Saturday, December 24, 2016

What's Your Favorite Christmas Movie?

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
What's Your Favorite Christmas Movie?
by David Trumbull -- December 23, 2016
Democrats’ favorite Christmas movie is "Miracle on 34th Street."
Republicans’ favorite Christmas movie is "It's a Wonderful Life."

I first heard that aphorism at a holiday party nearly two decades ago. It’s been around longer than that and I haven’t been able to determine who first said it and when.

On the face the saying makes sense. After all, what better movie for adults who still believe in Santa Claus than Miracle on 34th Street? Besides (watch out for plot spoiler) the picture’s crisis is resolved when a huge federal government agency —- the Post Office —- comes to the rescue. And with a divorced mother rearing a child alone, Miracle features a non-traditional family, surely a plus in the eyes of liberals.

It’s a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, celebrates the infinite worth of an individual human being, a worth that far exceeds even the biggest financial fortune. In Wonderful Life the hero’s crisis is resolved (another plot spoiler) by the spontaneous voluntary action of family, friends, and local community; emphatically not by the government. The film also shows people in fervent prayer, not to some generic higher power but to the God of the Bible as worshipped by the Protestant and Catholic believers shown in the picture. That alone must drive some liberals nuts when the film is broadcast over the public airwaves.

But the game can be played the other way. Wonderful Life presents negative stereotypes of bankers, so much so that when it was released some Hollywood observers (but not, as is erroneously asserted on some liberal websites, the Federal Bureau of Investigations) charged that it was a vehicle for communist propaganda. The charge is easy to ridicule today, but in the 1940s communist infiltration of the motion picture industry was a real and serious threat to American values. Now look at the favorable treatment—not to mention free advertising—that Miracle gives to two large department stores! Main Street Republicans surely must find that refreshing compared to the negative views of business that Hollywood gives us today.

The lesson? It’s just a movie! Enjoy them both, or whichever ones you choose to watch this holiday season. Santa’s list does not include your political affiliation, but he does have a lump of coal for those who would strip our public life of all sense of Wonder at the Love of God and thankfulness for all Miracles big and small.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Electoral College Trump Card

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
The Electoral College Trump Card
by David Trumbull, December 9, 2016

If we went by the popular vote, Secretary Clinton would be the next president. FALSE.

We cannot know who would have been elected had the election been decided by the popular vote. Neither candidate campaigned to win the popular vote, they campaigned to win the electoral vote. Had it been a contest for the popular vote both candidates would have deployed their resources quite differently which would have resulted in a popular vote different from what happened.

But Clinton can still win if the members of the Electoral College honors the popular vote. FALSE.

Mere stuff and nonsense. It's silly speculation on the part of persons with little understanding of how our republic works.

1. The Trump electors are pledged to Trump. In many states that pledge is legally binding. In 1952 the Supreme Court ruled that electors are not entirely free and that states can require that they be pledged.

2. The Trump electors were vetted by the Trump organization and/or the state Republican Party to assure that they would be loyal.

3. The Trump electors are in states that Trump won, why would they vote contrary to their pledge and contrary the suffrages of those who made them electors?

4. Trump won the electoral vote by a large margin, so even if, as has happened in the past, a very small number of electors were unfaithful, it wouldn't change the outcome. The only reason that past faithless electors were not charged under state law is that their acts did not change the outcome.

5. Yes, the Constitution appears to assume that electors have discretion, but that reading only makes sense in the early elections, when not all states even took a popular vote (for the first nine presidential elections they didn't even record the popular vote). In this election, the names of the electors did not appear on the ballot. No voter can honestly state he thought he was voting for [fill in the name of some elector] rather than Trump. Everyone knows that the election was state-by-state for Trump v Clinton (and third party candidates). Since the time that all states choose electors by popular vote, no unfaithful elector has ever influenced an election. A large number of unfaithful electors would, rightly, be seen as an attempt to overthrow the constitution and those votes would be voided, with the faithless electors facing legal charges.

The error is a result of reading the Constitution in a vacuum. The Constitution must be read in the context of laws written to enact its provisions, court decisions that clarify the meaning, and the actual practice of our democracy under the Constitution.

