End of July Random Thoughts

Thoughts as we head into what has traditionally been the hottest part of the Midwest summer:

I have seen reports that the Trump Campaign believes that the development of a Coronavirus vaccine by Election Day will boost the President Trump’s electoral prospects.  I don’t see why.  Even assuming one is developed within that time frame and it is entirely safe and effective (more on substantive questions about the vaccine below), I would submit that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden will still have the upper hand if he asks, “Based upon our nation’s experience over the past year, which candidate do you trust more to see that the vaccine is competently, quickly, fairly, and affordably made available to our people?”

Given Mr. Biden’s age, his choice of a running mate will clearly be assessed by voters as someone that could be President.  I have seen speculation in the last week that Mr. Biden is seriously considering picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris.  I hope he does not, for all of the substantive and political concerns I have already expressed in earlier notes. That said, I would add another risk related to a selection of Sen. Harris, visceral and potentially explosive.  Do an internet search on the term, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  Although Ms. Harris’ presidential bid collapsed before any of her Democratic competitors had any incentive to raise the matter, after reviewing a few of the apparently reasonably-accurate accounts of Ms. Harris’ long-ago close personal relationship with Mr. Brown (a man 30 years’ Ms. Harris’ senior, and then Speaker of the California State Assembly) and the seeming boost that Mr. Brown provided to Ms. Harris’ early political career, it is perhaps not unreasonable to ask how the Trump Campaign, the Russians, Fox News, and the rest of the Trump cohort might seek to exploit the old Brown-Harris relationship to dampen support for the Democratic ticket among feminists and swing voters in swing states.  I would respectfully suggest to anyone who says, “It won’t matter to voters if they take that tack.  Look at Trump’s past,” that s/he needs to reconsider.  Ms. Harris isn’t Mr. Trump, and California isn’t America.  Mr. Biden can’t afford a salacious distraction, and we can’t afford to have him lose. 

As polls continue to show decent leads for Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in most key measures, I have seen speculation that the polls are flawed because respondents won’t admit that they favor Mr. Trump.  While it seems a near certainty that some 2016 Trump supporters who now truthfully tell pollsters that they lean toward Mr. Biden will return to the President’s fold by Election Day – for example, I think the continuing unrest in Portland, OR, is starting to help Mr. Trump as the outrage that initially attended the killing of George Floyd fades in some voter segments – I would suggest that although there are presumably latent Trump voters (those who didn’t turn out for him in 2016), there are no longer many secret Trump voters.  While there is always a tendency to generalize based upon one’s own experience, the Trump supporters we know are vehemently, unabashedly, and proudly so.  Mr. Trump’s divisive conduct of the presidency  and the manner in which he has dominated the national consciousness over the last four years have arguably surfaced those of his supporters who, due to the social stigma then perceived to exist in some quarters, were reluctant to admit to their support for him in 2016.

As current accounts report that amazing progress is being made toward development of Coronavirus vaccines – it is not unusual to see declarations that processes that normally “take years” are being executed “in months” – I consider such speed a double-edged sword.  While the creation of a truly safe and effective COVID vaccine in such a compressed time frame would be one of the greatest scientific achievements of our lives, any prophylactic created within such a short period will seemingly likely come with unresolved questions regarding effective dosage amount, duration of benefit, unforeseen allergic reactions in certain patient profiles, unknown long-term side effects, etc., etc.  Speaking as one that believes in science, has had all the appropriate vaccinations for a person of my vintage, and gets a flu shot every year, I ponder:  If authorities assure us that through this incredibly compressed process they have a safe and effective vaccine by year’s end, and I am somehow given an early opportunity to receive it, will I get it, or prefer to wait a bit?

