining Trump’s campaign.  He was active in the residential lending market and bought several failed banks from 2008-2009.  In a bizarre aside, Mnuchin also has worked in Hollywood.  His production company has produced The Devil Wears Prada, Avatar, Gravity, The Lego Movie, and Magic Mike XXL.

Mnuchin has actually supported both Democrats and Republicans in the past, but has been a staunch Trump supporter since spring of 2016.  Since Trump announced Mnuchin as his pick for Labor Secretary, Mnuchin has faced some public criticism, mostly relating to his background in the finance industry.  He has been criticized for profiting off of the financial crisis and for his role on finance in the midst of anti-Wall Street sentiments.

Not your guy?  Mnuchin has to be confirmed by the Senate Committee on Finance by a majority vote before he goes to the entire Senate for a vote.

The Senate Committee on Finance includes:

  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Ron Wyden (D-OR)
  • Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  • Charles Schumer (D-NY)
  • Mike Crapo (R-ID)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Michael Enzi (R-WY)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • John Thune (R-SD)
  • Thomas Carper (D-DE)
  • Richard Burr (R-NC)
  • Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
  • Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  • Patrick Toomey (R-PA)
  • Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
  • Dan Coats (R-IN)
  • Mark Warner (D-VA)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Tim Scott (R-SC)

If you’re counting, that’s 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats.  This might be a tough one – there are valid issues with Mnuchin but so far he wouldn’t be the one I’d target primarily, and the Republicans on this committee are pretty solidly conservative.  But please do reach out if this guy is not for you, and as always please contact your senators!

Spotlight on the States

I’ve been focusing on national (and international) politics because the news cycle has been so crazy, but today we’re going to look at what a few of the states have been up to.

Ohio

ohio

Ohio has been making some moves to restrict abortion further.  On December 6, the Ohio Senate and House approved a ban on abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which generally occurs around six weeks.  The language was added to an unrelated bill concerning child welfare, and the language does not provide exceptions for rape or incest.  Two days later, the Ohio Senate and House approved a bill which bans abortions at or after 20 weeks.  Again, that bill has no exceptions for rape or incest.

On December 13, Governor John Kasich vetoed the 6-week ban but signed into law the 20 week ban.  The ban goes into effect in 90 days, barring any court fight’s over the law’s constitutionality.

Roe v. Wade legalized abortion up to the point of “viability,” which is defined as when a fetus is capable of prolonged life outside the mother’s womb.  Although some have lauded Governor Kasich’s veto of the six-week ban, almost all familiar with pro-choice precedent understand that a six-week ban would directly violate Roe v. Wade.  Viability is generally understood as occurring during the third trimester – some point between the 24th and 28th week of the pregnancy.  A 20-week ban on abortion has been ruled unconstitutional at the state and federal levels in Arizona and Idaho because fetuses are not viable at 20 weeks.  There are still dozens of other states that have similar legislation that has not yet been challenged.

Ohio knows this.  Governor Kasich knows this.  The pro-life group Ohio Right to Life has stated that it hopes the 20-week ban can be used to reopen Roe v. Wade, and that “[t]he time has come for this archaic line which is viability and Roe to end.  As science continues to develop and as public opinion continues to change we’re going to continue to chip away at Roe.”

They are hoping that the make up of the Supreme Court will change before the case gets challenged, and that if it is challenged, the Supreme Court will finally overrule Roe v. Wade, or, at a minimum, find that viability is no longer the appropriate standard, opening states up to additional restrictions to abortions.

North Carolina

nc-state

North Carolina has had some issues since the election.  Republican incumbent Governor Pat McCrory ran for re-election in a very tight race against Roy Cooper, the Democratic nominee.  Even though Cooper won by almost 5,000 votes, McCrory refused to concede until almost a month after the election.

