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. 

A Day of Deeply Conflicting Emotions

Yesterday, the Electoral College cast its votes for president.  Despite the apparently inevitable Trump Conspiracy histrionics that will continue until Congress counts the Electoral College votes on January 6, and the likelihood of partisan Republican obstructive tactics during that Congressional proceeding, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s election to the presidency will then and there be formally acknowledged. 

For those of us who feared America’s descent into fascism had President Trump been re-elected, the Electoral College’s official rendering provided a significant sense of relief; but my overall reaction to yesterday’s news was bittersweet. Even as the Electoral College results arrived and the trucks carrying vaccines rolled, we reached 300,000 American Coronavirus deaths — many of which seem indisputably a result of the President’s abject incompetence.  Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s manifestly undemocratic conduct of office throughout his entire term, my suspicion persists that his gross mishandling of our COVID response was the primary factor in his narrow loss of the combined 37 Electoral College votes of the pivotal states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin.  If such was indeed the case, let us pray that despite the fringe elements, we can move ahead as a nation – that the avoidable virus deaths we have suffered across our land, and those tragically to come, will not be entirely in vain.

Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years ago tomorrow – December 12, 1970, also a Saturday – at a about 4 in the afternoon, I left my Marquette University dormitory, McCormick Hall at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and 16th Street in Milwaukee, and walked 12 blocks east to the bus stop at 4th and Wisconsin, outside the side entrance to Boston Store, in order to catch the westbound 57 Center bus.  The University’s semester class schedule had just concluded; final exams were to begin the following Monday.  I was (hopefully) bound for the home of my date, in Wauwatosa, WI, a bedroom community immediately adjoining the city.  I was significantly weighted down; the bus fare was 40 cents, and I was carrying 24 dimes – four to get me to my companion’s house, eight to get us both back downtown, eight to subsequently get us back to her house, and four to get me back downtown at the end of the night.  Our evening’s primary activity was to be watching Coach Al McGuire’s national powerhouse Marquette Warriors host the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Milwaukee Arena; I had secured her ticket to the game from a dorm mate who had opted to spend the night studying for his upcoming finals. 

I had met my evening’s companion the preceding August, before the start of my very first Marquette class.  I had signed up for 8AM Spanish – incredibly naïve and stupid scheduling for a college student lifestyle; I never took another 8AM class – and when I reached the classroom door, I surveyed the scene, went and sat down next to the best-looking girl in the room – sparkling dark eyes, stunning very curly dark brown, almost black, hair, bright smile – and started talking.

Spanish class met four days a week, and we ended up talking much of the time.  She was a townie – living in Wauwatosa (“The next city over,” she had to enlighten my Chicagoland consciousness).  Both of us had a free hour after Spanish, and ever more as the semester went on, I walked her from Spanish to Marquette’s Union, frequently staying to visit further before we separated for the day.  Sometimes, because I couldn’t study in the racket that is any men’s college dorm, I would run into her at the end of the day in the lobby of the Marquette Library, and wait with her until her brother came to pick her up.

Shyness around women has never been one of my prevailing traits, and I liked this girl.  At the same time, she was — as my dorm mates frequently noted – a townie.  They pointed out that there were literally hundreds of coeds living on campus within a five minute walk from our dorm.  Half the people in my classes were women, and – at a point when Wisconsin’s legal drinking age was 18 – the campus bars teemed on the weekends.  I obviously had no car, and those that know me won’t be a bit surprised that my male dignity, however inapposite, would never allow for the suggestion that my Spanish classmate could drive us on a date.  Heeding my dorm mates’ advice, I ventured out with several charming Marquette women during the semester; although those outings were fun, I was in Spanish four days a week, and couldn’t escape the fact that I really liked … this girl.  While we had gotten well acquainted, she had never indicated whether she was dating anyone (although one conversation made clear that she had had to sequence a series of prom dates the preceding Spring – not exactly a boost for a young man’s morale  ;)], or dropped any veiled hint that I should ask her out.

As the semester drew down, I was torn:  I was running out of weekends in the semester.  There was really no longer time for dating; I needed to study to do well in finals.  There was always next semester to ask her out.  I certainly did not relish taking a Milwaukee city bus for the first time for what I was pretty sure wouldn’t be a short ride over dark and cold (Milwaukee gets cold in winter) unfamiliar night terrain.  And yet … I liked this girl. Even then, I understood that Marquette was big; we didn’t share a major, and our paths had only crossed because we had happened to take the same general language elective during the same idiotic early morning slot.

