The 2020 election displayed divisiveness among the American public. In this episode, Dr. Gary Deel talks to APU Political Science Program Director Dr. Tom Kelly about Trump’s presidency and the current state of American politics. Learn about the need for government transparency, the benefits of instituting Congressional term limits, and where the nation goes from here.
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Dr. Gary Deel: Welcome to the podcast, Intellectible. I’m your host, Dr. Gary Deel. Today we’re talking about the 2020 election and the state of political affairs in America. My guest today is Dr. Tom Kelly. Tom is the Program Director for Political Science in the School of Security and Global Studies.
He holds a PhD with a double major in American government and urban politics from the University of Illinois in Chicago. He’s also a father of six, a black belt in martial arts, and an avid Harley Davidson enthusiast. Tom, welcome to Intellectible, and thank you for being our guest today.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Thank you. And you’re welcome.
Dr. Gary Deel: So, for the sake of our listeners who may watch or listen to this in the distant future, we are recording this podcast episode on December the 8th of 2020. We are a little more than a month removed away from election day 2020. And this has been an interesting period to say the least.
And I’m actually looking at my TV across my office as we’re recording this, and the lower third on CNN, something to the effect of Trump arguing baseless election fraud claims during a COVID vaccine event. And that’s still going on.
So, for the sake of listeners who may listen to this well beyond 2020 and not have the sense of timing, we’re at a point here where it was declared several days after election day due to the mail-in voting situation around the coronavirus pandemic that President-elect Joe Biden was nominated or elected to be president this year.
Start a Political Science degree at American Public University.
But we have yet to see a concession from the Trump administration. And that’s new, at least in my lifetime, but I guess what I want to start by asking you Tom as the political science expert, is this as unique as it feels?
And I preface that by saying that sometimes we think something is completely unprecedented and it’s never happened before, and then we learn, oh, 200 years ago this has happened to president so-and-so, and it’s not as new as we think it is.
But the state of affairs today surrounding the aftermath of the 2020 election, is this really as unique and unusual as it seems, or are we just in another sort of shift or lull in our political happenings?
Dr. Tom Kelly: I would say that the Trump presidency, maybe even his campaign going back five years ago to 2015, has been historically anomalous that we had somebody who was a political outsider who took on the party’s establishment, and destroyed Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio, and then Ted Cruz, everyone, the RNC lined up behind, Trump just hammered them.
That was a historical movement for somebody to really upend the political establishment win the nomination. To go on and win, and then the following four years. In some ways it feels like we’ve been watching a fireworks show, and this is the grand finale, right before everything goes quiet.
I don’t see courts stepping in or state legislatures stepping in to try and reverse the election results. But as far as not conceding, we have to remember 20 years ago in Florida with Gore and Bush, there was a very close election, actually closer than this one, where Al Gore conceded on election night and then called to withdraw his concession. And then the court room played out and the lawsuits played out, and Gore actually did not concede until December.
What would make this historically different is if the electoral college votes, and confirms and elects Joe Biden as the next president, and Donald Trump still does not concede. I think we might be going back to like the 1800s when there was a contested election during the reconstruction period to see something like that.
But even still, then we’re talking to different world, because they didn’t have social media, they didn’t have instant news, they didn’t have internet, they didn’t have big rallies that were put together last minute to contest the election results.
If you’re going to ask me, what’s going to happen next? Not sure. Donald Trump has been predictably unpredictable. What I can say is that, I knew this was coming as far as a contested election since they started talking this summer about how everything was going to be mail-in in some states.
I started seeing complaints about potential voter fraud, I started seeing news articles saying things such as, “It might appear Trump wins on election night, but wait until we counted all those mail-in ballots.” And that’s exactly what happened.
The political science department, when we had a meeting right before election day said, “We’re so happy this is going to be over tomorrow.” And I said, “No, it’s not.” Looking at the polls, we weren’t going to know for weeks who had won which states. And then no matter who won, half the country was going to be convinced the election was stolen from them and this was going to court.
So this is pretty much where I figured it would be right about now, but I don’t know where it goes from here, because I’ve no idea what Donald Trump will try to do.
He did say if the electoral college votes for Joe Biden, then he will concede that he’s lost at that point, which makes sense, because he has lost. That’s ultimately who chooses the president, the electoral college, not the popular votes of the states. Did that answer your question? Because that was a lot of talking.
Dr. Gary Deel: No, that’s great context here. As again, you know, I imagine some will listen to this far beyond the scope of the 2020 apocalyptic year that we’ve had in so many ways. And so I think it sets the stage for the discussion to follow.