It does not appear that the North Carolina Republicans are going down without a fight.  After convening a special session of the legislature to address hurricane relief, Republicans called for a second special session, in which they have introduced bills to limit incoming Governor Cooper’s power.  For example, they have moved to make Cabinet appointees subject to state senate approval, remove the governor’s power to appoint trustees to the University of North Carolina system and the state board of education, and reduce the number of employees the governor could hire by 1,200.  Additionally, Republicans have introduced a bill that would overhaul the state’s election boards, which many view as the latest attempt to restrict voting in the state.

The special session is ongoing, and so far we are still waiting  to hear how the voting goes.  Governor-elect Cooper currently serves as the Attorney General of North Carolina, and has threatened to sue the state of North Carolina if the legislature passes anything unconstitutional.  I’ll post updates as they arise.

Trump’s Squad

Trump has been making moves on appointing cabinet members.  Let’s break them down.

A minority of the positions do not require Senate confirmation, making them difficult to oppose.  Those include:

Chief of Staff – Reince Priebus       reince-priebus-reforms-r

Reince Priebus is the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and has spoken out against certain statements made by Trump in the past, such as Trump’s proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration, and Trump’s criticisms of the Khan family.  Priebus is generally well-liked in the Republican party and to some, signals Trump’s ability to work within the system.

Chief Strategist – Steve Bannon       steve-bannon

Steve Bannon is worrisome to many.  He has had many positions in corporate America, but most recently was the executive chair of Breitbart News.  Breitbart is an alt-right (or white supremacist) news site that’s pretty gross.  There have been valid criticisms that Bannon is anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic, and homophobic.  (Incidentally, if you want to put pressure on companies advertising on Breitbart, check out Sleeping Giants on Twitter.)  There’s a MoveOn petition to stop the appointment Steve Bannon, but because the Senate does not need to confirm Bannon, the actions to stop him are indirect, and involve threatening other action in the Senate.

White House Counsel – Don McGahn II        donaldmcgahn

Don McGahn is a partner at Jones Day, who served as commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Committee.  He served as Trump’s campaign counsel for the presidential campaign.  McGahn has pushed to deregulate campaign finance laws, and is known for being combative.

 

National Security Adviser – Michael Flynn          220px-michael_t_flynn

This guy is kind of a disaster.  He is the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and was reportedly forced out in 2014 after clashing with superiors.  During his time as director, it was said he was “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc.”  Additionally, the New York Times has reported that Flynn exhibited a loose relationship with facts, which his subordinates began referring to as “Flynn facts.”  Flynn’s tenuous relationship with facts transfers over to social media, where he has pushed conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton.  He has since deleted his tweet, which linked to an article on True Pundit accusing Clinton of being connected to sex crimes with children, among other things.  Fortunately, news sources reported on the tweet, including its language:

U decide – NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc…MUST READ! https://t.co/O0bVJT3QDr

— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) November 3, 2016

And there’s more.  The Washington Post just broke a story today on how General Flynn shared classified information with foreign military officials in Afghanistan during a 2010 U.S. military investigation.


That’s just the four appointees who do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.  Trump has made public 16 of the remaining 21 positions of his cabinet.  Instead of going through them one by one, we will be doing an “Cabinet Member of the Day” post to address each of them.  Today is…..

Attorney General – Jeff Sessions

sessions

This one is a biggie.  The United States Attorney General is the nation’s top law enforcement official and the head of the United States Department of Justice.  Sessions will oversee all arms of the Department of Justice, and will be supervising the types of enforcement the DOJ chooses to pursue.  It’s a big deal.

Sessions is currently the junior U.S. Senator for Alabama.  Prior to his time as senator, he worked as an Assistant U.S. States Attorney and was nominated by Ronald Reagan to be a district judge in the Southern District of Alabama.  Sessions was not confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  During the confirmation process, four DOJ lawyers who had worked with Sessions testified that he had made racially insensitive remarks, such as calling the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” that he thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot,” and that Sessions had admonished a black Assistant U.S. Attorney to “be careful what you say to white folks.”

