BY CHARLES P. PIERCE
DEC 19, 2016
Nobody who’s been watching the goings-on in places like Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, or Pat McCrory’s North Carolina, or the independent failed state of Brownbackistan out there just north of Nebraska for the last few years could seriously have believed we would find 37 Republicans at the state level around the country whose political principles contained sufficient iron to allow them to stand up against the onrushing catastrophe.
So Monday’s voting among the various presidential electors was as much a formality as it ever has been, even though the current president-elect fits every single criterion set down by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68—low character, foreign influence, etc. etc.—as a reason for electors to go into business for themselves. If there is a modern parallel, it’s the attempt to recall Walker in Wisconsin back in 2013. That effort failed, despite having gathered over a million signatures, largely because, faced with the opportunity to be full-grown citizens, the people of Wisconsin thought that the recall cost too much and that removing Walker from office was just going to be too…much…bother.
So it was on Monday. There were people who braved the cold to hoot and holler; in Wisconsin, there was even a protest inside the room where the state’s electors were meeting. The vote lasted 15 whole minutes.
On Sunday, on CNN, host Michael Smerconish argued that electors should ignore the criteria for actual presidents set down by Hamilton this time around because the electors themselves didn’t meet that Founder’s exacting standards, either. But running through all the commentary was a sense of terror that, one day, the country might actually decide to live up to its founding principles, rather than simply slapping on the old tricorn and yelling about taxes. There are terrible truths about this nation that the public cannot be allowed to know, lest it act on them in ways that disturb the horses.
It was this terror out of which the Warren Commission was formed. It was this terror that kept Lyndon Johnson from revealing Richard Nixon’s treason to the world and to Hubert Humphrey. It was this terror that engendered Nixon’s pardon. It was this terror that allowed the Reagan campaign to dodge how it may have fudged the release of the hostages in Iran, and it was this terror that allowed Reagan himself to skate on Iran-Contra. It was this terror that welcomed the meddling of the Supreme Court in the Florida recount of 2000.
It was this terror that allowed the Bush administration to elude its accountability regarding the events of September 11, 2001, or to be called to account entirely for how and why it ran the country into war in Iraq. It is this terror from which comes the impulse to look forward and never back. (On that same show, it should be noted, Smerconish hosted Bill Mitchell, the man who designed the “enhanced interrogation” techniques on behalf of the Bush administration. The torturer is on a book tour these days, instead of decorating his cell at The Hague.) And, I suspect, it is going to be this terror that will soften the findings of whatever “special” committee of the Congress is empaneled to look into Russian ratfcking and any other curiosities arising from the 2016 campaign.
If we really were who we say we are, politicians wouldn’t be so quick to decide on our behalf that we’re not ready to learn the truth about who sank the Paris Peace Talks, or that we’re not ready to hold a criminal presidency accountable, or that we’re not ready to learn the entire truth about the murder of a president in broad daylight. (LBJ had to blackjack Earl Warren into chairing that commission, and he put Senator Richard Russell on it before telling Russell he’d been named.) They would feel so safe in doing so. But we put our self-governing impulses into a blind trust so long ago that we don’t even remember doing it anyway, and thus does Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States, god help us all.