Observing the Observers Preserves Democracy

Observing the Observers Preserves Democracy
This group of black-and-gold shirted domestic terrorists joined the Oct. 3 Trump car parade based at the Villagio Shopping Center at Blackstone and Nees avenues. They were greeted with honks and waves from passing cars.

By Kevin Hall

In hyped-up times like these, the two-week lag between deadline and publication stretches out like an eternity of gaslit news cycles. Daily newscasts can barely keep up. So here’s a snapshot of mid-October’s craziness and how November looks from here.

Really bad and getting worse, respectively.

A “cured” Trump is holding daily super-spreader campaign events in swing states; California Republicans have idiotically placed phony ballot boxes in several counties, including Fresno; a Supreme Court justice appointment is being rammed through—her pick ghoulishly celebrated at a White House super-spreader event before the body of Ruth Bader Ginsburg had even been laid to rest and people the time to grieve; the Trump campaign is calling for voter intimidation by White supremacists at polling places; and weekend truck parades of hootin’ flag-wavers are blasting through north Fresno and Clovis, indulging in even more spreading afterward at tailgate parties.

Right-wing extremists are being encouraged by President Trump to “observe” polling places. There are strict rules in place limiting their presence and activities to ensure voter privacy and safety, including this “may not” list. Source: Fresno County Clerk

The common thread is they’re at war against government efforts being made to stop the spread of coronavirus. They’re led and egged on, ironically, by the head of that same government and principal cause of the pandemic’s ferocity in the United States. They’re a screaming herd looking for a battlefield to die on or a cliff to jump off—anything but face the realities of the harsh present or disastrous future their blind faith has led them to.

When Orwell wrote “ignorance is strength,” he wasn’t making a prediction; it was an observation. Apparently crowding together with others at a Trump rally without masks on makes these people feel alive, as if they’re dodging enemy bullets. Driven by a fear of appearing weak or subservient in the face of government mandates, they instead opt for a game of Russian roulette with their lives and those of others. It’s their show of strength. And ignorance.

Unfortunately, this crowd’s mental confusion and suicidal drive gives it the force of mob rule; Orwell witnessed the deaths of tens of millions caused by such out-of-control people in World War II. They wrap their fear of weakness in sadistic attacks on any who show weakness, including their own, a vicious downward spiral like the one America is now in ensues. Our democracy is circling the drain.

We do know this: an unlikely victory for Trump at the polls—or a coup engineered through a rigged Electoral College and hurriedly stacked Supreme Court—will signal the end of American democracy, what little of it remains.

This appears to have always been its fate. Due to the influence of its slave-owning authors, centuries after they penned the Constitution, it reaches out from the past to stack the Senate with as many seats for the country’s least populated 42 states as one—California; it gives the Electoral College authority to override popular will; and it places few real checks on presidential power.

Twenty-eight states have populations of fewer than 4 million people, the equivalent of the San Joaquin Valley. Mitch McConnell, the most powerful person in American politics today, comes from Kentucky, a state of only 4.4 million, and his dangerously reactionary, elitist views now dominate in the Capitol thanks to the overrepresentation of small states. If Fresno County were one, it would outrank Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming.

To say California is underrepresented in D.C. is a mild understatement. To say conservative, rural states are overrepresented there is to understand what is wrong with the U.S. Senate and by extension our courts and country.

As for the presidency, early 20th-century Irish revolutionary Éamon de Valera once wrote of our system: “Of course I wrote most of the [Irish] Constitution myself. I remember hesitating for a long time over the US presidential system. But it wouldn’t have done—we were too trained in English democracy to sit down under a dictatorship which is what the American system really is.”

Because apparently the only thing to have proven de Valera wrong thus far has been what boils down to an honor system. The highly vaunted “checks and balances” of our system of government as taught to American schoolchildren is proving to be as malleable as the orange goo Trump slathers on his face to appear healthy. It’s a thin veneer easily smudged, smeared and wiped off.

Where does one turn to protect democracy? Which of our institutions is most helpful, or most vulnerable? The dishonorable Trump regime’s growing authorianism, sanctioned by the Republican-controlled Senate, has been attacking every pillar of society since 2015, either directly through court-stacking, legislation and executive orders or indirectly through levels of corruption and conflicts of interest so profoundly deep and widespread they have simply overwhelmed the public, the media and the courts.

What’s a simple citizen to do? Anyone who has read this far has already voted or has a firm plan to do so, so that’s step one. Step two: protect others’ right to vote. The Trump campaign will be focused on winnable Electoral College votes, not California’s winner-take-all allotment where he has no chance, so phone and financial support is the best one can offer from here. Every candidate campaign has a plan in place and their Web sites feature signup pages for work that needs doing right until the close of polls and probably for weeks beyond.

Meanwhile, here at home it is likely some Trump yahoos will push and try to break “Observer Rules” at voting centers, the large polling places that have replaced smaller precinct-level polling sites. Olivia Seideman, civic engagement coordinator at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, created a useful Google map of them, and an official version is printed in every voter sample ballot.

About a dozen such centers serve Fresno south of Shields Avenue and people interested in learning more should download a copy of Fresno County’s “Observer Rules” (search online for Observer Rules – County of Fresno) from the Registrar of Voters’ Web site.

In other counties in past elections, right-wing disruptors have intimidated temporary election staff—or been welcomed by them—and seated themselves at sign-in tables or allowed to stand behind them eyeballing voters. These acts of interference and intimidation and more are strictly prohibited.

Make a plan to observe the observers. Phone the Registrar of Voters’ office with any concerns: 559-600-VOTE (8683). Do not approach these people as acts of violence have been reported throughout the country. Trump’s calls for interference with the election to save his criminal self from ruin grow increasingly hysterical, and more of his followers will become dangerous to others.

Cid & Macedo, a local law firm focused on social justice strategies, is coordinating an election protection program in Fresno and Tulare counties. Call (559) 424-3895 or go to cidmacedo.com/election-protection to sign up. 


Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate, coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org and can be contacted at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.

Cid and Macedo, Inc. is seeking volunteers to serve as poll observers for Election Day field programs. If interested, please visit this site to register.


  • Kevin Hall

    Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate and coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org. Contact him at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.

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