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You Have to Play the Cards You Hold

Senator Joe Manchin just wrote an op-ed stating that he will not support H.R.1, the For the People Act. He also will not vote to remove the filibuster, which makes the first part redundant, but he does not seem to understand that. Anyway, it is good that he makes things very clear, so no one will be deluded as to what will happen to H.R.1.

This has caused a doom session on much of the social media. I understand it, and did a lot earlier than this. The doom scenario goes in this fashion: Republicans’ voter suppression bills keep passing. H.R.1, which would stop it, will not pass. The Supreme Court will not throw out such laws. Therefore, all the suppression bills have the effect of changing enough votes that the Republicans win the House and Senate. Also, even if the Democrats win a close race or two, the states have passed laws which allow their Republican-controlled legislatures to throw out those results, and declare the Republican as the winner. The Far Right Supreme Court does nothing about any of this.

Republicans control the House, and Impeach Biden and Harris. The Senate will not convict, but they will turn it into a circus, which will have the effect of lowering the popularity of Biden. They then defeat Biden in 2024, take over everything, and we have a fascist religious state where Democrats have no ability to remove Republicans from office.

There is a variation of this scenario which has Biden winning re-election in 2024, but the Republican House and Senate refusing to certify the votes, and choosing slates of electors which will give the Presidency to Trump or Hawley or DeSantis.

There is another variation which has run through my mind, which is that if Republicans take over the House, Biden and Harris are both assassinated, making Kevin McCarthy the President. There are other variations which have Republican militia roaming through the country and assassinating every Democratic leader they can find. Others have the Republicans declaring martial law, and suspending/eliminating forever, all rights of free speech and assembly.

None of these is completely implausible, given the ferocious and unrelenting attack on democracy engaged in by Republicans for the last fifty years, and now culminating in Trump and the QAnon cult. And Nazi Germany provides the prologue and analogue to it.

So there are many people saying that this is the end, that we are doomed, that there is no hope. Some of them are undoubtedly Russian-paid accounts which are trying to make everyone give up or at least not vote. Some are Right-wing Republicans having their idea of fun. Some are Far Left types who love to say that both parties are the same, they are all corrupt, no one can do anything. And then there are some very idealistic and well-meaning people who are understandably very upset and scared, and are not getting any encouragement from the writers of these pieces, as to what to do.

I think that those who write such doom scenario pieces should end them with some positive suggestions and rallying cries, for otherwise they are just indulging themselves by trying to make everyone as upset as they are

Oh yes, this is indeed a dire situation, but it is not inextricable. Voters and political officials should have felt this sense of urgency years ago, as in 2000, or 2008, or 2016. None of it was not predictable. You have a party made up of people who want only winning, and power and control, in an endless loop. And so they will do anything they can to achieve it. What has the political story of the last 50 years been, but that? There have been some window dressings, and some plausible spokespeople for evil, but you can always see the mask beneath, and the people pulling the strings. So we have now arrived here.

There were so many missed chances, and so many times when our side made the absolute wrong choices, by being too timid, or being too intimidated by the corporate Right-wing mainstream media, or being so arrogant and rigidly doctrinaire, as to refuse to vote for the immensely better candidate, and either not vote, or vote for someone who cannot win, but appeals to wishful fantasies. Republicans are behind most of this, it is another of the techniques of soulless totalitarians. But we are not obliged to fall for it; yet enough do, and have, or we would not be in this position now.

But we cannot afford to mire ourselves in the mulling over of what went wrong, what abysmally stupid mistakes and indulgences were made. Sports coaches may not be ideal in various ways, but the best ones are smart enough to know that you have to play the situation you’ve got, in any game or season. Revisiting the losses or the blown leads, or the fumbles or dropped fly balls, does you no good.

Poker players know this, too. Of course you recapitulate your mistakes and beat yourself up over them. And you try to actually learn from them and do better. But for this game, the one you are in, where all your money is sitting on the table, you can only survive if you put that behind you and concentrate on where you are, like in those maps at the malls: You Are Here. You might wish you were There, or that you had not gotten to that point in the first place, but here you are, and now you have to read the maze, and take whatever steps you can to get to the desired end point;. Or in poker or a sports game, you have to figure out how to turn things around, no matter how bad it may look.

Of course, the limits of the metaphor are that some sports games are simply irreversibly lost, as when you are behind 35-0 with five minutes to go. And there are chess matches which you simply cannot win, and so you concede, and start another game. But in our case, there is no other game, and we cannot concede. Of course, a person could move to another country, but that is not feasible for most; and as was learned in the 1930’s, you can’t escape by going somewhere else, the evil will come after you. So you have to fight. Churchill knew that. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, and the anti-involvement neutrals in America, did not.

So here we are, and we know what the dangers are. Many of us did; some people are finally getting to that point. Would that they had figured it out in 2016, but they didn’t want to listen. And they bear much responsibility for it, but we need their help now, too.

So we (and “we” variously means, Democratic leaders, voters, citizens, all or any of these in a given situation) must figure out our next moves. It is almost certain that H.R. 1 will not pass, if Manchin will not vote for it. And we need fifty senators to vote to overturn the filibuster rules. Angus King, a smart and decent man, Independent Senator from Maine, said that he will vote to change the rule, but Manchin and Sinema will not.