I am reminded of this: "In a Lecture of mine I have illustrated this phenomenon by the supposed instance of a foreigner, who, after reading a commentary on the principles of English Law, does not get nearer to a real apprehension of them than to be led to accuse Englishmen of considering that the Queen is impeccable and infallible, and that the Parliament is omnipotent." Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua, 1864.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Presidential Mask Election Predictor

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
Presidential Mask Election Predictor
by David Trumbull -- October 28, 2016

Fun fact: sales of Hallowe'en masks of presidential candidates have predicted the outcome of every election since 1980 when Reagan masks outsold Carter masks. In every presidential election through 2012, the candidate whose mask sold the most was also the candidate who won the election.

It makes sense. People want to go with a winner. And for all the talk of evil, creepy, and scary things, Hallowe’en masks are at least as much about revealing as concealing. Once a year on October 31 we don fancy dress and walk "the road not taken" (to use a line from Robert Frost, whom we also celebrate this month, on October 23, (see Mass. General Laws, Chapter 6).

Spirit Halloween, the world's largest Halloween retailer, announced on September 29, 2016, that the Trump Masks were outselling Clinton masks. Spirit's Index has accurately predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1996 based on their top selling candidate mask.

Inspired by the polarizing candidates, Spirit Halloween teamed up with Harris Poll to survey more than 2,000 U.S. adults, asking why they would dress up as either candidate this Halloween, given the choice between Clinton and Trump (chosen by 45% vs. 55%, respectively). Key findings include the following:

  • The top reason Americans chose Donald Trump is to be funny (39%), whereas the top reason Americans choose Hillary Clinton is because they like her (31%).

  • About 1 out of 4 Republicans (23%) and Democrats (27%) who indicated that they would dress up as the opposite party’s candidate would do so to frighten America.

  • Twice as many Americans who would choose to dress up as Donald Trump say they would do so to mock him, compared to Americans who would choose to dress as Hillary Clinton to mock her (32% vs 16%).

The Washington Post, for an October 25th story, contacted Rubie's, the world's largest designer and manufacturer of Halloween costumes, and found out that the "Donald Latex Mask" is outselling the "Hillary Latex Mask" by a ratio of three-to-one.

At, one of the largest online retailers of Hallowe'en costumes, Trump masks are outselling Clinton masks.

What mask are you wearing this Hallowe'en? Personally, I'll go with something more traditional and keep politics out of it.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
The courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus
by David Trumbull - September 30, 2016

"The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the month of October as Italian-American Heritage Month, in recognition of the significant contributions Italian-Americans have made to the commonwealth and to the United States and recommending that said month be observed in an appropriate manner by the people. After consultation with Italian-American groups, the governor may include in the proclamation such contributions as he shall see fit." --Mass. Gen. Laws, Chapter 6, Section 15EEEE.

"The governor shall annually issue a proclamation setting apart the second Monday in October as Columbus Day and recommending that it be observed by the people, with appropriate exercises in the schools and otherwise, to the end that the memory of the courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, may be perpetuated." --Mass. Gen. Laws, Chapter 6, Section 12V. (Emphasis added.)

It is fitting that we celebrate Italian heritage during the month in which we commemorate Columbus. Columbus sailed under the Spanish flag, but he was a native of, and learned his craft in, the Italian peninsula. His historic voyages opened communication, commerce, and migration between the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Americas. Columbus' voyages of discovery led directly to Spanish settlements. The New World that became, with time, the many nations of South, Central and North America and the islands of the Caribbean began with Columbus. The United States, today a sea-to-sea continental nation with citizens and residents whose ancestors lived in every corner of the globe, likewise traces her beginnings to Columbus, a man of Italian birth and heritage.

That America owes her very existence to Columbus was recognized early in the history of our republic. As early as 1738 "Columbia" had entered the English tongue as a name for the 13 British colonies in North America that became our original 13 States. When our Constitution went into effect in 1789 it provided that the seat of the federal government would be a "district" apart from any individual state or states. That district was named, appropriately, the District of Columbia and our national capitol remains Washington, D.C. However, over time, attitudes changed.