And it’s interesting you mentioned Trump’s at least his acknowledgement that if the electoral college does certify and vote in accordance with what we would expect them to at this point, which is to elect Joe Biden to office, that he would if not concede, then at least allow that to take place without obstructing the process, I guess is probably the best way to put it.
If we step back for a moment to the concept of Donald Trump as an outsider and something that is unprecedented. I think it’s interesting because, we can look at Ronald Reagan who, of course, came out of Hollywood as an actor to take office as president. And the similarities are striking, not the least of which of course is the slogan around the campaign and the administration “Make America Great Again” was originally a Ronald Reagan sort of a bumper sticker, if you will.
So, is there anything to be said about distinguishing Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency from Ronald Reagan’s in the sense of being outsiders within the political realm?
Dr. Tom Kelly: There’s much to say. Right off the bat, Reagan was Governor of California. So, he had executive experience, he had experience as a professional politician. Donald Trump just walked off a TV show into the White House, basically.
He became a joke on the Simpsons that turned into reality. That’s different. And what’s also different, is very different is about their personality. Needless to say, Ronald Reagan was not adored by the press, which tends to lean towards the Democratic Party. And he was often described as an affable dunce. He was a nice guy. He just didn’t understand what he was doing.
Nobody’s describing Donald Trump as a nice guy, not even people in his own party, not even his supporters. They say, “Yeah, he’s that kind of a person, but that’s the type of person we need.” You know, I censor myself what they would say he is.
So, I really wouldn’t call Reagan so much a political outsider. It wasn’t Reagan’s first presidential campaign either. He had gone in the past looking for the nomination. He was really a seasoned politician by the time he had ended up in the White House. And Donald Trump in many ways really showed how much he was in over his head when it came to dealing with the professional politician climate of D.C.
I think in lot of ways, he thought he was just going to walk in and call the shots like he did at corporations. And he didn’t expect the type of resistance he would get from both parties, and from the civil service, and from people who are like, “This is not how we do things in this town. You just don’t walk in and take over.”
And spectacularly, in some ways, he did just kind of take over and change how things were done in D.C. And we still don’t know what the long-term effects of that are going to be. When Ronald Reagan left office and George Bush was voted in afterwards as vice president, not a lot changed really in the Reagan years in how Washington worked.
I would say that Reagan was good at getting moderate Democrats to work with him, to get stuff passed, very similar to the way Bill Clinton was able to get moderate Republicans to work with him, to get things passed in the 1990s.
Donald Trump got nothing but complete resistance from the Democratic Party, and often resistance from within his own party. They’re very, very different men, very, very different governing styles. Donald Trump is truly somebody who is just a political outsider who just walked in pure strength, will, force, and ego, actually managed to get into the White House.
Dr. Gary Deel: Is there a distinction historically between Donald Trump and, I guess, any other president we’ve had in terms of the, I guess you’d call it, divisive rhetoric in the sense that I guess what I find most striking or unusual relative to past presidents that I’ve seen in my lifetime is the lack of any effort at all to aspire for a sense of unity around the country?
I remember maybe one or two comments from him in the entirety of the four years that at least I saw and probably at state of the union speeches or his inauguration where there was a mention of coming together. But virtually, everything outside of that, political rallies and any other opportunity in front of a camera, there’s a very strong sense of us versus them. You know, the-the do-nothing, Democrats, the enemies within Congress, Pelosi and Schumer, and just really zero attempt to add to the base of the Trump campaign.
Other than just to rally around the-the Republicans who are already in support and to sort of add fuel to the fire of the sense of this is not one America, this is us trying to maintain the values that we espouse against them. The outsiders, those who wish to bring destruction on our country or whatever the political rhetoric is at the time. Is that at a unique level in your opinion, or is that something that’s just sort of a year-by-year thing and we forget how bad it was back historically?
Dr. Tom Kelly: First it’s really difficult to gauge the personalities of people from say the 19th century. Trump is the first president to govern through Twitter. So, we don’t have those electronic records of what they said and when.
Within modern history, going back to presidents who like FDR using the radio, our first televised presidents later. It’s unique in the informality of the whole thing. His presentation is not only been divisive, because I’ll take a step back and say, President Obama was quite divisive at times. He was just much more eloquent and much more supported by the press that reported on what he said, but the things he had said about people who didn’t vote for him being bitter clingers to guns, and God, and religion, and he was very dismissive and divisive quite often in how he portrayed people who disagreed with him. He was just much more pleasant to listen to when he spoke. Vernacular was professional, the voice was smooth and he didn’t outright insult people.
