2020* The Year of the Asterisk in Politics

Posted In: Politics, National, State, Opinion,   From Issue 906   By: Greg Schmid

10th December, 2020     0

2020 will long be known as the year of the global pandemic, when the world economy as we knew it went off the charts. Almost every statistical tracking model will show an asterisk for the year 2020 to account for it as an anomaly - an outlier outside the bounds of analytics.

This is easy to see regarding popular sports statistics, like the abbreviated baseball season that fans have experienced this year, but the anomalies are less easy to spot in politics. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.” Its players are both professionals and amateurs, wise and foolish, well-meaning and sometimes less-so.

The discipline of politics is so broad that a person skilled in the art of achieving political power in today’s democracy can scarcely be expected to know or care how to wield it purely for the public good with respect to any meaningful public policy or enterprise. Indeed, the year 2020 brought challenges that have overwhelmed the democratic systems of our Constitutional Republic.

Politics in a democracy depends on a credible election process that counts every vote – once.

Voter fraud, voter suppression, and over-voting are not new tactics in elections, and the incumbents count the votes. In Michigan we have checks and balances that deter and prevent fraud, and over a thousand  de-centralized local election clerks to frustrate conspirators. We use electronic vote tabulators that are much more accurate than the human eye; we pre-check each tabulator for accuracy prior to elections; we check the voting record in each precinct; and we have paper ballots that we regularly recount by hand at the request of a candidate. 

When the mechanisms of machine vote counted democracy are compromised the thin veneer of civility starts to wear through; it is the perception of consensus and fairness that holds a body politic together and keeps it relevant.

The question is whether 2020 deserves an asterisk – it does.

The means of election manipulation have been in the works for years under the guise of well-meaning election reforms like same-day voter registration, on demand absentee voting, and even the recent anti-gerrymandering amendment. Systematic over-voting can be engineered by organized electioneering contractors who can manipulate same-day registration laws, absentee ballot harvesting, and similar techniques. Because of these factors and despite all our audit capabilities, all remote methods of voting are prone to fraud in the hands of partisan operatives, election clerks and staff.

The pandemic that brought America to her knees in 2020* justified great efforts of partisans and officials to push absentee voting applications on the voting public, and to normalize remote voting methods rather than restrict them for the sake of election integrity.

The American election system was already seemingly on the brink, with the Bush-Gore and Trump-Clinton challenges in our recent past.  The pandemic of 2020* supplied a compelling logic for social distancing, and social distancing protocols justified manufactured demand for mail-in and early voting. These practices are not new, but in 2020 the pandemic brought such practices  to a dangerous level by providing partisan losers a plausible theory to support claims of a rigged election.

This makes the casual observer view as credible the theories of election fraud based on statistical anomalies and anecdotal examples of corrupt election officials caught on tape. It is unlikely that material inaccuracies will be proven in court, within the short timeline available to affect a peaceful transfer of power to the elected president. It is unlikely that the legislature would assert authority over the electors. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court would rule to overturn any election results.

Our tradition for honoring election results will likely result in a non-crisis after all, but the way the media has played this out  to the world at-large has brought our reputation for election integrity down to 3rd world status.

Maybe we deserve it, and maybe it will be our ultimate ruin, but it does not have to be. it is now imperative that every jurisdiction in America must beware paperless ballot tabulators, must watch the software they buy, scrutinize who authorizes that purchase and who has access to ballots and counting rooms. With security cams everywhere now,  all the counting rooms and transfer spots should be easy for the public to surveille.

Subversion happens over generations, and when a population is sufficiently conditioned for radical change it only takes a cataclysm to push a nation’s people over the edge in a relatively short time.  The pandemic of 2020* could be that cataclysm, or we can take it as an opportunity to learn and to detect and deter election fraud threats in the future through the development of rigorous standards for officials and staff at every level, beginning with open observation by the public.

In any event, calls for election disruption, though they may or may not be based on valid election law claims, will not change the fact that Biden will become POTUS in January. America will turn that page.

Frank Zappa famously said that "politics is the entertainment branch of industry." The year 2020* offered up a long list of political entertainment in Michigan and the Nation.

After the Congress gave Americans an Impeachment for Christmas, January brought a reality check as the Senate soundly acquitted Trump. This extravaganza played out against what appeared to be a competitive Democrat party primary, which seemed to be trending away from Biden. Back room deals, probably illusory, convinced the also-rans to jump from the primary train and endorse Biden. Some senators are now coming palms-up to the Big Guy, but a senate majority is a hard thing to risk just to keep a promise, and they may have to wait.

