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[Paulo] Hi, John. On behalf of the Esmeril magazine, I would like to thank you for accepting our invitation for a chat/interview on the American political elections. Let me introduce you to our readers.
John Jamieson is American, born in Detroit, Michigan in 1956. He studied literature, theology, and political philosophy. He has written on Joseph de Maistre, T. S. Eliot, and Eric Voegelin – the latter being a common theme between us.
Among his favorite topics of interest are the modern American conservative movement and European reactionary movements. He has founded an institute to promote the study on counter-revolutions.
He had the opportunity to visited Brazil once. As it happens to foreigners who visit us, it was enough for him to develop a great affection for our country. He has even a favorite novel about it: Mario Vargas Llosa’s “La Guerra del Fin del Mundo.”
[Paulo] John, we certainly appreciate your sentiment towards Brazil, but today we are talking about your country. Once again the eyes of the world were turned towards the U.S. to follow another presidential race. It’s amazing that, while so many offices were up for grabs, the overall attention always seems to be concentrated upon the presidency.
Some people say that this is a natural consequence from how the office was designed by the Framers. Others argue that, even though there were Framers who defended a strong Executive office, its current relevance is a result of a process – which doesn’t necessarily represent the main position in the Philadelphia Convention. The latter say that Congress was viewed as the most important branch, with its two chambers (House, for the people; Senate, for the states).
Could you provide for our Brazilian readers a context on the American presidency? How was it created? How did it become what it is today? Why does it matter so much?
[John] I will try to say things to you that other commentators wouldn’t.
[Paulo] Even better!
[John] There are conservative scholars now who admit that the so-called “Framers” of the 1787 constitution were patriotic Englishmen who believed that the British system was the best in the modern world, and that the problem they faced was the problem of how to recreate it without a hereditary king and nobility.
[Paulo] If you let me interrupt you. Sorry, but I just want to tell you that I currently side with those scholars on the grounds of your Constitution.
[John] I know. You could say that the “Framers” were disappointed monarchists: in the 1760s they fought the French and Indians in behalf of George III, but then he failed them in the 1770s. I oversimplify if I say that the 1787 American parchment is a duplication of the British system of that time, but with an elective monarch who has a near-death experience after four years, and, if he survives it, goes on to reign for another four.
I am making several points here. One is that the 1787 paper constitution is only an architectural blueprint or logical “flow chart” which does not fully explain itself: it doesn’t tell you much about the intentions and expectations of the Framers, which are based on history and experience; indeed, there is odd language in it that people just read over without understanding, because you would need to know episodes in English history to understand them.
Among the bewildering phrases in the 1787 document which I would mention, if we had the time, are “high crimes and misdemeanors” in article II, “corruption of blood” in article III, and “sacramental test” in article VI.
[Paulo] I already took note. Don’t worry. We can always follow it up later. I won’t even worry about translating them for now.
[John] My point, of course, is just that there are some mysteries here that point to a need for a deep understanding of English history if one is going to understand the Founders’ mentality.
[Paulo] I got it. That’s why I am leaving them in English!
[John] Another point is that they fully knew that leadership is personal, and that their elective monarch would have virtues and weaknesses. They wanted not so much to hamper him as to force him to govern by consensus and keep him from becoming a tyrant.
The partners in a consensus are not necessarily equal. Supreme Court decisions talk of “co-equal branches,” but, despite all the talk of “divided sovereignty” or “popular sovereignty,” I would argue that the president is the de facto sovereign of the U.S., exercising effective rule twenty-four hours a day every day of the year, with implied emergency powers.
If sovereignty can really be divided, the president has the full share of the executive power, or 1/3rd of the whole power of government, all by himself. A Supreme Court justice only has 1/27th, and a member of the House of Representatives only has 1/2,610th.
[Paulo] Wouldn’t the sovereign be the political community as a whole? Isn’t that, for instance, the reason why there are elections? Because the government is “of the people, by the people, for the people?”
[John] The 1787 document doesn’t say anything about a national popular election of the president. Neither it says anything about the right of the Supreme Court to overturn laws when it determines a law violates the constitution. These are developments that are more or less consistent with the original blueprint. Even now, the popular election of the president is not national; it’s state-by-state, and I have said nothing about federalism.