By the 1820s, with the rise of immigration, especially German and Irish Catholics, native-born Americans --Protestant English, Scots and Ulstermen -- found Columbus an increasingly embarrassing hero. He was an Italian employed by the Spanish -- Southern Europeans considered "dirty" and "stupid" races in the thrall of a superstitious church. The drive to recognize Columbus with a national holiday was largely the effort of a Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus. The most organized and vocal opponent of the K of C was the Ku Klux Klan. The arguments around the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery -- that he enslaved and killed indigenous Americans when he wasn't busy forcing them to convert to the Catholic Church -- were the same charges we heard at the 500th anniversary in 1992 and continue to hear. When you hear them, consider the original source.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Today is Straw Hat Day

May 15th is Straw Hat Day the beginning of the season when men may wear their straw boaters and Panamas rather than the fur felt fedoras, porkpies, homburgs, and bowlers that we wear (You do wear a hat, don't you?) the rest of the year. For more information see Straw hats may be worn until Felt Hat Day which is September 15th.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Romney for President?

Res Publica
Romney for President?
by David Trumbull, May 13, 2016

"He came pretty close to being elected president, so I thought he may consider doing it, especially since he has been very forthright in explaining why Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should not be president of the United States," said William Kristol in a phone interview with the Washington Post last Friday. In that interview he reportedly confirmed that he and Romney had a meeting in Washington to discuss Romney's potential run as an independent.

Has the Republican establishment gone stark raving mad? Is Romney serious considering this? I thought Mormons didn't do drugs. Kristol must have given Mitt something stronger than a caffeine-free diet Pepsi if he got him to buy into this scheme.

Let's, as they say, break down the numbers.

1. Can Romney or any other independent win? No. No independent candidate has won a single State since 1968, when George Wallace won five States of the old Confederacy. He won't even be on the ballot in Texas (38 electoral votes) because the deadline to file was May 9th. Can he get nearly 90,000 signatures by June 9th to get on the ballot in North Carolina (15 electoral votes), unlikely. Say he gets on the ballot in California (55 electoral votes), where he has until early August to get the necessary 180,000 nomination signatures, then what? In 2012 Romney got 37% of the vote in the Golden State as a major party nominee. With current polls showing Clinton winning by comfortable margins over Trump, and that even without Romney pulling votes away from Trump, it doesn't take much analysis to see that Romney cannot win California. He has more time to get on the ballot in New York, and needs only 15,000 signatures, however he must get at least 100 from each of the state's congressional 27 districts. Even when he ran as a major party candidate Romney was weak on the sort of on-the-ground, precinct-by-precinct organization needed to pull that off. But say he does get on the ballot and competes for the Empire State's 29 electoral votes. Does he really believe that he can do better than New Yorker, Trump, and former New York Senator, Clinton? So there are four States that account for a quarter of the electoral vote total off the table. Romney would need to get two-thirds of all the remaining votes to win. In other words, the only way this late entry, non-major party candidate can win at all is if he wins in a landslide. The Las Vegas bookmakers have a name for betting on that happening, a sucker bet.

2. Can Romney win enough votes to deny both of the other candidates the 270 necessary to win, thus throwing the election to the House of Representatives where each State delegation would have one vote? That seems unlikely. If Wallace, with a more coherent, but repugnant, basis for a third-party run (Wallace was a segregationist who won some of the States of the old Confederacy during a time when the battle for civil rights for African-American was one of the topics at the center of political discourse) couldn't do it, what makes Romney think he can. Can he win Massachusetts where he was Governor? Well, he couldn't when running head-to-head with a Democrat, now he'd need to do it while splitting the Republican vote. Ditto for his native State of Michigan and adopted State of New Hampshire, he lost both in 2012. Perhaps he pulls off a win in Mormon Utah and gets 6 electoral votes. Will that be enough to deny the others 270? Who knows. Could that make a difference in a close election. Well, in 2004 Bush could have lost those 6 votes and still have had 10 more than he needed. In 2000, had Bush lost the then 5 votes from Utah and everything else stayed the same, the election would have gone to the House of Representatives. In the 1960 election, the closest ever in popular vote, Kennedy would still have won, even with 33 fewer electoral votes. In the unlikely event that Romney got enough votes to send it to the House of Representatives, it looks good for him. Remember, each State gets one vote. In 33 States the delegation is majority Republican. Democrats are the majority in 14 delegations, while three are split evenly. Even though Trump is the Republican nominee, the Republican establishment does not like him and would likely vote for Romney. That would give us a President who most likely would have come in third place in both the popular and the electoral vote. Watch for a massive movement to change our voting system after that!

