Breakfast With Bwana
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution secures five freedoms: free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, of the press, peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Inherent in the concept of freedom of speech is the notion that a free flow of ideas will allow us to get to the truth. Freedom of religion simply means that each is free to believe whatever he or she chooses and not impose his or her views on others. Peaceable assembly and the petition right are obvious. The right to freedom of the press assumes that, as with speech, a free press can report the truth without fear of recrimination.
The American people are proving that democracy is alive and well. Photo – Google
But what if the press is corrupt or has an agenda?
Well, we have been told for the past almost four years that we are seeing the end of democracy and entering an age of authoritarian rule.
I have often written that this is utter nonsense.
So far, the American people are proving that democracy is alive and well. As of today, Friday, October 30, early voting is breaking records all across America and almost 87 million people have voted. That is 63% of the total vote in 2016.
American democracy is declaring its greatest victory in decades. We will choose a president based on the will of the people of the United States, not because of Russian, Chinese, or Iranian interference, and not because Facebook or Google will it.
Although extrapolating voter participation from early voting numbers is a hazardous exercise given past experience, it is not inconceivable that we could see 12-15 million more votes cast this time than in 2016.
Keeping in mind that the 2016 election was decided by some 80,000 votes cast in three key states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and not engineered by some Russki with a computer, there is enormous potential for this election to swing either way.
On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine that the surge of voters waiting in long lines is inspired by Trump unless you are a Trumpkin. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that voters are surging FOR Biden rather than AGAINST Trump.
Anecdotal reports have Hispanics and African Americans concerned about law and order swinging to Trump even as voters concerned about the out-of-control pandemic swing to Biden.
The outcome of this election is going to be determined by the results in these key states: Texas, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. At this point, Biden has an edge in the polls.
But keep in mind that Trump’s job approval numbers remain at the steady and unwavering 42% level. This means that if Biden were a true winner, his number should be at 58%. But he’s not there in all states.
This thing remains too close to call.
Another factor is that ballots sent by mail are being rejected at a significantly higher rate for Democrats than for Republicans. And there are reports of missing ballots mailed to voters. This is a mess.
Early voting results suggest that the Democrats hold a significant edge in early voting. This means that Trump needs a HUGE surge of in-person voting on election day to close the gap.
The other side of this same coin is that Democrats cannot see a letdown in voter participation all the way through election day.
Regardless of what the polls show, my gut sense is that this election is about 52-48 in favour of Biden on the popular vote and very, very close on the electoral college. Yes, the polling shows that there could be a narrow win by Trump, say 279 electoral votes, all the way to a blowout by Biden.
I think an end result with one of the candidates getting 279 votes is the most likely result. And there is no clear favourite right now, just a bias in favor of Biden.
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The Ugly Side of Uplifting
In response to a cacophony of fear-mongering from mainstream media outlets about voter suppression, a friend in India wrote that America is a democracy racked with civil strife. He pointed to violence in Philadelphia, New York City, and as well to the Proud Boys standing back and standing by with, as he put it, cocked rifles as gun sales have soared. (The Proud Boys is a far-right and neo-fascist male-only organization that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States and Canada.)
Yes, America is racked with civil strife. But I think these are three unrelated issues with a tangential connection to the conditions caused by our partisan divide and the Covid-19 crisis, rather than sharing a common cause.
Regardless of how we analyze these phenomena, we have to recognize that there is an ugliness that pervades our country and it comes in many forms.
The riots in Philadelphia follow another police shooting of a black man. This sort of thing has become altogether too frequent and that is surprising in view of the reactions that have followed previous police shootings. On the other hand, although it is not politically correct to say this, Blacks who make up about 13% of the population commit 52% of all homicides, 57% of murders, and 54% of robberies (1).
Very often, police are confronted by those who are violent or resisting arrest. Obviously, police reaction often reflects either lack of training or an excessive response. But it is easy to say this sort of thing in retrospect. There has to be a better way but logically, the number of interactions between Blacks and the police will only be reduced if there is a significant reduction in the number of crimes by all people including Blacks. Sadly, crime has become as much a part of our social fabric as having breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This is an ugly truth.
The violence in New York reflects an astonishing increase in crime and gun violence. This is the result of the pandemic, the economic downturn, and resultant unemployment, and also because NYC has a Mayor who has given up on enforcement, abandoning the achievements of Giuliani (who cleaned up the city) and Bloomberg (who did an adequate job in that respect). Stores in Midtown Manhattan are boarding their windows in anticipation of election-related violence and apartment buildings of rich people are hiring cops and security with submachine guns (2).
The Proud Boys are something else entirely. They are a racist, fascist, right-wing organization. Trump is a jerk for not condemning them outright. It is hard to say what role they might play but I am less concerned about them than the other ongoing riots and violence. This is because I don’t think the result of the presidential election is going to be clear on Tuesday unless Biden wins Texas. Otherwise, the counting will take a few days and that’s going to keep things simmering and as results are eked out, the trend will be clear and we will have time to adjust to a new reality or, for some, an ongoing nightmare. The Proud Boys should be irrelevant. I hope that will be so.
There is more to all of this that is troubling. Wal-Mart announced that it would remove guns and ammunition from its sales floors but then abruptly reversed that decision. One has to wonder where the pressure for that emanated. And yes, gun sales have soared. Part of this is based on the unfounded fear that Biden/Harris will restrict gun sales if they are elected. Given recent Supreme Court decisions, that is going to be a slog to implement. But there is also the ugly part that Americans now fear each other.
On vote suppression, we have reports of mailed ballots being dumped by postal workers and reports that mailed ballots already submitted are being rejected at a higher rate for Democrats than for Republicans. The Supreme Court left, correctly in my opinion, the conduct of elections to state and local governments. But there is room here, where a federal election is concerned, to require that all votes be counted. From a legal standpoint, it should not be up to the Supreme Court to dictate how long a period for counting is reasonable. But the ugly truth is that Republican governors and officials seem hell-bent on stifling vote counts. This is an ugly assault on our Democracy.
In the final analysis, when Americans undermine our own Democracy, the damage is greater than anything Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea can inflict.
And these are some of the ugly truths we must face.
* Published in print edition on 2 November 2020