[Paulo] The American constitution is such an intriguing document: always the same; nonetheless, always evolving. The American political community is indeed not simple to grasp. I am not sure you Americans understand yourselves, to be honest.
[Paulo] But we were talking about the presidency, the Executive branch of government. You have said the president has an entire branch all to himself. He is not alone, though. There is the cabinet and the federal bureaucracy.
[John] Obviously the president needs some kind of bureaucracy to carry out the executive function, but the 1787 document says nothing, and you haven’t mentioned it either, about the legislature delegating many regulatory functions to bureaus and agencies that the president does not control—to the point where they function as a fourth branch of government, “the administrative state” which creates and executes “administrative law.” An American conservative regards this as an abuse.
In any event, the President is the face of the nation to the world, and the face of government to the people, and it ends up loved or hated. To some it will be the face of a tyrant, to others the face of a messiah. Is a given president a man with a clear agenda, perfect self-possession, charisma? Or is he only a “front man,” a salesman or public relations man who closes the deal for a party or a cabal of ambitious ideologues?
[Paulo] I believe it depends on who is in charge. The presidency carries something of the personality of the president, doesn’t it? Regardless, being “the face of nation and of government” is no small task. It seems that, indeed, the US change their king every four or eight years.
[John] I know a conservative scholar who calls the modern presidency a “monstrosity.” It’s a strange job. You could say that it’s more about “running” for the office than about governing. Who would want this job, who would have the delusions of grandeur to seek it, and the nerve to win it, but a man with pathological tendencies?
[Paulo] That’s a really good question.
[John] I speak as the devil’s advocate here. And the presidency is a psychological problem, then, not only for the man who wants the office but for the people who “project” on him. All of this came to the crisis point with Donald Trump, whom I support. There is so much more to say…
[Paulo] It’s good that we still have plenty of time. Let’s go on, then.
[Paulo] I have had the opportunity to live in the US for four years, between 2012 and 2016. During that period, I studied Politics at the Catholic University. I came back home with an M.A. on American Politics. I was over there during the 2012 general elections, the 2014 mid-term elections, and the 2016 primaries. So, I had the opportunity not only to study, but also to follow closely how Americans do their elections.
It’s my opinion that the US federal elections are held and organized through districts, observing state and local laws and customs (more than federal ones) by design. The Framers shared a mutual distrust towards one another; and most of them mistrusted Democracy as well. They were aware of the corruptive nature of politics, as it is constantly said, for instance, in the “Federalist Papers.”
In other words, frauds happen. There is a necessity to fight against it, but, prior to that, it is better to guarantee it is contained. A good way to do that is through districts. A fraud in one place would have little or no effect over another, and it may even be compensated by another opposite fraud in another place. Hence, the Congressional districts, the Electoral College, county electoral authorities, etc., that are the basis of the American federal elections.
Having said that, from my personal experience, and from afar, this year, I haven’t seen anything substantially different from what has happened in Elections past. There are people who argue otherwise, though. There have been even legal actions in at least two states: Pennsylvania; and your own Michigan.
Can you provide a personal account on what has happened over there? Is 2020 different than elections past? If so, in which ways it is?
[John] Was the 2020 presidential election fraudulent? Is it all too strange to believe? There are serious reasons to believe that it was, and very prominent attorneys are risking their reputations in Trump’s behalf. (They are also receiving death threats and must have bodyguards.)
[John] It’s strange because you weren’t told—because you weren’t supposed to know. You weren’t supposed to know that voting machines and vote tallying systems are contracted through private companies. You weren’t supposed to know the companies were foreign. You weren’t supposed to know that only Democrats, and no Republicans, were participants in the companies.
[Paulo] But those are counting-vote machines, right? There is paper trail of the votes, isn’t there? The numbers of voters and votes must be made the same, and the manual counting must be similar to that of the computers.
[John] This is intricate. First there are the vote counting machines, which will count whatever you feed into them, if readable. The paper ballots that were put into them (a) may be fake, (b) may be inserted more than once, (c) may be unverified. Once the signed envelopes in which the ballots were received have been discarded, there’s no way to go back and verify them. Second, there are electronic voting machines which leave no meaningful “paper trail.” Third, there are the computers that tabulate the votes for the state as they are reported from the precincts.