Donald Trump is the first president I’ve ever heard say in an address to people live on TV, use the word bullshit. I’ve never heard that from a president before. And sometimes it was laugh out loud funny, and other times it was laugh so you don’t cry to believe this is what the presidency of the United States has devolved into.
I do have to say though, Donald Trump is not so much a problem of the United States as he is a symptom of what’s going on in the United States. He saw the opportunity, he saw the anger, he saw the division in America upon Obama leaving office, between people who would follow Obama’s vision and people who were dismissed as being whatever you could think of: sexist, racist, homophobic, pretty much anyone on the conservative side of the spectrum was dismissed as being on the wrong side of history.
A lot of resentment was building up in the American public, and I think a lot of academia in journalism missed this. They really bought into the idea that this was the past and American moved beyond it, and Donald Trump struck into that vein of people who felt like they were being dismissed as bumpkins, and uneducated, and uninformed.
And we could argue back and forth about how many of those people were actually described correctly and voted for him. As Hillary Clinton said in 2016, she called that group of Americans a basket of deplorables and irredeemable people. But they exist, and if they didn’t Donald Trump wouldn’t have won 30 states in 2016.
He has a talent for speaking to people who feel like they’ve been neglected. And he even used the term, the forgotten man, you won’t be forgotten anymore.
In my lifetime, definitely the most divisive person I’ve seen in leadership. I mean, even dictators in other countries I’ve heard sometimes speak with more overtones of unity than I’ve heard Donald Trump who, as you said, and it was the exact term I was going to use too, things constantly cased in the us versus them. Very often when he spoke of “we” he just meant the people in the room with him.
Dr. Gary Deel: Assuming that the next two months play out the way we expect they will, in avoiding any kind of say any significant, I guess, coup attempt or other obstructive efforts from the Trump administration, we will see Joseph Biden inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.
There’s been some rumor that Trump may attempt to return to the political scene for another run in 2024. But if we ignore that if only temporarily for the sake of the hypothetical, do you think it’s likely that we would return to the norms of decorum and I guess integrity for lack of a better word surrounding the presidency in so far as that public image of unity and poise is concerned?
My biggest concern and throughout the last four years watching this is that, as you said that there was I would describe it as almost a catharsis of what occurred with the Trump administration among the political right, and those who you described, I think accurately, as feeling disenfranchised. Especially over the eight years of the Obama administration many people were unhappy with the policies of the Democrats during that time, and were eager to have somebody who would just blow that all up.
But with Donald Trump, we got someone who is happy to allow you to listen to, I think, your indulgences, your better demons there for lack of a better term and say, yeah eat dessert before dinner and say the things that you really shouldn’t say in a public setting, out of respect and courtesy for other people. Just do all this stuff, completely smash it with a sledgehammer and don’t be politically correct in any shape or form, even if it means hurting feelings, or disrespecting people or creating hostility or even violence for that matter.
And I just wonder if, if Donald Trump disappeared on January 21st, 2021 and was never heard from again, do you think it’s likely that our country returns to the status quo of what the presidency was and what American culture was before Donald Trump as a political figure?
Dr. Tom Kelly: No, no, not at all. As I mentioned before, I see Donald Trump more of a symptom than the problem himself. The divisiveness, the red America/blue America, that really started to that began during the Bush-Gore years. And we did have relatively calm times before the Donald Trump presidency.
He no doubt exacerbated what was going on in America. But it’s almost in a way like the venom of Twitter and social media just metastasized to the mainstream media, and in mainstream decorum where you catch videos on YouTube now of high school teachers, or college professors saying stuff that is thoroughly inappropriate for the classroom. Deriding students who do something like wear a Trump shirt to class.
So, Donald Trump can’t control what the people on the right and left do. He’s been good at puppet mastering some peoples’ emotions to get them to rally up. But as far as going back to it, my biggest concern right now is that for any representative republic to function, people have to have confidence in the system.
There will always be a fringe group of people who say it doesn’t matter to vote, there are secret people working in the dark, there are Freemasons who choose the president before you’re born. Those conspiracy theories are always out there.
But what we had starting in 2016, this doubt was cast all over the election, that somehow Donald Trump had worked with the Russians. Half the country may still believe that, even though there was a two year investigation that came back and said, “Well, yeah, the Russians were screwing around online. Like they always do, but no, Donald Trump had no interaction with them at all.”
