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Monday, December 14, 2020: The Real Election Day

GELFAND’S WORLD--As of 4 PM today, December 14, 2020, it was over. The electoral votes were officially cast and Joe Biden received a majority. He only needed 270 to win. 

It is ordinarily just a formality, but faithless electors have existed in small numbers in the past, so the process is carried out with due ceremony and seriousness. This time, the process was followed closely by reporters and television cameras because of the silliness surrounding all the Trump lawsuits. 

This morning, it was a powerful lesson to hear the Attorney General of the state of Pennsylvania tell us that they used a box that had been designed and used by Benjamin Franklin. Some of us were reminded of Franklin's words at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, when he was asked what sort of government they had come up with. "A republic, if you can keep it." 

We have been faced with a concerted effort to demolish our republic -- which depends on the ability to decide our leaders by elections -- and replace it with . . . something. There are those even today (the Texas Republican Party, Alex Jones, the Proud Boys) who continue to threaten and whine and repeat the lies made by the toddler in chief. 

Perhaps we might compare the current political situation with a meeting in early 1865 at the village of Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. General Robert E. Lee was at the end of his ability to carry on the fight. Further efforts would result in the death or capture of his entire army including himself. He agreed to meet with General Ulysses S. Grant. Historical accounts suggest that it was a polite meeting, and that Grant offered generous terms, allowing Lee's army to return to their homes and even to retain some of their firearms. Lee was not exiled or hanged as a traitor, although under the law it might have been possible. It is likely that each general saw and treated the other as an officer and a gentleman. 

And then there is Donald Trump. Here, at the end of his career in high office, he continues attempting to do what he has always done: He tries to suck the humanity out of his opponents. Like some medieval dictator, he makes sure to assert the maximal humiliation and punishment on his foes. He did so when he kept claiming that Obama was not a native born U.S. citizen, he has made similarly nasty pronouncements about everyone who finds fault with him or his actions, and he continues to try to tear down the man who vanquished him in the 2020 election. 

In short, he lacks the gravitas of the true leader, and he doesn't even try to fake it. It's too bad that his followers either don't notice or don't really care that leadership is something we actually need in a president. Trump has been the ultimate circus clown, a court jester without a monarch. 

The next to last, final, election day 

It's a peculiarity of our Constitutional system that the one and only vote that determines the president happened today, Monday, December 14 -- that is to say, a few hours before many of you will be reading this paragraph. On this day, the electors meet in their respective states and sign their names to the forms which say who gets their votes. One eccentricity of our system (unlike a parliamentary system, for example) is that the electoral votes are usually divided between the top two candidates. This is because most states (the exceptions being Nebraska and Maine) assign all their electoral votes to the winning candidate, even if he or she only wins by a few hundred or a few thousand votes. The Greens and the Libertarians and the American Independent party get nothing. 

It is another curiosity of our system that there is no rule or law or Constitutional provision that says anything about electoral cheating. This might very well be something that should be altered, but if that were to happen, it would negatively affect the Republican Party a lot more than it would affect the Democratic Party. So here is the challenge: 

Let's have the continuing scrutiny of the November election, as much as the Republicans and the Trump supporters would like to have. I would suggest that there only be two requirements attached. 

My first requirement is that the scrutiny be open, transparent, and honestly reported. This of course would be exactly the opposite of what we are getting from the current president. But if you want to look for ghostly voters, by all means check the voter rolls and look to see whether any of the names are not attached to living, breathing human beings. By the way, the existence of no-longer-living people on the voter rolls does not count for anything if they didn't vote. There are lots of people who are registered voters and then die prior to an election, and their names are not always scrubbed from the voter lists all that quickly. But the mere fact of finding some names that didn't vote means nothing. 

But here's my second requirement, the one that would hit the Republican Party the hardest: Let's make sure that everyone who is legally allowed to vote gets to vote. The voter suppression tactics that the Republicans have used so effectively have got to go. Back in 2016, Wisconsin wiped 200,000 voters from the rolls, effectively turning the state over to Trump. What's that about a rigged election, Mr. President? 

And every voter should have access to a polling place where he or she does not have to wait in line for hours. 

And finally, there is the gerrymander, which the Republicans have used so effectively to gain an advantage in the number of seats they win in the House of Representatives. 

Is the governor a hypocrite, and if so, who cares? 

It seems that the governor of California went to a dinner party at an expensive restaurant up in wine country -- indoors and more than 10 people -- when this was something the governor was telling us not to do. So shame on Gavin Newsom, who failed in the test of leadership because he failed to set a good example. And by the way, we also have County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who voted to close down indoor restaurant dining as of the following day, and got in one last dinner at her favorite restaurant just before the new rules went into effect. So what she did was perfectly legal -- and she could have announced while making her vote that she would be sure to get in one last dinner in her favorite place that very evening, but then would not be doing so for a while. 

Now I agree that we get to point the finger at Newsom, although I don't think Sheila Kuehl deserves the same treatment because what she did was legal. But as political strategists like to say, the optics were not optimal. 

But to me, the real question is whether they made the right decisions based on the real life situations they were faced with. I think that Newsom was exactly right to attempt to shut down people's gatherings, including indoor restaurant dining. The alternative was that the current spike in Covid-19 would have been even worse. And I think that Sheila Kuehl was not only justified, she was obligated by ethics and morality to vote to close restaurants and bars for the time being. 

What we're seeing in Newsom's case is the behavior of somebody who has gotten used to being chauffeured around and having his dinner check picked up by some lobbyist. Or maybe he's just rich, and buys his own (expensive) dinners. He behaves like an upper class twit from a Monty Python skit. But his stepping over the boundary of the commoner and into the ethereal heights of fine dining in the wine country shouldn't be the real question. The important question is whether he is making the right decisions, signing the right bills, vetoing the bad bills, and generally avoiding the kind of corruption that damages the state and its people. 

So let Gavin grovel and sweat over his French dinner, but keep holding onto the limits on the public's behavior until we're mostly all vaccinated. For that, Newsom was correct, in spite of all the complaining by the Covid-19 deniers. And how could anybody remain a Covid-19 denier by now?

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])

-cw