3. The most likely scenario. Romney takes just enough votes away from Trump that Clinton wins. The Republican establishment has no problem with Clinton as she represents the Democratic establishment and the Republican and Democratic establishment have much more affinity for each other than they do with their own voters.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Last Trump

POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
The Last Trump
by David Trumbull - April 15, 2016

"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." --1 Corinthians 15:52

I have the honor of serving as a lector at Saint Joseph's Parish in the West End. That means that, from time to time, I read aloud to the congregation the passages from the Holy Scriptures chosen for that Sunday's Mass. Recently I was speaking to my friend Jim, who also attends the Saturday vigil Mass, and he expressed his strong support for Mr. Donald Trump's candidacy for the presidency. My response was that, this being the season of the resurrection, perhaps I'll have the opportunity of gratifying him by reading 1 Corinthians 15:52 in church.

Joking aside, none of the Republican candidates for president has won me over. Trump's pronouncements on international trade and immigration I agree with, but he seems wanting as to the details. However, I have greatly enjoyed watching the incompetence of the anti-Trump people.

The Sunday, April 9, "2017", Boston Globe front page "Deportations to Begin" headline has to be about the most clueless thing a major newspaper ever did. How could they not have seen that it will help, not hurt, Trump's standing among the electorate. It's just as when Mitt Romney blasted Trump, causing Trump's ratings to rise. I cannot figure out what the Globe thought they would accomplish with a stunt more worthy of the Harvard Lampoon. As for Romney, it's clear he believes the GOP has a problem and he is the solution. Well, if Romney is the answer, it must have been a pretty dumb question.

Yes, the GOP has a problem, but the problem is not Trump. Trump is the symptom, not the cause.

I sum up the appeal of both Mr. Trump and Senator Sanders in three letters, CCC. Over the past three decades if you were clever, college-educated, and connected, you have most likely done very well. But if you are a non-CCC person, the past three decades have likely been fairly grim. The ABC television show "The Middle" is a humorous, yet with more than a little faithfulness, depiction of the difficulties faced by "middle" America. Or as someone recently said on Fox News (I paraphrase because I can't find the exact quotation) "The Democratic Party has abandoned the middle class and the Republican Party isn't sure it wants them."

I am certain that Trump is more popular than the polls show. Almost daily I get in conversations with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers who ask, "Can they stop Trump?" It's always said in a way that implies that stopping Trump is a good thing. But once I reveal that I'm not strongly anti-Trump, they, in turn, slowly, over the course of the conversation, reveal that they are Trump supporters. When I ask them whether they would admit it to a pollster they always say no. The media and the political establishment think they have done a good job of turning Trump into an unelectable villain, but in the privacy of the voting booth, the people may just trump them all.

Friday, April 1, 2016

It Ain't Necessarily So

POST-GAZETTE -- Res Publica
It Ain't Necessarily So
by David Trumbull
April 1, 2016

"The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can never be sure they're authentic" -- Abraham Lincoln

As I write this column to be published on April Fools Day, I am thinking of my friends on social media, most of whom, in the frenzy of the current presidential nomination media circus, seem to have lost all common sense. My Facebook feed is full of false memes, fake quotations devised to support this or that political view. My friends, both Republican and Democrat, appear to have temporarily lost the ability to distinguish news from parody and truth from phony "quotes."

"A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government." -- George Washington.

FAKE. There is no record that Washington ever said that. If you have read any of Washington's writings you know that in an age when "flowery" prose was in style, he was flowery even for his age. Had Washington ever expressed the sentiments above (which I somewhat doubt in view of his role in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion), he would likely have done so in at least three times as many words. Often I've wanted to quote Washington in my columns, but I find it very difficult due to his prolix prose. A good rule of thumb is that any Washington "quote" brief enough to fit in a Facebook meme, is likely not a real Washington quote. The website has a list of this and other spurious Washington quotes.

"If I were to run, I'd run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they'd still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific." -- Donald Trump, in People magazine, 1998.

FAKE. There is no record that Trump said that in People or anywhere else. One tipoff is that while Fox News existed in 1998, it had been around for just over a year and wasn't even available in all parts of the country, it was hardly, in 1998, the massive voter influencer that the meme suggests.

"The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations." -- Thomas Jefferson.