As of the time this is typed, we have passed 150,000 Coronavirus deaths in the United States.  One Hundred Fifty Thousand.  There can be a tendency to become oblivious as the numbers slowly rise – like the proverbial frog in the slowly-warming water.  It becomes terrifying when made concrete:  the deaths exceed the populations of the largest cities of at least seven states – Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  They approximate the combined total capacity of Michigan Stadium, the country’s largest stadium – the University of Michigan’s “Big House” – and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  Think about that.  Think of your partner, your family, your friends.  Even if thus far you and your loved ones have been fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the virus, imagine one or more of them … gone.  Anyone that reads these pages recognizes that I am preoccupied with the risk to our nation presented by Mr. Trump’s dictatorial tendencies, but how many of our people have been and will be lost, how badly will our economic downturn be extended and exacerbated, due to the President’s denial, self-absorption, misinformation, and sheer incompetence?  Even if we had a resurrected Franklin Roosevelt in his prime assume the presidency this minute, given where we are now, he’d tell us that times were going to get worse before they got better. 

He’d also tell us that from a safety standpoint, we can be our own best friends.  Each of us individually can only do our best.

Awaiting Opening Day … 2021

In January, 1942, a little more than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball – the team sport which then dwarfed all others in terms of public support – and indicated that if the Judge wished, baseball should continue despite the war.  The President wrote:

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going….  [U.S. citizens] ought to have a chance for recreation …. [Baseball players for whatever reason not able to serve the war effort] are a definite recreational asset to … [millions] of their fellow citizens – and that in my judgement is thoroughly worthwhile.”

An abbreviated MLB season opened a few days ago, to the completely understandable delight of millions.  I appreciate the point that Mr. Roosevelt was making 78 years ago, but for me, baseball’s relaxed pace and old world allure will need to wait a bit.  I don’t begrudge — indeed, I envy – those for whom the game provides a distraction in these times of political, health, and social crisis.  Perhaps, if the National Football League plays games this fall, I will be able to immerse myself in the short, intense once-a-week 3-hour distraction of the Sunday football rite ;).  As for baseball … hopefully, by next spring, the Coronavirus will no longer be raging, we will have put the blight of the Trump presidency behind us, and I can return to the languid charm of the game I love best.  So I’m hesitantly anticipating the prospect of the first pitch of Opening Day … in spring, 2021.  Hopefully, for me, it’ll then be time … to Play Ball.

Mr. Biden: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is a couple of notes below), I would start there.

I would offer a final precept that might prove vital to Mr. Biden’s winning the White House this November:

Pigs Get Fat; Hogs Get Slaughtered.  On July 11, the New York Times ran a story I had been expecting and, frankly, dreading:  “Democrats Tell Biden to Go Big,” which reported that given Mr. Trump’s “slumping” poll numbers not only in swing states but in recently- or traditionally-conservative-leaning states such as Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Montana, and Kansas, Mr. Biden is facing increasing pressure within the Democratic Party, intent on a resounding renunciation of Trumpism, to “compete aggressively in more states,” “press his party’s advantage down the ballot,” and work “to install a generation of lawmakers who can cement Democratic control of Congress and help redraw legislative maps following this year’s census.” 

With the possible exception of Ohio, such sentiments are misguided nonsense.  Mr. Biden needs to resist this temptation.  This may be our last election based upon a predominantly two-party system (a premise obviously worthy of a future post) that until this century generally served us well for over one hundred years.  A campaign has limited time and resources.  In 2016, Democratic Presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, apparently well ahead in the polls and anticipating that Mr. Trump would claim that her victory had been “rigged,” attempted to run up her Electoral College score to establish her legitimacy.  While never visiting Wisconsin, she diddled around in states like Georgia and Utah — states that any reasonable observer recognized that she was never going to win.  (It is a classic example of Mr. Trump’s bombast causing an opponent’s unforced error.) 

