A history and explanation of the Hatch Act – The Fulcrum
According to a special counsel report, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is one 13 top officials in the Trump administration who violated the Hatch Act.
May is a senior research associate at Boise State University.
Thirteen top officials of the Trump administration violated the federal law known as the Hatch Act, which prohibits political campaigning while employed by the federal government. That’s the conclusion of a federal government report issued by the special counsel, Henry Kerner.
The officials, including then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “chose to use their official authority not for the legitimate functions of the government, but to promote the reelection of President Trump in violation of the law.”
The Trump administration members were not the first federal employees to have crossed the line into prohibited political advocacy. Over the past few decades, government employees have been documented violating the Hatch Act in their offices, at meetings and in memos. And in a world awash in social media, it has become much easier for people to share their views about politics digitally.
But government employees work for the people of the United States. Paid with the tax dollars of Democrats and Republicans, they are supposed to work in the public interest, not use the power of the federal government to pursue partisan political causes.
The ideal of public employees as politically neutral is, at its core, driven by accountability.
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For many government employees, the appearance of political impartiality is an overriding principle that governs their professional lives. Upholding this principle can even cause them to sacrifice their own electoral influence outside of the office.
I am a scholar of public policy and administration, and my research indicates that many would rather not vote in a party’s primary election, where they would be required to publicly state what party they belong to.
Where is the line between professional standards and political speech?
Public servants, the argument goes, should be neutral and concerned only with implementing public policy that is decided by elected officials. This principle has driven the field of public administration for more than 100 years.
Passed in 1939, the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from running for partisan office, encouraging subordinates to engage in political activity, soliciting political contributions or engaging in political activity while on duty. It does not prohibit affiliating with a political party, discussing politics or attending fundraisers.
The Hatch Act generally only applies to federal employees. It does not apply to the president, vice president or Cabinet appointments. It can also cover state and local government employees, if their work is at least partially funded by federal dollars. Several states, such as Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio, have additional laws that can further restrict the political activity of public employees, even if their positions aren’t federally funded.
From 2010 through 2016, the Office of the Special Counsel, or OSC, which investigates Hatch Act violations, received an average of 315 Hatch Act complaints per year, which resulted in an average of 102 warning letters per year. An average of nine employees per year have resigned from their positions in response.
Some recent examples of Hatch Act violations include asking others to “help our candidates” and pressuring supervisors to allow employees time off in order to campaign for their union’s preferred candidate. Others coordinated partisan elections using taxpayer-funded resources. Even retweeting a post from the president of the United States on social media constituted a violation.
During the early years of the United States, the federal government operated under a system known as “patronage.”
Under that system, a newly elected president could replace federal employees with a person of their choosing. Often, they chose only from among their supporters, campaign workers and friends. This was especially true if the presidency changed political parties.
The public bureaucracy was constantly changing, and few officials were around long enough to develop institutional memory. In addition, patronage led to the appointment of people who were not qualified for the positions they got, leaving the government inefficient and the public dissatisfied.
President Woodrow Wilson, prior to his presidency, and Frank Goodnow, writing separately at the end of the 19th century, first articulated the theory that there should be a wall between elected officials who set public policy and the professional staff charged with implementing that policy.
A professional class of government employees was not the tradition of the United States at that time, and the public had to be convinced of its virtue. Wilson’s essay tried to help the wider population understand why civil service reforms were necessary.
There was another event that also helped move government employment from patronage to professionalism. In 1881, a man who felt he had been unfairly passed over for a patronage job shot and killed President James Garfield. This assassination helped highlight the problems of the patronage system and led to the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883. That legislation instituted a merit-based civil service system that remains largely in place today.
Under the system instituted in 1883, only the top levels of federal agencies can be replaced by patronage appointments – friends, supporters and allies of the new administration. The remaining levels of rank-and-file staff are expected to be nonpartisan professionals. In many respects, the Hatch Act can be seen as an outgrowth of this ideal.
The boundary between politics and civil service employees is not necessarily easy to see or maintain. Scholars have wrestled with whether government employees, charged with implementing vague public policy, can really be separated entirely from political concerns.
In fact, some scholars have rejected the separation as fanciful. In an important debate between preeminent public administration scholar Dwight Waldo and Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon, Waldo argued that when some decision-making is left to administrators, an administrator’s own politics will influence those decisions. In short, public employees are not actually neutral. Simon, on the other hand, argued that efficient government required that administrative decisions should emphasize objective facts and not be influenced by a public employee’s personal values.
While most public administration scholars have moved beyond debate about the dichotomy itself, public employees still have to grapple with their proper role. And they do so as they work for elected policymakers, who themselves still think that they are the only ones who should drive what all levels of government do.
For over a century, public employees have generally subscribed to an ethos that theirs is a professional role separated from the daily political grind. In the modern era, it takes far more discipline to maintain that separation. And it does not appear to be getting any easier.
CNBC reporter Christina Wilkie’s tweet about Kellyanne Conway’s attack on a Democratic political candidate; Conway was found to have violated the Hatch Act. Twitter
In 2015, the Hatch Act was clarified to prohibit federal employees from, among other things, liking or retweeting a political candidate while on the job, even during break time. Some in sensitive positions, like law enforcement or intelligence, are even prohibited from doing so during their off-hours.