At the beginning of the last week of class, I made up my mind, and made the leap:  I asked if she’d like to go with me to the Marquette game that Saturday night.  She immediately said yes.  She offered to drive (I found out later that she had gone on dates during the semester in which she had picked the guys up at the dorm).  I said that I preferred that we take the bus; how did we do that?  I could tell:  she liked that.   She told me what the fare was – that they only accepted exact change — where the bus stop was, where I could get a schedule, and that it was going to be about a 45-minute ride.  She gave me her address in Wauwatosa, told me what stop to get off, and the directions to her house from the stop.  We were on.

The memory of the evening itself is a warm glow.  The bus was on time; the fare was right; I got off at the right stop; I found the house.  In a sense more a high school date setting than a college meet, I met her parents.  (I found out later that her father, who I came to revere before he left us too soon, liked me immediately because I insisted on taking the bus.)  On that Saturday evening, she was every bit as open, dark and exciting, as I had come to know her, but a bit more mysterious.  We took the bus downtown, saw the game (it was a blowout), had dinner at a nondescript place afterward that had looked better through the window in early reconnaissance than it was in reality (she didn’t seem to mind), got back on the bus and to her home at the right time.  It appeared … that she had enjoyed herself (a lady, I came to find out later, never lets a gentleman know all of what she is thinking).  She agreed to go out with me again after finals before I went home.  I was … on top of the world.  Finals starting Monday?  No worries.  What brought me back to earth:  standing on a bus stop in Wauwatosa, WI, at 1AM in the dark of December in a whipping wind waiting for the last bus downtown.  I pulled out a dorm mate’s stocking cap that he had insisted I take – I never wore a hat in those hirsute days – clamped it on, and held on until the bus arrived.

McCormick Hall has been demolished.  The Marquette Union has been replaced, the Marquette Library has been expanded beyond recognition.  The Marquette Warriors became the Marquette Golden Eagles a quarter of a century ago.  Al McGuire, on that December 1970 night still years away from his 1977 NCAA Championship, will be dead twenty years this January.  The Marquette basketball team vacated the Milwaukee Arena (now the Milwaukee Mecca) for the Bradley Center “eons ago,” as Coach McGuire would say – and has now moved on again, to the Fiserv Forum.  The Boston Store, long a city fixture, is physically gone, now merely an online brand of bailout owners. The unremarkable restaurant in which we dined that night has disappeared.  She and I never had another class together, and even after she moved to campus starting our sophomore year, we didn’t coincidentally run into each other on the street more than a few times during our remaining years at Marquette.  There is still a bus route from downtown Milwaukee to Wauwatosa, but it is no longer the 57 Center.

I still have the notes I jotted down of her directions to the bus and her house. Those sparkling dark eyes now sometimes look up at me over the brightly-colored frames of her reading glasses, as she lifts her gaze from her iPad galleries of our children and grandchildren.

We have all attended many weddings, and heard many a groom describe the nervousness he felt as he prepared to propose to his bride.  When it came time for me to propose to her, on a December night five years after our first bus ride, a delay born of the extended education regimes we undertook as part of our life’s plan, I felt no apprehension [as a matter of fact, on the night I formally proposed, I think she kinda expected it, as I kinda expected that she would say yes ;)].  The hard decision wasn’t to ask her to marry me; the hard decision – the most important of my life – had come when I decided that I liked this girl enough to risk taking the 57 Center bus.

The Resentment That Never Sleeps

Someone very close to us forwarded me a link to the attached enlightening and disquieting December 9, 2020, piece by New York Times Columnist Thomas B. Edsall.  Mr. Edsall cites authorities that assert that “‘social status is one of the most important motivators of human behavior,’” and he observes, “[I]n politics, status competition has … [prompted] a collection of emotions including envy, jealousy and resentment that have spurred ever more intractable conflicts between left and right, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.”   

Hopefully, all reviewing this note that wish to access Mr. Edsall’s column have the means to do so.  It is compelling, if not pleasant, reading. 

Our Next Greatest Danger

“The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

  • attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Winston Churchill

Not long after we retired in 2015, a conservative friend added me to a conservative email chain; soon thereafter, I received an email circulated by the group sharply criticizing then-President Barack Obama for having “the lack of respect to not honor our fighting forces,” stating, “In the 69 years since D-Day, there are four occasions when the President of the United States chose not to visit the D-Day Monument that honors the soldiers killed during the Invasion,” listing four years in which President Obama had not traveled to Normandy:  2010 – 2013.