You still have people considering him as Putin’s puppet. And that somehow the 2016 election was, he cheated, and it was rigged. We had members of Congress saying that in the impeachment trial, “He cheated with the Russians. And now he’s trying to cheat with the Ukrainians.” That was undermining integrity in the elections for years. He was never accepted as legitimate president by about half the country.
Now we have it coming from the other side. Joe Biden has won, and we have half the country insistent—and then maybe not half, maybe 35, 40% that this election was stolen. That there were fake ballots printed in Pennsylvania, and Georgia, and Arizona, and Wisconsin, and Michigan. And that is very detrimental to the republic, in general.
I don’t see people coming around to say, yeah, yeah, yeah, Joe Biden won fair and square. There will be a sizable part of the population who never accepts him as a legitimate president, just as a sizable portion, never accepted Donald Trump as president.
No matter how upset conservatives were that Barack Obama was elected and reelected, nobody ever seriously said he cheated his way in. And they just bit their lips put up with it, made fun of him online complained about him, but there was never any a doubt that Barack Obama was the legitimate president of United States for eight years.
There was serious doubt put in the minds of many Americans about Donald Trump. And now we’re seeing the same thing with Joe Biden. Consecutive presidents seen by such a large portion of the population as being illegitimate is very detrimental to the country going forward.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah, it’s been surprising to me how in light of what appears to be overwhelming evidence of a legitimate election and a lack of evidence clearly and distinctly, especially when looking at the court cases and the filings from the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn it with regard to fraud.
That this hasn’t been in any way persuasive to congressional Republicans to acknowledge Joseph Biden’s election. I just watched yesterday, I think the polling among 250 or so Republicans in Congress was that 27 or so had acknowledged it, another handful had said they don’t know, and 200 give or take were firmly in the camp of, no, this has been a sham.
And it’s been interesting to see the dichotomy between that and the state level legislatures of even Republicans in the swing states that have rejected the Trump administration’s attempted fraud claims, and attempts to overturn the election in places like Pennsylvania and Georgia and Arizona. It’s almost like two different parties in that respect.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Let’s not forget the type of person who, and this is where some of my cynicism will bleed out, the type of person who wants to be a professional politician, who makes a career out of telling people what they want to hear, and eliciting donations. Do this many Republicans believe Donald Trump actually won and the election was stolen? No way. Are they raking in money from voters who believe it was stolen? Yes, they are. And that money stops coming in as soon as they admit that Donald Trump lost.
The Democratic Party did the same thing. There were fundraising letters and emails about the resistance, and we can’t let Russia take over our system. And it didn’t matter that the two year Mueller investigation came up with nothing, they still raised money on it. Adam Schiff will still make allusions to it here and there.
What’s going on with the Republicans right now who refuse especially at the federal level, who refuse to say, yeah, yeah, Joe won. They’re milking this for money to the detriment of the country.
Dr. Gary Deel: So Tom, when we left off, we were talking about corrupt politicians and politicians being persuaded by special interests, or political interests, or the prevailing interest of people in power at the time, whether that be Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, or whoever the party leaders happen to be.
But the question that I wanted to ask you with respect to that is there such a thing these days as an honest politician? In your view, can we point to anyone who is truly clean and innocent of charges of corruption or underhandedness?
Today it seems that with how ubiquitous cameras, and cellphone cameras, and the media is that you can find a disingenuous moment from almost anybody in American public life today. You know, whether it be politicians or celebrities or athletes. You can find a moment of, of dishonesty or deception or just embarrassment, frankly.
And so I’m curious to know if you think there’s someone we can point to, or are there people we can point to that are still holding the torch of integrity in political life? Or is the system just replete with this problem of corruption and dishonesty?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, yeah, that’s kind of a loaded question in that if I name anybody, it’ll come back to bite me like a week later. I will say this. I think when we get younger members of Congress, they come in, particularly ones who are more ideologically strong, or ideologically bent, they have ideas on how things should be. They want to represent people who think like they do, and they want to make a difference. I think we do see that with newer members to Congress sometimes.
But once we have people who have been there for multiple decades, we’re not dealing with somebody who’s looking to change America or make a difference. We’re typically dealing with somebody who wants to be reelected.
David Mayhew did studies on that, and then he did like, oh boy, in the 1980s, I think, and then he redid it again around the year 2000, and found that the number one goal of members of Congress is reelection.
