How Many Are Reachable?

On PBS’ Washington Week on January 8, Astead Herndon of the New York Times commented:

“[Unity and healing the soul of the nation] is something that is not just a political move from [President-Elect Joe Biden], but it’s how he sees and understands the universe … I’ve talked to people who are in [transition] meetings with him … who are trying to get him … to budge to embrace unilateral executive orders to prioritize things like combatting racial injustice or other issues over the idea of bipartisanship …. But Joe Biden has responded to them … that he is certain that there is going to be a break from Trumpism among Republicans and that he is going to hold on to that belief. … The question is whether he will be so concerned with healing hearts and minds or whether there will be a focus on the policy change that can happen.  Because whether Congressional Republicans break with Trump or not, what we know is that the base has been with [Mr. Trump].  And the American people on the conservative side have still been motivated by him.”

I stated in a couple of recent posts that I didn’t think Democrats’ latest efforts to impeach President Trump are wise because I feared that impeachment efforts might alienate a significant segment of Mr. Trump’s voters who I believed would, because of the storming of the Capitol and if not antagonized, be amenable to a message of reconciliation and collaboration from incoming President Biden.  I was a bit surprised by the vibrant reaction I received from several learned followers of these pages, who asserted that the defense of the Republic required that Mr. Trump’s traitorous behavior be immediately punished.  [Joe Scarborough made a related suggestion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe yesterday, pointing out that impeachment proceedings might detract from the focus on the Biden Administration agenda; he was roundly berated by his entire panel, including a truly wifely rebuke from his spouse and co-host, Mika Brzezinski.  I could sympathize with him  ;)].  I still have the temerity to venture, however, that despite the satisfaction I will feel if Mr. Trump is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, and the even greater satisfaction I will feel if evidence ultimately results in Mr. Trump being criminally convicted, the vitality of our Republic depends much more on looking forward than upon looking back, and would submit that whether or not they are influenced by Democrats’ impeachment proceedings, the extent to which a significant segment of those who voted for Mr. Trump last November are open to Mr. Biden’s initiatives could be the pivotal factor that determines whether our democratic system can continue during the coming decades in the manner it has for the last two and a half centuries.

In reflecting upon Trump voters’ reaction to Mr. Biden’s impending inauguration on January 20, I would place them in four categories:  the Seditious – those who either have or are prepared by violent means to keep Mr. Trump in power; the Brainwashed – those who will never resort to violence, but are convinced due to the lies and propaganda of Mr. Trump, his enablers, and the alt-right media and despite all objective evidence to the contrary, that he won the election; the Implacable – those who know Mr. Trump lost, but will instinctively disagree with every Biden Administration initiative; and the Reachable – those who are open to accommodation with Mr. Biden depending upon the proposals he puts forth.

A Washington Post-ABC News Poll released on January 15 indicates that Mr. Trump maintains an approval rating of 79% among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents, but that 25% reject Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud and 35% – consisting primarily of the moderate, college-educated segment, double the percentage of 2018 — believes that the party should move away from Mr. Trump.  Additionally, Republican affiliation numbers have gone down since the election; 31% of those polled by Gallup in the week before the election identified themselves as Republicans, but by December 17, that number had shrunk to 25% of all respondents (Independents climbing from 38% to 41%, Democrats holding steady throughout at 31%).  While the percentage of Republicans continuing to cling to Mr. Trump is clearly relevant to Republican officeholders, the rising percentage of disaffected Republicans may provide a fertile opportunity for the President-Elect.  Given the hyper-partisan environment in which we’ve been trapped, if Mr. Biden takes office with close to 75% of Americans open to consideration of the centrist course he has espoused, he may have a genuine opportunity to move forward on several of the key challenges facing our nation if he moves aggressively — but upon moderate initiatives – at the beginning of his term.  (An interesting side note:  that while Republicans’ numbers have gone down, Democrats’ numbers have not gone up.  The apparent disgust with Mr. Trump and his enablers of those Americans renouncing their GOP affiliation seemingly doesn’t mean that they favor avidly progressive programs — another indication that the best way forward may be a moderate course.)

Something I would offer, and venture that Mr. Biden viscerally embraces:  unilateral presidential action, notwithstanding the urging of his advisors as reported by Mr. Herndon, does not work.  Out of understandable frustration with an obstructionist Republican Congress, President Barack Obama resorted to Executive Orders to get things “done” – some of such Orders, while admittedly driven by good intentions, of questionable Constitutionality.  Mr. Trump assumed office and, by Executive Order, proceeded to “undo” most of what Mr. Obama had “done.”  Mr. Biden has already pledged that in his first days, he will issue a slew of Executive Orders to “undo” most of what Mr. Trump has “done.”  Such an approach achieves only whiplash within the body politic.  Some level of compromise between competing interests is the only way to sustainable progress.  I have spent less time on the presidency of President Dwight Eisenhower than I should have, but have read that one of the reasons Mr. Eisenhower – America’s most revered hero after WWII — decided to seek the 1952 Republican presidential nomination was that he learned, in discussions with then-Republican presidential nomination frontrunner U.S. OH Sen. Robert Taft, that Mr. Taft opposed America’s continued participation in the NATO alliance [some issues never die ;)] engineered by the Truman Administration.  Mr. Eisenhower – despite having little personal regard for Mr. Truman — considered the alliance a necessary bulwark against Soviet aggression in Europe.  While in office, Mr. Eisenhower also refused to undermine the Democrat-passed Social Security program (as did his successor Republican president who revered him, Richard Nixon), a refusal which resulted in bipartisan acceptance of what is arguably a socialist program.