I was surprised by the email.  Even if not stated explicitly, it left the impression that President Obama had never traveled to Normandy to honor our D-Day fallen.  I seemed to recall that Mr. Obama had spoken at Normandy D-Day Commemorations during his time in office.  In an internet search taking literally less than 30 seconds, I found that during his presidency Mr. Obama had spoken on the Normandy shores not once, but twice, in 2009 and 2014.  I emailed our friend my search results, along with supporting links.  Our friend sent a very gracious thanks for my disproving the message’s totally inaccurate and disparaging impression of Mr. Obama.

Not long after, I was removed from the circle.  [It was almost certainly for the best  ;).]

As these pages have made pretty clear, my greatest fear for the American way of life prior to Election Day was the likelihood that President Trump’s obvious dictatorial – at times, seemingly fascist – tendencies would cause our descent into autocracy if he was re-elected.  Now that such risk is arguably behind us (although I will breathe most easily on this score once President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn into office), the once seemingly-unimaginable reactions of so many of our people to the unsubstantiated malevolent claims of election fraud spread during the last month by Mr. Trump and his enablers have brought home to me what I would suggest may be the next greatest danger confronting our American democratic experiment:

Not Mr. Trump’s increasingly unbalanced narcissism and pathological lying;

Not national Republicans’ continued gutless subservience to the President, a despicable dereliction of their Constitutional responsibilities undertaken solely to preserve their own political careers;  

Not the alt-right media’s promotion of ever-more-outrageous conspiracy theories to inflame their followers, broadcast purely to jack up their own profits;

Surprisingly, not even that segment of Americans who are affirmatively racist, misogynist, nativist, homophobic, or religiously biased – many of whom, alarmingly, apparently don’t care that Mr. Trump lost the election, and are merely intent on keeping him in power – only because I believe – hopefully not mistakenly — that this segment, whose sentiments pose a poisonous threat to our republic, is relatively small.

It is the indication that many millions of our people, who do believe in democracy, with accurate information readily obtainable through the slightest of effort, are either negligently or willfully choosing to give credence to manifest falsehoods.

Republican election officials in Arizona and Georgia that personally opposed Mr. Biden have declared that there was no fraud in their electoral processes and that, alas, Mr. Biden won their states.  Former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker, perhaps as venomously partisan as any state official in this country, sent a tweet soon after Wisconsin’s votes were tabulated, in effect signaling that Wisconsin’s processes were clean and that, alas, a recount would not unseat Mr. Biden’s victory in the state. U.S. Attorney General William Barr, arguably Mr. Trump’s more important defender and enabler, has declared that, alas, the Department of Justice has uncovered no evidence of fraud that would overturn Mr. Biden’s victory.  So many identifiably or de facto Republican judges have thrown out the Trump Campaign’s specious attacks on various states’ electoral processes that I have lost count.

I always paid greater heed to Fox News’ Shepard Smith’s debunking of Mr. Trump’s lies than I did to that of CNN or MSNBC commentators specifically because Mr. Smith was at Fox News.  (Mr. Smith is now at CNBC.)

I’d wager a fair sum that any of Mr. Trump’s supporters visiting a car dealership this past weekend were appropriately skeptical of any salesman’s claim that a given car “was a great deal.”  Yet, despite a Rocky Mountain Range of indications that Mr. Trump’s blatantly self-serving claims about election fraud are entirely baseless, these supporters remain determined to believe him.  If enough of our people are unwilling for a long enough period to face facts that are, in a saying favored by my sainted mother, “as plain as the nose on your face,” our experiment in democracy will not survive.  Now that we have at least for the present escaped the overt danger of totalitarianism, let us hope that after Mr. Trump leaves office – and despite his inevitable efforts to the contrary — a significant percentage of those now giving any level of heed to his lies “awaken,” and reassume their civic responsibility to investigate and reflect upon the issues facing our nation with a level of reason and dispassion.

“This Constitution can only end in despotism…when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.”