Actually, had Cal Cunningham of North Carolina not been indulging himself with another woman, we would have 51 Democratic senators. Had the people of Maine not somehow returned Susan Collins to office, we would have 52. But we have 50, and among that fifty, are two senators, Manchin and Sinema, who are not loyal Democrats. We can’t get rid of Manchin, he would only be replaced by a Right-wing Republican. We could try to primary Sinema, but she is not up until 2024, and it is unlikely that a liberal would win a general election there. It is more likely that Mark Kelly will lose in 2022, given the terrible voting laws that Arizona is passing. So venting against Manchin and Sinema is warranted, but probably ineffectual and thus counterproductive.

So what do we do? Here are some options. Most may not work, but at least they are options, better than just sinking into the Slough of Despond.

Bring up another version of the Voting Rights Act? Probably not worth it; Republicans would delay, and then filibuster it in the Senate again. There is no version which would somehow get ten Republican votes.

Undertake the most massive voter organizing campaign in American history. Authorize as much money as possible toward it. Try to get the help of very deep pockets like Bill Gates, and his former wife, Melinda, and Laurene Jobs. It becomes an all-or-nothing play, and anyone who can be made to see what is at risk, should be willing to contribute. Supporting the right to vote should not be a partisan issue, after all.

The vote suppressors cannot completely cut off the right to vote, so the barriers must be worked around, as much as possible. Ten hour lines; bring your own water; vote in person in states where you are worried that they will try to remove your vote by signature questioning.

We still control the Department of Justice, although Biden keeps wanting to point out that it is independent. AG Garland surely does stand for voter rights, and he must employ DOJ to make sure that voters are not intimidated, and that state officials cannot interfere with ballots, or employ partisans to count the votes. What form this all will take is not certain, but it is obvious that where we have power, it must be used; because if it is not, we simply cede the result to the Republicans.

Many lawsuits. We will win some of them in the lower courts, we did last time. The Supreme Court will never rule on our side in an important case, but they may decide not to hear some of them, and let the lower court rulings stand. And in any case where that happens, DOJ MUST enforce that decision, because otherwise Republicans will just ignore it.

Use your pocketbook and wallet. We have to do some targeted boycotts of companies which do substantial business in vote-suppressing states. Corporations love to say convenient things, but not do anything meaningful. They only respond to a threat to their bottom line. Also, they might realize what will happen to it if Republicans take over. Millions of citizens deciding not to participate in the economy, who stop buying all but necessary items, would threaten to ruin them. Republicans cannot force Democrats to participate, short of confiscating all of their property and savings, which would probably be too far for even them, given that at least some of the confiscated people have weapons.

Work stoppages. This is only for if we lose all the other steps. And they might not work, but Republicans cannot force people to work. They can try to starve them, they can shoot them, but they cannot force them to work. The entire trickle down economy depends on tens of millions of people trudging back and forth to work, and putting in their 8-10 hours. What if they refuse to do so? Food banks can be set up. If Biden still holds office, he can put out orders to try to help. Republicans can try to stop it, but again, they cannot force alienated people who are robbed of their rights, to work.

Other suggestions? We need them. Play the hand you hold; you do not get to toss all your cards in and get another one. The touchdowns that you have given up are not going off the board, we have to find ways to get some of our own, and to stop their team from running over us. Sports and gambling do provide good analogies, even if much of the time, the losing side cannot turn things around. But sometimes they do.

And it is not like we have no weapons; we hold the Presidency, and all the Cabinet, including DOJ; we have the House; and we at least hold the Senate nominally so that we can bring bills to the floor. It’s not enough, as we see, but we have to have our smartest people trying to strategize in a pragmatic and effective way, not throw up our hands and walk off the field. And do not forget that President Biden is appointing new lower court judges, and I would expect for almost all of them to get through. One reason why we want to keep at least the nominal Senate control.

The rest of it is going to depend upon the citizenry’s capacity to focus on the important things; stop fantasizing about presently unattainable goals; stop being divided by ethnicity, or focusing on that to the exclusion of realizing that if Republicans take over, we all lose big. Come up with feasible ideas, try to make them work. The game is not over. We didn’t even think we would have 50 Senate seats after the November results. So if we are now saying that it is over, what was it then?

Play the cards you have been currently dealt, the best you can. That’s really all that Republicans have done in the last half-century. Yes, they cheat and bludgeon and play ruthlessly. But they are the opponent in the game, and like any good player or sports team, we have to meet them head-on, and outplay them. If it is indeed too late, I would point to, 1) Gore being cheated in 2000, and he and leading Democrats just conceding. 2) Obama being pushed and gamed into the nomination instead of Hillary in 2008, thus ultimately costing us control of both Houses, and almost all of the state legislatures, where Republicans remain like malevolent zombies. 3) Sanders and various Left wing people deciding that Hillary was the enemy, and refusing to support or even vote for her. Horrible, dreadful, and in many cases, arrogant and willful mistakes. But they were made; and they are either going to make the history of how we lost the democracy, or we are going to overcome them, even though it is so much harder now than it would have been.