So as Congressional impeachment efforts proceed and notwithstanding the effect they might have on the segment of Trump supporters who now rue their votes, the question remains:  as Mr. Biden goes forward, how many of Mr. Trump’s voters are open to our incoming President?  Although with aggressive domestic counterterrorism efforts, our Republic can survive a percent or two of dangerous “Always Trumpers,” and we can make progress as a nation with a minority of our people implacably (but nonviolently) opposed to any initiative the Biden Administration puts forth, I would submit that in order to heal our nation and achieve substantive policy progress, Mr. Biden will need to obtain and maintain a notable level of acquiescence to his leadership in a significant segment of those that voted for Mr. Trump last November.

The Lord – later cited by President Lincoln – noted that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  Are enough Trump voters reachable?  Mr. Biden clearly believes so.  I think he’s right.  I hope he’s right.

Preaching Unity … and Lancing Sedition

[The note immediately below this post, which I published Saturday and characterized as a “Prologue” to this post — in which I elaborated on a tangential observation appearing herein that currently-reported efforts in Congress to impeach President Trump, while warranted, were nonetheless not a wise course — engendered robust contrary reactions from several learned followers of these pages.  Their thoughts are worthy of exploration in the future.  What appears here is the post scheduled some days ago for release today.]

It cannot be denied that President Donald J. Trump, through not only four years of fascist behavior but in his incendiary remarks last Wednesday morning, incited the ensuing riot and storming of our nation’s Capitol.  I have heard a report that the Capitol police officer killed in the attack was assaulted by rioters with a fire extinguisher.  A woman rioter, perhaps truly believing that she was on a quest to save America, was shot as Capitol police defended members of Congress huddled in the legislative chamber.  It no longer matters whether Mr. Trump is clinically deranged, or evil; he is now beyond all doubt not only a clear but present danger to our Republic. 

How we address in the coming weeks, and in the months and years that follow, the anarchy fomented by Donald Trump will determine the future of the country we want for our children and grandchildren.  Until this past Wednesday, I had supposed that President-elect Joe Biden would primarily be a transition president; given his age and conciliatory manner, I expected his term to be the chemotherapy necessary to rid our body politic of the Trump cancer, and that it would be his successor who would actually begin to rebuild our strength after the necessary period of convalescence.

Now, we don’t have that luxury of waiting.  That said, I would suggest that the events at the Capitol both made clear the stark nature of Mr. Biden’s challenge and present an unexpectedly fertile opportunity.  I would submit that upon taking office, he will need to straightforwardly confront the greatest domestic menace to our Republic since Abraham Lincoln, because the emotional currents exploited and exacerbated by Mr. Trump run deep.  At the same time, at a point when all but the most despicable segment of Trump supporters may well be feeling a bit chastened, Mr. Biden must leverage their second thoughts and genuine patriotic spirit to coax them back toward moderation. 

What should occur even before Inauguration Day probably won’t — President Trump’s immediate removal from office.  While reported efforts to undertake Congressional impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump are entirely warranted, I am not a fan; they will seemingly take too long given the time remaining in the Trump term, perhaps cause Republicans to recommit to the President out of tribal loyalty or self-interest just when many are looking to distance themselves from him, and keep the spotlight on Mr. Trump.  Instead, Vice President Mike Pence (who when it finally came to unambiguous Constitutional duty rather than political sycophancy, did his duty in the Congressional Electoral College vote count – for which I give him no credit) should, despite his lack of backbone, follow the provisions of the 25th Amendment, obtain the signed declaration of the requisite number of Cabinet officials that Mr. Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and become Acting President until Inauguration Day.  Since current reports unsurprisingly indicate that Mr. Pence has no intention of taking this route, perhaps the best we can hope for is de facto protection via informal means; query whether the military might not have already formed a tacit understanding that it will not follow Mr. Trump’s orders without Mr. Pence’s concurrence, and there seems a move among some news and social media outlets to limit Mr. Trump’s ability to broadcast his incendiary and false pronouncements.  If such continues to be the case, we may be able to limp to Inauguration Day without further incident, save Mr. Trump’s inevitable continuing promiscuous use of the presidential pardon power.  