  • Benjamin Franklin, at the conclusion of the 1787 Constitutional Convention

Political Prognostications

I would submit that it can be fairly inferred from our recent electoral results that our politics for the rest of this decade will be up for grabs.  For liberals reassured by President-Elect Joe Biden’s 80 million votes and impressive-looking (projected) 306 projected Electoral College votes, I would observe that facing our most despicable and undemocratic President in at least 120 years, Mr. Biden won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes, Georgia by about 12,000 votes, and Arizona by about 10,000 votes.  For those sources – including these pages – that have spent the last four years bemoaning Mr. Trump’s narrow 2016 victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin over Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, it should be noted that Mr. Trump carried those three Upper Midwest states by a combined total of about 77,000 votes – approaching twice the combined margin by which Mr. Biden carried Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia.  If Mr. Trump had won Wisconsin’s, Arizona’s, and Georgia’s combined 37 Electoral College votes, the presidential race would have ended in an Electoral College tie.  Congressional results – again, in a year in which Mr. Trump’s conduct of the presidency drove the highest percentage of voter turnout in about a century — yielded not a blue wave but a vaguely pink backdraft.

And more:  liberals should not be overly heartened by pundits’ proclamations that Mr. Biden rebuilt the upper Midwest “Blue Wall” that President Trump successfully scaled in defeating Ms. Clinton.  Mr. Biden may simply have been the perfect candidate to temporarily plug the “Wall’s” gaps.  In Wisconsin, both Mr. Biden’s victory over Mr. Trump and Democratic WI Gov. Tony Evers’ 2018 victory over former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker were exceedingly narrow – arguably achieved by inoffensive personalities because of the deep antipathy Messrs. Trump and Walker stirred in the voters opposing them.  Mr. Biden’s Pennsylvania victory was likely a product of his Scranton roots, his staunch record of safeguarding union rights, and his undisputable lifelong support of black rights against the most unabashedly racist President in modern times.  Ditto the President-Elect’s fortunes in Michigan, where he arguably received an additional boost from auto workers’ memory of his efforts to save the American auto industry during the Great Recession.  These assets may not readily transfer to the next Democratic presidential candidate.

And yet more:  can liberals still be certain that all demographic trends favor them?  While the young seem to be generally more amenable to progressive than conservative views, the theory that our growing ethnic minorities will unite to provide an enduring multi-complexioned Democratic monolith seems to be springing leaks in practice.  It turns out that our citizens of non-European ethnicities are beginning to manifest views … as diverse as those of European descent.  Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans, given their experiences and those of their forebears in Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, apparently don’t like anything that hints at socialism.  Some Southwest Latino Americans seemingly disfavor policies designed to assist those from their former countries entering the U.S. illegally.  Some Latino Americans working in the Texas oil fields were clearly more troubled by Mr. Biden’s expressed intent to transition the U.S. from the oil industry than they were by Mr. Trump’s blatantly anti-Brown rhetoric.  Many Asian Americans don’t like racial preference policies, which in practice harm their prospects.  Surveys reportedly indicate that many Black Americans, while united against racism, tend to be more traditional – indeed, conservative – on other issues.

The emerging disparate attitudes among our ethnic minorities is obviously a good thing.  Our democracy becomes stronger the more all of our people think as individuals, not as herd members.  That said, Democrats would appear to need to do a better job listening, and understanding and accommodating diverging views, or their anticipated demographic leviathan will become a mirage.

At the same time, Republicans have their own problems.  On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week, the panel was casting about for appropriate comparisons to Mr. Trump’s presidency, and suggesting that one-term presidents are rarely remembered as notable figures unless they do something significant in their post presidencies.  I think they were but half right.  I predict that historians will conclude that Mr. Trump spread enough toxin in a single term to be marked as a unique blot upon the American Dream; but what Mr. Trump is likely to attempt in his post-presidency – to divide the nation for his own gratification – might indeed prove as significantly corrosive as his presidency.  Even so, what seems to me to be the greater likelihood – and what I would assume is of immediate concern to Republican strategists – is that Mr. Trump’s narcissistic efforts will hopelessly divide the Republican Party.  The parallel I see is not to any of our one-term presidents, but to one of our great two-term Presidents:  Theodore Roosevelt. 

