Every Thursday for the last 20+ years a group of artists, scientists, writers and one bail bondsman get together in the Mission District of San Francisco to talk … and have lunch.
The Lunch Guys are: L to R, Randy Alfred (editor & writer), Dan Hubig (artist), Jeffrey Klein (former editor of Mother Jones & West magazines), Jerry Barrish (artist & bail bondsman), Larry Gonick (cartoonist), Michael Castleman (writer), Phil Ryan (lawyer & former Freedom Summer participant), Andrew Moss (epidemiologist & writer) and Enrico Deaglio (writer).
Not pictured - Michael Nolan, (activist & promoter),Bernard Ohanian (editor & writer), Dean Rindy (political media consultant), Michael Singsen (lawyer) and Frank Viviano (writer).
Sometimes the conversation happens via email rather than at lunch. This is an email conversation from Nov. 28, 2016.
Viviano: Just 48 hours ago, in a conversation with our esteemed Italian colleague (Enrico Deaglio), I predicted that nothing would come of the 2016 election recount campaign. At that point, neither the Clinton team nor the DNC was offering that campaign any support. Now I am not so sure, caro Enrico.
As of today, the Clinton team has officially decided to participate in recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump's lead is razor thin and 46 electoral votes are at stake. Clinton's current total is 232. Those states alone would be more than enough to call the entire election into question, especially in view of her finish with a 2-million-ballot lead in the nationwide popular vote. (Logically, they should also be looking at Florida, with 29 electoral votes. where the gap is just over 1 percent.)
There's plenty of reason to suspect abnormalities, beginning with evidence of Russian and other hacking activities. There's also plenty of reason to believe that overturning the election verdict would lead to widespread severe violence and possibly de facto insurrection.
The question: What will happen -- what is each party likely to do -- if the recounts declare Hillary the winner after all?
Hubig: Unfortunately, I think it's hopeless. They must find real proof of tampering, not just 'indications' and it must be substantial enough to turn the results. In Pennsylvania that's extremely difficult. She lost by 70,000 there and a huge number of their stations don't have proper recount ability. If some solid proof was found, in more than one or two states, then it ought to call the entire process into question. However, that would be the most unlikely thing for the government to deal with ... A complete re-vote in those states?? Never gonna happen.
I couldn't agree more that if somehow the process were forced to be redone or if enough false votes were found to change the outcome, then the civil war would begin for real. Things are beyond serious.
Alfred: Dan is right: Things are beyond serious. But the unlikely is not atypical this year.
In Viviano's scenario, if some irregularities are found, some state(s) may send two different sets of electoral votes to Congress. The newly seated 115th Congress would then decide which votes to honor.
Congress would most probably honor the votes of the Republican electors. I agree with Browning that the process would not ensue without violence. Putin will rejoice.
However, if Congress does not recognize enough undisputed electoral votes for either Trump or Clinton to reach 270, and there is even one "faithless elector" who votes for a third candidate -- perhaps a pre-negotiated semi-compromise (e.g., Paul Ryan) -- then the House of Reps would select the president from the top three candidates. Each state has one vote. The GOP-controlled House would elect Ryan or whomever the "faithless" elector put into the running, Constitutionally.
Putin would still rejoice.
Who won this election? Putin.
Ohanian: A perspective from a friend of mine who is a chief of staff for a Democratic congresswoman, and is as distressed about the election results as any of us:
"Jill Stein's 'audit the vote' GoFundMe is a scam.
• Stein won't guarantee that all the funds raised will go to the recount effort, and in raising $5 million has doubled the total raised for her entire 2016 campaign
• The voting machines in rural counties in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania cannot be hacked remotely
• To rig the vote would require three separate statewide conspiracies involving several hundred poll-watchers from both political parties, all of whom would need to know how to hack thousands of individual voting machines.
Recounts come in different forms. One is checking the math. Another is a sample of a couple dozen machines, which appears to be what Wisconsin is undertaking. A more thorough and much more expensive option is to recount every ballot. Stein is selling this to donors, but unless the sampling option shows large errors, there's absolutely no way they'll recount every ballot.
In the entire history of U.S. recounts there has NEVER been an election result overturned by the margin of the closest state result -- Michigan, at 10,470 votes.