I do harbor hopes, given the changing sentiments caused by the storming of the Capitol, that the coordination of the respective Biden health, diplomatic and defense teams with their outgoing Trump Administration counterparts will be facilitated to speed the Biden Administration’s COVID response, and to communicate to the global community – allies and adversaries alike — that we are steadying our affairs of state and are not to be discounted during the remainder to the Trump term.

Presidents need to shrewdly play the cards they inherit.  If advising Mr. Biden, I would suggest that to be effective, his leadership of our nation will need to effectively and simultaneously strike two complementary but very different tones.  The primary theme continues to be that of reconciliation:  continuing testaments to America’s strength and the fundamental goodness of its people, with emphasis on a more aggressive and cohesive health and economic response to the Covid crisis, racism, the environment, infrastructure, strengthening of foreign alliances, and plans to provide opportunity to those desperate and depressed parts of the nation (importantly, including those areas whose citizens primarily supported Mr. Trump).  In these pursuits, a closely divided Congress controlled by Democrats will arguably enable Mr. Biden to make progress by finding common ground with moderates of both parties, navigating between the obstructionism of Republican radicals and unrealistic expectations of Democratic progressives.

At the same time, Mr. Biden must make clear not only by word but in action that seditious activity will not be tolerated.  In his Inaugural Address, he should explicitly state:

  • Donald Trump lied to you to keep his own power.  There was never any valid dispute regarding the outcome of the election, as declared by election officials of sovereign states of both parties and affirmed by judges of all political philosophies across the country.  Both Donald Trump and his enablers in Congress that sought to disenfranchise millions of voters put themselves ahead of our country, and misled those of you who trusted them.  (So you thought you’d be President, Schoolboy Josh? Lyin’ Ted?)
  • The Biden Administration Justice Department will, directly and through assistance to all other relevant authorities, be investigating the storming of the Capitol and, where the evidence warrants prosecution, will pursue to the full extent of the law all individuals that in any manner participated in or contributed to the events of January 6.  (Are you listening, Donald?  Rudy?  Donny? Rioters, including those responsible for the death of the Capitol Police officer?)
  • That he will ask Congress to pass a domestic terrorism law.
  • That the Biden Administration will be forming a bipartisan commission to consider circumstances in which social media providers should be held accountable for false content disseminated through their facilities without limiting Americans’ right of free speech.  (I haven’t explored the nuances of this, but I have heard knowledgeable experts such as journalist Kara Swisher indicate that it may be possible to reconcile these potentially competing interests.  Such legislation will obviously need to be conscientiously considered and crafted; potential Co-Chairs coming to mind would be Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mitt Romney.)

I concede that I’ve laid out no easy task for our future president:  suggesting that he thread the needle between amicable national reconciliation and an appropriately robust defense of the Republic.  Although by all accounts, Abraham Lincoln was, like Mr. Biden, a kindly man – we fondly recall Mr. Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, in which he asked for malice toward none, and charity for all – he also possessed steel resolve; when his benevolent words are recalled, it is rarely noted that before uttering them he first brought about the killing of 300,000 rebels – most of whom believed in their cause as sincerely as the insurgents that invaded the Capitol.  Mr. Biden must manifest a similar combination of amity and resolve.  The days ahead will be difficult for him.  My final piece of advice would be:  look to Mr. Lincoln’s example for guidance and sustenance.

A Prologue: Preaching Unity … and Lancing Sedition

I took a few days to reflect on what we saw Wednesday, and a note entitled as above is scheduled to run Monday.  There are rarely new posts in these pages on the weekend since I consider those days better dedicated to faith and/or enjoyable pursuits than to policy or politics.  I make an exception today because although I do indicate in passing in Monday’s post that I consider Congressional impeachment efforts against President Trump for his part in inciting the storming of the Capitol, while entirely warranted, to be ill advised, it now seems to me to be a point worth emphasizing since such efforts are reportedly gathering steam.

A book I have frequently cited and quoted in these notes is The Righteous Mind, by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in which Mr. Haidt explores “Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.”  In his book, Mr. Haidt describes a plethora of studies that he conducted or reviewed that have enabled him to distinguish those who politically lean to the right and to the left by what he calls “foundations” of “intuition.”  He asserts that Loyalty to a group is one such foundation, and that it is a much more prominent intuitive characteristic of those who politically lean to the right.

