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.

Supreme Court to hear #FaithlessElector arguments this month

SOCTUS-BldgThe Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments on May 13 about the constitutionality of Faithless Elector laws established by the states, and it will deliver an opinion this summer.

At stake is whether Electors are independent actors, or are bound by the laws of their respective states.

Until very recently, most scholars seemed to agree that if the question came before the Court, the Court would rule that Electors were free to choose according to their individual consciences, which is what the Electoral College was intended for. Indeed, the schism between what has come to seem customary and how things actually work was the dramatic–and dire!–premise of my 2016 thriller, Faithless Elector. Now it seems less clear. And even when viewed through a so-called States Rights lens (which this court might tend to favor), the potential gains are actually muddled.

Those who seek to preserve the Electoral College–in which the people of the United States do not vote directly for the president or vice-president–want to preserve an institution that has twice since the turn of the century delivered Republican candidates who lost in the popular vote–Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016. But such people should be careful what they wish for.

If the states prevail and the Court finds that Electors may be bound, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPV) will have more teeth in it. The core of the NPV is that states can direct their Electors to vote for whomever the national vote winner is, irrespective of the result in the state. States could also argue, as the plaintiffs before the Court do, that states would also be free to direct Electors not to vote for anyone who had, say, failed to provide his tax returns. Or not for one who was divorced, or an adulterer. We’re talking about state legislatures making these rules, after all.

The high court has never weighed in before because until the 2016 election no Elector had been penalized for voting against his/her pledge. No one had “standing” to bring a claim. Now they do. The Court is taking this case ahead of the upcoming election because adjudicating it in the heat of an election (or after the fact!) would be disastrous for the nation.

As I’ve pointed out on this blog elsewhere, the Electoral College was a compromise, one that most assumed would be ironed out in the fullness of time.

I fear that the Court’s decision won’t provide clarity, but will solidify an archaic system and add to the bitter acrimony already festering.

The Faithless Elector Argument Preview, posted on the SCOTUS-Blog is informative, and not over-burdened with legalese.

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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.

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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.

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The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) . You can check out Emergency Powers for free on NetGalley.

 

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Find 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- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Recurring Nightmares

Concerns and issues surrounding the Electoral College and Faithless Electors remain firmly in the spotlight with frightening implications. We’re still just over a year away from the 2020 election, and already alarm bells are sounding. The presidency remains frighteningly open to mischief and manipulation–perhaps more so than in March of 2016 when Faithless Elector debuted.

NYTimes.FaithlessOn October 14 the NY Times reported Faithless Electors’ Could Tip the 2020 Election: Will the Supreme Court Stop Them? At the story’s center, was a petition to the Supreme Court asking for a ruling as to whether so-called Faithless Electors were independent actors or whether the state laws requiring them to vote as pledged were constitutional. The petitioners noted that in the 2016 Presidential Election, there were seven (7!) such defections. Thus far in our history, no Faithless Elector(s) has ever changed what might be regarded as the result of a presidential election. But as the petition points out:

“A swing by that same number of electors [7] would have changed the results in five of fifty-eight prior presidential elections” [emphasis mine].

Cvr page-faithless-petitionTwo weeks later, Charles Lane, writing in the Washington Post, posited “A Nightmare Scenario for 2020: A Tie that Can’t be Broken.”  (It should be noted that Lane’s “scenario” ought to have come along with a royalty check to me–his opening paragraphs describe my first two thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network very closely. 🙂 )

This past Friday (Nov. 1), Brookings described the problematic electoral college math in the impeachment proceedings thus far: The States that will Decide the 2020 Election Oppose Impeaching Trump. Once again, even though majorities favor the proceedings, the opinions of staunch Republican voters in the likely swing states of AZ, FLa, MI, NC, PA and WI oppose impeachment and removal by an average of 52%. While that could change as more comes out, it is well to note that electoral math is once again not on the side of the majority.

Brookings.FE.blog.pngWorse, as my thrillers point out, the Electoral College is ripe for mischief. A very close election, like the 2000 Bush-Gore election (where only 5 Electoral votes–271-266–separated the two candidates) could be disastrous for the nation. And, there was a Faithless Elector in that election, too–Barbara Lett-Simmons, a DC Elector–who did not cast her vote for Gore in protest of the District’s lack of representation in Congress. If four Electors had defected to Gore over the Florida recount debacle, he’d have won.