So, they say and do what they need to get campaign contributions, to get reelected. And that’s what he found over and over again. So are there people in Congress who want to do the right thing? Well, absolutely. But when we have people like McConnell, and Pelosi, and Schumer who have been there literally for decades, they become very adept at saying the right things at the right time to win the right amount of votes, to stay in power. And at the same time we don’t see their voting records necessarily bringing about all the things they promised over the years.
There’s also another way to look at this too. Sometimes new members of Congress are not new to politics. I have seen this with people who first run for a local office, and then they’re running for a county commission. Then they’re running for their state legislature, and then they’re running for their state Senate. And then they work their way up to the-to the US Congress.
These are people that our whole lives who have had their sights set on being professional politicians. I don’t find a reservoir of principle in people whose goal was to make it to be a professional politician. Now I can’t sit here and say, “Well, no, absolutely. Anyone who runs for office is a crook.” Because I just ran for office this year. I’d be calling myself a crook.
Apparently I’m not very good at telling people, everybody what they’d like to hear, because I lost. I was running for city council in the town I live in. But this is a whole different conversation we get into about to congressional term limits. That would end the cycle of doing what donors want to get donors money to get the campaign contributions, to run your ads, and to get reelected. But yeah, the card is on the table. I am a little bit cynical in the motives of most career politicians, and what they would like to do.
Dr. Gary Deel: I’m glad you brought your own experience running for political office, because I think that’s helpful context. But if we pivot to then a solution to the problem that we are clearly pointing to it is that term limits, is that one of the remedies to fix the complicated problems of our system? Do you think that that would make things better? Because some would argue that creates more problems than it solves.
Dr. Tom Kelly: I’ve heard the arguments about how important it is to have experienced politicians. I don’t find that a convincing argument that we need people who know really well how the DC system works.
Congress was never meant to be a place where people stayed their entire lives. It was supposed to be temporary service. And then you left and it was somebody else’s turn. A government by the citizens, not by the professional leaders.
When I hear we’re talking about our leaders in DC, I don’t know how we got to that point because they’re supposed to be public servants. They’re supposed to be members of the American populace who are temporarily serving in this capacity and they no longer are. There are people who come from middle class to upper middle class backgrounds as attorneys, and retire from Congress, 25 years later, multimillionaires on salaries of six figures a year.
So would term limits fix that? They could, but it depends. It depends on what type of limits we have. Some of the ones I’ve seen proposed are a maximum of 12 years in the House. And then a maximum of 12 years in the Senate. Well, we’re talking about somebody still serving over two decades in Congress at that point, continuously looking for reelection.
There’s a major problem too with term limits. It was a lot easier to pass presidential term limits because the Congress and the states passed it. Congress would be essentially voting away their own careers. So that’s why you see some conservative groups looking for a convention of states to amend the constitution in a way that’s never been done in the history of the country. But for the traditional way of amending the constitution of two thirds of the both chambers of Congress, it’s highly unlikely people that have worked their whole lives to get there, and park in that comfortable job would vote away all their efforts.
Dr. Gary Deel: Right. Yeah. That would require an incredible act of selflessness, and moral compass in that regard. I’ve long said that that’s one of the problems and it seems at least at the current state of affairs it seems an obvious issue. And it makes me wonder if it was so inconceivable at the time that the founding fathers had written our constitution and designed our system, that that would not ultimately end up being a problem. There didn’t seem to be an issue voting in term limits for the president, obviously, which were put into place after FDR. But it’s interesting to me that that was never seen as a problem or anticipated to be a problem in Congress.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Right. Right. And people who are opponents of term limits say, we already have term limits, they’re called elections. If we don’t like somebody, we should vote them out. There’s even a split in conservative thought, because quite often it’s conservatives who push the idea of term limits, but then there are other people who more lean towards the libertarian side and say, that’s another government restriction. Why can’t people choose whoever they want to represent them? Term limits don’t make any sense.
Dr. Gary Deel: But I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that that ignores the clear statistical advantage that incumbents have from a power standpoint running for reelection as opposed to a challenger.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Oh, we could open up an entire other can of worms here about how the Republican and Democratic party work together to gerrymander and make their own congressional seats safe, even working with the minority party. Here is the deal, we’ll draw this, so you’ll never get voted out again. Sure. We’ll sign on for that.