Alright, alright.  That was 30 years ago.  What has Sessions been up to since then?  Last year he authored the Immigration Handbook For the New Republican Majority, which calls for a slowdown of legal immigration and blames immigration for “welfare dependency” in the United States.  Sessions also appeared on a Breitbart Radio show last December, where he stated that we’re seeing “more and more persons enter [the United States] and a lot of them have done terrorist acts.”  Sessions also stated that “[t]heir faith commands them to do these things,” and that a Muslim registry was “appropriate” to discuss at this time.  He also thinks stop-and-frisk laws, which have been ruled unconstitutional because it targets minority men, are just fine.

FYI, Jeff Sessions is on the ACLU’s radar.  He’s also on the radar of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is a coalition of more than 200 human rights groups.  Before he is confirmed as Attorney General, Sessions must get through the Senate Judiciary Committee.  This is a two-day process scheduled for January 10-11, 2017.  If Sessions is confirmed by a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it goes to the full Senate, and will also require a majority vote.  By the way.  Sessions is ON the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he will not be able to vote for himself.

If this doesn’t sound good to you, here’s what you can do.

You can contact the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which include:

  • Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
  • Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  • Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • John Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Michael Lee (R-UT)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Chris Coons (D-DE)
  • David Vitter (R-LA)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • David Perdue (R-GA)
  • Thom Tillis (R-NC)

If you are a constituent, call the office of your senator and tell them you oppose the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, especially if one of your senators is Republican.  There are 10 Republican votes and nine Democrat votes if no one switches party lines.

Also contact your senators, even if they’re not on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  They will have to vote on any confirmation, and if a majority do not confirm Sessions, it’s a no go.  The Republicans will have a majority come January, with 52 seats as opposed to 48 seats for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean individuals can’t be swayed.

Why Russia Matters

Things are developing on a daily basis with PEOTUS.  On Friday, the Washington Post published an article about how a CIA assessment made clear that Russia not only interfered with the election, but did so to help Trump win.  On Sunday, Trump was interviewed by Fox News, and during that interview he denied the CIA’s findings.

Of course, he’s supplemented that interview with the following tweets:

In a statement released on Friday Trump’s transition team also had this to say:

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”

CIA’s Assessment

This is not entirely new news.  On October 31, 2016, the New York Times published an article about the FBI investigation into interference with Russia.  That article stated that FBI investigators “have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.”

The CIA assessment goes further, and states that they have identified individuals who are closely connected to the Russian government, and these individuals provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from Democrats, including from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta (remember him from #Pizzagate?).  The CIA has reported that it is now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal.

President Obama has ordered a full review and report on the issue, and wants the report before he transitions out of office on January 20, 2017.

What Does this Mean?

The CIA report is classified and has not been made public.  It’s hard to understand the extent to which hacking impacted the election.  I have not seen any reputable news source stating that Russia was able to actually infiltrate any voting machines.  Instead, credible news sources state that individuals connected to the Russian government hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s emails with the intent to support Trump in the election.  Notably, the New York Times states that Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Committee’s emails but did not release any of those documents.

This means that there is a foreign government directly interfering with our elections and backing a leader it believes will be most beneficial.  This type of interference is unprecedented in our democracy.

Why Does it Matter?

You might be asking yourself why it matters that Russia cares about U.S. politics, and you might even be asking why Russia is so bad.  It’s not just because its leader likes to run around looking like this:

putin-on-a-horse

Vladimir Putin is the President of Russia.  He was a member of the KGB, Russia’s intelligence agency, before getting involved in politics in the 1990s.  His policies on international intervention are broad and militaristic.  In the past few years, he has ordered Russian troops to seize Crimea from the Ukraine, has authorized Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, and is actively working to increase its nuclear weapons capabilities.  Let’s also not forget that Russia intervened in Chechnya’s war several years ago, and in the process committed dozens of war crimes against Chechens.

Putin has enacted many restrictive human rights policies during his time as president.  For example, to name a few: (1) Russia is ranked 148 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index, which ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists; (2) there have been multiple allegations of torture and abuse, despite the fact that the Constitution of Russia forbids it; (3) the rise of xenophobia, racism, and nationalism; (4) the June 2013 ban of “propaganda” relating to LGBT relationships; (5) the June 2013 law banning adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples; and (6) the rise in human trafficking out of Russia.