Ryan: My view is that Frank is correct to fear severe violence should the election returns be overturned. But I also fear that there will be widespread violence during Trump's presidency. I believe the utter impotence of the Democratic Party will require direct action on the streets. Unlike the peaceful civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of our generation, violence from the right and/or the U.S. government will be the response.
It seems clear to me our countrymen and women have voted for a fascist government. Checks and balances of our Founders are gone as all three branches are controlled by the right and the alt-right. Voter suppression by the Trump party -- already successful -- will be expanded and nationalized. The U.S. media, that corruptly created Trump, will be powerless to resist Trump's suppression of free factual speech in favor of the death of truth.
My hope is that my 18-year-old grandson will be safe in a university as they may be the final institutions on the fascist's hit list.
Rindy: With all due respect, the results will not be overturned.
Bernard Ohanian is exactly right, for the reasons he lists. D.C. observers also think Stein is really raising money for the Green Party. The Clinton campaign attorneys already stated they found “no actionable” grounds on which to complain. They are tagging along with Stein now so that just in case anything does turn up, they will have official skin in the game.
The Russians didn’t do it, because they couldn’t. The U.S. has the most decentralized voting system in the world. Tens of thousands of precincts, with different kinds of counting systems, which are not linked together, with votes tabulated and simultaneously reported by thousands of local officials in real time. You can’t "hack in" to the American election system. Cheating and mistakes certainly occur from time to time by individuals in various places, but nothing on this scale can be manufactured.
I don’t know why people don’t mention the one entity that has the most powerful motive and best resources to attempt large scale vote theft -- the Republican Party. They have already manipulated the election far more effectively than any outside interest could by suppressing thousands of votes with their draconian “anti-voter fraud” laws.
Unfortunately for “the Republicans did it” theory, the pattern is pretty clear and consistent throughout the midwest. Clinton lost outright or had diminished margins in county after county that had gone for Obama. These were Democratic counties and towns. The votes were counted and reported by Democratic officials. Maybe thousands of them were bought off, but I doubt it.
Hubig: Sadly, I couldn't agree more with Dean.
Ohanian: I would add another "civil war would begin" scenario: if the electoral college were somehow to elect HRC (the chances of which strike me as less than infinitesimal).
Viviano: My question wasn't whether the recount would succeed. It was what each party might be expected to do should that unlikely event occur. The responses were illuminating but none really addressed the question, which had more to do with the perceived institutional coherence of the two parties that have framed almost all political life in America since the Civil War. Institutional failure at many levels of American society -- most notably in the media -- is central to the crisis of fraudulent populism that afflicts us (and the larger world today).
More disturbingly, no one responded to the follow-up question: the best scenario for the years ahead. Disturbing because it suggests that there aren't any. Can't think of one myself.
Hubig: I think the bottom line issue now is, What is the productive political path once a society has reached the point where lying is the norm? What does one say to someone or some organization that will only make up a response that attacks you or your principles regardless of the facts? If people don't care or can't see what's happening then you are totally vulnerable, no matter the strength of your views. We're in a fight to the death and our only weapon (reason) is useless.
With what I just said in mind and trying to answer Frank's question, I'd say that the Democrats would get crushed. The Republicans would give no quarter and the Dems, at best, might push for a "reconciliation " government comprised of both parties. But that could only happen if the Supreme Court believed in the recount. Who would expect that ? Who would go along with it? Seems to me that our society and institutions are starting to fail. Half of the country believes in our institutions and half does not. We are setting ourselves up for a strongman government to control discontent ... one that might just be here already.
Viviano: I think Dan's observation is right on point. The authority of reason itself -- the animating force of the Italian Renaissance and the French enlightenment, the parent of modern science and the cornerstone of functional Democracy -- is in fatal decline. For most people, the purpose of both journalism and politics today is no longer enlightenment in any sense. They are branches of entertainment with a sideshow in religion, meant to provoke, amuse or terrify, with little or no factual content. When an outright lie makes the rounds, it is absorbed by millions of people within seconds. When it is challenged in what remains of the infrastructure that serves rational discourse, the rebuttal reaches no more than an infinitesimal fraction of that audience.