So the state legislatures have been complicit in gerrymandering districts to the point where we have—and I can’t say off the top of my head—but there is a substantial portion of the Congress every two years where there’s no challenger. People run unopposed for Congress in a country of over 300 million people. This is insane.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. That is astonishing. But I think, I would speculate that people are intimidated by the amount of effort and funding and support that it must take to oust someone, particularly someone who might have been sitting in a seat for many decades and having all the connections of power in that particular district. To then to defy them really puts yourself on the chopping block and would require some Herculean effort that I’d imagine most people don’t look much further than that to decide that they would rather go play golf, or do something far more enjoyable and less painful.
Dr. Tom Kelly: But you’ve hit upon something else that is an extreme deterrent to some of our best and brightest people actually seeking office. And that is the way people who are running for office are treated.
We have splintered media, we have our conservative and liberal sources. They’ve all become hopelessly biased in many ways. It’s difficult to get a straight story in anything. You have to read from all different perspectives to get all the facts. And they are merciless for people who disagree with their ideology, whatever the bent of the news source is. And it’s not just the candidate they go after. They go after the family, the friends, the children of candidates right now.
And you have to wonder what type of person is so self-centered that they would put their family and friends through that type of scrutiny, just so they could have that personal power? We wonder how somebody like Donald Trump becomes president.
Well, look at our last two elections. We had Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were two of the most unpopular candidates ever. And now we have back-to-back elections where people look around and say, really, this is the best we have from the two parties?
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah, it’s interesting you bring up the point about families and exposure to the muckraking that happens in the political process. It’s not lost on me, that it seems a lot of the perceptions of corruption I think come from the idea that the average American has, who isn’t in the room for conversation. There’s an assumption there, I think that the conversations are nefarious that these powerful men are meeting in smoky rooms, behind closed doors and organizing deals to enrich themselves at the expense of the average people. But we’ll never know it because there’s no transparency.
So, sort of on the flip side of that coin, with respect to exposure to media scrutiny, do you think there’s a need for more transparency in the political mechanics of our government? It’s occurred to me on more than one occasion, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie, “The Circle” with, I think it was Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. It was a story about a social media company that made major headlines because they got big around people wearing essentially body cams all day long and just perpetually live streaming, everything they do everywhere they go.
And then recently I was watching a season of “House of Cards” and there’s a point where Kevin Spacey’s main character is challenged by a presidential candidate from the Republican Party. And one of the things that candidate does is say, “Here’s my cellphone America I’m giving you all access to, you know, my entire life here. You go to this website and you can look at, you know, every picture I’ve ever taken, every message I’ve ever sent, every email that I’ll ever get.” In an effort to convince the American people, that there’s transparency on a level that would persuade them that there’s nothing underhanded taking place.
And it caused me to kind of scratch my chin and wonder if anything, in reality, like that would ever be effective. What are your thoughts on that? Do we need more transparency or is it just a matter of the way people misconstrue what’s actually happening?
Dr. Tom Kelly: One of the issues that comes up is that presidential candidates don’t really have open discussions and debates anymore. We have legislative aids and congressional aids and even interest groups write bills, we have congressional aids read the bills. We have members of Congress vote on them without ever reading them. And when it’s debate time, they don’t actually debate. They come in with pre-written speeches often from speech writers.
That political show is probably why so many Americans have lost confidence in the system. There are many of us who are aware that members of Congress don’t read the laws that they’re passing.
Now, as far as personal transparency, kind of hoping we are getting to an era right now is we see like greater acceptance of people need LGBT community, and different religions that people’s personal lives weren’t so important. And it was basically came down to, can the people do the job they’re being elected to are not in, can they do it well?
So I don’t see a practical purpose of laying out everybody’s personal life and everybody around them to better trust of who they are at that point. Now, I don’t see many members of Congress, I don’t see them colluding with each other to make themselves all millionaires necessarily.
There’ve been stuff like insider trading, and there have been backscratching deals made with pork in past for each other’s congressional districts, but let’s go back to Mayhew. They’re basically looking, what do I need to do to get reelected? Keep my poll numbers up, keep the contributions coming in, and get reelected again.
And quite often that’s what the votes come down to. Not what I think is right or wrong, but what is going to increase my odds of getting more votes the next time around? The dive would be the hope of term limits again. Strict term limits at that point.
Can you imagine Congress, if you could be elected once there was no reelection? Here you are for two years, do the best you can, and then it’s somebody else’s turn. I wonder how much that would change. It’s completely unrealistic, but I wonder how much it would change it if politicians did not have to worry about reelection.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. It would be interesting. I mean, you’d think that the concern of their legacies would affect their decisions throughout the entirety of their political careers, but it seems like everything is driven from one election cycle to the next in terms of whichever way that political winds happened to be blowing at the time.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Right. They’re already gearing up for the 2022 elections. So what you’re already seeing right now is members of Congress positioning themselves to win two years from now. And that goes back to these members of Congress who are refusing to admit Joe Biden won. They don’t want to lose their base.