I would submit that despite the understandable deep antipathy U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats feel about Mr. Trump – sentiments that anyone that has read virtually any of these notes knows that I share – I fear that in initiating impeachment activities, they are missing the forest for the trees.  They claim that they wish to prevent Mr. Trump from wielding the power of the presidency to perform untoward acts between now and January 20.  As I note Monday, Congressional processes are objectively too slow to be effective; if, for example, Mr. Trump elects to declare Martial Law or pardon his entire family and cohort, he will have plenty of time to do so even if both houses of Congress move with greater alacrity than they have shown since declaring war on Japan in 1941 [putting aside the fact that there is zero (that’s zero) chance of such speed in a Senate still controlled by the Republicans].  (I suspect that there has already been a greater informal check placed on Mr. Trump’s ability to deploy our nuclear arsenal than is readily apparent.)  I have heard Democrats declare that they “can’t let [Mr. Trump] get away with it.”  He didn’t “get away with it”; what he most craves is adulation, and how many of those that voted for him would still do so if a new election was held today?  The public relations battle has already been won with all but the most cultish of Mr. Trump’s followers.  Mr. Trump’s most prominent Congressional co-conspirators, U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, today stand humiliated, their presidential aspirations seemingly dashed.  Mr. Trump himself has reportedly retreated into a psychological bunker, cut off from much of social media, chastened and humbled.  Why provoke him?  Haven’t we had enough evidence as to how he reacts when he is attacked?

If one accepts Mr. Haidt’s premises, even the scant likelihood that impeachment proceedings will either be effective or timely, or their possible impact on Mr. Trump’s behavior over the days before January 20, is not the point.  The point is how such will precipitate further churning of our hyper-partisan pot.  I have heard reports that Fox News Hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have already suggested that some other unspecified nefarious forces – certainly not Mr. Trump, despite the blizzard of Trump flags in all pictures of Wednesday’s insurgency – were responsible for the Capitol riot.  I myself heard a brief Fox News segment this morning haranguing about how Facebook and Twitter have locked Mr. Trump’s accounts – intimating such was a reprehensible violation of Mr. Trump’s rights, rather than focusing upon how many of Mr. Trump’s messages have been de facto incitements to violence.  One can only imagine what they might be saying on the even-more-aberrant right wing television, radio, and social media outlets.  The viewers/listeners of these right wing outlets actually believe these broadcasters.

For soon-to-be President Biden, given his need to rally us to begin to coalesce as a nation, the goal at this point is not maintaining the allegiance of those that voted for Mr. Biden; it’s obtaining the acquiescence of as many of our citizens as possible that didn’t.  If a vandal damages the foundation of your house, punishing the vandal is desirable; repairing the foundation is essential.  I would submit that it is wildly counterproductive for the future of our nation to undertake an action with little purpose or prospect of success that seems overwhelmingly likely to elicit the tribal “Loyalty” response in many of those who voted for Mr. Trump but are now, due to Wednesday’s events, more open to overtures from Mr. Biden than they ever would have been otherwise.

Madam Speaker, don’t cause currently-rueful Trump supporters to close ranks behind him.  Leave any repercussions for Mr. Trump to the criminal justice system after he leaves office and tribal allegiances have had additional time to cool. Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan, emotionally calling for impeachment in her column today, notes, “I have resisted Nazi comparisons for five years.”  She has; I certainly haven’t.  Even so, I would suggest that for now, given the need of a new Administration, so close at hand, to forge greater comity among our citizens, it is best to let Mr. Trump – as my sainted mother used to say – stew in his own juices.

Thinking Two Moves Ahead

Given the understandable attention paid to the two runoff races for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, to President Trump’s seditious attempt to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to “find” 11,780 votes in order to gain Mr. Trump the victory in the Georgia presidential election, and to Congressional Republicans’ traitorous scheme to keep Mr. Trump in the White House by challenging certain states’ certified Electoral College votes when the College’s Electors’ votes are opened and announced in Congress today, another item has perhaps gotten less heed than in my view it warrants.

On January 3, the ten living former U.S. Secretaries of Defense — Ashton Carter, Richard Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld – published a Letter in the Washington Post entitled, “Involving the Military in Election Disputes Would Cross into Dangerous Territory.”  While Mr. Cheney, as a former U.S. Vice President, was the headliner in some accounts describing the Letter, it seems to me that the two most noteworthy signatories are Messrs. Mattis and Esper, who worked closely with Mr. Trump, and of the ten Secretaries presumably best understand his mental patterns — particularly Mr. Esper, who publicly distanced himself from Mr. Trump’s use of the military in a publicity stunt last June that included the use of chemical agents on peaceful American protestors in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square and, perhaps ominously, was relieved as Secretary only days after the election.  (The most significant aspect of Mr. Cheney’s execution of the letter may stem from the likelihood that he is receiving briefings on the President’s state of mind from his daughter, U.S. WY Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House.)

There is a link to the Letter below.  After observing that “The time for questioning the [presidential election] results has passed,” the Secretaries write, in pertinent part:

Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic. …

Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates … are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.

We call upon them, in the strongest terms, to do as so many generations of Americans have done before them. This final action is in keeping with the highest traditions and professionalism of the U.S. armed forces, and the history of democratic transition in our great country.”