The Republican right has understood the implications of this revolution far better than the progressive left, who have admirably but impotently clung to their faith in reason. The only recent historical parallel we have at our disposal is the abandonment of reason by the Germans between 1928 and 1945. It's an instructive precedent, but not sufficient to tell us where we are headed, because radio -- the principal instrument of Nazi propaganda and foment -- had nothing like the global range and visceral force offered by the new communications technology and (to paraphrase Hannah Arendt) its banal enablers.
The only glimmer of hope in this mire is faint and troubling. Irrationality is not an effective platform for governance. Consider the state of the Middle East: the pioneering laboratory in the fusion of modern communications, incendiary fact-aversion and religion. Things are almost certain to go very sour very quickly in Trump's America. But that doesn't guarantee that they can't get worse.
Alfred: Here's a glimmer of hope (maybe), Frank:
“The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide (i.e., all 50 states and the District of Columbia). It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes, and will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more electoral votes. The bill has passed one chamber in 12 additional states with 96 electoral votes. Most recently, the bill was passed by a bipartisan 40-16 vote in the Republican-controlled Arizona House, 28-18 in Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate, 57-4 in Republican-controlled New York Senate, and 37-21 in Democratic-controlled Oregon House.”
Too late for 2016 and perhaps (given the culture of disinformation) too late altogether.
Nolan: I think if we could come up with a face-saving way for Donald to resign in the middle of his term, he would accept.
Viviano: Thereby making Pence president. He's a true believer, a Bible-thumping Christian Taliban. Trump believes only in Trump.
Nolan: Yes, Frank, making him dangerous and unpredictable to the GOP. Pence, Ryan et al. probably already realize that Trump's emotional instability and erratic behavior were tolerable, if not downright effective, during the campaign, but profoundly dysfunctional in the role of leader of their country and cause. They'll beckon Donald to a Come to Jesus meeting and provide him with a glorious way to depart.
Viviano: You may be right, Michael. What a choice: between a rightwing fanatic and an empty megalomaniac.
Ohanian: I think he'll resign at some point. Otherwise he's going to be BORED OUT OF HIS MIND. He has no taste for, or patience for (and certainly no aptitude for) the daily business of government.
Nolan: I'll take the former, please. I think Pence may fall safely within the Sanity Clause. Open to a modicum of reason and negotiation. Trump is patently out-to-lunch, and I'm not referring to our Thursday Group.
Singsen: Don't hold your breath waiting for Trump to walk. Perhaps the most chilling comment he made in that remarkable interview with the NYT snotty bootlickers came at the end of an incoherent response to a question about potential conflicts of interest. He said: "The only thing that matters to me is running our country."
I think he actually means it. Our best hope, the optimistic scenario, is that the newly emboldened alt-right and the professional RINO's in Congress can't agree on much, and that their battle plays out in a divided administration, with Trump going this way and that as his mood requires, including some moves that will surprise cynics like us, leading to grid lock, inflation, and sourness and feelings of betrayal by the now-giddy hard-right, hopefully manifested before the mid-term elections, so that what should be a very good year for the GOP is moderated -- setting up a decent shot for a retooled Democratic party led by someone from the Sanders/Warren side.
Viviano: Michael S.'s analysis makes sense to me, above all because of Trump's out-sized psychopathic ego. Whenever I imagine his impatience making him antsy, and thinking he'd rather do other things -- which is certainly plausible -- I still doubt that his absurd sense of self-importance would be compatible with resignation. The presidency is the ultimate Big Lebowski.
Nolan: Let us do whatever we can to hasten the day -- whether it be through resignation, impeachment or electoral defeat by a reinvigorated Democratic Party.
Ryan: In response to Frank V's what to do next, I offer the following:
I recommend we leave traditional party politics to those who brought us here. The 2 million popular vote majority Hillary won is an organizing tool -- not for recounts, litigation and hand wringing, but direct action, i.e., the streets.
1) Organize demonstrations at Trump Hotels leading to a boycott until Trump divests himself of his Trump financial holdings and complies with the "emoluments" provision of the U.S. Constitution. The hotels are an inviting target to attach Trump's brand name. I believe Culinary Workers union has done this in the past so I'll contact them. Some of us believe Trump is about a kleptocracy and that is what should be attacked. Let's see how long he holds onto his "white working class" when they see pickets around his hotels, videos of lobby sit-ins, photos and videos of foreign business men and foreign diplomats patronizing his hotels. It also creates an alliance between young activist and union members. The notion is to force Trump's personal and family greed to conflict with his public servant duties. The President gets paid $400,000 a year, rent-free mansion housing, an airplane bigger than Trump's and nice black servants to attend to his every non-sexual need. This should give his white working class voters something to think about.