Despite that attempt at clarity, in today’s hyperpartisan climate, social media and 24-hour connectivity have helped blur the line between a public employee acting in their official capacity and their private life.
The Trump administration officials’ violations help remind us that the line between political activity and professional neutrality still exists for federal employees. And in this increasingly connected world, the opportunities to fall short are plentiful.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Help! I’m going to visit with my family this Thanksgiving. While I love my family, there are some who have very different views than mine. For the last few years, many of our meals have ended with us screaming about politics and stuff. I don’t know if I can keep doing this. Do you have any suggestions?
Yes, I’m getting this question a lot: how to survive the holidays with family and friends who voted differently than you, or hold opposing views about politics and public health.
Tension and anxiety are high. Polarized viewpoints seem to be our new norm! In spite of this polarized context, there are ways for you to take care of yourself during the holidays, while preserving or reigniting the integrity of your relationships.
Here are some tips:
I call the first option the “No!” strategy, where you set a firm boundary to have zero discussions on volatile topics. This strategy can help when you feel unsafe or feel threatened. The second, I call the “No, and …” strategy where you say, “I’m still willing to engage. However I will only do so if you honor this need.”
You have a range of options, far more than just yes or no. Recognizing the subtleties of boundary-setting can lead to empowering openings for all involved!
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2. Be curious. Notice your own words, practice silence and do your best to listen. The dinner table might not be the best place for others to hear your viewpoints. Consider your attachment to being right and to proving others wrong. If you listen to what others have to say, you may learn something new, or receive information you didn’t have previously, that might help you find common ground and peace at this time.
3. Show love and compassion. If the people you will be spending time with are family or friends, remember how they have loved you, and how you have loved them. Though views evolve and connections can become strained, these bonds may transcend politics and beliefs on vaccines and masks.
4. Practice daily: Find time to do the things that empower you and bring you balance and peace. Do practices that currently work for you – jogging, yoga, tai chi, etc. This can help you regulate your nervous system and foster stronger connection to your heart.
5. Contact your support network. Sometimes connecting with allies can reduce anxiety and tense emotions. Perhaps you can arrange with three of your trusted friends that if you need them, they will be close to the phone to help you ground and find balance. Offer to be a support to your friends as well.
6. Use humor. See whether you can keep things light. Human beings – all of us – are pretty funny creatures. Humor is a great way to diffuse tension and reactive behavior and still stay engaged, without feeling like you are betraying your boundaries or integrity.
These are just a few ideas. Perhaps you have others? I’d love to hear about them.
We are navigating a time of tremendous transitions which offers challenges as well as opportunities for growth. Resilience grows through respect; compassion helps us build bridges, which we need now more than ever.
Sending you holiday wishes of peace, inner strength and compassion with yourself and others.
“Ask Joe” is dedicated to exploring the best ways to transform tensions and bridge divides. Our resident advice columnist and conflict resolution specialist, Joe Weston, is here to answer your questions in order to resolve tension, polarization, or conflict.
While Greta Thunberg dismissed COP26 as a “failure,” the rising influence of young protesters is a sign of good things to come, writes Carney.
In the quest for civic success stories, the very last place to look might appear to be climate news. The best efforts of the United Nations Climate Change Conference will not be enough to avert the worst effects of warming, scientists say.
Little wonder youth climate activist Greta Thunberg has dismissed the COP26 global summit in Glasgow as “a green wash festival” and “a failure.” But the derision of Thunberg and thousands of other young COP26 protesters is precisely what makes the summit a potential turning point. Shifting politics and coalitions, new players and new narratives all cut against the inevitable parade of stories predicting climate doom.
Here are a few pieces of good climate news worth noting, for the sake of building the political will to press ahead with the real solutions that remain within reach. As former President Barack Obama cautioned at the summit, even as he acknowledged that the future can look bleak, “cynicism is the recourse of cowards. We can’t afford hopelessness.”
Scientists have been the first to throw cold water on the lofty pledges made in Glasgow, pointing out that world leaders’ commitments to zero out emissions are not ambitious or immediate enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the target considered essential to avoid disastrous sea-level rise, heat waves and ecosystem collapse.
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Yet even scientists have derived hope from changing climate politics. At the first U.N. climate summit in 1995, The Washington Post noted, Green parties were written off as fringe activists. Green parties in Europe are now mainstream, having won about 10 percent of seats in the European Parliament’s most recent elections. In the United States, 60 percent of people now call climate change a major threat, a near-20-point shift since 2013.
Today, as the world reels from unrelenting natural disasters, “no one is questioning the science, no one is questioning that the crisis is happening,” Annika Hedberg, who leads sustainability research at the European Policy Center, told The Post. “The debate is around what can be done and at what speed. This is a positive thing — we’re not questioning the science but the measures.”
Youth climate activists’ speeches were “the best part” of the COP26 summit, according to the sustainability news site Green Matters, and arguably the most important. Youth activists who made their voices heard in Glasgow included Mikaela Loach, a U.K.-based activist who said climate and justice cannot be separated, Vanessa Nakate, who described how decreased rainfall has devastated crops in her native Uganda, and Kenya-based Elizabeth Wathuti, who warned that Africa’s deadly heat waves, wildfires and floods are just beginning.