Dr. Gary Deel: Do you think the reliance on executive orders, as of late in the absence of a unified government between the legislative and executive branches is a good thing? I know that Obama relied on this heavily in the last term of his office, because he was, as some described, a lame duck president without the support of Congress to push through a lot of legislation that he would have liked to do.
So, he pumped out executive orders and they were challenged in the courts. And, I’m curious to know if you think that’s something that, that is healthy given where we are in the point of political division, or if that just makes things worse.
Dr. Tom Kelly: What’s really made things worse has been the judiciary’s endorsement of legislation through executive order. There seems to be an acceptance, well, if Congress won’t do the job, then the president should, and we’re coalescing more power in the White House. And when that’s not the way it was meant to be set up.
I think of something like DACA. Most people in America agreed with the intention of DACA, of not deporting people who were brought to the United States when they are two years old and don’t know any other country, but Congress never changed the law. So then Barack Obama orders the government to behave as if the law had changed, even though it had not, the law says you will not issue work permits to people whose status is illegal. Well, they began issuing work permits to people whose status was illegal in violation of the law, it goes to court, and the courts uphold it.
Then we have the next president come in, rescind that executive order. And then we have a court come in and say, “No, no, you can’t rescind that order.” And they put that order back into effect again, with the law not even changing in that place. Now, a lot of times it comes down to the personality of who is in office.
As I mentioned before, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton were very effective with a Congress dominated by the opposing party. Barack Obama and George W. Bush and Donald Trump all struggled, even when their party controlled chambers of the Congress. George Bush had six years with unified Republican, and didn’t pass much of what he wanted to do.
His party ended up losing control of Congress. Barack Obama had two years of unified party control, and they got hammered in the midterms after that as he struggled to get through his healthcare promises. Some of it has to do with the personality of who is in there, and who is willing to work.
Now, I don’t know if Donald Trump has just firebombed irreparably that avenue of being able to so-called reach across the aisle, because there’s just so much animosity between the parties right now that I don’t see Republicans working in any respect with Joe Biden going forward.
And even worse, we have the same issue we have with the Donald Trump presidency, a large portion of the population saying that the president is illegitimate anyway. So they shouldn’t work with him.
I really don’t know where it goes from here with the ability to work with the other party. And even when there’s unified control—you have a Democratic presidency house and Senate—that is no guarantee that they will get through the legislation that they have on their platform. We’ve seen that before, both during the Bush and the Obama administrations.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. I think these next four years are going to be particularly interesting to me, because normally when you have a political figure that is either an incumbent or a challenger, and does not succeed in taking presidential office, they tend to fade into the backdrop again. Whether it’s Romney or McCain or Kerry or Gore, you go back that far.
And you see that there’s regardless of the circumstances of the election, as you mentioned earlier, the Bush-Gore election was contentious and went right down to the wire with a very, very tight margin. But the person who loses ultimately doesn’t take a lot of effort to obstruct the winner and usually just congratulates them and wishes them well.
But I don’t have any faith in that from Donald Trump than I did that he would concede on this election, if he lost. I mean, back in 2016, he told the voters that the election was rigged and it would be a fraud.
And I think the only reason that he never contested that beyond it was of course, that he won. So regardless of whether or not he still thinks it was rigged you know, there was no reason to argue about it. But here, of course, you know, it was said over and over, and over again, and he didn’t win this one. So he had already set the stage for that.
But it seems moving into the first term of the Biden administration here, that we’re going to almost have a two-president situation where Biden is in office. And obviously is the official president of the United States. But, in so far as the Republican Party is concerned, all signs seem to point to, at least in my view, that Donald Trump will still exert incredible influence over the rest of the political power that the Republican Party wields in Congress and elsewhere.
Again, he’s already been rumored to want to run again at the next election cycle. But whether or not that happens, it seems that his influence is so powerful that he’ll be able to be a major roadblock in the Biden administration’s efforts to do virtually anything for the next four years.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Well, I can’t guess exactly what we’ll do yet. We’ve got hints based on what he says that he’s not going away. Sometimes we have to look at media portrayal of what happens. We hear quite often about Donald Trump. “This is not normal.” Well, other things have happened that were not normal. When Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, she went around giving speeches about how she had really won. She was part of the “Russia helped him cheat.” She was supposed to be president.