2) I'm working on a plan to organize around sanctuary cities from Trump's threat to cut their federal funds. It should be noted that 20 states and D.C. are sanctuary cities. This comprises 52.74 % of the total U.S. population. It's vital to note that Trump has no power to compel states and local police to detain/arrest/prosecute anyone. The police power resides in the state per 10th Amendment. It's ironic that this old 60's Mississippi civil rights guy is now clamoring for States' Rights! But when one starts to study California's population and economic clout it invites a different view of state's rights. California's population is 12.7% of the total population of America. In 2014 California paid the federal government $46.2 billion in business taxes and $314.3 billion in individual and employment taxes. The truth is that California tax payers effectively fund benefits for citizens of Mississippi, Alabama and other small and poor states. The notion that Trump can cut federal funds to L.A., S.F., San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland and San Jose (with a population of 7,399,498) because he disagrees with local police chiefs should make a Johnny Reb get hard! In other words don't organize as sympathy advocates but as protecting the police powers of California and it's law enforcement.
I'm checking with my tax guys to figure out a way for the State to make up for Fed funds to cities cut by Trump and if there's any way to withhold California federal taxes for Trump's violation of States rights.
All this talk about states' rights makes me think I should wear a white hood to lunch Thursday. I do wish Jeff was here to tell me I'm full of it or what better ways there might be to resist.
Gonick: When he was a civilian, he only sued people. Now he can prosecute them.
Alfred: Adding on, regarding the corporations/emoluments issue, the courts might invoke Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. ___ (2014), in which the Supreme Court drew a line between closely held corporations and those that are publicly traded. The decision allowed Hobby Lobby to invoke religious freedoms for its corporate policies denying contraceptive care in employee health plans.The Trump corporations are closely held -- the emoluments clause might well apply if those corporations receive payments, subsidies or any other direct benefits from federal, state or local governments. Just an idea. I'm no lawyer. Further study by expert attorneys needed.
Article II, Section 1, antepenultimate paragraph:
"The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them."
The question then arises of payments made by any governmental agency to any of Trump's corporations, even if they are not payments to him directly but to the fictive persons of the corporations. If he winds up profiting personally, Phil might have a good case here. Also, at a trivial level, this would seem to mean that the Prez can't collect Social Security or Medicare benefits.
Ryan: Synonyms for emolument include:
payment, remuneration, fee, compensation benefit.
Also, I'm not making a legal case. I'm making a political statement delivered by direct street action taking advantage of the Internet as we took advantage of TV in the civil rights and anti-war movements.
As for Trump losing Medicare and Social Security that makes us equal as Speaker Ryan (no relation genetically or politically) plans to take both away from all of us.
Singsen: Two problems with putting too much hope in the emoluments clause. The Clause expressly allows the Congress to make exceptions by giving consent to the President to accept such benefits. And the issue is almost certainly non-justiciable, meaning no Court will step in and resolve what is a political problem. If Congress chooses to look the other way, or to actually give consent, end of story ... unless the people shall rise with one voice and shout down the tyrant. Not likely.
Alfred: Yes, it's political, but organizers can point out to the public that giving funds to the closely held corporations is the same as giving funds to Trump.
Also, I'm missing where the clause allows Congress to make exceptions. It seems pretty clear about stated times, for his services, a fixed amount and no other emoluments.
Ryan: Let me be clear. I'm not putting any hope in law cases, legislative or executive action, much less electoral politics. That battle is finished and we lost. Lost the presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court.
I'm convinced the only way to save our Republic from fascism is in the streets. Attacking Trump's economic holdings with direct, disruptive action vividly displayed on the Internet and in the media (if they haven't been intimidated or suppressed) is the only "check and balance" still available to the American people.
Hopefully it will be creative and non-violent. But as Fredrick Douglas wisely said: "Power concedes nothing but to a demand. It never has and it never will."
I wish we were all 30 again.