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 10.38.34 AMThe recent petition, probably with the 2000 election in mind–and the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision halting the Florida recount specifically–notes that: “the demographics of the United States indicate that contests will become even closer, [and] there is a significant probability that such swings could force this Court to resolve the question of electoral freedom within the context of an ongoing contest.”

That is to say, if the Supreme Court does not take the case or does not issue a ruling, we could  be arguing the validity of a result in the midst of the election.

It gets worse. A more perfect nightmare would be if in 2000 only 1 or 2 had defected, leaving neither candidate with a clear 270-vote majority. As is provided in the constitution, when there is no clear majority, Congress chooses the president–with each state delegation having only 1 vote.

A set of bad actors, who wanted to sow greater distrust in the voting process and undermine the integrity of the nation and its laws couldn’t dream of a better scenario– overturning a close election for their own purposes…leaving We the People entirely out of the process, and a nation lacking “the consent of the governed.”

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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 soon, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

 

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

What would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power?

Good stories demand verisimilitude. To make them believable, a writer has to imagine them from multiple angles. S/he must “see” as the characters see, and that includes (maybe especially) seeing what it is the bad guys want and why. From there, the writer has to imagine how the conspirators would achieve their goals.

pawn-to-king-WhogovernsWhat would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power? That’s the question I set myself for the new thriller, Emergency Powers, with chillingly real implications. I find my stories once again sailing too close to the wind.

In Emergency Powers, FBI Agent Imogen Trager is haunted and undone by a case she failed to solve. When the president dies in office, she knows that the conspiracy she chased down a blind alley still has life in it–and she needs to get back in the hunt. The accidental president is no accident.

The (not) accidental president will take steps to solidify his grip on power, with deadly results. His party controls both Houses, so impeachment hearings or Senate Judicial hearings are unlikely. But he’ll need a pliant Attorney General to thwart, delay and/or make a mess of certain investigations that might bring the truth to light. Moreover, to guard his flanks, he has to secure the allegiance of the Federal bureaucracy.

It’s dismaying that a number of the key moves I ascribe to the conspirators’ playbook turn out to be exactly the kind of thing the Trump administration enacts, and there are spoilers I’m leaving out which also synchronize with both playbooks. I didn’t set out to write a screed against one party or another, nor to malign any particular politician. I wanted to tell a cracking story that would be thrilling…and plausible.

So how is it that our government consistently acts like the bad guys in my books?

Step one in Emergency Powers, after achieving the presidency, is to remove and replace the Attorney General, who will guard against any investigation getting too close. At the same time, the new administration proposes a number of federal rule changes. It’s immaterial whether the rules actually go into effect. The act of proposing them–and observing the reaction–is meant to help the conspirators sort out who is with them, and who is not.  Then, with that information in hand, they begin dismantling the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and move on to Step Two.

Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 11.12.08 AMI had all this in the first draft of Emergency Powers, which I finished in October of 2018. That same month (unbeknownst to me at the time), Jeff Tien Han Pon was asked to resign as Director of OPM. As of this writing, there is still only an acting Director, Margaret Weichart, who is also the Deputy Director of OMB.  Pon’s resignation came as the Trump administration began work to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management and to bring it under the ambit of White House administration, which folds the daily business of the Federal government into one run by political appointees: patronage politics, or a return to the “spoils system.”

February of this year, the Trump administration appointed William Barr as AG after Jeff Sessions proved incapable of shielding the president from attacks. Barr has been doggedly faithful to his president, if not to his office or the American people.Barr-AG

Thriller writers generally work in broad strokes–assassinations, a terrorist plot, a proxy war. A hero thwarts it all at the last moment. Emergency Powers has all that (no spoilers), but it also works on (and maybe gets too right) the little things.  Not only is there an ugly, violent plot, but the conspirators in my books simultaneously attack seemingly mundane institutions and/or procedures in the hope of slipping by unnoticed…until it’s too late to stop them. Or in the case of Emergency Powers, by the time anyone notices, the conspirators will control all levers of power and levels of government meant to check them. Ideally (for them), the truth may never come out.

It’s death (of democracy) by a thousand cuts, and it’s shocking how closely reality and fiction meld.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com