America Needs TWO 9/11-Style Commissions

America Needs TWO 9/11-Style Commissions

Democratic Legislators are pushing for a 9/11-style commission to look into the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Because they are in the majority, such an investigation will likely materialize. But a second 9/11-style commission is also desperately needed to thoroughly examine the 2020 election results.

The purpose of such commissions should always be to create an official historical record based on factual evidence, rather than to point fingers at anyone. Of course, if crimes are uncovered, they need to be prosecuted to the highest level of involvement. But the reason for an official historical record is to enable our citizenry to move forward with a thoroughly vetted, agreed upon truth, to the extent that Americans can currently agree on anything.

Democrats may be taking comfort in the absence of Donald Trump from the headlines, airwaves, and social media. They may think that the problem has disappeared because he is currently marginalized. But realistically, we are just a newsroom’s editorial decision or change in social media policy away from Trump once again dominating the media landscape and having a huge sway over America’s political discourse. And even marginalized, his influence is much stronger and deeper than many on the left believe. Poll results released by Ipsos on May 21, 2021 show some alarming, silently smoldering statistics:

Believe that the 2020 election was rigged or the result of illegal voting:

  • Republicans:   56%
  • Democrats:      5%
  • Independents: 16%

Believe that Donald Trump is the actual President, not Joe Biden:

  • Republicans:   53%
  • Democrats:      3%
  • Independents: 22%

Believe that the January 6 riots were led by violent left-wing protesters trying to make Donald Trump look bad:

  • Republicans:   31%
  • Democrats:      9%
  • Independents: 10%

Americans have always had disagreements about their political beliefs and what is best for our country, and that is as it should be in a healthy democracy. But the above disagreements are about basic and significant historical facts. Belief in disinformation in these areas can justify the enactment of faulty and harmful policies, and can even lead to violence. If we truly want to get at the source of the January 6 riot, we should be equally enthusiastic about having an investigation into the disinformation that animated it. If the 2020 election was fraudulent, we should want to know that, so that we can prevent future fraud. And if it was not fraudulent, we should want to know that as well, so that those claiming widespread election fraud can be decisively shut down as quacks once and for all.

Currently, Donald Trump’s supporters at the state level are conducting several amateur investigations into the election. The individuals doing the investigating often have no experience conducting an election audit, their knowledge of law is lacking, their efforts are far from nonpartisan or bipartisan, and their handling of ballots and voting machines has been sloppy to the point that Maricopa County, AZ may now actually have to replace all of its voting machines. In other words, an election investigation is already being conducted, but under less than ideal circumstances, and with questionable reliability.

Hardcore Trump supporters and Q-Anon believers may never come around to an acceptance of the 2020 election results as fact, regardless of the evidence. But with nearly a quarter of independents believing that the election was rigged, and nearly a sixth of independents believing that Donald Trump is still President, work is clearly needed to help bring about a shared reality upon which more Americans can agree.

With that end goal in mind, each commission should thoroughly explore every conspiracy theory that has been presented to this point regarding the election or the Capitol riot, and both commissions should have uniformly trained participants from a diverse range of political ideologies.  Each should have:

  • Progressive Democrats
  • Traditional Democrats
  • Traditional Republicans
  • Trump Republicans/Q-Anon supporters
  • Independents
  • Nonpartisan supervisors with expertise in the issues involved and/or the relevant areas of law

In the case of the 2020 Election Commission, access to the completed ballots should be very tightly controlled, and have uniformly applied, strictly enforced rules such as:

  • Each partisan must always be accompanied by someone from the other party
  • Except during committee review, all ballots and voting machines should be immediately securely locked away, if they have not already been
  • No individual can be alone with a ballot or voting machine
  • No electronic devices can be possessed in the presence of voting machines unless the device has been determined necessary by a 2/3 majority of committee members
  • Handling of and access to every ballot or voting machine must be done under close, high-definition video surveillance at all times
  • The investigation should not be localized: all cast ballots nationwide must be analyzed

