Faith among the Faithless

I suppose this is sort of Christmas-y: In my most recent post, “Blunt Tools,” about the obstacles in the way to legitimating a presidential election—Electoral College vote, Congressional certification, potential contingency vote—I found that the word “faith” cropped up again and again: faith in the rule of law, faith in the system(s), faith in our officials, in our democracy. Faith and hope.

Besides being a messy work-in-progress, democracy feels like a spiritual undertaking. Like prayers, where God sometimes answers, No, election outcomes are seldom all that you could have hoped. It’s not the hope that’s spiritual, however. It’s faith in the process, that the result was arrived at fairly; that voting is the best way to achieve our ends, to hold officials accountable.

But it isn’t mere faith that gets us across the ever-moving line. There must be trust in the systems, in people and institutions. Transparency. Faith surmises that tangible evidence doesn’t exist; whereas trust is based largely on evidence that is real according to the senses and to human reason. It’s the institutions, the procedures, and the repetition of sound outcomes (fairly arrived at) that bolsters faith and inculcates trust.

Consider banking, a messy, craven business, ripe for (and often rife with) corruption and collusion. But the teller doesn’t pocket your paycheck, the bank doesn’t steal it. Indeed, banks take steps to ensure that there’s a trail of evidence should something go awry. And they make sure that no one else steals it. (They may snatch at part of it through fees, etc., but that’s a separate discussion.) Your savings are secure, as are your investments, if you’re fortunate enough to have any. I don’t mean to suggest that some mere squishy feeling can bring about the change we want to see all by itself, but without it, we’re lost.

It is trust—repeated, faithful (that word again) repetition of processes and procedures combined with legitimate outcomes. Say what you will about the Electoral College (and I’ve said and written plenty); say what you will about the conduct and byzantine rules within banks (see my example above), but at their most basic, they are open, verifiable activities.

Given the multiple lawsuits and demonstrations—distinct from required/permitted challenges and recounts—I can only surmise that Trump and his enablers have a different aim: to erode trust by striking at our faith in democracy, by tarring institutions and officials with their own foul brush. They certainly have no love for democracy, which at its core is an act of faith that self-governance is the optimal system. The Big Lie works, breeds doubt, will give people pause. The Big Lie in this case is that the vote was stolen. And that lie lingers, festers, strikes at faith.

A recent WA Post editorial points out that, for weeks, Republicans and “Donald Trump [have] told the public that the presidential election was riddled with fraud. And now, in an immaculate act of self-confirmation, Republicans are pointing to the public’s doubts about the election as evidence that something fraudulent must have taken place…” The accusations have been rebuked at every point, by sound, faithful reporting (and recording) of sound certification practices and procedures.

The Big Lie—and it feels like the past four years have been nothing but lies—reminds me of a pool shark, who not only makes the shot, but “leaves” the cueball either in a good place to make his next shot, or in such a way as to thwart his opponent, and leave him behind the eight-ball.

Ours is a postlapsarian world, to be sure. It has been for quite some time. What came before it was hardly perfect, and certainly it wasn’t paradise. But it was (and is) verifiable. Something we can have faith in.

Perhaps a worldly and political update of 1 Corinthians 13:13 is in order: “And now abideth faith, trust, certify, these three; but the greatest of these is certify.”

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James McCrone

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.
The third book, Emergency Powers, is available NOW!
All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

He’s at work on a fourth thriller, set in Scotland.
A Seattle native (mostly), he now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.
James is a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Blunt Tools

If you’ve followed my posts at all you know that my first novel, Faithless Elector is a thriller about stealing the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College—something that seemed crazily far-fetched to most of the agents I pitched it to years ago. Faithless Elector asks, “what if a group of conspirators wanted to steal a close election by getting a small number Electors to switch their votes—to vote as Faithless Electors—and overturn the result?” What would it take? How might it be done?