To state the obvious:  no group of Defense Secretaries has ever felt it necessary to publish such a Letter during any other interregnum, at least not during my ever-more-lengthy lifetime.  Think what you will of their politics, these men are accustomed to confronting adversaries, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who abide by no rules.  They are highly intelligent and skilled at discerning what any enemy’s next move might be in any situation, and determining the most effective countermeasure.  I would suggest that the very fact that these men have published this Letter indicates that they have concluded that President Trump has not only the instincts but perhaps the aspirations of a fascist dictator.  One can infer from the Letter that they are anticipating the next steps Mr. Trump may contemplate if he doesn’t stop his quest to retain the presidency after the Electoral College votes are announced and ultimately accepted by Congress. 

Given the contents of their Letter, it appears tenable to suppose that the Secretaries have focused on a point that I mentioned in these pages some months ago:  although the Proud Boys and other aberrant groups can spread a certain amount of havoc while protesting the President’s departure from office, these kinds of groups are of little use to anyone seeking to overthrow a government as entrenched as ours; a dictator can’t be a dictator without the support of a real army.  Given Mr. Trump’s conduct of the presidency and his willingness to put pressure on Mr. Raffensberger in a blatant, unbalanced, and obviously doomed overture to change the outcome of the Georgia presidential election, it hardly strains credulity to suspect that Mr. Trump has expressed to White House and Congressional intimates the notion of declaring Martial Law when – as it seems it inevitably will be — Mr. Biden’s victory is announced in Congress at the end of today’s proceedings.  The Secretaries obviously considered it advisable to get Mr. Esper’s replacement, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who by statute is in the chain of command between the U.S. military and the President as Commander in Chief, thinking about his duty to the Republic before, rather than after, the Congressional proceedings today – in the event that the President hereafter calls upon him to perform acts that the Secretaries have labeled dangerous, unlawful, and unconstitutional.   

Hopefully, Mr. Miller is savvy and patriotic enough to have quietly had trusted outside counsel advise him as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.

I declared in these pages last week that unless Mr. Trump acted in a manner before Inauguration Day that constituted a substantive threat to our Republic, I was turning him off.  If these former Secretaries of Defense are sufficiently concerned to publish the Letter they have, I consider it prudent to continue watch.  Paranoid?  Hopefully.  That said, President Richard Nixon reportedly once told Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev that he respected what Mr. Brezhnev said, but made policy based upon what Russia did.  Based upon what Mr. Trump has both said and done, I would submit that we relax our guard at our peril.  It certainly appears that ten former Secretaries of Defense agree.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/10-former-defense-secretaries-military-peaceful-transfer-of-power/2021/01/03/2a23d52e-4c4d-11eb-a9f4-0e668b9772ba_story.html

A Dangerous Complacency

The New York Times reported over the weekend that a group of 12 Republican Senators and Senators-elect – U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley, and a group reportedly led by U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, including Ron Johnson (WI), James Lankford (OK), Steve Daines (MT), John Kennedy (LA), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS), Bill Hagerty (TN), and Tommy Tuberville (AL) – are planning to vote to reject the Electoral College results through which President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump.  The paper further reported that Vice President Mike Pence might lend support to the effort.  Such maneuvers will reportedly be supplemented by a cohort of Republican blackguards in the House of Representatives. 

As has been covered ad nauseam over the last eight weeks, there is not a shred of credible evidence that Mr. Biden’s victory was a result of fraud, a claim rejected by dozens of judges of every political philosophy, denied by state election officials of both parties in multiple states, and debunked by the Trump Administration Attorney General, William Barr.  Yet, these traitors persist in an undertaking with the clear potential to further undermine many Americans’ faith in our democratic processes.

These efforts seem destined to substantively fail; Democrats control the House of Representatives, and it seems highly likely that a significant number of Senate Republicans will vote with Senate Democrats to accept the Electoral College results.  What is so execrable about the scheme is that it is so patently political theater.  These recalcitrant Republicans are presumably well aware that all objective findings indicate that Mr. Biden won the presidency, and do not expect their antics to block Mr. Biden’s assumption of the presidency; indeed, they might perhaps be more reluctant to engage in this pretense if they actually thought that it might be successful.  They have resorted to a stunt akin to House Republicans’ repeatedly voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act between 2010 and 2017, political pandering that they recognized had no chance of success, only to be exposed as having no suitable healthcare replacement when the GOP actually took full control of the federal government.  That said, the Congressional Republicans engaging in this plot are either oblivious to, or so blinded by partisanship that they are disregarding, the poisonous impact that their machinations might have on the long term vitality of our democracy. 

Irony has piled upon irony as this travesty has metastasized.  While the President is undoubtedly thrilled by these lickspittles’ support – any number of observers have noted how simplistically susceptible he is to transparent flattery — I would venture that the three most prominent plotters – Messrs. Pence, Hawley and Cruz – know full well that Mr. Trump’s presidency is over, and in the guise of defending him are actually engaging in a battle for possession of his political carcass. Mr. Cruz’ foray followed and was arguably in response to Mr. Hawley’s announcement that he would vote to contest the Electoral College results; Lyin’ Ted didn’t want Schoolboy Josh to get a leg up on him in the race to secure Trump Cult support for a 2024 presidential run.  Vice President Pantywaist was afraid to be left behind.