UPDATE: I missed a very important part of why it matters that Russia is meddling in our democratic system.  This is not the first time Russia has interfered with elections in foreign countries.  Many believe that Russian presence on social media impacted Brexit.  The Foreign Policy Initiative held a conference call on this very subject this summer, during which it provided evidence that Russia has provided support for Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Front, a conservative political party in France.  Russia has also been accused of influencing elections in Estonia and the Ukraine.

Russia wants to influence elections for a lot of reasons.  An in depth report on this, referenced by Politico, states that Russia does this for the following reasons:

  • To undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
  • To foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
  • To erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
  • To popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations; and
  • To create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

Russia does this to weaken their opponents.  They’re bragging about it:

Aleksandr Dugin is an advisor to Putin, and is a lead theorist of the underpinnings of Putinism.  He has been likened to Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon, in terms of his influence and role.  Russia is celebrating, and we’re the losers.

What are People Doing About it?

I previously posted about the legal efforts underway to stop Trump from taking office in January.  Those efforts are growing, in part in response to the CIA’s assessment.  There is a movement to brief the electors of the Electoral College on the CIA’s findings before they cast their votes on December 19, 2016.  Ten electors have explicitly asked for a briefing on the issue, and there is support from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  Russia’s involvement in the election may weigh in as a factor when the electors make their decisions.

UPDATE:  The number has now grown to 40 electors who would like to receive a briefing on Russian involvement before the Electoral College votes.  Additionally, there is now support for pushing back the date of the Electoral College vote to accommodate such a briefing:

There is also a new movement in support of directly invalidating the election.  Again, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but the legal basis for this course of action seems tenuous, and invalidating an election, without evidence of actual hacking of voting machines, would be a huge blow to democracy.  At this point, it seems that unless some of the electors of the Electoral College vote against Trump, it is still unlikely that a legal movement will stop Trump from taking office.

LAST WORDS:

It seems insane to be talking about Russian interference in this day and age, but this is real.  This is not a conspiracy theory, and has been verified by individuals in the highest levels of their respective agencies.  We may never know the extent of the interference, at least until the CIA report becomes unclassified.  However, we should be very concerned that our president-elect sees no problem with this, especially in the face of bi-partisan support for investigating the issue.  Our democracy is only as strong as the people who protect it, and interference from foreign governments into our electoral process is about as big a hit to democracy as there is.

Trump that President-Elect!

I’ve had several people ask me whether there is any legal recourse in preventing Trump from taking office in January.  This is an unprecedented area of the law, and I am no constitutional lawyer, but there is a lot of work being done on this front.  Note: this is action focused on preventing Trump from taking office.  It does not apply to actions that may be available once Trump takes office.  For example, Trump cannot be impeached until he is sworn in.  He cannot violate the Constitution until he takes the oath of office.  But for those interested in what is happening right now, here’s a run down of what I have seen and researched.  Please feel free to weigh in if there are movements of which I am unaware.

Recounts

Recount efforts are underway in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada, and up until yesterday, Michigan.  The votes were fairly close in these battleground states, but not close enough to trigger an automatic recount.  The Republican party, and at times Trump, has challenged these actions to varying degrees of success.

Because these efforts change on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up.  However, regardless of the individual efforts to start and stop the recount process, the takeaway remains the same – Clinton would need to win enough electoral votes to get to 270 total votes, and take those states away from Trump.

How can she do it?  If she wins Florida’s 29 votes, that would do it.  However, the Florida suit was filed by individual voters and not any political party.  These voters allege that Clinton actually won Florida’s electoral votes, but due to hacking, malfunctioning voting machines, and other problems, those votes weren’t recorded accurately.  The plaintiffs request a hand recount funded by Trump, Florida’s Governor Rick Scott, and the electors in Florida.  It is unlikely that this case will go anywhere before the electoral college meets in 11 days.