All three dramatized their stories with emotional appeals, a tactic that legendary conservationist Jane Goodall calls crucial to environmental activism. “Being angry and pointing fingers, you won’t get anywhere,” Goodall has said. “You just have to reach people’s hearts. And the best way I know is to tell stories. My job now is to try and help people understand every one of us makes a difference. And cumulatively, wise choices in how we act each day can begin to change the world.”
Young people may have the most at stake in the climate debate — the average 6 year old will live through triple the number of climate disasters as their grandparents, a recent study found — but they were hardly the only ones protesting in Glasgow. Indeed, the climate movement is becoming a political force building coalitions across causes from economic inequity to civil rights.
The estimated 100,000 protesters who gathered in Glasgow were joined by activists in Paris, London, and some 200 other locations around the world. Among the most visible and vocal were youth activists with “Fridays for Future,” the international movement built around school walkouts launched by Thunberg when she was just 15. But now Thunberg is 18, and she and her fellow students are poised to win fresh influence as adult voters and soon-to-be influence leaders.
And as the climate movement comes of age, it is becoming something of an umbrella campaign for a broad array of progressive causes. Activists in Glasgow included Black rural residents in Brazil concerned about how mining is affecting indigenous communities, vegan activists and social justice advocates opposed to police brutality.
A potent partnership may be emerging between climate activists and labor organizers, who have gained new leverage in this season of strikes and wage demands. Stuart Graham, a Glasgow trade union official and one of the protest organizers, told The New York Times that his top concerns include improving the city’s housing stock and boosting free public transportation. “It’s critical that we have a civil society with a powerful voice to hold these leaders to account,” Graham said.
The shared interests of environmental and labor activists may hold the key to whether global leaders step up the pace on climate action in time to avert disaster. Too often, environmental debates have descended into fights over jobs versus conservation. Obama urged protesters in Glasgow to “stay angry,” but also to “build the broad-based coalitions necessary for bold action.” The Glasgow protests, in a final bit of good news, hint at the potential to bridge the longstanding worker-environmentalist divide.
Pearce Godwin, founder and CEO of the Listen First Project, joins Deconstructed to discuss what is driving the political divide and how to fix it. After working for the U.S. Senate and serving as a national political consultant for campaigns, Godwin traveled to Africa with a relief organization to gain a fresh perspective which ultimately led him to found the Listen First movement.
Ever since the military draft was abolished in 1973, the U.S. armed forces have been populated by Americans who volunteer to serve their country. And for many, that civic engagement carries over when they become veterans.
The latest edition of the Veterans Civic Health Index, which measures the civic contributions of veterans, found that those who serve in the military outperform civilians in nearly every category, in some cases by significant margins.
“More than 18 million living Americans have served in the military. All who joined after 1974 – and some before – voluntarily chose to join the cause of defending the country from all enemies foreign and domestic,” reads the report, produced by the National Conference on Citizenship, in partnership with The Mission Continues and Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America. “It is logical that a subpopulation with a demonstrated disposition for military service would also have a predilection toward the behaviors that indicate civic health.”
This fourth edition of the Veterans CHI breaks out data on post-9/11 veterans, which it classifies as those under 50 years old, for the first time.
The report found that 74.7 percent of all veterans voted in the 2020 presidential election, outpacing the non-veterans (66.9 percent). That’s an increase of nearly 5 points for veterans from 2016. Nearly 80 percent of all veterans were registered to vote in 2020, while non-veterans were under 73 percent.
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Those gaps carry over when the data is broken down by age group: 75 percent of younger veterans were registered to vote and 65.8 cast ballots in 2020. Among non-veterans under 50, those numbers were 69.1 percent and 61.7 percent, respectively.
“Many veterans have a vested interest in the political process. The debate to send service members to war, the oversight of national security, and the budget decisions that impact pay for military members come down to elected leaders in the federal government. The immediate and direct connection to the military for decision makers in Washington can make a real difference. When those direct connections do not exist, the voter participation of veterans, service members, and military families becomes even more important,” the report states.
The index also compares volunteerism among veterans. While the differences between veterans and non-veterans are not statistically significant in this category, there has been growth from the first edition of the report, in 2015. That report found 26 percent of all veterans provided volunteer work in their communities in 2013; by 2019 (the most recent data available), that number was up to 30.1 percent. There was no difference among older veterans and non-veterans in 2019, but in the under-50 cohort, veterans slightly outperformed their counterparts (31.8 percent to 30.2 percent).
Researchers did note a difference in the number of hours volunteered, writing: “Though they are less likely to volunteer, the older veterans who do volunteer are able to log more hours than younger veterans, averaging 100 hours per year compared to 78. In all categories, veterans log more hours than non-veterans.”
The researchers also measured the social connectivity of veteran and non-veterans, examining factors like helping or spending time with neighbors. While the veterans were 10 percent more likely than non-veterans to demonstrate “neighborliness,” the gap didn’t carry over through all age groups.