There are 538 Electoral College votes at issue in November.  If Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden wins exactly 270 Electoral College votes, he gets 4 years.  If the winner gets 400, he gets … four years.  If the winner gets 500, he gets … four years.  (All assuming, of course, that if Mr. Trump is elected, he doesn’t – as in effect Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have – declare himself President for Life.)  The candidate that musters 269 or fewer gets … ZERO years.  For the good of the nation, all that matters for Mr. Biden is getting in the White House.  While closely monitoring for any slippage in any of the states won by Ms. Clinton in 2016 (232 Electoral votes, if one includes the few votes denied her by those states’ “faithless” Electors), he needs to claim (assuming no “faithless electors”) any combination of 38 additional Electoral College votes from the six swing states listed in Part I:  Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), Florida (29), North Carolina (15), and Arizona (11) [and maybe Ohio (18), where Mr. Biden – perhaps boosted by the tacit support of former OH Gov. John Kasich — shows a steady if narrow lead and his traditional northern liberalism shouldn’t alarm persuadables].  As of the time this note is posted (while recognizing that these numbers vary daily), Mr. Biden’s leads in these six swing states have actually narrowed by an average of more than 1.5% from their respective late June and July crests – and he didn’t have that much of a lead in Arizona and North Carolina at his best.  I would assert that any decision by the Biden Campaign to broaden its efforts beyond the acknowledged swing states, perhaps Ohio, and any other 2016 Trump states in which polls show that he is sustaining a lead over Mr. Trump outside the margin of error (Nebraska?), is folly. 

Even the cautious might ultimately be tempted to suggest:  Wait until a couple of weeks before the election, and if Mr. Biden retains a commanding lead, then broaden the effort.  Two weeks before the 2016 election, national polls indicated that Ms. Clinton had a 12-point lead over President Trump — days before FBI Director James Comey announced that the Bureau was reopening its investigation into Ms. Clinton’s emails.  I would recommend that Mr. Biden run hard and narrowly right to the end.  As recently as a July 19 interview on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Trump refused to indicate he would concede the election if he lost.  I would submit that it is more important for Mr. Biden to achieve convincing margins in the requisite number of Electoral College states than it is to achieve narrow – and, thus, contestable – margins in a larger number of states.  Let the Lincoln Project and other groups of disaffected former Republicans make the case against Mr. Trump in heretofore conservative states.  There is one qualification to a narrow approach:  Mr. Biden should be willing to devote time to non-swing states in which polling indicates that his assistance might help the Democrats gain a U.S. Senate majority (e.g., Colorado and Maine).

A note:  The site I consult for the poll numbers I rattle off is Project FiveThirtyEight.  I like its ease of use; I assume it’s as accurate as any. 

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/

As President Reagan indicated (reportedly to laughter, presumably rueful) in Rochester, NY, at a campaign rally on November 1, 1984:  “The polls [in which Mr. Reagan then held a substantial lead over Mr. Mondale] are scaring me to death … President Dewey [then-deceased former Republican Presidential nominee and NY Gov. Thomas Dewey, who in fact lost to President Truman in 1948 despite leading in pre-election polls] told me to tell you that isn’t true.”

Although Gov. Dewey is as hard to reach now as he was in 1984, if Mr. Biden needs any confirmation for the sentiments Mr. Reagan attributed to Mr. Dewey, Mr. Biden can always consult … Sec. Clinton.

Sturmabteilung

[This is the second time in recent weeks that an action by President Trump or his Administration has warranted deferring publication of the remainder of a note (in this case, impressions regarding the Biden candidacy) for which the first part has already appeared; I suspect that it won’t be the last time.]

By this time, virtually all who care are aware that at President Trump’s order, federal officers from a number of federal agencies – among them at least the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – have been patrolling the streets of Portland, OR, for part of July, seeking to quell ongoing protests related to the killing of George Floyd.  Apparently tensions between authorities and protestors have actually escalated since the federal officials’ arrival.  There are reports that federal agents, dressed in military fatigues and traveling in unmarked cars, have grabbed a number peaceful protestors off the streets. The Marshalls Service has shot a peaceful protestor in the head, severely injuring him.  Federal agents have used tear gas on protestors – notwithstanding a state law that only authorizes the use of such agents by local authorities after a riot has been declared and those gathered given a chance to depart.

The federal authorities involved here are not the United States military.  Without delving into the full extent of its jurisdiction, DHS is obviously primarily responsible for protecting us against foreign attacks; even accepting that it has a role in safeguarding federal property, it appears undisputed that DHS agents have conducted operations well beyond the perimeter of the federal courthouse.  There likewise seems to be little in the Portland situation that would invoke the jurisdictions of ICE and CBP, federal authorities sharing responsibility for immigration, border enforcement, and customs.   

