Monthly Archives: January 2017

Trump’s Nominee for the Supreme Court

I’m not sure if Trump knows diddlysquat about constitutional law, and I’m not sure he has a constitutional ideology of his own, but the man he has appointed, Neil Gorsuch, will be pleasing to conservatives and displeasing to liberals.  He represents the “original intent” approach to the Constitution, as opposed to “living Constitution” theory.  He believes that the Court should interpret each clause of the Constitution in terms of what the men who wrote it intended it to mean at the time they wrote it, rather than seeing the Constitution as a living instrument whose meaning can change with the times.  He would undoubtedly agree with Justice Antonin Scalia that the word “liberty” in the Fourteenth Amendment, which surely didn’t mean the right of two men to marry each other in the minds of the original authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, doesn’t mean that now either.

Again, if the Democrats filibuster, the Republicans will have to decide whether to vote to throw out the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmation votes.  Remember the key problem: they don’t want to throw out a tool that they might need later on.

Here’s the Politico article:



The Vacancy on the Supreme Court

It needs to be remembered that, according to the Constitution, when the president nominates a justice for the Supreme Court (the same as for other federal judges and many executive positions), it needs to be confirmed by the Senate.  (“Advice and consent” is the original phrase.)  But with Supreme Court justice nominations, unlike any other such positions, it is possible for the minority party to filibuster, which means that it now takes 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to vote yes.  The majority party can vote to abolish that option, which is exactly what the Democrats did a few years ago for the confirmation of all positions other than Supreme Court justices, but they’re reluctant to throw away a tool that they may need when they’re in the minority again.

Last year, when Antonin Scalia died, the Republican majority in the Senate refused even to hold confirmation hearings for any nominee whom Obama might send them, because they wanted the next president to fill the vacancy.  Well, now the Democrats are threatening to filibuster if the nominee is anybody other than the man whom Obama nominated last year, Merrick Garland.

There is no way Trump is going to nominate Merrick Garland.  Therefore, one of three things will happen:

  1. The Democrats will compromise and consider a Trump nominee.
  2. The Republicans will use what’s called the “nuclear option” and abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.
  3. The Supreme Court will go on indefinitely having only eight justices instead of nine.

One thing’s for sure:  the government is a mess, and will continue to be so for some time.

Politico article, January 30, 2017, on this issue



Contacts, if you are affected

If you, or anybody associated with you, are affected by the actions of the Trump administration with regard to immigration laws, here is some contact information.

For green card holders (LPRs) and student visa holders denied entry at the border or airport, contact ADC (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) at (202) 244-2990, or via email at,

Also for people in NYC: NYC family/friends who will be affected by the impending travel/immigration bans: if you (or your loved ones) have a passport from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, CUNY Clear is offering legal help in Arabic, Bangla, English, French, Spanish, Urdu, and many other languages.  If you’re not in precisely those categories but have a related legal issue, giving them a call is still probably worth a try.  (718) 340-4558 or  (That’s at the CUNY School of Law in Queens, which runs other legal services as well.)

I also expect there to be announcements from the CUNY and City Tech administrations about available assistance.

Correction on the State Department Post

I was mistaken when I said that a rash of career diplomats had resigned from the State Department.  Between the career diplomats (lower-level officials who do not change from president to president) and the top secretaries who do, there are a team of undersecretaries who are political appointees, but whom the new president usually does not replace, at least not right away.  It is customary for them to submit their resignations and for the new president to ask them to stay.  What is out of the ordinary is that Trump accepted their resignations, meaning that he wants to get his own people into those secondary slots as well as the top ones.

Here are those two links again:

Politico Article, January 26, 2017 

Washington Post Editorial, same date

What continues to be true is that, where foreign policy is concerned, Trump is shooting from the hip, doing everything his own way, not sitting down with expert advisers to sift through complexities.

Please see the news feeds on the right of this page, for some other stuff that’s happening, including the Supreme Court nomination, Trump’s relations with the Republican leaders in Congress, the nonsense over massive voter fraud, et cetera, et cetera.

Pay Attention to Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland

Representative Elijah Cummings, Democrat from Maryland, is one of the Congressional Democrats keeping a close watch on Trump.  Being old enough to remember  when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, he doesn’t want to see its effects rolled back, and for him, as well as other Democrats, Trump’s allegations of voter fraud and his order of an investigation into it amounts to a new initiative for suppression of African American voting.  Cummings is also encouraging employees of federal agencies who have concerns about Trump’s executive orders to call him.

Politico article on voter fraud investigation, with Cummings in video, Jan. 25, 2017

Article at on Cummings and federal agencies, Jan. 25, 2017

While you’re on this page, see the links on the right as well, for a lot more of what’s going on as we enter the Trump era.

Oh, God help us!

The Abnormal Times Continue

The Constitution provides that certain positions in the executive branch, as well as all federal judges, are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote.  Thus, as the administration of newly elected president Donald Trump gets going, there’s a rash of confirmation votes being taken in the Senate.