The charge is that these computers could be “fiddled:” (a) vote totals could be altered as needed at any point in the process, and (b) up-to-the-minute vote counts could be checked, in order to determine how many fake ballots the crooked precinct workers needed to generate in order to keep up with the legitimate ballots… As for the number of votes versus numbers of voters, I would like to point out that the figures do not add up in Detroit.
Anyway, I would emphasize that there are many ways to cheat if the plan is to cheat and there are no observers from the opposition party. I have a friend who was counsel to Republican observers (required by law) in Detroit, and they were locked out…
[Paulo] Those are all problems that need to be addressed. The whole point is that the system is verifiable, isn’t it?
[John] It all works in principle. There are many ways to “fiddle,” however, if the will is there. The voter rolls are a mess, and the Democrat politicians, with the support of Democrat judges, always resist any project to purge the rolls of people who are dead or have moved away… For instance, the Governess sent out multiple applications for absentee voting to everyone in the state, many of them dead.
[Paulo] I may not be able to verify that “person A” voted instead of “person B,” but, in the grand scheme of things, that is a minor issue. Once the vote was registered and cast, it is valid.
Now, one must be able to verify, in each electoral precinct, whether both: (a) the number of valid ballots match the numbers of registered voters; and (b) the counting of the ballots is accurate. Otherwise, one cannot trust the results.
This system of checks-and-balance would make any attempt to feed the machines with alien data and/or to bring in fake ballots really difficult to be successfully accomplished. Moreover, it would help to spot human errors as well.
[John] To reply specifically on fake versus real ballots: the paper ballots do have serial numbers, but these are detached before feeding them through the machine, of course. So the machine doesn’t know whether it is counting the same ballot a second time. The accusation has been made that fake ballots were printed up and delivered in unmarked trucks. Trump’s lawyers have affidavits from people who witnessed these things, whistle-blowers.
[Paulo] “Hecha la ley; hecha la trampa,” as they say in Spanish. There is always a way – and people will be tempted to try to get unfair advantage against any system. I presume both fraud and error, as I have told you already. Those things happen. The question is always whether any attempt to fraud an election is either good enough or not relevant enough, so to allow the community pretending it didn’t happen. The same works for those unintended mistakes I have mentioned.
[John] I know what you mean.
[John] In small, tidy communities, everything goes by the book. Now, the corruption of big city political “machines” has been known and tolerated for generations, and if you criticize it, you will be labeled a racist. The Democratic party has long pursued an agenda to increase this corruption, not to abolish it.
I have said that they did not want to abolish the corruption in the big cities. What they have wanted to abolish is any kind of identity check that would certify the identity of a registered voter. The “mail-in” ballot is perfect for this program. A prolonged period of voting encourages “early voters” to vote before the issues are fully clarified and the flaws of a candidate are fully known.
[Paulo] Can’t they change their minds later?
[John] In Michigan, people showed up at the polls on Election Day to vote and were told they had already voted. So they were given “provisional ballots.” Did they end up voting twice?
[Paulo] Thank you for taking my question seriously. I am aware that those people might not have voted early. Still, I don’t know Michigan electoral law, but common-sense would make the early vote null and void in favor of the later one. That’s why asked. It shouldn’t matter whether the person actually voted or not. Since mail vote is identified, you just need to check whether the person voted in Election Day and cancel the one sent by mail.
[John] In theory, perhaps. However, take Detroit as an example, there is an atmosphere of confusion. Poll workers and their supervisors claim to be overworked and making ordinary errors “beyond their control,” but this appearance of incompetence may only be an act.
[John] The ultimate moral justification for the “mistakes” is that the electoral college is unfair, and the “mistakes” are actually providing justice to a system that deprives them of due representation.
[Paulo] I have tried to argue with some good friends of mine why getting rid of the Electoral College would only aggravate the issue, but for no avail. That would make it uncontainable. Can you imagine discussing this in all 50 states, in every single county?
[John] This is a classic argument in favor of the Electoral College.
[Paulo] Thanks. So, if I understood you correctly, you are saying that ultimately this is an attack on the American Constitution. Is that it?