“Young veterans are slightly less likely (17.9 percent) to do something positive for the neighborhood than are young non-veterans (18.6 percent). This is a surprising finding, given young veterans’ propensity for service,” the report states. “It may speak to any number of factors, including overall decrease in neighborhood activities or the predilection for young veterans to spend their volunteer time with a formally organized group. That said, young veterans outpace their non-veteran counterparts in every interpersonal category related to neighborhood interactions.”
In addition, the report measures political and community involvement, such as following the news, belonging to a group, engaging with public officials and donating to charity.
Veterans surpassed non-veterans in all categories, but the report paid particular attention to the difference when it comes to charitable giving. It found that almost 60 percent of all veterans, and more than half of young veterans donate to charity, compared to 52 percent of non-veterans and 45 percent of veterans under 50.
Researchers found one category in which non-veterans scored higher than veterans: engagement with family and friends. Nearly 85 percent of non-veterans said they talk or spend time with family and friends, 5 points higher than veterans. The numbers are nearly identical among the younger cohorts.
The report hypothesizes that geography could explain the lower numbers: “While many veterans return home after service, veterans on the whole may be more likely to settle down somewhere else. The geographic distance between a veteran and his or her family may play a role in the frequency of communication with family and friends.”
What’s the difference between high conflict and good conflict? Find out as Convergence CEO David Eisner interviews NYT best-selling author Amanda Ripley about her book, “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out.”
Arguably “Hotel California,” the classic rock hit from 1976, is the Eagles’ most iconic song. It has sold over 16 million copies in the United States alone and lives to this day as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
I was reminded of the song when CNN’s Dana Bash made a comment while talking about the Jan. 6 investigation: “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
My mind quickly shifted from the news of the day as the refrain kept repeating in my mind: “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
It has been quite some time since I last listened to the song, but I listened again last night. I was once again moved by the masterful words of Glenn Frey, who wrote the lyrics with band members Don Henley and Don Felder. And as I listened my mind turned to the many theories that abound as to what the song means.
“It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about,” Henley said in a 2002 interview with “60 Minutes.”
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“We were all middle class kids from the Midwest,” Henley said. “‘Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in L.A.”
And so as I listened my mind returned to the line referred to in the political discussion about Jan. 6 and surely the most famous lyric of them all. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” The more I listened the more I thought that yes, indeed, these words apply to the politics of division and dysfunction that exists in our country today.
And so I researched more and learned that after the outline of the song was written, it was modified to address the temptation and the hidden traps that could corrupt you if you stayed too long at “Hotel California.” Luca Divelti gave his own interpretation of the song in 2018:
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” became the sentence that revealed the hoax and showed the dark side of the place. The song thus depicted a veil of social criticism towards the foundations of the American Dream, (a) symbol of the illusion of a better future that can also turn into an endless torment, able to lure you with its promises and then deceive you: leaving California means losing hope forever, and it would be a shame to leave the suite in the hotel of dreams.
And perhaps these words from Don Henley describes the magic of the song best:
“It’s a journey from innocence to experience.”
I wonder, is it as simple as that? Is it a journey for us individually and collectively? We are, undoubtedly, on a journey of inevitable change that never goes quite as planned. And as we take this journey, “along the way most of us want to check out but for some we can never quite leave.”
So welcome to the Hotel California.
There’s plenty of room at the Hotel California.
What’s your take on this idea?
Does the song scare you? Does it inspire you? Or is it just a masterful rock song meant to be enjoyed for the superlatively crafted arrangement that features many layers of acoustic guitar?.
What is Hotel California for you?
If there were a silver bullet for democratic reform, you think we would have found it by now. With countries around the world experimenting with various forms of democracy for decades, if not centuries, surely we would have unlocked the cheat code to a representative and responsive government. Instead, democracy is in constant flux and in need of perpetual reform because the rest of the world is as well — technology jumps, the economy shifts and people move. Democracy, though, can and must still progress. And, thankfully, it has. That progress has been through the steady adoption of reforms that make bolder steps possible down the road.
The issue is that democratic reformers like to think in leaps, rather than steps. In the rush to make progress, sometimes reformers champion their partial solution to the detriment of solving the larger problem. The biggest advocates of plastic straw bans of course care more about fighting climate change rather than how people slurp. But, in putting their solution ahead of the problem, these advocates were left flatfooted when an unanticipated issue occurred: climate skeptics responding so strongly to this small change that they became even less likely to support larger, more necessary reforms to our climate crisis.
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Regardless of which straws you use, you have surely noticed the lack of competition in our elections. It’s a problem with no single solution. As a result, reform camps have formed — each fiercely defensive of their idea being the best path forward, regardless of whether it’s a leap or step. There are the campaign finance reform folks. And the term limit fanatics. And the crusaders for their preferred version of voting reform.
Among these various electoral reform ideas, one small step has emerged that, if implemented, can make future leaps possible. That small step is open primaries. The incremental step of simply making all candidates compete in one primary that’s open to all parties will not immediately revive our democracy. However, open primaries can open the door to enough progress that a domino of reforms can be triggered.
Open primaries should be prioritized because they can engage a group of voters that’s essential to all later reforms: independents. These voters form an increasingly larger share of our electorate yet, in many states, are denied full participatory rights as partisan voters.