Joe Biden has said that he wants to be a President for all Americans. That will not be possible as long as a large portion of the population believes that he was not even elected. We can simply tune out these Americans and pretend that they don’t exist. But that approach will more than likely backfire. In politics, when something is suppressed, it tends to come out is uglier and more distorted ways.

rob rünt

Photo credit: Tyler Merbler

Donald Trump was a Gift

Donald Trump was a Gift

Like many Americans, I spent the past four years anxious, depressed, fearful, outraged, disgusted, and frustrated. I was not sure that America would come out intact on the other side of the Trump Presidency. Many are now comforting themselves that “the guardrails of democracy held.” That is the wrong message.

The reason that the guardrails held was that Trump was an impulsive, institutionally ignorant, mentally unstable buffoon who broadcast his every thought on Twitter, and whose attempts at authoritarianism were thwarted by his clumsiness and personal abrasiveness. America may not be so fortunate next time: a charming, institutionally savvy wannabe authoritarian who chooses to keep their intentions to themselves and surrounds themselves with sharp people could do far more damage.

The gift of Donald Trump is that his relentless insistence on pushing boundaries exposed weaknesses in our system that we never would have seen – bizarre scenarios and obscure areas of Constitutional law. The opportunity that we now have is that Democrats control the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. They have the power to fix as many of those problems as possible – all without having to fight off credible accusations of partisanship over weakening the Presidency or imposing rules on the legislature. They have fewer than two years to do it.

This article will shine a spotlight on some of the questions raised by the Trump Presidency, and provide links at the end so that the reader can easily contact their legislators and the President with their own ideas for solutions.

  • How do we ensure foreign citizens or governments do not funnel campaign money to American political candidates (through NGOs like the NRA or Planned Parenthood, for example) – donations whose use can later be used to blackmail those politicians?
  • Should there be additional requirements to be President beyond age and citizenship?
  • How do we ensure that candidates for federal office are not compromised by foreign governments? Should they be required by law to disclose the last 5-10 years of their tax returns during their campaign? Should they undergo some kind of security clearance? How could a security clearance be misused by those conducting it?
  • Should elected federal officials be required to undergo an annual mental health evaluation? How could that be misused by those conducting the evaluation?
  • What safeguards does democracy have if the Legislative Branch refuses to hold a President accountable due to partisanship, blackmail, threats of violence, fear of primary challenges, or some other factor?
  • How can we better clarify the rules around impeachment? Can a President be impeached after their term has ended for acts committed while President? Must the House complete the impeachment hearing before the President leaves office? Must the Senate complete the impeachment trial before the President leaves office? Is there a statute of limitations on impeaching a President for impeachable offenses done while in office? What is the purpose of impeachment? Should there be a requirement that both sides in an impeachment trial can call witnesses without majority approval by the Senate?
  • If a President ignores a subpoena from the House or Senate, should there be consequences?
  • Can a sitting President hold campaign events at the White House?
  • If a President does something, is it legal by definition? Can an appointed Special Counsel or the Department of Justice charge a sitting President with a crime, or does the President’s office make the President immune?
  • When a President uses the power of the United States to influence a foreign leader, what is the difference between that being a legitimate political act and being extortion?
  • The President controls the Executive Branch, which includes the Department of Justice. Should a President be able to investigate their political opponents? If yes, should there be limits on this? How would this impact 2016 FBI investigations into connections between Russia and the Trump Campaign? How would it have impacted a desire by Trump in 2020 to investigate Joe Biden?
  • Should any part of the U.S. military ever be used to subdue American citizens?  If yes, what limits should be in place? What authorizations should be required? Who can call an end to it?
  • How should domestic terrorists be handled in the U.S.? Should they potentially be subject to electronic surveillance? Who determines the groups that are considered domestic terrorists? How can that definition be kept (relatively) immune to the winds of partisanship? 
  • A President is sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What does that mean? Is there a concrete way to identify when a President fails to fulfill their oath?
  • The 25th Amendment allows for the Vice President to replace the President if the President is unable to do his/her job. Either the President can declare themselves unfit, or the President’s Cabinet can join with the Vice President in declaring the President unfit. Both of these safety valves arguably failed America during Trump’s term. Should there be a third option? What should that be? If the third option requires action by the Legislative Branch, could it be misused in a partisan way? If the third option requires a vote of the people, what would be required (signatures, etc) to trigger that vote?
  • The First Amendment has limits, such as falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Should there be limits on political speech that incites violence? If yes, how do we determine that the speech caused the violence? Are elected federal officials exempted from such an exception?
  • Should there be First Amendment limits on the press presenting information that is false and inflammatory? How would that impact breaking news stories about, for example, actual corruption that has not been proven? What if there has actually been widespread election fraud that has not been fully proven?
  • One thing that makes hacking of our elections difficult for foreign adversaries is its decentralized nature: states and even counties all have their own way of doing things. Should there be minimum standards that all federal elections should be required to meet, such as an anonymized printed record of the votes, anonymized printed receipts for voters, etc? What kind of regulations or procedures should be a part of voting by mail to ensure that mail-in votes cannot easily be decried as fraudulent? 
  • Can the will of the voters be changed after they have voted? Can a political party’s electors contradict the voters that they are supposed to represent? Can a state legislature overturn its state’s results in a Presidential election? Can a Vice President nullify a state’s choice for President?
  • Is the electoral college still serving America’s needs, or is it obsolete and in need of being replaced by the popular vote or some other formula?
  • Should elected federal officials be required to put their financial investments in a blind trust wholly controlled by someone else?
  • Should it be illegal for elected federal officials to operate a business while in office? What about their immediate family members? How does that impact a desire for people other than millionaires to run for office?
  •  How do we add more clarity to the Emoluments Clause to prevent a President from profiting personally from their elected role?
  • Should U.S. Senators and Representatives individually be given a 24/7 security detail?