Below is a link to Federalist No. 68, written by Alexander Hamilton in 1788 as one of 85 essays that he, James Madison, and John Jay composed under the pseudonym, “Publius,” to persuade Americans to adopt the Constitution propounded by the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  No. 68 isn’t that long, and worth reading in its entirety.  In a mild irony given many commentators’ current criticism of the Constitution’s Electoral College structure, Mr. Hamilton begins the missive by noting, “The mode of appointment [i.e., the Electoral College] of the Chief Magistrate [i.e., the President] of the United States is almost the only part of the system of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from [the Constitution’s] opponents.”

Messrs. Hawley and Cruz are members of the Federalist Society, a prominent association of the conservative bar and its acolytes.  Considering their relationships with the Federalist Society, one would think that these two knaves would have at least read the Federalist.  Given the intrigue they are propagating, a bitter irony emerges from later passages of No. 68, in which Mr. Hamilton extolls the virtues of the Electoral College:

“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.  This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. …

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. … [The Constitutional Convention delegates] have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America ….”

The Avalon Project : Federalist No 68 (yale.edu)

As noted above, this evil – a word that I have but rarely used in these pages – charade seems destined to fail.  Nonetheless, these events have reminded me of The Lessons of Tragedy, by Hal Brands and Charles Edel.  Messrs. Brands and Edel focus on foreign policy, and the main premise of their book is that 75 years after World War II and 30 years after the Cold War, Americans are risking becoming insensible to the dangers that will arise if America fails to diligently tend to the liberal global order:  “… Americans are serial amnesiacs …. The U.S.-led international order has been so successful, for so long, that Americans have come to take it for granted.”

I see a domestic parallel.  I would submit that the Republicans purportedly seeking to overturn the election – motivated by ambition, hateful partisanship, ignorance, or hysteria – are presuming an invulnerability about American democratic safeguards that the Founding Fathers, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor when declaring our nation’s independence from a tyrant, or Presidents of both parties such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, who defended us against the existential threats presented by the Nazis and/or the Soviets, never would.  This is why we have never before seen anywhere near this level of such frankly un-American behavior, no matter how bitterly-contested or closely-decided our elections have been.  I fear that we have enjoyed our freedoms for so long that some of those to whom we have entrusted the protection of our republic have, to borrow Messrs. Brands’ and Edel’s phrase, come to take them for granted; we invite tragedy if enough of us cannot abide the lesson that in our system of government, neither winning nor self-interest is paramount.

Turning Off the Trump Show

It has been clear to all rational observers since the end of the first week in November that President Donald J. Trump had lost his bid for re-election.  During these weeks of interregnum – if he had acted in a classy manner, if he had hyped his Administration’s leadership in the development of Coronavirus vaccines instead of wallowing in his own perceived personal misfortunes, if he had pushed recalcitrant Republican members of Congress to boost payments to Americans in need – Mr. Trump could – even if just for his own self-interest, which is obviously all he cares about — have laid pretty credible – if unnerving — groundwork for a comeback.  He has instead roiled the nation in a petulant tantrum that wouldn’t be acceptable from a three-year-old, actively harmed our national security by obstructing the transition to the Biden Administration that all – including him – know is going to occur, ludicrously discounted the unanimous opinion of analysts (including his own Secretary of State) that the recent deep and widespread penetration of our governmental and private systems was perpetrated by Russia, abandoned his post as thousands more Americans succumbed to the pandemic, pardoned mass murderers and those that collaborated with Russians to get him elected in 2016, vetoed the National Defense Appropriations Act, which provides for military pay and funds many strategic defense initiatives, in a fit of pique over Congress’ plans to rename military installations now named for Confederate luminaries and its refusal to remove certain legal protections for internet companies, and most appallingly — perhaps the most “Let them eat cake” moment in American history – held up, while playing golf, in signing the torturously-negotiated Congressional COVID-relief bill, a pause which will reportedly cause a delay in payment of unemployment benefits to millions of Americans on the edge of starvation or eviction.  (Mr. Trump’s call for a sharp increase in benefits for Americans, after the bill had passed, is a transparent populist ploy to spite Republicans whom he considers to have deserted him by acknowledging Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory). 

As I commented once before in these pages, the final irony emerging from these days’ events is Mr. Trump’s evident willingness to do anything to stay in power when contrasted with his equally evident lack of interest in actually doing the job.