Open primaries can fix this issue by giving every voter the same stake in the future of our democracy. With that sense of empowerment, these voters will become more likely to back future democratic improvements. Voting has long been identified as an entryway to political engagement. In the electoral reform space, open primaries represent the simplest path to this basic level of inclusion. Other reforms may do this as well but typically involve other changes that may diminish the likelihood of popular adoption.
It’s the simplicity of open primaries that makes this reform a necessary step, rather than a long-term endpoint. In other words, an open primary system — by inviting independent voters into our democracy and reform movements — is the horse that can bring a cart of electoral reforms into the realm of possibility.
A common fear among reformers is that you only get one bite at the reform apple — as if the perpetual engine of democratic innovation will suddenly stall. That’s never been the case nor will it be. Our world is too chaotic to think that voters will ever tire of imagining new ways to make our democracy better. Open primaries form the sort of simple step forward that can lead to bigger changes, which is why broad support for this solution is so important.
Voters in New York rejected three proposal to change voting and redistricting.
The past week has brought both positive and negative news for supporters of expanded access to voting by mail.
During last week’s election, voters in New York rejected a ballot proposal that would have directed the Legislature to pass a bill allowing for no-excuse absentee ballots. The result caught many by surprise, as most states — especially those that tend to vote Democratic — have such policies in place. Instead, only 38 percent of voters in the nation’s fourth most populous state supported the proposal.
Meanwhile, the D.C. City Council began the process this week for institutionalizing vote-by-mail for the nearly 700,000 residents of the nation’s capital.
While Americans used mail-in voting at a historic rate in 2020, New York lagged behind most other states. According to a report issued this summer by the federal Election Assistance Commission, 43.1 percent of voters used mail-in ballots last year. But only 20.3 percent of New Yorkers selected that option, the 12th lowest rate.
According to Ballotpedia, 34 states either provide all voters with a mail ballot or allow the use of an absentee ballot without providing a reason. The remaining 16, primarily Republican-dominated states in the South, require voters to meet certain requirements in order to vote by absentee ballot.
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Another proposal, which would have allowed people to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day, was also defeated. Proponents of such policies argue that same-day registration increases turnout, considered a key component of a strong democracy. And a third proposal, one that would have reformed the state’s redistricting process, went down as well.
“The failure of props 1, 3, and 4 is a black eye for democracy,” Common Cause New York’s executive director, Susan Lerner, said in a statement. “These results are a cautionary tale showing that even in deep blue New York, we can’t take pro-democracy outcomes for granted. Anti-democracy forces are drowning out common-sense reforms with fear mongering scare tactics, and voters are listening.”
According to The Guardian, the Conservative and Republican parties vastly out-spent Democrats to fight those proposals and devoted significant on-the-ground resources as well.
While New York has settled these issues for the time being, some potential election reforms are just getting underway in Washington, D.C.
New legislation was introduced Tuesday to make a series of changes to D.C. election laws, including the establishment of a permanent vote-by-mail system. The city made a one-time decision to mail ballots to all voters for the 2020 general election, and this bill would codify such a system for future elections.
The bill would also increase the use of ballot drop boxes, establish voting centers and make Election Day a holiday.
“D.C. held a safe, secure, and accessible election by making it easier to vote and safe to vote from home,” said the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Charles Allen. “These are common sense and popular changes we need to make a permanent part of our elections moving forward. In doing so, we will broaden the number of people who are able to participate in our elections and feel more invested in their government.”
In addition, Allen will chair a hearing Nov. 18 on legislation to implement ranked-choice voting in Washington.
Political campaigns in the U.S., especially those for the presidency, can be nasty. In this episode of Democracy Works, the team looks at the political discourse around nine particularly deplorable elections.
This is the first in a two-part series on election integrity. The second part will look ahead to the 2024 election and the third will discuss why all Americans should oppose efforts to politicize vote-counting.
Until recently, asserting that the 2024 presidential election would mark the end of American democracy would have seemed hyperbole, even ludicrous. No longer. Observers as diverse as Bill Maher and the Cato Institute’s Andy Craig have warned that a “slow-moving coup” or the “end of peaceful transfer of power in America” has already been put in motion by Donald Trump and his enablers in the Republican Party.
Their case is persuasive. Trump Republicans have been purging the party of apostates on the national, state and local levels, as well as enacting state laws that would allow party operatives to overrule nonpartisan election officials and substitute election results more to their liking. According to Craig, “Fringe legal theories about how to subvert the election are being workshopped and moved into the mainstream of Republican thought even as we speak. If Trump runs again, a near certainty, and the 2024 election result is close, the country could face a constitutional crisis with a potential for political violence that would make 2020 look tame.”
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That subversion of a free and fair election is even possible is due to deep flaws in the Constitution, which does not include specific rules as to how presidential elections will be conducted and certified. Most Americans are both unaware of these shortcomings and blissfully ignorant of the potential for a would-be autocrat to suborn the electoral process and seize power. In addition, most of those who believe a fraudulent presidential election would not be possible are unaware that one has already occurred.
In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes ran against Democrat Samuel Tilden. The Republicans, the party of Lincoln, had been champions of equal rights for newly freed slaves and had even initiated an army of occupation in the defeated Confederacy to ensure them. Democrats, at least in the South, were the party of white supremacy.