U.S. OR Sen. Jeff Merkley has stated, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

U.S. OR Sen. Ron Wyden has tweeted, “… Trump and [DHS Director] Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”

OR Gov. Kate Brown has stated that she told Mr. Wolf that the federal government should remove federal officers from the Portland streets.  Ms. Brown indicated that Mr. Wolf has refused the request.  She has called the federal deployment “a blatant abuse of federal power.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has indicated that he has told the Trump Administration to take the federal officials out of Portland.  He has added:  “[W]hat I want to do is raise awareness nationally. This could happen in your city. And what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls. And this is a direct threat to our democracy.”  (Mayor Wheeler’s assertion seems strikingly similar to U.S. UT Mitt Romney’s recent description of Mr. Trump’s unwarranted dismissal of four federal Inspectors General as “a threat to accountable democracy.”)

It is cruelly ironic that the Trump Administration – all too eager to cast responsibility for a Coronavirus response on state and local officials so as to shirk accountability for its own inability to deal with the crisis – is unwilling to accede to state and local officials’ request to let them establish and maintain order in Portland, although policing has traditionally been a local charge within our federal system.

Close friends and I recently exchanged emails on the Trump Administration’s deployment of federal policing agencies to the streets of Portland; the same thought had independently struck us:  Brownshirts. 

“In the summer of 1920 … Hitler organized a bunch of rough-neck war veterans into “strong-arm” squads … [T]hey were officially named the Sturmabteilung [the “S.A.”] …. [O]utfitted in brown uniforms … [t]hese uniformed rowdies …soon took to breaking up [meetings] of other [political parties.”

“[T]he S.A. was reorganized … to generally terrorize those who opposed Hitler.”

“From the earliest days of the Nazi movement Hitler had insisted that the [S.A. was] … to furnish the physical violence, the terror, by which the party could bludgeon its way to political power.”

William L. Shirer:  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

“[The S.A. wanted] to protect the prophets of the spiritual goal …. And in this they understood that they were not obligated to undertake the protection of a state which offers the nation no protection, but that, on the contrary, they had to assume the protection of a nation against those who threatened to destroy the people and the state.”

Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf

There is no gentler way to put it:  Since Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made it clear in June that the United States military is not willing to follow Mr. Trump’s orders to act against peacefully protesting American citizens, the Trump Administration has found other federal units more amenable to his political agenda to serve as its private enforcers.  While one can point out that unlike the S.A. – a nongovernmental Nazi militia — the officers deployed to Portland are indeed federal employees, I would submit that such is a distinction without a difference.   Consider: while securing the federal courthouse in Portland is a valid federal objective, it should be relatively straightforward for elite law enforcement agents. The local authorities have asked Mr. Trump’s force to limit its activity to that valid objective, and Mr. Trump’s force has refused. Although I have cautioned in other notes against being distracted from efforts to win the presidential election by the President’s random illiberal acts, I agree with Mayor Wheeler that the Administration’s actions in Portland are a threat to our democracy that can be brought to bear in any city.  Our best defense is to cast a spotlight on such overtly authoritarian activities.  This concludes with a link to those who it is clear are our best soldiers in any struggle to maintain the American way of life.

https://twitter.com/JoshuaPotash/status/1284704272282800128

Mr. Biden: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Part I

As polls indicate that the lead of presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is widening over President Donald Trump and the President seems buffeted – at least outside the alt-right echo chamber – by a continuing proliferation of unfavorable news, Mr. Biden and his team are presumably plotting their final campaign strategy.  I would score their efforts since the former Vice President realistically secured the nomination – buttressed (in starkly political terms) by Mr. Trump’s grotesque mishandling of the COVID crisis – very high; they have maintained a relatively low profile and let Mr. Trump be his own worst enemy.  I suspect that they wish that continuing such a laissez faire approach will be sufficient to win the White House; I would submit that it will not, and that the race will tighten.  Accordingly, what follows are these pages’ prescriptions for Mr. Biden’s winning the presidency:

Stick to the Theme.  The most important [and shortest  ;)] first.  A projection of integrity, competence, stability, caring should be the overarching thrust of the campaign.  Even some voters who are not repulsed by Mr. Trump’s personality and conduct of the presidency have been exhausted by him.  In the same manner as a lawyer designs a trial strategy, Mr. Biden’s campaign should build toward the question he renders in his “closing argument” – i.e., his concluding remarks at the end of the first or last debate:  “Do you want four more years of this?”  (Let the voter fill in the “this.”)

