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) .

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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

 

 

Operating as designed…

blog.StupidWatergate-OliverI don’t write about current events. If anything, my thrillers anticipate them.

We are living through what the comedian John Oliver aptly calls Stupid Watergate, which is “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.”

But what if an administration were run by smart, seasoned, ruthless political operatives? What if it were the culmination of a years-long plan? What if–historical norms aside–the President’s Constitutional powers were operating more or less as designed, so that the sinkholes created by the systematic erosion of democracy couldn’t even properly be called a “crisis?”

“If the president does it, it’s legal,” Nixon famously asserted.

And what if one party controls all the levers of power meant to check them? We’re seeing in real time what a pliant Attorney General can accomplish merely by resisting. What if the AG were actively involved?

In my third thriller, Emergency Powers, Agent Imogen Trager confronts this very problem, and she knows that the incoming AG will discredit and close her investigation:

When FBI Agent Imogen Trager learns that the President has died in office, she knows it’s no isolated tragedy but the final stage of a dark network power grab. The new president owes his position to a clandestine power that’s avid for greater control.  Not content with merely “owning” a President, the wealthy, ruthless autocrat known only as The Postman plans to tighten his grip on power by staging a horrific false flag terrorist attack, which will allow his new President to invoke emergency powers and martial law. The pendulum of rule has swung decisively.  Unless Imogen can stop them, it won’t swing again.

As bodies pile up and leads go cold, a break in the case arrives when a dark network operative on the run from the FBI and marked for death by the Postman, reaches out. Trager is wary of trusting him, and not only because he’s offering intelligence that sounds too good to be true.  He’s already tried to kill her once.

That’s the premise of the “noir politik” thriller, Emergency Powers.  

It’s not precisely what we’re experiencing in the moment, but as the earlier thrillers have demonstrated, it’s certainly possible–Faithless Elector pitted Duncan Calder and Imogen Trager against a conspiracy that tries to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College; and in Dark Network, Imogen confronts a diabolical plot–and a mountainous FBI “mole” hill–when Congress convenes for a contingent election.

In Emergency Powers, the conspirators are two steps away from total rule. Unless Imogen and her colleagues can find and exploit a gap in the armor, the conspiracy will prevail. She’s running out of time.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title 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

 

 

 

Added Value and Perspective – Publishers Have a Trump Problem

Alex Shepherd, writing in New Republic this past week (‘Book Publishers Have a Trump Problem‘), notes and discusses the economic factors constraining big publishers, and the trap it presents.  As he states:

NewRepub.Trump“Publishers are doing what everyone else in the news media has done for the past two years. Trump’s ability to sow constant chaos and shift attention toward himself is unparalleled…

“The result is an industry addicted to the quick Trump fix—and an industry that is rapidly moving away from one of its seminal strengths…the long lead times and production work that go into book publishing are meant to allow for added value and perspective.”

The Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network are not about Trump, but they are about this political moment. They embody the “added value and perspective” Shepherd finds lacking elsewhere. We did not suddenly fetch up here, orphans of some storm out of the blue, but as always, step by step. The Imogen Trager thrillers have the added value and perspective that comes not from reporting, but from imagining what would happen if…

In the novels, the conspirators are ruthless and focused where the current administration is lazy and scattershot; are canny and adept, where the real occupants are foolish and clumsy.  The implications are chilling.

In Faithless Elector, which introduces FBI Analyst-turned-Agent Imogen Trager, a clandestine group operating outside the major parties tries to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College vote, exploiting for the sake of fiction a weakness that remains all-too factually latent.  In Dark Network, Imogen returns. The FBI is leaking, the Attorney General is being undermined, politicians are spinning and social media is in an uproar.  The presidency is still up for grabs.

In Emergency Powers (coming soon!) we get a look at who’s pulling the strings and what their endgame is. If you crave perspective, if you want a look behind the circus noise, check out the Imogen Trager novels.

Emergency Powers is making the rounds of agents and editors right now.  Let’s hope it IS coming soon!

Look for the other Imogen Trager thrillers at: Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up 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