So she didn’t necessarily go away. And she’s still making comments about the elections. And she still gets press time. That was new. In the past, presidents once they stepped down from office quietly said nothing about who came after them.
Barack Obama broke precedent, and it has been four straight years of him consistently going public and criticizing Donald Trump. That was new too, but we don’t get a lot of press going about look what Barack Obama is doing, this is not normal that he got cheered on as a hero have taken on this illegitimate Russian puppet.
So, Donald Trump comes across sometimes as vindictive. Probably a safe bet that he’s not going to quietly go away. That he may claim for the rest of his life that the election was stolen from him.
As far as him running again in four years, I see that losing a lot of momentum. You might have people who are all excited about it now while they’re feeling emotional, but as the facts come out, yes, they found solid evidence of voter fraud in several states. None of it rises to the level that would have changed the election anyway, though.
They’ll realize that Donald Trump lost, and since he lost, probably not going to win four years later either. So, I think his momentum to run again for president is going to peter out. And I don’t know how much press he’ll get either. I think he’ll get largely ignored.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. That’s interesting. I think it’ll be really interesting to see how the next four years play out. You mentioned the word ego as one of the driving factors behind his administration earlier in the hour. And I think that that’s, if I had to guess based on what I’ve seen of his character over the last four years, I think that that will drive a compulsion to want to continue to be in the spotlight, even though the presidency will have passed to the next president.
And if I had to take a wager at it, I would say that I would not be the least bit surprised if we see more of the Trump-style, political rallies from a Donald Trump, who’s no longer in office. And not even during an election cycle over the next four years, just to continue to rally up the base or for local elections, and for, of course, the midterms that you mentioned in 2022. But you might be right, it might be the case that the Donald Trump enthusiasm sort of peters out over these next few years, and this is the end of that story. But yet to be seen.
Well, we’re at the end of our hour now. And this has been really interesting to discuss sort of the entire sphere of what’s happening at the moment. Was there anything else that you wanted to mention or talk about that we didn’t get a chance to thus far?
Dr. Tom Kelly: I’ll just wrap it up with this, one norm that Donald Trump has shattered his political correctness, no matter how conservative a president was, or, or a politician was, they remained a certain amount of decorum in the way they conducted themselves.
And he found lightning in a bottle with just coming out and calling people names and insulting people. His thunder will be stolen out there, there is another populist type person. I don’t know who’s going to rise up, but they will see that this is effective. And I think this will become a permanent part of American politics of being just a little bit more aggressive and crass than we’ve been accustomed to growing up.
Dr. Gary Deel: So I’m curious to know with respect to that, because I certainly agree with you that that norm has been shattered and maybe you’re right, maybe it’s permanently. Do you see that as a good thing on balance or is it doing more harm than good in terms of its effects?
Dr. Tom Kelly: Absolutely doing more harm than good. People are losing respect for the office of the presidency. They’re losing respect for the integrity of our elections, but to look and see if anyone doesn’t believe what I’m saying here, just go on Twitter, look at AOC’s account, look at Dan Crenshaw’s account. It has become the norm for professional politicians to go on there and snipe like adolescents.
Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. I would absolutely concur. I think that it’s fed the virulence that has led people both in the political professional world, and just in the mainstream public to be encouraged and to feel empowered to, again, as I mentioned earlier in the hour, to say the things that we perhaps ought not say out loud. Even if we’re thinking them just out of basic respect and courtesy for other people, or do the things that you know would not be appropriate to do. But in these last four years, it seems more and more people have felt willing to express those things that are not better reflections of our nature. So I would definitely agree there.
Dr. Tom Kelly: And those members of Congress who are getting all the attention are the ones who are the most obnoxious, and it is creating an incentive for other members of Congress to get that type of attention by themselves becoming obnoxious. But, you know, okay, so that’s a little bit cynical. Everything’s going to be okay people.
Dr. Gary Deel: We will certainly see, and we’ll keep a lens of optimism and hope around the future, but I appreciate the outlook and the guiding wisdom today. Thank you for sharing your expertise and perspectives on these topics. And, and thanks again for joining me today for this episode of Intellectible.
Dr. Tom Kelly: Thank you very much, Gary.
Dr. Gary Deel: And thank to our listeners for joining us. You can learn more about these topics by visiting the various APUS-sponsored blogs. Be well and stay safe everyone.