But the nation had grown weary of Reconstruction and Tilden won the popular vote handily. He could also clearly claim 184 electoral votes, one short of the number needed for election. Hayes could claim only 165. Twenty electoral votes were in dispute, nineteen of which were in the three Reconstruction states still titularly under Republican control: Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. In each of those, election officials declared Tilden the winner, but accounts of fraud and voter intimidation against African Americans were widespread. (The Army could not be everywhere.) Nonetheless, given an absence of proof, Tilden seemed to deserve the presidency.
Virtually every newspaper in America reported a Tilden victory, but not The New York Times, whose managing editor, John C. Reid, had been a prisoner of war at the infamous Andersonville stockade during the Civil War. Reid loathed Democrats and convinced Republican leaders to contest the result. New York Republicans wired partisans in the disputed states to hold out. Two days later, the Times ran the Page 1 headline “The Battle Won. Governor Hayes Elected.” The article, which awarded Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina to Hayes, claimed to base its contention on in-state canvasses, although the Times was vague on just who had done the canvassing.
Only after the Times ran its piece did Republicans in the three states appoint canvassing boards, which not surprisingly ignored the reported vote totals, confirmed the Times assertion and declared Hayes the winner.
Democrats howled fraud. Threats of armed insurrection spread throughout Washington. Calls for secession were heard for the first time since the war. A shot was fired at Hayes’ home in Ohio while the candidate was having dinner inside.
No constitutional provision existed to handle this crisis, but the necessity to devise some solution was apparent to both sides. Eventually, the decision was reached to appoint a 15-man Electoral Commission: five senators; five representatives; and five Supreme Court justices. Fourteen would be members of the two parties, divided equally, and the fifteenth nonpartisan. Little knowledge of politics and even less of arithmetic is necessary to recognize that, in effect, one man, hopefully worthy of Diogenes, would choose the president.
Incredibly, such a man seemed to both exist and be available. Associate Supreme Court Justice David Davis, a Lincoln appointee, was deemed acceptable to both sides. In what was certain to be an 8-7 vote, he would be the ideal eighth. So trusted as an independent was the justice that it was said, “No one, perhaps not even Davis himself, knew which presidential candidate he preferred.”
But before the commission could meet, the Democratic-controlled legislature in Illinois offered Davis a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate, hoping Davis would decline but be grateful to Democrats for the gesture. Republican newspapers denounced the scheme, but Davis flummoxed the Democrats by resigning from the bench to accept the appointment.
With Davis now ineligible, one of the remaining four justices would be forced to sit in his place. Each was associated with one of the political parties. Eventually, for reasons never made public, Associate Justice Joseph Philo Bradley, recently appointed by Republican Ulysses S. Grant was chosen to take Davis’ place. Democrats claimed a fix, but after the Davis fiasco their credibility was strained. Bradley accepted the appointment and thus became the only man in American history empowered to choose a president on his own.
Before deciding which man would be declared the winner, Bradley meticulously drew up a written opinion for each man, and then, after all this supposed soul-searching, surprised no one and chose Hayes. Democrats once more threatened rebellion. Rumors circulated that an army of 100,000 men was prepared to march on the capital to prevent “Rutherfraud” or “His Fraudulency” from being sworn in. In the House of Representatives, Democrats began a filibuster to prevent Hayes’ inauguration.
What happened next has been a subject of debate among scholars ever since. Historian Alan Peskin wrote, “Reasonable men in both parties struck a bargain at Wormley’s Hotel. There, in the traditional smoke-filled room, emissaries of Hayes agreed to abandon the Republican state governments in Louisiana and South Carolina while southern Democrats agreed to abandon the filibuster and thus trade off the presidency in exchange for the end of Reconstruction.” The “Compromise of 1877,” as it came to be known, made Hayes the 19th president of the United States. As one of his first orders of business, this supposed defender of African American rights ordered federal troops withdrawn from the South. When the soldiers marched out, they took Reconstruction and equal rights with them.
The 1876 election had all the elements that will potentially be present in 2024: a nation cleaved in two; a resurgence of white supremacy; accusations of voter fraud; corrupt election officials; an influential media outlet seeking to overturn the result; even the distinct possibility of armed conflict. But that election had something the 2024 contest will not — a convenient scapegoat that allowed both sides to overcome their mutual loathing and come together in compromise: African Americans. Democrats were so determined to end the military occupation in the South and thereby have an open field to restore white minority rule and return Black Americans to slavery in all but name that they were willing to sacrifice the presidency to do it.
The perpetuation of free elections, the cornerstone of democracy, transcends — or should transcend — partisan politics. All Americans, be they Democrats, Republicans or independents, can and should commit themselves to thwarting any effort, no matter from where on the ideological spectrum it emanates, to destroy that which untold thousands of their fellow citizens fought and died for. Democracy is precious but cannot be preserved through apathy. The nation needs desperately for people of good faith, regardless of political affiliation, to join together so that our form of government can be passed on to generations to come.
Eight months after Inauguration Day, one-third of Americans told pollsters they still believed Donald Trump actually won the election and that Joe Biden stole it away from the incumbent. A new report offers a mix of government and corporate reforms to limit the spread and influence of such election disinformation.