Pick the woman most qualified to be president as running mate.  Along with Franklin Roosevelt’s selection of Harry Truman in 1944, Mr. Biden’s choice will perhaps be the most crucial selection of a running mate, from a substantive standpoint, in American history (and arguably the most crucial one politically, since the average American had little sense of Mr. Roosevelt’s failing health during the 1944 presidential campaign.)  Given his age, Mr. Biden must address the valid voter concern that he might not finish out his term, and he accordingly needs to select a running mate that the average voter can picture immediately effectively conducting the presidency.  I indicated in a note some weeks ago that that there is no candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities, and that Mr. Biden might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve as president.  Such a choice is good politics because it is consistent with Mr. Biden’s “brand,” and the current condition of our nation and the world demands that he do no less.  (Of the names being circulated, my preferred choice would be former U.S. National Security Adviser and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.  Although certain to face renewed Republican criticism that she lied about aspects of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, a Congressional Republican-led investigation found no evidence that she had intentionally misled the public regarding the raid’s particulars; she has managed a more demanding portfolio than any other suggested candidate of whom I’m aware; and she has presidential demeanor – seemingly making her a good debate matchup against Vice President Mike Pence, who can present reassuringly when one puts aside his sycophantic record.)

Keep to the Knitting.  Maintain a policy focus that will resonate with swing voters in the generally-accepted swing states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona.  The former Vice President should return continuously to Mr. Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis (at the time this is typed, seemingly out of control in Florida and Arizona), his use of chemical agents against peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square, his Administration’s current attack on the Affordable Care Act, and his failure to act upon intelligence of Russia’s placement of a bounty on American soldiers in Afghanistan.  Mr. Biden should stick to mainstream liberal domestic and foreign policies.  So far, he has successfully resisted pressures to embrace farther-left positions that will alienate centrists while maintaining the allegiance of most progressives (with U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, cognizant of the need to beat Mr. Trump, protecting Mr. Biden’s left flank).  The “Build Back Better” plan seems a meaningful substantive policy, while being a politically-effective overture to a segment of Mr. Trump’s supporters.  At the same time:  Don’t take the bait.  Except when specifically asked, Mr. Biden should ignore the President’s commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence, his seemingly overwhelmingly likely pardoning of Michael Flynn if Mr. Flynn’s conviction isn’t vacated, and Mr. Trump’s other illiberal acts.  All voters who are alarmed by Mr. Trump’s aberrant conduct of the presidency are already going to vote for Mr. Biden.  Mr. Trump wants to turn the discussion back to the Russia investigation, because it distracts the voter from his blatant shortcomings to an issue in which he has successfully convinced a large share of Americans that he was exonerated. 

You Don’t Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.  After months of Mr. Trump’s assertions that Mr. Biden is in cognitive decline, the onus on Mr. Biden to look sharp in his first debate against the President cannot be overstated.  While there is a temptation to compare the upcoming first debate to the first 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate – How will the challenger measure up? – I would suggest that the a closer parallel might be the second 1984 Reagan-Mondale debate, in which a popular President Ronald Reagan – who had appeared uncertain and diminished in his first debate with former Democratic Presidential nominee and Vice President Walter Mondale – reassured voters with a very sharp performance that arguably secured his second term.  Mr. Biden might not get a debate Mulligan.  He does, however, have the advantage that Mr. Trump’s debate approach – full out, “frontal assault” — can be readily predicted.  If advising the Biden Campaign, I would recommend that they enlist U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren – as vicious a debater as the President — to play Mr.Trump during debate preparation, and have her “let it rip.”

The last prescription, which seemingly forms a nuts-and-bolts bookend to the strategic first prescription, will appear in Part II.