What doesn’t get as much attention (what middle child ever does?) is the second book in the Imogen Trager trilogy, Dark Network, which focuses on sub rosa politicking (and murder!) in the lead-up to certifying the votes, and a subsequent Contingency Election.

These thrillers, which include this year’s Emergency Powers, aren’t screeds for or against one party, but unblinking examinations of what could go wrong, about how the systems we the people rely upon to protect the process can also be the very thing that gets exploited–and what a fearless, driven group of investigators might have to do to protect the rule of law.

Today (Dec. 14) is the “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December,” the day provided for in the Constitution, when the Electors meet for the real presidential election. No one expects there to be the kind of faithless voting that took place four years ago when ten (10!) Electors cast their ballots as Faithless Electors. But it’s the second book, Dark Network, that may prove more prophetic because it deals with the aftermath of Electoral voting: Electoral votes must be certified by Congress.

If enough votes are challenged and rejected, and neither candidate has an Electoral College majority (270 or better), the vote for president goes to the House, where each state has but one vote. The Senate votes separately for VP.

The separate Senate and House votes could even mean that the president and vice president are of different parties. But what Dark Network examines, underneath its thriller veneer, is the lengths a group of bad actors might go to in order to undermine faith in the process, to undermine the legitimacy of the vote.

Voting, and faith in its legitimacy, is the blunt tool by which we hold our government accountable. “Without law, there’s only power,” is the tagline from Dark Network. But what about when law protects the powerful?

As this Lawyers, Guns and Money blogpost makes clear, as does my earlier Murder is Everywhere post about the patchwork nature of Electoral rules, each stop on the way to certification and inauguration adds layer upon layer of uncertainty—and potential for mischief—to the process. And while the Supreme Court, hoping to avoid the kind of chaos that would indeed undermine faith in the process, ruled in July that states may make laws binding Electors to their pledge, the ruling only permits those laws. 32 states have no such law.

House members are already agitating to challenge various states’ Electoral votes when Congress meets on January 6. Will they be able to throw out enough Electoral votes to change the anticipated outcome? Probably not. A Senator would have to sign on to the challenge(s), and a majority of both houses would then have to vote in favor of the challenge (throwing out the votes!).

But overturning the result at this stage may not be the goal.

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James McCrone

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.
The third book, Emergency Powers, is available NOW!
All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle.

He’s at work on a fourth thriller, set in Scotland.
A Seattle native (mostly), he now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.
James is a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.


Sharing Space, part 2

The response to the launch of Emergency Powers has been tremendous, and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve noted before how fortunate and honored I am that others will lend me space on their blogs to write and post about issues and ideas that matter to me. In the first month since the publication of Emergency Powers, I’ve had the opportunity to write about an array of topics here and as a guest blogger.

Earlier in the year, I’d been hosted on ‘Writers Who Kill’ blog, on Art Taylor’s ‘The First Two Pages,’ and others. Here’s a listing, with snippets and links from the more recent guest posts and interviews. You can click the blog link to read the whole post.

The Reading Cafe – Isolation and Conflict – (Oct. 1)
“I’ve been thinking about isolation recently. (Can’t imagine why.) And I was struck by a theme in my thrillers, one I hadn’t necessarily intended, but which is there nevertheless. That of isolation. In my thrillers, the asymmetry of information—and the danger of sharing what you know—is the core of the tension, and suspense…”

The Book Divas Reads – Blurred Lines: Separating Fiction from Reality (Oct.9) “Recently in an interview, I was asked: ‘How do you keep your written world from encroaching on your life?’ I have the opposite problem…”

Avonna Loves Genres – Becoming a Writer – (Oct. 15) “I’m often asked how old I was when I first realized I wanted to be a writer? It’s a difficult question for me because I honestly can’t think of a time when I wasn’t writing stories…”

Murder is Everywhere – Electoral Appliqué – (Oct. 19) [on the Electoral College]: “I’m struck by the patchwork uncertainty of it all. I can’t shake the image of 2020 America as some shambling Akakii Akakievich, from Nicolai Gogol’s fine story The Overcoat (1842), as he pleads with the tailor Petrovich to patch his winter coat…”

Quiet Fury – Your Book is a Movie – (Oct. 20) “With film studios shuttered in response to Covid-19, is it still relevant to think of who should be cast in the movie if the book makes it to the big (or small) screen? Of course it is!”