I would suggest that the manner in which Mr. Trump has behaved since his defeat indicates that despite any future feints, he has no intent to return in an elected capacity.  I will venture that when the smoke clears, his behavior throughout his term and after the election will reduce him to a niche — albeit impressive — political and media force, which may be all he truly ever wanted when he launched his seemingly quixotic 2016 campaign.  Given the devastatingly effective manner in which he has damaged our institutions and placed doubt in so many Americans’ minds regarding the integrity of our democratic processes, the suspicion that he is a Russian puppet will persist in the mind of anyone that has done any reading regarding the ways and means of Russian President Vladimir Putin (although, as also previously noted in these pages, Bob Woodward reported in his book, Rage, that Trump Administration Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats “… suspected the worst but found nothing that would show Trump was indeed in Putin’s pocket.”) 

I’m confident that President-Elect Biden and his aides already recognize that Mr. Trump will continue to be either a knowing or unwitting Russian corroder of American democracy in his post-presidency.  How to handle Mr. Trump will be one of the most difficult decisions for the incoming President and his team, requiring sensitivity akin to that which will be needed in dealing with the Coronavirus, managing relations with our foreign allies and adversaries, and coming to grips with our exploding debt and burgeoning social benefits obligations.  Any decision by the Biden Administration to prosecute Mr. Trump and his cohort in the name of the rule of law on what will undoubtedly be a myriad of valid grounds will keep Mr. Trump in the spotlight, provide his followers a rallying point, force mainstream Republicans to defend him, and earn him millions in a defense fund, all while offering little chance of a conviction; any decision by the Administration not to pursue him will signal an acquiescence to the disintegration of the rule of law, perhaps serve as an invitation to malefaction for Mr. Trump and others, and leave Mr. Biden open to divisive attack by inflamed and disenchanted progressives.  My current inclination is that the latter course will be marginally less destructive to our nation than the former, but it’s awfully close, and my own view might shift depending upon what might be uncovered after Mr. Trump leaves the White House. 

During the last five years, it cannot be gainsaid that President Trump struck a chord in the American psyche which will continue to reverberate after his term ends, and will need to be addressed if we are to go forth as a cohesive people.  These pages will undoubtedly cite him in the future as a touchstone when considering the evolution of our political environment.  That said, unless Mr. Trump executes machinations before Inauguration Day constituting a substantive threat to our Republic, I’m turning off the Trump Show for now.  In recent days, I’ve actually engaged in the luxury of reading on substantive policy issues – reading for which I found that I had little enthusiasm while the danger of a second Trump term, and what I feared it would mean for American democracy, loomed large.  In Rage, Mr. Woodward reports a comment made by Mr. Trump during their last conversation on July 21, 2020, that I was surprised to see neither Mr. Woodward nor any other reviewer remark upon, they perhaps deeming it innocuous … but to me resonating as the most ominous: 

“‘You don’t understand me,’ [Mr. Trump] said [to Mr. Woodward]. ‘You don’t understand me.  But that’s okay.  You’ll understand me after the election.  But you don’t understand me now.  I don’t think you get it.  And that’s okay.’”  [Emphasis Added]   

Stay safe.  Despite the perils ahead, the prospective departure of a President with fascist instincts and the arrival of Coronavirus vaccines truly offer reasons to be hopeful for a better 2021. 

Happy New Year.

Happy Holidays

[These pages may well address on another day the continuing flagrant – if hardly surprising – depravity we are witnessing as the Trump Administration dissolves.  It seems that the remainder of at least this week is best devoted to what Mr. Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address called, “the better angels of our nature.”]  

Perhaps you believe that God sent His (hopefully all will excuse this note’s use of male pronouns for the Almighty) only Son into the world as the Sacrificial Lamb that redeemed us from our sins.  Perhaps your Faith, proclaimed by the Prophets, holds the promise of a Messiah yet to come.  Perhaps you worship Allah, and abide by the teachings promulgated by his Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad.  Perhaps you devoutly follow one of the great Eastern or other sacred Faiths, of which my own knowledge is embarrassingly inadequate (a gap on my retirement list yet to be addressed).  Perhaps you have placed your trust in the Great Spirit of Native American tradition, or have made your own peace with a Being beyond our comprehension.  I believe that one who lives a life pleasing to the Almighty will be reconciled to Him, no matter by what path one has chosen to reach Him.  After a terribly challenging year on so many levels – including a virus which might be characterized as a plague, by Biblical standards – let us hope that as we take heart from what will be an uncommonly limited level of community with family and friends as this year ends, the Almighty provides us the strength, grace, and wisdom to have greater understanding in the coming year for the justifiable concerns of others, and that we work together so that by the end of next year, life will be at least a little better for at least some of those of our citizens and around the world beset by so many burdens.

Have Happy and Safe Holidays.   

Not in Our Stars

“The President … shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

  • United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4

As indicated in these pages close to a year ago, as soon as I read the word, “Biden,” in the White House Memorandum of the call between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which undisputedly showed an American President pressuring the leader of a vulnerable foreign ally to help him politically against another American, Mr. Trump’s despicable conduct – call it a “high Crime” if you prefer; I considered it Treason — was ample evidence that he was unworthy of the office he holds, and of the American people.  While he was impeached in the House of Representatives, the Republican sycophants in the Senate refused to remove him from office, more concerned about their own careers than about the good of our nation, Congressional responsibility, and our democratic processes.