The Harper’s Letter

The link below is to a letter Harper’s posted online last week (the “Letter”) that has stirred what I find an inexplicably vehement response in some progressive quarters given the benign (a Harper’s Vice President called them “anodyne”) — to me, also commendable – statements expressed within it.  Apparently, the Letter has stirred such acrimony in part because some number of its signatories are claimed to hold anti-transgender views (I have no idea whether or not such is true; the document does not address gender issues) and because it warns against the possibility that resistance to right-wing demagoguery “might harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion.”

I am – this will come as no surprise to anyone that reads these pages – in my own bubble.  I only recognize the names of about ten of the 150 or so signatories.  There are two, New York Times Columnist David Brooks and The Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt, whose work I hold in high regard.  One might suggest that the very fact that the seemingly even-handed sentiments expressed in this Letter have stirred such outrage is some evidence that progressives do, indeed, need to guard against “censoriousness” and their “own brand of dogma.”  I, but a humble amateur ;), would have readily signed this Letter if asked; arguably, by including it within these pages, I have.     

https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/

The Only Strategy

President Trump’s incendiary (comparing the “radical left” to Communists during the 4th of July weekend), arbitrary (insisting schools reopen in the face of another Coronavirus surge), and overtly racist (pick your favorite) themes in the last several weeks make it clear that his overarching campaign strategy is to distract Americans from the many instances of his incompetence, most principally his complete failure to effectively manage the COVID crisis.  The latest state re-closures due to the Coronavirus surge arguably make it increasingly unlikely that American business will sufficiently revive by November to enable him to rely on the economy.  His apparent strategy seems a “Hail Mary Pass”:  that inciting a race and culture war will solidify his support among the voting and the heretofore nonvoting members of his base and gain the allegiance of those white Americans who, despite misgivings about him, will heed his call if they believe that “their” America is under attack.  In starkly political terms, it appears he really has no other option at this point.  Despite his attempt to pin the responsibility for America’s tens of thousands of COVID deaths and millions of virus cases on China, the World Health Organization, Democratic national, state, and local officials, and your Uncle Fred, it has sunk into the American psyche that we’re in this perilous health crisis — now raging in Florida and Arizona, two swing states that the Electoral College math essentially indicates (at least in the case of Florida) that he must win to retain the presidency — because of his denial, inaction, narcissism, and gross mismanagement.

(A COVID aside:  While the President and Vice President Mike Pence may now have little choice as to political strategy, they could at least refrain from gratuitously insulting our intelligence.  Mr. Pence’s happy talk this week about the status of our response to the virus — against the backdrop of spiking case numbers and state re-closures — struck me as akin to the Captain of the Titanic, after the first half of the ship had already sunk into the Atlantic, assuring the passengers in the back half of the ship that all was well; the President’s demand at the same time that schools reopen this fall seemed akin to the Titanic head chef announcing over the loudspeaker what dinner entrees would be served in the dining room the next evening.)

Although the strategy seemingly smacks of desperation, Mr. Trump has at times effectively used bluster to prod his opponents into unforced errors.  I would submit that the manner in which different segments of our people react to his blatant demagoguery could have a pivotal effect on the outcome of the presidential election.  A few impressions:

Will 2016 Trump voters who polls indicate have shifted their support to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden be comfortable associating themselves with a candidate who now makes no bones about his racism?  Will they recognize that Mr. Trump is seeking to scare and distract them?

Will members of the Black Lives Matter and attendant movements be savvy enough to realize that the President is trying to bait them?  Mr. Trump has clearly recognized that he needs to widen the culture war in order to win it.  If the monuments controversy he has stirred with relish remains centered on removing Confederate memorials, he presumably loses more support than he gains (although I have not seen state polls as to how the citizens of the two swing states that seceded, Florida [again ;)] and North Carolina, feel about Confederate monuments).  On the other hand, if Mr. Trump can bait protestors to expand their assault on the Founding Fathers and monuments like Mount Rushmore, he gains.  Can protestors ignore the bait? 

