Ospreys, crock potting, and the Trumpist campaign against fair elections
by Rob Tiller
When I went out to Jordan Lake late Wednesday afternoon, I saw my first osprey of the year perched in a pine across the river. I put my camera on the tripod and waited for it to fly before dark, but it didn’t. However, when I went back on Friday afternoon, there were a couple of them patrolling, and in the last patch of sunset on the river, I caught one catching a fish. I also saw many great blue herons, and one young bald eagle.
I’ve been learning to cook with an old school crock pot, which has generally worked out fine, though this week I had a near disaster. I tried to adapt a recipe for spinach lentil soup with lemon. Crock potting is a good style for me. It gets to the point without much fuss, but allows for improvisation, and after a long simmer, the result is usually surprisingly good.
But I was well into adding a lot of chopped vegetables before I realized there wasn’t room in our crock pot for everything, and I had to start subtracting. The lentils came along much slower than expected, and were not nearly ready by dinner time. So we ordered takeout falafel. We had the lentil soup the next night, and it wasn’t bad. In fact, Sally said she really liked it.
Speaking of disappointments, I was hoping the Trump Show was over, but unfortunately, it’s not. Since 2015, our Disgraced Former President (DFP) has taken up way too much of my brain space! Whatever you think about the DFP, you have to admit, he is not a quitter. Last weekend he recycled his patented mix of pomposity, ignorance, and fear mongering to a gathering of Republican leaders in Florida, and guess what? They cheered him on.
It’s no surprise that the DFP won’t shut up (has he ever?), but I was surprised that the Republican establishment wouldn’t seize the opportunity to change course and dump him. Surely most of them know perfectly well that his election fraud claims are absurd and despicable lies. Don’t they? Is it possible that these accomplished and privileged people have been infected by a mass delusion?
If so, it would not be a first. Starting in the eighteenth century, American political movements were built on and amplified hysterical fears of Native Americans, Germans, Mexicans, Asians, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Poles, Croats, and the list goes on. Not to mention movements against Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and other non-mainstream religions. And of course, witches. Last and also first, there was and is the hateful ideology of white supremacy used to justify enslavement of Black people, and their continuing oppression.
Each of those sad chapters was partially driven by ignorance and fear, but there were also political opportunists who exploited such fears. The current Republican leaders mostly look like opportunists. Some of those now cheering the DFP truthfully acknowledged his leadership of the January 6 insurrection just weeks ago. Last week they were not only supporting the outrageous lie of a stolen election, but were joining the attempt to blame the Trumpist insurrection on antifa and left wingers. Have they no shame?
Apparently not, and so we’ve got some hard work ahead of us, with the next elections not far ahead. The reliably incisive Charles Blow recently reported on work by the Brennan Center for Justice finding that state lawmakers have legislation in the works to restrict voting access — meaning suppressing voting by minorities to maintain power by mostly white elites — in 43 states That’s a lot of states — 86 percent! As Blow notes, similar voter suppression happened after the Civil War, and subverted democracy. The current Republicans appear to have decided there is only one way for them to win a fair election: not to have it.
Fortunately, their efforts to further unlevel the elections playing field are now out in the open, and defensive measures are in process. The House has passed H.R. 1 with much needed election reform going in the fairness direction, and it is conceivable that the Senate will modify the filibuster and do likewise. Maybe someday we’ll go further with a commitment to fair elections by simplifying the process and incentivizing participation with paid leave and cash.
Along with the big challenge of having fairer elections, we also have the separate challenge of how to fashion a government that better serves ordinary people, rather than tilting in favor of corporations and plutocratic elites. This week I heard a podcast introduction to the proposal of Helen Landemore, a political scientist at Yale. She sounded brilliant and unafraid to experiment with new ideas for practical improvements to democracy.
Landemore proposes setting up counsels of randomly selected ordinary citizens to work on important problems. In an interview by Ezra Klein, Landemore explained that even at its best, our existing system systematically excludes minority and other voices, and that including these voices would improve decision making. Landemore had some real world examples suggesting how to move forward along this line, including experiments in Iceland, France, and Switzerland. I’ve got a bit of a reading log jam at the moment, but I’m thinking her book, Open Democracy, could be worth reading.