The Common Cause Education Fund, an affiliate of the democracy reform advocacy group Common Cause, issued a report in late October reviewing the state of disinformation campaigns and a series of recommendations designed to stem the tide.
“Just as we came together last year, rising up to vote safely and securely in record numbers during a global pandemic, we must now rise up to stop election disinformation efforts in future elections,” the researchers wrote.
The report groups its 14 recommendations in three categories: statutory reforms, executive and regulatory agency reforms, and corporate policy reforms for social media businesses.
“There is no single policy solution to the problem of election disinformation,” according to the report. “We need strong voting rights laws, strong campaign finance laws, strong communications and privacy laws, strong media literacy laws, and strong corporate civic integrity policies.”
While many of the solutions require some mix of legislative activity, increased civic education and media literacy, and grassroots advocacy, others are easier to achieve — particularly self-imposed corporate reforms, said Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns for Common Cause. For example, he suggested it would not be complicated for social media platforms to consistently enforce their own standards.
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“They’re not taking any action on disinformation in the 2020 campaign,” said Littlewood, referring to ongoing claims that the election was stolen, claims that would have been addressed last year. “When you let your enforcement lax, it allows false narratives to grow.”
Littlewood also identified the need to spend more time on civic integrity.
“We learned a lot through the Facebook Papers about the disbanding of the civic team right after the 2020 election, and the historic underinvestment in content moderation particularly in civic integrity issues,” he said.
The statutory recommendations focus on five areas:
Some aspects of these proposals already exist in federal legislation that has stalled in Congress.
The regulatory recommendations fall into four buckets:
Finally, Common Cause suggests five areas of improvement for social media corporations:
Littlewood said access to the data is one of the most important recommendations, as it influences the potential to achieve others.
“It’s going to be hard to make progress from a regulatory process if there isn’t transparency,” said Littlewood. “We’re trending in the other direction now, which is really problematic.
“Without access to the data, it’s very hard to understand what’s happening. It’s very difficult to come up with recommendations that balance the private interests of the platform and the public interest. That’s got to be our starting point.”
Read the full report.
Marlowe is a freelance writer, essayist, former English professor and LGBTQ+ activist who splits her time between Rochester, NY and Baltimore, MD.
Jasper Johns’ work will be on display in two of the country’s most famous art museums concurrently, through Feb. 13, 2022. Both the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have collaborated to present the 91-year-old artist’s most comprehensive exhibit yet, “Mind/Mirror.”
Johns’ career spans some 65 years. A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, the painter came of age around the time abstract expressionism had taken hold in the New York art world. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko were some of the more notable artists creating “cathedrals … out of their own feelings.” Johns, one could argue, took this concept and turned it on its head with his own unique style.
Johns’ early artistic rise coincided with the waning of the “ab ex” movement. Some suggest that his younger work pays homage to this school while also nodding to the emergent pop art scene — he pulls off a curious, thought-provoking blend of the quotidian and authentic gestural self-expression. Among Johns’ favorite subjects, the American flag. Why the flag? Johns is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to the interpretation of his work. His party-line response when asked about his fascination with the flag is to say that the imagery comes from “things the mind already knows.” A New York Times piece on his 2018 retrospective at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles describes Johns’ style as one that “claim[s] public symbols for the realm of inwardness and private experience.”
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So what exactly is Jasper Johns’ “private experience” of the public symbol that is the American flag? This is of course a question the artist has never really answered, but one nevertheless that a number of his paintings with their recurring stars-and-stripes motif poses. Two of the artist’s most iconic works, “Flag” and “Three Flags,” have been given the lion’s share of the press for the “Mind/Mirror” exhibition. This doesn’t really seem a coincidence, as art, culture and current events all seem to have a rather curious way of converging on provocatively interpretable planes. Gazing through the lens of the moment’s political and social climate and trying to understand Johns’ “flags” accordingly, means contextualizing the art. But what exactly is the context?
The flag has been the subject of many artists’ work; Johns is not unique in that endeavor, though he is perhaps among the most famous, if not most enigmatic, depicters of Old Glory. David Cole and Keith Haring, for instance, also created highly memorable art using the flag as a prompt:
Top:: “American Music Festival – New York City Ballet” (1988) by Keith Haring (tumblr.com). Bottom “Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers),” (2019) by Dave Cole
Haring’s trademark faceless figures tend to signify the common humanness of people in this country while, at the same time, suggesting that our differences are what gives the flag any sort of meaning. Cole’s iteration featuring toy soldiers melted down and painted over in red, white and blue is intended to evoke in an “emotional, visceral way — the way the world is now.”
If we look at Johns’ iconic “Three Flags,” we encounter a representation of “flag as subjective experience” versus just “flag as flag.” One of the most intriguing aspects of this particular piece is what it was made of. Johns used encaustic, which is a wax-based substance. The results are textural, meaning there is a tactile quality to this painting that just screams out for people to touch it (though the folks at the Whitney would highly advise against this). In this implicit call to touch, perhaps the artist is suggesting that people can stake their own claim on this patriotic territory, and that’s the point. The dimensionality here is also key, giving the flag a distinct 3D space of its own that could also be interpreted as invading the space of the audience.