In late January Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer shook things up in Michigan with her "Rebuilding Michigan" plan. Unable to work it out with the Republican-dominated legislature, she used her powers as Governor to get the money to “fix the damn roads.” She bypassed the Legislature to issue $3.5 billion in bond debt to finance reconstruction of state highways and trunkline roads, which was a bold unilateral move for a governor to make. The Michigan Transportation Commission immediately approved the bonds and added many bridges and roads to its projects list.

She argues bond rates are low, so the unilateral move is expedient. Some said it was unfair for a governor to usurp the exclusive province to the elected legislature. How could they know that in a few weeks they would experience a period of executive assertion never before seen in Michigan.

The pandemic came just in time for the governor to imagine herself a potential vice-presidential candidate alongside Biden, but when she overplayed her authority as governor to lock down Michigan’s economy through evergreen emergency declarations and executive orders that outraged the masses and cost the economy billions. The obvious political motivation of the governor caused speculation and resulted in a legal and political counter-response.

Too little-too late was the intervention by the Michigan Supreme Court in the governor’s abuse of power. When it came the governor immediately replaced her own defective executive orders by having her  regulatory agencies issue the orders instead. She could have done so in the first place and avoided the whole fight, but that would not have looked “vice-presidential.”

She had her first 15 minutes of real fame in 2020*, and only time will tell whether the governor’s actions were really well-meaning and effective. Who can question wearing masks and social distancing? By being a bully, the governor made it look like she forgot that people like to be informed, and to be asked – not ordered. The fight she started with her actions and mandates allowed public health to become a political wedge and a distraction. She even inspired the inevitable “plot” to kidnap her as a tyrant, complete with viral videos of hapless fellow travelers living out their patriot fantasies.

Since the court ruling, bipartisan legislation regarding COVID-19 have been enacted to address the pandemic. The legislation includes 2020 PA 238, which provides that employers may not discharge or discipline employees who stay home because they have been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19.

Of course, first responders and the other heroes in health care are denied the option to stay home – that’s why they are called heroes. The legislature also passed an extension of unemployment benefits through the end of the year, set a “gross negligence” standard of care in maintaining health standards in case of exposure, and made it legal for municipalities to conduct their public meetings virtually, with zoom calls open to members of the public.

The summer of 2020* brought protests over police brutality issues, but these protests were often manipulated by political operatives who wanted to make news, and turned into riots that ruined businesses and communities. The worst among us use the pain of victims and channel it for their own political narrative. While it is true that some police are bad actors, there is an old saying to the effect that you must watch out for policemen because they are a lot like other people.

The rioting was an attention getter for the “cancel culture’ movement. The perpetrators of violence on every side have stained our national conscience in a way that will take years to heal, and they victimized the people they claimed to help. Rather than accomplish a reset of society, as it should be, the rioters only reminded people that they need the rule of law and police to protect them from the scofflaws and violent thugs.

This fall the presidential election produced results we do not yet fully understand. Americans were fed a steady diet of inevitability for a double-digit Biden landslide in what turned out to be a dead heat of dubious integrity. Statisticians reminded us that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Consequently, there are enough election fraud theories at play in the presidential election for partisans to fight over for years. Just like the last four years. Now the executive staffs and congressional caucuses can exchange scripts once again, and Republicans can start saying the exact same things that their Democrat counterparts said during the last four years, and vice-versa.

The truth is that the pandemic gave Democrats a systematic advantage because they are more skilled in the use of election techniques that were elevated by the pandemic. Democrats always out-produce Republicans in early and absentee voting efforts. Trump took ownership of the pandemic and looked like a showboat at the televised daily COVID briefings last winter. He sealed that perception when he contracted the virus himself. He did not deserve any of it, but his hubris hurt him.

As 2020* draws to a close the nation seems mesmerized by conflicting versions of who has won the election (again), without a focus yet on the reality that Americans prize continuity of Government too much to risk any large scale violence.

The people of America will let this pass. Now that cold weather is here the spread of COVID has returned with a vengeance; people are wearing masks in public and seem to be doing what they know to do to stop the spread.

The election is over, and a recent lockdown on in-person high school and college classes, indoor dining in bars and restaurants, gyms and exercise classes, movie theaters, casinos, and youth sports expire December 9th.

Anticipate a similar lockdown to be imposed on travel and gatherings from Christmas through New Year’s celebrations; the efficacy of distancing is hard to deny. Let us hope as the year ends that people can be vigilant without making the Governor feel like she has to order us to do so, and that she embraces the value of forbearance.

















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