Some commentators have declared that the President is “flailing”; while seemingly so to a certain extent, I would submit that in large measure he retains a very good grasp of what he’s doing.  He certainly recognizes that the ship has long since sailed on any hope of converting those who voted against him in 2016.  Based upon many past Presidential races, it is not unreasonable for him to anticipate that Mr. Biden’s reportedly wide current electoral advantage will narrow in the coming months, and to calculate that if he is successful in squeezing greater turnout from his base (although I’ve seen no commentator that believes that there are sufficient heretofore nonvoting Trump followers to compensate for the support he has apparently lost through his COVID mishandling and incitement of racial tensions) and scaring enough wavering former supporters in the swing states back into his fold, he may – as I (and many others) have ventured was inadvertently the case in 2016 – back into the presidency.  But even if he loses, his current divisive approach will serve to solidify a mighty impressive following for a Trump media empire, and perhaps cause a sufficient furor that a Biden Administration seeking to soften our divisions will be disinclined to pursue him for various crimes when such a prosecution will further inflame the country.

In these notes, I dislike simply joining a chorus of others – in this case, those that suggest the possibility that at this point, Mr. Trump’s primary objective may be to use his remaining time in office to build the foundation of a media empire.  Here, I see no alternative.  Given the country’s current prevailing sentiments, any other explanation for the President’s overtly alienating rhetoric renders him a fool.  In matters of his own interest and self-preservation, Donald Trump is no fool.  That said, my focus remains on the existential threat that his dictatorial instincts present for our republic if he wins.  Democrats cannot afford to get complacent.  We’re a long way from Election Day.  As the greatest of American philosophers, Lawrence P. Berra, advised us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Gone with the Wind … and Beaver Cleaver

A number of President Trump’s recent tweets — respectively retweeting a video of an apparent supporter yelling for “White Power,” describing a  proposed “Black Lives Matter” sign on New York City’s 5th Avenue as a “symbol of hate,” threatening to veto a defense authorization bill because it provides for renaming federal installations currently named for Confederate Generals, and declaring an intent to review an Obama-era Fair Housing regulation – have caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s comments at a Colorado rally in February, when he noted that the South Korean film, Parasite, had just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and stated in part:  “What the hell was that all about? … You know I’m looking for, like – let’s get Gone with the Wind.  Can we get, like, Gone with the Wind back, please?”

At the time, given Parasite’s South Korean origin, the thought that first struck me when hearing him was:  Now, he’s starting after Asians.  Perhaps an accurate assessment; that said, his latest tweets have made clear that he believes that inflaming all racial divides is a key to his re-election.  I suspect that most Americans have seen Gone with the Wind and can recall the film’s brief written introduction, which provides, in part:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields

Called the Old South …

Here in this pretty world …

… was the last ever to be seen …

Of Master and of Slave …

… it is no more than a dream remembered.

A Civilization gone with the wind ….”

After watching a YouTube clip of the GWTW introduction, the following verses of the world Mr. Trump obviously yearns for came to mind; I forthrightly acknowledge the obvious:  I’m as atrocious a poet as Mr. Trump is a president.

There was a land of Leafy Streets and Baseball Fields

Called ‘50s America …

Here in this pretty world

Elvis was King.

Cadillac to harmonica —

Made in America.

Of faiths, two:

Christian; a rare Jew.

White was right.

Black was set back.

Sex was clear …

No room for the Queer.

Suits were gray and skirts chaste;

Every woman knew her place.

Shame for the wimpy;

Shadows for the gimpy.

Ike was liked; Lucy, loved.

Jackie tolerated; Mick, lionized.

The Duke was boss … 

The Injuns lost.

Commies, “Pinkos,” and the Bomb we feared —

But not tobacco, carbon exhaust, or the steak well seared.

Here was the last ever to be seen of

Black and White TV,

Bald Presidential Candidates,

A Rebel without a Cause.

It is, for those that still pine, no more than a dream imagined …

Like Beaver Cleaver, a memory … gone with the wind …

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I would offer a pedestrian supplement:  Those that cling to the past … are condemned to forfeit the future.  As this weekend we as a people celebrate a cherished part of our past, may we prove to have the virtue and valor necessary to make ourselves better by moving forward from it.

Where is the Line? Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there.  I’ve realized that in Part I, I overlooked arguably the most offensive existing Confederate memorial:  the flag of the State of Mississippi, which includes within its design the Confederate battle flag.  The Mississippi legislature has now voted to have this Confederate remnant removed.]  