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

  • United States Constitution, Amendment XXV, Section 4

A number of trustworthy news outlets have recently reported that during the past week, President Trump inquired about the feasibility of a scheme, offered on a conservative media outlet by his convicted and now pardoned former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, that Mr. Trump impose martial law in the swing states won by President-Elect Joe Biden and have the military redo the presidential election in those states.  It has also been credibly reported that Mr. Trump has suggested that the Department of Homeland Security should seize voting machines in swing states in order to investigate baseless claims of election fraud thrown out across the country by judges of every judicial philosophy.  If the reporting is accurate, these and other far-fetched strategies have been, thus far, shut down by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who have been two of the President’s staunchest loyalists – hardly pillars that give one confidence that our Constitutional safeguards will hold.

We have no idea at this point whether Mr. Trump actually believes the lies regarding election fraud that he has so perniciously spread over the last six weeks.  His niece, Dr. Mary Trump, stated in her book, Too Much and Never Enough, “The people with access to [Mr. Trump] are weaker than Donald is, more craven, but just as desperate.  Their futures are directly dependent on his success and favor. … His pathologies have rendered him so simple-minded than it takes nothing more than repeating to him the things he says to and about himself … to get him to do whatever they want …” 

Most charitably, the President has come to believe his own fantasies, and is now dangerously unbalanced.  More malevolently, he knows his claims are lies and simply seeks to hold on to power at any cost.  (Although such intent would constitute treason, there is no longer time for Congressional impeachment and removal proceedings, even if such had any prospect of success.)  In either event, Mr. Trump is manifestly “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”  (For as steadfast a defender of the President, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, to stage as abrupt a reversal as he has in recent weeks – first indicating that there was insufficient evidence of fraud to affect the outcome of the presidential election, more recently declaring, despite the President’s protestations, that Russia was responsible for the recent deep and widespread hack of federal government systems and adding that there was no ground for the federal government to seize swing state voting machines or for a special prosecutor to investigate Hunter Biden or the election – makes one ponder whether Mr. Barr has noted something increasingly disquieting in Mr. Trump’s conduct since the election.)  Despite all of this, can we have any hope that Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of Cabinet officers will have the courage to institute proceedings under Amendment XXV to protect our nation?  To ask the question is to answer it.

I am tired of Donald Trump.  I am tired of writing about Donald Trump.  (Something of which the President himself is only too well aware:  he shrinks without a spotlight.)  This should be the time focus on the myriad of daunting substantive domestic and foreign policy concerns that will confront us upon Mr. Biden’s inauguration.  That said, we may still be facing the most perilous 30 days that our nation has seen since the darkest days of World War II, or perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis – brought upon us not only by Mr. Trump’s deformed psyche and his enablers, but by the rank cowardice of so many Republican office holders that could – as a group, if not singly — have stood in the breach and defended our nation, but have not.

“Cassius: 

‘Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus; and we petty men

Walk under his huge legs, and peep about

To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Men at some time are masters of their fates:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’”

  • William Shakespeare:  Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II

The True Trump Derangement Syndrome

All who care have heard of “Trump Derangement Syndrome”:  a label applied by those who have excused or discounted President Trump’s abhorrent nature over the years to those (which would certainly include me) who considered Mr. Trump’s malevolent conduct a portent of … well, of the fascism that it has indeed proven to be.

I’ve become resigned to the craven actions of those politicians who refuse cross Mr. Trump for fear of incurring his wrath, losing the favor of his avid base, and thus having their butts ripped from what used to be hallowed and are now but hollowed Congressional seats.  Those that do surprise me are those Republican politicians continuing to carry on Mr. Trump’s seditious crusade who are reportedly motivated by the desire to curry and maintain Mr. Trump’s support for their own presidential ambitions:  among others, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. AK Sen. Tom Cotton, U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley, perhaps Donald Trump, Jr., and of course, our perennial favorite, U.S. TX Sen. “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz [one does have to give the President credit for that one  ;)].  Even aside from the fundamental reason why none of the Trump Wannabes should be president – that their priority of power over patriotism makes them a genuine threat to the future of our democracy – there is another, itself weighty:  they’re obviously not savvy enough to be president.  None will be able to claim the Trump Sect on his own – they all lack the President’s animal magnetism – and given the manner in which Mr. Trump has promiscuously used those who loyally served him to their own detriment and then discarded when they displeased him (his book-ended Attorneys General, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, being the readiest examples), anyone who believes that Mr. Trump will ever use his cult capital to benefit anybody – including his own son — but himself, is … dumber than a rock.  This is the True Trump Derangement Syndrome.  These pathetic knaves should form their own political organization:  The Charlie Party.