These are a few of the questions that I believe need to be officially addressed in the wake of Donald Trump’s Presidency. If you think of any others, please write them in the comments. Below are links to find out who your Representative and Senators are, and how to contact them and the President with your ideas.

Find your U.S. Representative. You have one.

Find your U.S. Senator. You have two.

How do I contact the White House?

– rob rünt

What Would You Have Done?

What Would You Have Done?

Imagine a fictional 2012 America. Barack Obama is running for his second term against Donald Trump, who many people feel is a mentally unstable white supremacist wannabe dictator. At every campaign rally, Obama says that he’s hearing that Republicans are going to cheat and steal the election. On election night, Obama thankfully appears to be well ahead of Trump, but by morning, Trump is suddenly leading Obama and wins. Obama does not concede. Instead, he says that there were significant voting irregularities and even tampering with voting machines, and without those, he would have won by a landslide, as it looked like he would on election night.

Fox News and Alex Jones assure everyone that the election was perfectly fair and nothing underhanded happened, but the news outlets that you go to for information repeat Obama’s claims of an election that was very questionable and may in fact have been stolen. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer say that the election raised serious questions that need to be looked into. Your friends say the same, and send you videos and articles that they say show clear evidence of ballots being changed, batches of Obama votes being thrown out, batches of Trump votes being brought out from under tables, vote counters keeping observers at a remote distance, and voting machines being reprogrammed. Some states hold recounts at Obama’s request, but Obama raises questions about how the votes were recounted and who did the counting.

Despite the videos and the constant questions that you’re hearing on the news, from politicians, from your friends, and from the President whom you’ve trusted for four years, things keep moving forward to inaugurate Donald Trump. You fear the totalitarian government that Obama has repeatedly said that Trump will impose. Obama announces, with affirmation from some Democratic Senators and Representatives, that there is one chance to save America from a Trump Presidency: during an obscure ceremony that has normally barely been noticed, the Vice President can call into question the vote counts from some states, and if he does so, it will allow for the possibility of Obama rightfully serving a second term.