[John] Because of the odd constitutional mechanism of the Electoral College, the American president is elected by a majority of states—in such a way that the president may be elected by a minority of the national popular vote. In 2016 Trump was elected by a majority of states but not of voters. This fact makes Democrats very cranky. It makes them want to get rid of the constitution itself. It is “undemocratic.”
[Paulo] Yes. I understand what you are saying.
[John] Remember that the constitutional process expresses, or aggregates, or tabulates the sentiments of each voter in three different ways, first when he votes for a congressman to represent his small district, second when he votes for a senator to represent his state, and third when he votes for a president—but indirectly, since he is voting for state electors who will elect the president. These three votes, or three expressions, may in the end contradict each other.
Why is that so odd? An individual voter may have self-contradictory beliefs. The politicians have to sort it out. Or not. Besides, the “citizens” are not necessarily the same as the “electorate.” Why should everyone have an equal say, as long as those who want to be heard are able to be heard, in the formation of a national consensus?
[Paulo] I believe I have already told you my opinion that Americans are citizens in three distinct spheres: personal; of the state; and federal. You both manifest yourselves politically and are represented in government simultaneously in those three spheres – and, even though every citizen is one, and the country is one, those three spheres are different from one another; each with their own levels of autonomy. So, as a political community, Americans would be at once both “three” and “one”.
[John] I do not remember. I am not sure I agree with it.
[Paulo] At the time, you didn’t.
[John] Right. Still, I could discuss the benefits of this federal system for regional diversity, autonomy, and responsibility. But I want to say more about “polarization.”
[Paulo] Sure. I am afraid I have gone off-topic. Thank you for putting us back on track. Please, go on.
[John] This condition of “polarization” changes elections and governance. The American constitutional system was designed in a way that each of four power centers (president, Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court) has veto power over the others. This forces the discovery of consensus and the creation of compromise, or no action can be taken. This is why polarization matters.
With polarization, you get gridlock. If the president cannot get the Congress to pass a law, then he tries to govern through decrees that will be enforced only as long as he remains in office, and indeed the Congress may take him to court to have his decrees declared unconstitutional.
[Paulo] I was afraid to have gone off-topic, but what you just said seems more an issue of judicialization of politics. As interesting and relevant this topic may be, we are talking about elections. How does polarization affect it?
[John] In such a scenario, each party will preach to its portion of the electorate on the iniquity of the other party. Especially because of the 24/7 media, the voters are “wired in” to a climate of inflamed emotions.
Obama discovered the need to campaign continuously as president, as if he was running for office every day, in order to counteract the attacks of the right and to motivate the left to support his heavily ideological agenda. Trump continued the practice. And this continuous campaigning has, of course, intensified the personal, larger-than-life presence of the president.
[Paulo] We have gone full cycle. Great!
[John] Now, if you hate the president, he is not just a man, he is a monster you cannot escape. Remember the scholar who said that the modern presidency is a “monstrosity”? Can only a monster fill this role? Obama was a monster to the right, Trump is a monster to the left. Pick your monster.
[Paulo] I have always felt elections were on “pick your monster.”
[John] But there is another psychological aspect to this personal presence. Leftist politics are about a timeline of inevitable progress towards a revolutionary utopia, and the leftist president with a commanding, charismatic presence—and his charisma will often be expressed in sexual terms—is a messiah, the secular messiah of a secular millennium. And if Obama is your Christ, then Trump will be your Antichrist.
Inasmuch as rightist politics are defensive or preservative, or counter-revolutionary even, the rightist president is a firm father, a man of conviction and more or less prudence, a defender, a warrior. He will inspire confidence, gratitude, loyalty. Inasmuch as he is an unsympathetic authority figure, the left will project on him the image of a dictator, a caudillo, almost another Hitler, or a second Hitler exactly, or, ultimately, worse than Hitler.
[Paulo] You have mentioned “Right” and “Left,” can you clarify what you mean by those terms?
[John] The sides are right and left. We use the terms “conservative” and “liberal,” but very few people have any sense of the history of these fancy terms; they might as well be nonsense words. Both sides regard the status quo as somehow unacceptable; so if the right regards the status quo as unacceptably damaged, the right becomes a counter-revolutionary force, seeking to repair damage wrought by a revolutionary left.