In recent days, vandals in Portland, OR, have pulled down statues of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, others in Washington, D.C., have attempted to pull down a statue of General (later President) Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, and yet others in San Francisco pulled down a statue of President Ulysses Grant — presumably because Messrs. Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Grant were among the twelve of our first 18 Presidents who were slave owners.  (Mr. Grant owned one slave in Missouri in the late 1850s, “given” him by his slaveholder father-in-law, whom Mr. Grant freed before the Civil War.)

I consider such actions despicable destruction, at best (if one assumes honorable intentions by the actors to avenge past atrocities against African Americans) aberrant overreaction.  These Presidents were not paragons of virtue, but I – again, a white man unburdened by the deep pain of our African American citizens — would submit that this deep stain upon their legacies must nonetheless be viewed within the entire respective mosaics of their lives’ efforts.  If Mr. Washington had not served as our first president, the fledgling nation might well have dissolved in bickering among the states.  No such dissolution would have bettered the lot of black slaves.  Mr. Jefferson famously penned the phrase, “All men are created equal”; although freedoms accorded to white Americans were malevolently denied to our African citizens for generations, they could have hope for the future specifically because of the sentiments Mr. Jefferson expressed.  Mr. Grant was obviously more responsible than any single American save Abraham Lincoln for the final abolition of slavery.  Mr. Jackson has of the four men perhaps the most questionable legacy, but as President quelled a nascent attempt by South Carolina to secede from the Union, calling it “treason.”  Each of these Presidents and a number of their slaveholder presidential peers had primary roles in laying the foundation for the nation that has provided the greatest freedom to all of its citizens of any nation in the history of the world.  Their transgressions should certainly not be glossed over, but neither should they be magnified out of proportion to the entire body of their achievements.

How saintly must a person be before his or her deeds are worthy of commemoration?  President Theodore Roosevelt never owned slaves, but called black people “backward” and native Americans “savages.”  Do we rip down his Monuments, despite all he did to strengthen America – including effecting progressive standards such as big business regulation and environmental protection? 

Or … Mr. Lincoln.  Mr. Lincoln obviously never owned slaves, but when inaugurated would have tolerated slavery in the Southern States had they not chosen to secede.  His Emancipation Proclamation was arguably primarily a battle tactic designed to help win the Civil War.  During his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, Mr. Lincoln is reported to have said:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

Hardly a ringing affirmation for black rights or equality.  Should we, despite all that Mr. Lincoln thereafter did to protect our nation and free its slaves, tear down the Lincoln Memorial and the countless other memorials to him across the nation?

Given its honorees, such thinking, if taken to its logical conclusion, would seemingly call for the destruction of Mount Rushmore.

From a different perspective:  The strong support of President Lyndon Johnson resulted in the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination on the basis of (among other things) race, unequal voter registration requirements, and segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. That notwithstanding, audiotapes now make clear that early in his presidency Mr. Johnson recognized that Vietnamese communism was not a strategic threat to the United States; he nonetheless continued and widened the war because he saw no politically palatable way to withdraw.  Monuments to Mr. Johnson exist.  If we deem it necessary to find our Presidents historically spotless, should the families of the 58,000 Americans who were killed in Vietnam during and/or arguably as a result Mr. Johnson’s presidency have the right to tear down his Monuments – despite his undisputedly pivotal role in helping to secure equal rights for black Americans?

For well-meaning protestors appropriately outraged by the monstrous nature of Mr. Floyd’s killing – as distinguished from actors merely using the cloak of protest to lay waste, such as the vandals that recently destroyed statues near the Capitol Square of Madison, WI, which could in no way be construed as glorifying racism – I would suggest that our nation was founded and nurtured in its early days by human beings – awesomely talented and farsighted, but nonetheless in other ways deeply flawed.  While their failings should be noted, their honorable achievements deserve to – indeed, need to — be commemorated and cherished if we are to move forward as a nation.  If well-intended protestors insist on saints, I submit that they should avoid mirrors and look in heaven; but if they do, it seems likely that they will soon confront St. Paul, arguably the most effective proselytizer of Christianity in history aside from the Lord himself – also known as Saul of Tarsus — who got his start … killing Christians.