By the rules of the Senate, all it takes is one Senator to filibuster a bill.  In the past, a Senator actually had to get up and start talking and refuse to stop, and that was a filibuster.  Now, all a Senator has to do is say “I filibuster,” or “I’m putting a hold on that bill,” and a filibuster is automatically in  effect.  When that happens, it takes 60 votes to overcome it and bring the bill to a vote, in the process called cloture.  Now, until recently, that could happen with confirmation votes.  However, back when Obama was president and the Democrats still had a simple majority in the Senate (not a 60-vote supermajority) , when the Republican minority was using the filibuster to obstruct Obama’s nominees to a number of positions, the Democrats employed what was called the “nuclear option” and abolished the power of the filibuster for confirmation votes, except Supreme Court positions.  So, while the Democrats are in a position to make sure that hearings are drawn out, they’re not in a position to obstruct Trump’s choices for cabinet positions and federal courts other than the Supreme Court.

But for the Supreme Court, there may well be filibusters.  It should be remembered that, when Antonin Scalia died early last spring, Obama nominated Merrick Garland and the Republicans, now with their majority in the Senate, refused even to have hearings on him.  If Trump nominates someone whom the Democrats object to, the Democrats may filibuster, but the Republicans can always use the “nuclear option” to take away that power.  The thing about the filibuster is, the majority party can always vote to abolish it, but they’re reluctant to, because they’ll be in the minority soon enough, at which time they’ll need it.

Now, a quick review of a point that’s come up before:  Trump’s cabinet members have to be confirmed by the Senate, but White House staff don’t: they just answer directly to the chief.  But Trump appears to be doing something very out of the ordinary, with regard to these two sets of appointees: having a “shadow cabinet”: a team of appointees who don’t have to pass confirmation, to breathe down the necks of the cabinet members who do.  What will this accomplish?  Well, it would appear to me that it’s Trump’s way of making the federal government as close as possible to his own personal business enterprise.  But what do I know?  That’s just how it seems to me.

Another thing to be watching:  Trump is overtly baiting the news media to criticize him, and is in turn vilifying them as his tormenters.  Now, a certain degree of adversarial tension between the president and the press is normal, but Trump has raised it to a very abnormal level.  In the course of it, a new catch-phrase has just been coined.  After Sean Spicer insisted to reporters last Saturday (after lecturing them on their bad behavior to date)  that Trump had a record-breaking crowd watching his inauguration, KellyAnne Conway told TV watchers on Sunday that maybe this came in the category of “alternative facts.”  You’re going to be hearing that term used about Trump for a long time to come.

And, he’s ordered a hiring freeze in parts of the federal bureaucracy, and a contract/project freeze in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as a media blackout: that is, he doesn’t want EPA bureaucrats talking to the press.  But Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, has stepped up and announced that he hopes all federal workers who are concerned about the direction things are going in know that they can always talk to Congress, and that he personally would like to hear from them.

Let me spell something out, and this is just me, Ben Alexander, expressing my view.  I was never convinced that Trump either expected or wanted to win this election.  I regarded his campaign as a performance for nobody but his die-hard supporters, and I regard his presidency as just more of the same.  But that’s just my own view.  I’m glad to hear your views whether you agree or disagree with me.

And there’s loads more happening.  In addition to the news feed links, I’ve added links to C-SPAN where you can see live and recent happenings on screen.

And what are some other developments and issues in the government that we need to be talking about?  I’d really like to get some questions and comments from you here on this board, past and future students of my government classes.  And, to the new set, I look forward to meeting you next week as we begin to navigate through the most bizarre period of political history that any of us have ever lived through.  It’s not by any means fun for me to think about, but I figure we can all help each other make sense of it.

And So It Begins: A Politico Article and More

Two years ago, I was telling American Government classes that they did not need to pay any attention at all to Donald Trump and his pretensions to running for president.  One year ago, I emailed the students who had heard me say that, to admit that I was wrong.  Now that we have Trump for a president, I have to admit that I was really wrong.  He did have the ability to get elected, and now he’s our president.  To say that I am not celebrating is to put it mildly.

Politico, one of the news sources I regularly consult, has just posted an article forecasting what the problems of Trump’s first hundred days will be.  It’s worth a read.  Note that there are links to ongoing news updates on the right of this page.

Here’s another Politico article summarizing Trump’s inaugural speech and some of its key implications.

And here, some New York Times contributors comment on the inauguration.

To students of the new semester, I look forward to meeting you and hearing your thoughts about what’s happening, and to students from past semesters, please remember that this forum is still yours.  Click “Discussion Board” above, and you’re “on the air,” so to speak.


The Russian Connection

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you’ve been regaled all day with absurd puns and other jokes relating to the kinky act that Donald Trump was allegedly observed taking part in with some prostitutes in a fancy Washington hotel that the Russians are threatening to blackmail him about.

There is a key point that needs to be brought into focus: The only thing we actually know is that U.S. intelligence found out that this story existed, and brought it to the attention of President Obama, and then President-Elect Trump, so that they would know that the story existed in case they started hearing it from anywhere else and in case it ever turned into anything they had to deal with.  But it’s still just a story.

With that in mind, I’m not going to post a link to the Buzzfeed story that has the alleged graphic details (though if you’re interested, you know how to use the search engines as well as I do), but I am going to post a link to the short commentary that the Atlantic just ran online, about the philosophical question of whether it was a good thing for Buzzfeed, as a site with pretensions to journalistic integrity, to make that story public.  Here’s the Atlantic piece.

I, personally, don’t really care if the story is true or not, because I, personally, have enough reasons to be unhappy that we’re getting Donald Trump for a president, with or without this story.

Again, I encourage you to keep looking in on this site, check the news updates at the right of the page, and post your opinions and thoughts on the Discussion board.