Obama posts on social media and sends out emails encouraging Americans who want to see him remain President to come to Washington DC for a “Save America” rally on the day of that ceremony, to encourage the Vice President to “do the right thing.” Obama says that it’s going to be a wild time. You care about your country. You believe that America’s democracy is about to be stolen, and you want to protect your country from the fascist regime that you are certain will come if Trump becomes President. You buy a plane ticket, book a hotel room, and attend the rally. You hear Obama, less than 75 feet away from you, say that the future of the country is at stake, that you have to fight to save it or you won’t have a country left, that Republicans have done unprecedentedly criminal things to thwart his legitimate and rightful election. He ends the emotional rally encouraging you and the rest of the crowd to march on the Capitol.

What would your mental state have been at that point? Having started marching from the “Save America” rally, would you believe that you were headed to the Capitol to save your country? Might you see it as your patriotic duty to take action to prevent a Trump Presidency? If people around you at the Capitol became unruly, would you leave immediately, or might you possibly start thinking of the founding of America that you had learned about in school, and see this moment on the Capitol steps as a time that you need to be a patriotic hero for your country in a battle just as important as that waged by people 250 years ago who fought for our nation’s independence? How far would you be justified in going against a government that was ignoring your concerns about democracy and was instead bulldozing forward installing an illegitimately elected fascist?

To be certain, there were opportunistic neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the crowd on January 6, 2021, just as there are often violent antifa and anarchist elements among protests of the left. But it is doubtful that they were anything more than a small minority among the rioters. Most of the Capitol crowd saw themselves and the situation through the lens of standing patriotically against an election stolen by people who want to see America become another China. Yes, this was completely divorced from reality, but it was what they believed. California State Assemblyman Randy Voepel said of the riots “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.” One rioter going through the halls of the Capitol shouted “This is 1776!”

This is in no way to justify their actions, but merely to explain them. The people who stormed America’s Capitol on January 6 have been called terrorists, insurgents, insurrectionists, seditionists, rioters, a mob attempting a coup. From the world of objective, factual reality, all of those are accurate and appropriate descriptions of their actions. The rioters who broke into the Capitol Building are now being arrested, and many will likely face years in prison, as they should. They are America’s Taliban. The ones who planted bombs and plotted kidnappings are America’s al-Qaeda. They are a threat to America and deserve long prison sentences.

But it is too simplistic to just dismiss them as nut jobs and walk away. It is important – not to them, but to the rest of us – that we recognize that the source of their terroristic act was the delusion that they were defending the U.S. Constitution from a coup via a fraudulent election. That belief is very real to them, and to many others who were not at the Capitol. That belief persists, and will last long past the Inauguration of Joe Biden. It is dangerous to allow that belief to simply be smothered without being addressed. Among Republicans, 35% blame Joe Biden for the events of January 6 – a leap of logic that would not even have occurred to most Americans – and the majority of Republicans would like to see Trump able to run for President again.

The most unifying thing that Biden can do for our country is to have a thorough investigation of all the election fraud allegations, conducted by a team of investigators from the reality-based community working together with a team of investigators chosen by Trump supporters and Q-Anon believers who Trump supporters see as legitimate. The purpose of the investigation would be to uncover the truth, a thorough report on which would begin to help Trump supporters see that they were lied to about election fraud. The truth is almost certainly that America had a legitimate election with about as many irregularities as we have in every election, and no grand scheme to change votes, manufacture votes, or destroy votes. However, the people who most need to be convinced of that currently believe something very sinister. It is vital to America’s future that we whittle away at the cult of Trump, and such an investigation would be an excellent first step.

