The Chinese Curse

Dr. Malcolm Cross


“May you live in interesting times.“

So goes a Chinese curse.  But political junkies may be pardoned for feeling blessed to be living in these times, for they are, indeed, interesting, to say the least.  Although the 2018 elections are more or less over (save for a few contests which have not yet been decided and for which recounts are currently in progress), the 2020 presidential election is just around the corner.  In Stephenville, we’ll be gearing up for the 2019 city council elections soon.  And in the meantime, we can begin to sit back and see the fallout of the decisions we made early last week.

The local city charter election results should keep things lively.  The voters chose to keep the city council the same size, and the council members’ terms the same length.  They also voted to require that every vacancy on the council be filled by direct vote of the people.  Good for them—more democracy.

But the voters also chose to impose term limits on the mayor and council members.  This will keep churning the membership on the council as old members leave and new members join.  But this decision will also make acquiring the experience necessary to effectively regulate and direct the city bureaucracy more difficult.  What this means for democracy in Stephenville remains to be seen.

And the voters chose to adopt the recall, a special election which they can demand to remove council members from their offices before the official expiration of their terms.  Theoretically, a council member could be subject to two recall attempts during his term.  The recall election is like a fire extinguisher—necessary in times of emergency but not to be used lightly.  Only time will tell if its adoption means more democracy, or unnecessary chaos.

The situation at the state level is also becoming more interesting.  As usual, the Republicans maintained their streak, unbroken since 1996, of winning all statewide offices up for election.  But Ted Cruz had only a narrow escape from defeat, and several congressional and state legislative seats were flipped to the Democrats.  Is Texas becoming less red and more pinkish?  Weak Republicans, strong Democrats, and demographic trends wherein Hispanic and African American populations are growing more rapidly than the Anglo population seem to indicate that someday soon Texas may turn purple.  This prospect may make for a very colorful column soon.

But the greatest excitement will no doubt be at the national level where the Democrats captured the House of Representatives while the Republicans retained their Senate majority.  The consequences are potentially enormous.

As forecast in an earlier column, by winning the House, the Democrats win the Speakership, the chairmanships of all committees and subcommittees, majorities on all policy-making committees, and the power to subpoena and investigate whomever and whatever they choose.  And they believe that investigating the Trump Administration will be harpooning a blimp at three feet—they can’t miss.  So far, they’re being cagey, usually minimizing talk of impeachment and saying we’ll all have to wait and see what, if anything, the investigations yield.  But President Trump had better watch his back.

But while impeachment in the House will lead to a trial in the Senate, which could lead to the removal of the President by a two-thirds vote, the likelihood of actual removal is remote.  The Senate Republicans would almost never remove President Trump, at least as long as he maintains his phenomenal popularity with Republican voters, and his intervention in the campaign showed he was popular enough to help pull Republicans in close races—in Missouri, in North Dakota, in Texas, and possibly in Florida and elsewhere—across the finish line to victory.  The president is almost certainly safe in the Senate no matter what the House does.

And as of this writing, it’s not clear whether the Republicans will have more than 51 seats when the Senate meets in January—the outcomes three exceptionally close Senate races have yet to be determined.  But even with 51 senators and a Republican Vice President, the Senate could still conceivably confirm any new presidential appointments to the Supreme Court, while continuing the efforts of President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to staff the lower federal courts with more conservatives as well.  Of course, especially with a new Supreme Court appointment, the Democrats will put up a fight which will make the Kavanaugh battle seem like a Sunday school session.

Interesting times indeed.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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