[Paulo] Thank you. We are certainly going back to that.
[Paulo] For now, I would like to ask you whether this wouldn’t be always the case. Aren’t Politics a conflictive-cooperative game between two opposite-while-united forces?
You have said that the American Constitution was designed to “force” consensus. Hence, the regular state would be dissent. Why is 2020 any different than before?
[John] Most Americans would say in 2020 that, for a long time, politics have been getting “worse.” In what sense? Controversies are more bitter, grudges are sharper. Each side is more and more the other side’s enemy. There seems to be no basis for compromise or achieving consensus.
It’s a long and complex story how we got to this place; there has been cultural and demographic change over the decades; people depend ever more on the welfare state; the government is ever more involved in the economy. The catastrophe of George W. Bush’s presidency was a moment of conversion for many Americans, in both directions of the political spectrum, away from the middle.
In fact, there is almost no “political middle” now; those who remain as neither rightist nor leftist are the naïve and uninformed. These people understand issues poorly. If they feel a duty to vote, then they may rely on their impressions of the personal qualities of politicians, often trying to determine which candidate is less bad.
[Paulo] “Feeling of duty.” Interesting choice of words. Isn’t voting a duty?
[John] Differently than in Brazil, voting in America is not compulsory. We more or less accept that people can be indifferent to politics; if they don’t care, why should they get in the way of people who do? So the American voter is a self-selected political authority who chooses the role of responsible participant in the process.
[Paulo] But wouldn’t this favor polarization? If the Center is formed by people who don’t care about politics, and they don’t vote, then there wouldn’t be any incentive to reach for the middle.
[John] It’s Trump who realized that the middle is gone, and the only way to win is to stir the emotions of people who are already on his side of the spectrum, so that they will vote. Indeed this attitude about voluntary voting is more characteristic of the self-reliant, individualistic Republican or conservative; the Democrat or liberal, however, would gladly compel all the clients in the welfare state to vote in order to protect their own interest. These clients are, numerically, a majority, but they are hard to motivate. When a majority of voters elects a conservative candidate, then, it’s the action of a minority.
[Paulo] I don’t understand it. After all, compelling to vote doesn’t translate necessarily into actual votes. As the last Brazilian presidential election has shown, the Right can be popular, although in Leftspeak the name of such a right-wing political leader is not “democrat,” but “populist.”
Unfortunately, our time is running out. When we get back to this you will need to explain it better.
[Paulo] We were talking about “polarization.” From what you have said, the media would have a role in this, as well. Can you say more about how the media has contributed to it?
[John] The 24/7 media of cable TV news and the internet have blanketed us in political discussion and both true and false information, causing more people to be more aware of political issues, perhaps with a false sophistication, certainly a loss of naïveté. There is a mixture of the high and the low, not much philosophy, but lots of ideology and invective. The media are now totally partisanized.
[Paulo] Everything is polarized, then. It seems to be a feedback system.
[John] The media—television, the three national newspapers, the social media platforms—are marketers of politics for profit, and the politicians are caught in a perpetual cycle of fundraising and campaign spending that subsidizes the media. A vicious circle!
I say that the world of politicians and media figures is now fully combined in a situation I call the Hysterical Stand-Off, a war that no side ever wins through persuasion. Yet each side remains convinced that, by provoking some egregious utterance or behavior by the other side, a revelatory moment will occur, a manifestation that will at last convince the “undecided” people in the middle of the righteousness of the cause. But there are almost no people in the middle anymore, as I have said, and the ones who are there are oblivious.
[John] Trump was born to prevail in this climate, in which “evil communications corrupt good manners,” the principle of what I call Gresham’s Law of communications. The left cannot admit that there has been any positive result of his governance. But there was, and that’s why the right’s support for him has solidified, and a new Republican Party has emerged.
[Paulo] Yet, he didn’t prevail. Biden made the Election a close race. He might even have won. How do you explain it?
[John] Who is Biden? How did his candidacy function within the dynamics of the Hysterical Stand-Off?