FAKE. While the quote is perfectly in tune with Jefferson's distrust of banks and of commerce, he did not say it, at least not in those words. The tipoff is "moneyed incorporations," While Jefferson would have known of what we now call not-for-profit corporations, such as colleges, churches, and municipalities, for profit business corporations, with few exceptions, did not exist until a quarter of a century or so after Jefferson's death. The website has a list of this and other spurious Jefferson quotations.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Primary Concern

Res Publica
The Primary Concern
by David Trumbull

Well, the Iowa caucuses are behind us and the New Hampshire primary election was last Tuesday.

My friend Jesse L. asked on Facebook, “Why do we let two very white, conservative states, Iowa and New Hampshire, to pick our presidential candidates? This seems wholly unfair and antiquated in a country as large and diverse as ours.” I expect he’s not the only one asking that.

The short answer is that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party each want to nominate someone who can win in November and each has found that the current system yields a nominee who can win. Even in elections such as the re-election of Reagan, the re-election of Clinton, and the re-election of Obama, when the incumbent President was popular and the economy was good, the losing party nominated someone who, in another year might have won. So we keep the current system because it works.

But, back to Jesse’s question, Why?

I don’t know enough about Iowa to address that State’s role in choosing presidential nominees. I do know New Hampshire. I even campaigned there in the 1992 primary for President Bush, who was challenged by Pat Buchanan for the Republican nomination.

1. Is New Hampshire too conservative to have such an important early role in choosing the nominees? No. New Hampshire is not conservative. Nor is it liberal. It is neither Republican or Democrat. New Hampshire is a swing state. In 17 presidential elections since WWII, the winner in New Hampshire was the national winner 13 times. Of the times when New Hampshire did not follow the national trend, three were extremely close elections, some of the closest in American history, 1948 (remember the “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper headline, 1960 (nationally is was 49.7% Kennedy and 49.6% Nixon), and 2004 (Bush's margin of victory in the popular vote was the smallest ever for a reelected incumbent president). New Hampshire went against the national trend one other time, that was in 1976 when she joined with Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, “Yankee” States, in rejecting Southerner Jimmy Carter. New Hampshire is average.

2. Is New Hampshire too White to have such an important early role in choosing the nominees? No. New Hampshire is White. But so is the voting population. If I am managing the campaign of a presidential candidate of either party, New Hampshire voters are a good proxy for the voting population as a whole. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 70% of eligible voters are White and 73% of voters are White, meaning Whites have a higher than average tendency to vote. Blacks are 12% of the eligible voters and 12% of actual voters. Hispanics are 11% of eligible voters, but only 7% of actual voters. In other words, not only are Hispanics a small percentage of eligible voters, the also are less likely to vote. Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics account for 92% of all voters. Whites account for almost three-quarters of the voters. So while the American voting population is diverse, it is not as diverse as Jesse’s Los Angeles neighborhood. If you take Los Angeles, Boston, and New Hampshire and ask, Which is the better predictor of a presidential election? the answer is clearly New Hampshire.

The answer to Jesse’s question is that the parties’ primary concern is not to nominate someone who represents the diversity of America. Their primary concern is to nominate someone who can win. Winning the presidency is about winning undecided White voters. Blacks are 12% of the vote and they vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic nominee, so it doesn’t matter who either party nominates, the Black vote is not, in any significant numbers, in question. The media makes much of the Hispanic vote, but the political reality that a campaign manager deals with dictates that the Hispanic vote, outside of Florida, is irrelevant. There is the rare Republican like George Bush who got about 40% of the Hispanic vote. More typically there is something in the range of 30% of the Hispanic vote that is not already locked into the Democratic Party. That means that both parties have a chance at persuading about a third of the Hispanic vote, but that’s only one-third of 7% of the total vote, that’s under 2.5% of the vote. Now that 2.5% could make the difference in a close election, that is it could in the popular vote. But not in the electoral college where, other than Florida, the Hispanic population is largely in states such as California, which will go Democratic no matter how much Republicans court the Hispanic vote, and Texas which will go Republican no matter how much Democrats court the Hispanic vote.

Each party has “safe” states that its presidential nominee will carry, but they are not enough to win. They have to appeal to undecided voters in swing states, and the math tells us that the overwhelming majority of those undecided voter are White.