Clinton could also win if she takes the lead in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  She’d need all three states to get the votes.  Notwithstanding that Michigan’s recount has been halted indefinitely, it’s a tough road to win all three states.  The margins were close, but not that close, and odds aren’t great.

“Conscientious” Electors

There’s a movement called the Hamilton Electors, which is focused on convincing the voters of the Electoral College to vote for someone other than Trump when they meet to vote on December 19, and become “Conscientious Electors.”  There are 538 voters in the Electoral College.  Each state has a number of electoral votes (and voters), who physically meet to cast their votes to elect the president.  According to the Hamilton Electors, quoting Alexander Hamilton, the Electoral College was founded to ensure that “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

The movement involves trying to convince these designated individuals not to vote for Trump.  It’s worked, a little bit.  A Republican elector in Texas published an op-ed in the New York Times this week explaining why he will not vote for Trump.

There has been other work on this front besides bombarding electors with letters, phone calls, and emails.  One law professor and political activist, Lawrence Lessig, is taking additional steps to facilitate electors who may want to switch their votes but only want to do so if there is collective action.  He has established the Electors Trust, a confidential and free resource for electors who want to learn more about their options.  Time will tell how many people take advantage of this service.

There’s more.  Currently, 29 states have laws in place that require electoral voters to vote with the popular vote.  On Tuesday, two voters in Colorado filed a lawsuit to that law in Colorado.  This could open the path for filing similar lawsuits in the rest of the 28 states with similar laws.  The Colorado case hasn’t gone anywhere yet, and people will have to act quickly to get any movement from the courts before December 19.

Abolish the Electoral College.  Now.

Lots of people are talking about what to do with the Electoral College in the future, but some are focused on what to do now.  Again, Lawrence Lessig is at the forefront of this theory.  He published a post outlining the way forward.  The argument rests on the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.  In a nutshell, this argument is premised on the idea that one person should equal one vote, and the current structure of the Electoral College dilutes individuals’ votes.  This happens both at a state to state ratio (i.e., the strength of an individual vote in California is less than the strength of an individual vote in Wyoming), and within the state.  The “within the state,” or “winner takes all” argument is one I have not thought of before.  Here, Equal Protection fails because the entire state votes for one candidate, even if almost half the individuals within the state voted for the other candidate.  The voters who voted for the winner get their vote counted, while the voters who voted for the loser have no impact whatsoever on the election.

Fine, sounds good, but how do you get it done now?  It would have to be decided by the Supreme Court, and would most likely be filed by Attorney Generals of states, who would file the case on behalf of their state with the Supreme Court.  Although I have heard people discuss the concept, I have not seen any action on this front.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (“NPVIC”) is a proposed agreement between states, under which states that are a party to the agreement would assign their electors to vote for whomever wins the popular vote nationwide.  The NPVIC is set to kick in only when enough states join to guarantee the requisite 270 votes.  Eleven states have joined, adding up to 165 votes.  The NPVIC will need another 105 votes before it kicks in, and although legislation has been introduced in all 50 states on this issue, no state has approved the agreement since 2014.  It is unlikely that enough states will sign on and push through legislation to this effect before December 19, but this would bypass the need to amend the Constitution (which, as a reminder, can be done by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, or through a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states).

LAST WORDS:

This is an uphill battle any way you slice it, and time is running out.  I’ll be honest with you – this is not the area I am choosing to spend my time on, but I support and appreciate the ways people are thinking and acting to address some increasingly clear issues with our structure.  I think more talk about the Electoral College is good, and fully support actions to make it more fair overall.

Another aspect of all this, away from the gilded walls of academia, is what impact these avenues might have on our country.  I think a recount showing Clinton actually won the contested states would be the smoothest way to transition Trump out of his role as president-elect, as it is still working within an accepted, already-existing structure.  I think if we, as in Democrats, tried to overthrow the Electoral College it may lead to huge outbreaks of protests and potentially violence.

We’ll see what the Electoral College does in 11 days.  Until then, I’m focusing on what we can do when president-elect Trump becomes President Trump.