As we move into November, I’m excited about the upcoming appearances and potential for sharing further.

You can keep up with my journey on the ‘author‘ page of my website. Or keep reading along here! I’ll be at A Novel Idea on Passyunk bookstore on Thursday, November 12 at 7pm. It’s free, and you can get a signed copy of Emergency Powers…but you do need to Sign-up/RSVP.

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James McCrone

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.
The third book, Emergency Powers, is available NOW!
All books are available on BookShop.org, IndyBound.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. eBooks are available in multiple formats including Apple, Kobo, Nook and Kindle. He’s at work on a fourth thriller, set in Scotland.
A Seattle native (mostly), he now lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.
James is a member of the The Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Int’l Thriller Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists Center and the Sisters in Crime network. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.



Chaos Theory, Electoral College edition

SOCTUS-BldgA reader sent me a note asking whether a Supreme Court decision in favor of state laws governing Faithless Electors would make my thriller obsolete.
Sadly (for the nation)–No.

There would remain exploitable weaknesses—indeed, the very ones that are the linchpin of the plot in Faithless Elector would remain in place.

The vote can be suborned. I’ll explain.

The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments regarding state-level Faithless Elector laws in Colorado and Washington State on May 13, 2020. At stake was whether state laws that bound Electors to vote as they pledged were Constitutional. They should issue their ruling in the coming weeks. (For much more background on this, including the relevant precedents, check out the Faithless Elector Argument Preview, posted on the SCOTUS-Blog. It’s informative, and not over-burdened with legalese.)

During oral arguments back in May, the Justices seemed keen to avoid electoral “chaos.” The chaos the Justices seem to want to avoid is that of Electors willfully or frivolously breaking their pledges. But even if the Court rules in favor of the state laws, the Electoral College vote will remain susceptible of being altered. (538.com does a nice job of contextualizing as well.)

According to FairVote.org, along with those states with Faithless Elector laws, there are a total of 32 states that have no such laws. In that absence, Electors are therefore free actors.

2020-FE-no-penalty

 

Of the 32 states with no laws against an Elector breaking his/her pledge, 15 states (representing 144 Electoral College votes – light green on the map above) have no penalty whatsoever, while another 17 states are regarded as “safer,” or less likely to defect, even though they also have no such laws, because they have a strong, party-based vetting process. These states (gray on the map) represent 181 EC votes.

The question, then, is not whether the upcoming Supreme Court ruling will deal with willful petulance and protest votes. It seems likely that in upholding Washington and Colorado’s laws–if that’s how they rule–will deal with it. Up to a point.

Beyond that point, however, it means that there are 325 Electors who might be susceptible to voting against their pledge. No one is suggesting that all would vote against their pledge.

But in Faithless Elector, there is a very thin margin of victory for one candidate. Only three Electoral votes are needed to alter the outcome. In the real world, if the 32 states without laws against breaking an electoral pledge do nothing more to pass their own laws, and conspirators like those in my book were to target Electors in those states, they could reverse the supposed outcome of the presidential race.

It’s true that those who have been through party vetting would be far less likely to vote against their pledge. But for those who have read Faithless, you know that there are always inroads bad actors can make, and that fake news, fake voter fraud, corruption and murder, all figure into the Faithless conspirators’ equation to get the “right man” into the White House.

Chaos indeed. And worse.

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The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

NetGalley-EmgPwrs

 

You can check out and review Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

 

_JMc-contact20Find them all through BookShop.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books, or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com