– rob rünt

Right Wing Media Circle the Wagons

Right Wing Media Circle the Wagons

One might be comforted hearing Lindsey Any-Way-the-Wind-Blows Graham on the Senate floor admitting that Joe Biden won a fair election and saying  “it’s over,” or hearing Chris Christie on ABC saying that Trump’s actions Wednesday were “absolutely impeachable,” or hearing Mick Mulvaney trying to slither away at the 11th hour by laughably claiming that Trump “has become a different man” from the sober-minded, reasoned President that he’s known. Seeing the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol, the deaths of five people (including a police officer), the bombs planted, and the angry mob roaming the halls of Congress looking to overturn a legitimate election, execute Nancy Pelosi and hang Mike Pence, one might think that Wednesday’s events might have finally brought about the come-to-Jesus moment that so many of us had expected time after time for Republican Party leadership, where they would finally renounce Donald Trump.

But right wing media, which sets the tone for that leadership, has now found their safe space of indignation, and it does not include a repudiation of Trumpism. The basic lines being repeated now on Fox News are:

  1. The violence at the Capitol was absolutely wrong and unacceptable, and those who did it need to be held accountable;
  2. It is infuriating to hear people on the left lecturing Trump supporters about rioting when those same Democrats were either silent or sympathetic during the summer of riots, looting and fires following George Floyd’s death;
  3. Throughout the summer, numerous Democrats and mainstream media quoted MLK that rioting is “the language of the unheard.” Why aren’t they applying that same quote here?
  4. White Democrats see this riot as different because white Democrats are elites, and nothing scares them more than seeing an uprising from the less fortunate “proles” who look like them;
  5. It is ridiculous to suggest that Donald Trump should be removed from office for inciting the riot. He is not responsible for the 5 deaths, any more than Nancy Pelosi is responsible for the riots over the summer where 30 people died after she said that she didn’t see why people weren’t rioting in the streets, or when Maxine Waters said to “get up in the face” of Republican politicians: the rioters were responsible their own decisions;
  6. The left is now trying to paint all Trump supporters with the violence at the Capitol, when in reality most Trump supporters were aghast at what happened and in no way support it;
  7. The left is cynically using the Capitol riot as a distraction from “legitimate questions” about the integrity of the election, hoping that those questions will now simply go away;
  8. Big tech is siding with the Democrats censoring the President – and by extension all Republicans – by kicking him off of Twitter and Facebook, and by wanting Parler to set standards regarding content that includes plans for violence: people on the right are victims once again, and this is yet another example of “cancel culture” where the left stifles free speech.

For what it’s worth, I actually agree with points 1, 2, 3, and 6, and wish that we could occasionally look inside and grant the “other side” some credence when they point out our flaws. Rioting is unacceptable no matter who is doing it, and it is also an understandable expression of indignation over an injustice that the rioters feel has been ignored. In the case of the summer’s riots, it was the injustice of decades of oppressive violence and unwarranted suspicion by a segment of police toward people of color. In the case of Wednesday’s riots, it was the manufactured injustice of an election that the President, his sycophants, right wing media, and the social media echo chamber had all proclaimed was deeply fraudulent, yet which was poised to move forward unchallenged.

I keep hoping for an inflection point in all this – something where right wing media see an excuse to pull of the highway of crazy disinformation that they’ve been on for so long. When Fox News had the audacity to refer to Joe Biden as the President-elect after all the votes had been counted the first time – losing many viewers to NewsMax in the process – I thought that perhaps the day had arrived for them to start pulling back from their steady stream of insanity. Hours into the storming of the Capitol, when Bret Baier said that he was getting messages from government officials around the world saying that what they were seeing was the kind of thing that the U.S. used to lecture them about, I was optimistic that Fox was indeed changing course for the better. But somehow, the Tucker Carlsons, Sean Hannitys and Laura Ingrahams have won out – if only to try to claw back that lost share of viewership – and the narrative of an atrocious event that should unify all Americans has once again become polarized along political lines.  I fear that we are in for a bumpy ride ahead.

– rob rünt