“Three Flags” by Jasper Johns, 1958, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
As the artist himself is not exactly forthcoming about what we are “supposed” to see, it is left up to the individual onlooker to determine what in fact they are looking at. Are they seeing an emblem of liberty and justice for all? Is it a nostalgic symbol of the world our grandparents and parents went to war to preserve? Or is it something else?
Is it, for example, what singer Macy Gray called a “dated, divisive, and incorrect” symbol of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists? Is it that which compelled NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick to take a knee? Or, might the American flag be a blank canvas, as apparently Johns first envisaged, there for the political/cultural/social taking? We need only look around at the versions of Old Glory that have sprung up throughout the years —each with its own messaging, each representing its own symbology and each laying claim to its own 3D space:
So where does this leave us in terms of what the flag means today, in terms of what Jasper Johns was trying to “say” with his recurrent use of the symbol, in terms of our own journeys where Americanness is concerned? I have to admit, I personally harbor some ambivalence when it comes to the Stars and Stripes. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am sometimes anxious and feel “apart” when I see the flag angrily waving in righteous indignation, red-toothed and scary. As Eileen Myles described Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to me it is in some ways both “sour and noble.”
But then, I think of my immigrant mother who flies a flag on her front porch because she is proud of what that flag symbolizes and the space it gave her to carve out a better life here, to embark on a fulfilling career and to raise a family.
Every day I take a walk around my neighborhood and honestly, I have to say I never noticed this until I began working on this article:
“On the Fence” photo (Marlowe)
This is one of the best depictions of the American flag I have ever seen because of the way it is painted, the canvas on which it is painted, the place where I found it and its current condition. I know exactly what it means to me, and I suppose I shall take a cue from Jasper Johns and let you decide what it means to you.
Rob Fersh of Convergence joins The Great Battlefield podcast to talk about his career in politics and how Convergence is bringing groups together with conflicting views to build trust and find solutions to critical national issues.
In workplaces and living rooms across the country, people are having hard conversations about the Covid-19 vaccine. And with Thanksgiving around the corner, we’ll soon be navigating these vaccination questions for family get-togethers and holiday gatherings. Talking about vaccination can arouse deep-seated anxieties related to safety, health and autonomy.
High-stakes conversations like these can unravel quickly. Wrong words or bad assumptions can thrust a relationship into repetitive cycles of defensiveness, mistrust and antagonism. If you’ve ever seen Thanksgiving dinner devolve into a shouting argument about politics, you know what this looks like — and you know how painful it can be, not only for the people involved but for a whole community.
The conversations we have in private are also microcosms of our public discourse, where some people bemoan “anti-vaxxers” who “don’t believe in science” while unvaccinated people who are anxious about the government or the medical system might feel that their concerns aren’t being heard at all. This dynamic serves no one. It generates even more mistrust and makes us no safer or healthier.
How do we do better? We can begin by drawing out the individual experiences that lie beneath a person’s values and perspectives. The intricacy and subtlety of a person’s own story can interrupt these toxic cycles — without asking anyone to compromise their core beliefs.
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Let me offer two pairs of examples to help illuminate this idea.
I have a friend who got pregnant during Covid-19. Weighing the risks and benefits with her doctor, she chose not to get vaccinated. She and her partner had struggled with fertility for so long, they were terrified to complicate the pregnancy. Another friend, with the same basic background and the same information, got vaccinated the second she was eligible after getting pregnant. She was terrified of complicating an already high-risk pregnancy with Covid-19.
These two friends began, more or less, in the same place. They arrived at different decisions through a series of values-based choices. They made the best decisions they could at each step, trying to protect themselves and their pregnancies.
I have another friend who has a compromised immune system. After the vaccine was approved, she drove for 10 hours from Colorado to Kansas to get vaccinated — it was the closest available appointment. Yet another friend, with a congenital kidney disorder, has yet to get vaccinated. The doctor said that they truly could not predict the side effects of the vaccine, or its effectiveness, for people with the disease. Balancing the risks, they decided that it is safer to follow other precautions, like masking. Now my friend is worried that, at some point, they’ll be mandated by their employer or by the government to get it anyway.
These and many, many other individual stories explode the public debate over vaccinations, which oversimplifies the decisions people face and villainizes those who disagree with you. Few people would enter honestly into a conversation where they expect to be demeaned. Those conversations are pre-determined to fail — they fail to persuade, they fail to make us all safer, they fail to sustain our relationships and communities.
As long as we’re engaging in toxic, polarized, zero-sum debates about COVID-19 vaccinations, we’re going to struggle to build effective policies and public trust, both of which are needed for public health.
We can begin to change the national conversation by having better conversations about vaccination in our private lives. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. If you want to engage in a deeper, more meaningful dialogue about vaccines, especially with someone who might disagree with you, here are three questions to ask yourself before you start the conversation:
People are always changed by what they hear in a deeper, truer conversation with someone else in their community — even if their view or choice remains the same as it was at the start. There is no way to know the outcome of a genuine, open, curious conversation until you actually have one.
But one thing is certain. Without better conversations, without interrupting the toxic cycles of polarization, we will not be able to meet the challenges that face our communities today. Better conversations are crucial if we are to live and work in community, to thrive in community and to survive as a democracy. If nothing else, the Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us all that our futures are intertwined.