Isn’t he an “empty suit,” a worn-out demagogue of no fixed principles, with no accomplishments, and verging now on senility? In the climate of polarization, the president who is so entirely loved by the right is entirely despised by the left—to the point where the Democrat Party establishment could run a candidate who is a blank projection screen, a place-holder like the zero in mathematics, a man incapable of offending because he has no content, the non-Trump, someone who will get the party by until the next messiah comes.
It was a very clever manipulation by the unseen controllers of that party, but that would probably not have worked if not for the pandemic. The COVID pandemic was the happy emergency which made the implementation of the agenda feasible and plausible as a necessity for the sake of public safety.
[Paulo] Oh, yes! The pandemic… Covid has certainly affected the elections, hasn’t it?
[John] It should not be a surprise that COVID is a totally politicized issue in the US. The Democrats (with full cooperation of the media) ran on it—as if Trump had invented the virus himself. The governors of New York and California said they would not trust a vaccine that came out while Trump was president.
The left-liberal approach to the virus problem involves more government control. The virus expert Dr Fauci, who has played such a large part, actually believes that world order should be reconstituted so that a body of virologists have the authority, through world government, to shut down the entire world.
Moreover, COVID had a direct effect on the elections. Confusion reigned; long traditions and common-sense standards were treated with contempt. The political gangsters of the urban machines intimidated anyone who got in their way and created ballots for the purpose as needed, on a scale never before seen in a “federal” election, in violation of federal laws with stiff sentences. (One expects flagrant electoral fraud in local elections, where fewer federal laws are involved, and “the feds” are likely to turn a blind eye.)
In view of the plot by Obama’s CIA director, national intelligence director, and FBI chief to discredit Trump as a foreign agent—and this did really happen—what barriers of morality exist that would prevent the Democrat Party from organizing a fraudulent election?
[Paulo] Well, I mistrust everyone, even those from my own side. So, I think that indirectly I have answered your question.
[Paulo] Fraudulent or not, the results are what they are. Is there a practical way for Trump to win?
[John] Can the election be overturned? In weeks leading up to the election, particularly in states with Democrat governors and attorneys general and judges, but Republican legislatures, there was a tug of war over the rules for mail-in voting, probably in violation of the constitution. So the Supreme Court may decide some issues, and the state legislatures are entitled to declare the elections in their states null and void. Then things get complicated.
[Paulo] “Then, things get complicated,” you say. It is as if you knew my last question: on the social consequences of the elections. Regardless of fraud, it is a fact that a lot of people voted for either of the candidates. There is a reason why it is important to be able to ignore certain issues, since the political costs of pursuing righteousness may be too high. Couldn’t this be the case in the U.S.?
[John] Will there be riots? Is that what you mean?
[Paulo] You could say that… Yes.
[John] There are riots already, and they will continue. There is a powerful nostalgia on the American left for the glorious days of the 1960s’ cultural revolution. The impulse towards violence comes from the left, and the cadres are well-organized and well-funded.
They have acquired an amazing array of techniques for causing just the right amount of mayhem without getting shot. They may be inspired or encouraged by the example of the Yellow Vests in France. This is where America ceases to be the America we have known, and one would be well advised to study modern European and South American political movements.
Does the society learn to live in a state of controlled instability, while a kind of episodic or underground civil war proceeds along with normal everyday life, which is occasionally interrupted by terrorism? Do the respectable elites of left and right silently provide cover for secret terrorist cells? Will the cells be penetrated by provocateurs from the intelligence agencies, which are themselves divided into leftist and rightist factions? Will there be a secret “dirty war”?…
Even though the United States has never had a dictator or military coup, a partisan divide has slowly emerged with a kind of affective structure of fears and resentments as if there had been a cycle of revolutions and counter-revolutions like those in any other decadent Western country. I call this the Europeanization of American politics. The demons have been let out of the box, and I don’t see any way they can be put back.
[Paulo] Wow! That’s a lot to digest. I believe that this is a good point for us to stop; at least for now. I would like to thank you for your time.
[John] I should be the one thanking you. You can ask follow-up questions. I want to get on with it!
[Paulo] A Part 2? Sure! Let’s just publish this first, and I reach you back. We can publish the continuations later on.
[John] That’s fine, Paulo.
[Paulo] Bye, John. It is always good talking to you.
– THE END –
Revista Esmeril - 2021 - Todos os Direitos Reservados