The Republican Mr. Roosevelt, the youngest person to serve as president in our history, bowed to the two-term tradition later discarded by his cousin and left office in 1909, still vital at the age of 50.  His anointed successor, Republican William Howard Taft, was an uninspiring conservative who soon disappointed him.  By 1912, Mr. Roosevelt sought to reclaim the presidency.  The majority of party regulars – who had benefited from Mr. Roosevelt’s electoral success, but were more conservative than he, and didn’t want him back – awarded Mr. Taft the nomination.  Mr. Roosevelt responded by running under his own banner (literally named, the “Progressive Party,” although commonly known as the Bull Moose Party).  Messrs. Roosevelt and Taft split 50% of the 1912 presidential vote, handing the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who polled but 42%.

Although this observation hints at my notions regarding the future of the American political process, I would submit that it defies belief that a bunch of ambitious Republicans are going to let Mr. Trump hold their party hostage – as he clearly intends – for much of the coming decade.  They refused to stand up to Mr. Trump during the last four years specifically because they were ambitious – placing a higher priority on their own careers than on what was good for the nation.  While they’ve ridden the Trump wave, traditional Republicans don’t agree with Mr. Trump on a number of core issues.  I think they’ll want their party back, setting up a clash with Mr. Trump, who will maintain a cult-like hold on a segment of our electorate and is manifestly psychologically incapable of abandoning the spotlight.  This confrontation has, as was the case in 1912, the prospect of cleaving those currently sharing the Republican mantle.  We’re seeing the earliest indications of the potential rift in the current feud among Georgia Republicans.  The beneficiaries of such a GOP schism will obviously be Democrats.

So — to borrow a phrase from Mr. Trump — we’ll see what happens …

A President Should Pay His Debts … When He Can

As President-Elect Joe Biden has begun to name his Cabinet – so far, by all accounts competent moderates being greeted with respective sighs of relief in the foreign policy, intelligence and (given the selection of former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary) financial communities — I’m disappointed that I have not seen two names more frequently mentioned:  U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Mr. Biden’s choice of Vice President Elect Kamala Harris as his running mate proved, despite my oft-expressed severe misgivings about naming her, a smart pick.  It’s a long road ahead, but early handicapping would understandably assign her the inside track on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in either 2024 or 2028.  Fair enough; but she never presented a serious challenge to Mr. Biden’s quest for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

On the other hand, if Sen. Klobuchar and former Mayor Buttigieg, who had significant support against Mr. Biden in the centrist lane of the Democratic race, hadn’t withdrawn their candidacies and endorsed Mr. Biden when they did, the likely continued division of the Democratic moderate vote would have in effect handed the Democratic nomination to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders – which, given what we have now seen from the November vote totals, almost certainly would have resulted in President Trump’s re-election.

A President should pay his debts … when he can.

During their presidential candidacies, both Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg were at least as strong with white Democratic moderates as Mr. Biden; what ultimately doomed their prospects was their inability to gain support from African American Democrats. 

Subject to the caveat below, I would nominate Sen. Klobuchar to be the United States Attorney General if she wanted the position.  She is a former prosecutor, but since the Biden Administration Department of Justice is certainly going to be involved on the side of minorities in any civil rights cases, Ms. Klobuchar’s high visibility in those efforts, and her necessarily sympathetic interaction with black leaders across the country, will enable her to establish positive relationships in the African American community that might facilitate a future presidential run.  The big caveat:  Minnesota Senatorial prospects.  In a state that is more conservative than generally thought, before making such a selection Mr. Biden would need to conclude that the Democrat appointed to replace Ms. Klobuchar would be able to hold the Minnesota Senate seat against a Republican challenge in 2022.  If the odds aren’t right, nominating Ms. Klobuchar isn’t feasible.

By the same token, I would nominate Mr. Buttigieg for Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development.  I have heard his name mentioned as a potential Director of Veterans Affairs, but VA is a political landmine and doesn’t seem to provide a boost for a prospective presidential candidate.  Mr. Buttigieg is well-known – “Mayor Pete” – and since the Biden Administration HUD is certainly going to be sympathetic to minority concerns, Mr. Buttigieg would have ample opportunity as HUD Secretary – as Ms. Klobuchar would at Justice – to establish relationships with the African American community across the nation that would facilitate a future presidential run. 

It is clear that Mr. Biden would not have won the Democratic presidential nomination without the enthusiastic support of U.S. SC Rep. James Clyburn, who is reportedly concerned that not enough African Americans have yet been named to the Biden Cabinet and has suggested a candidate for HUD.  Mr. Clyburn’s sentiments need to be among those carrying the greatest weight with the President-Elect; that said, Mr. Clyburn’s preferences appear more general and can presumably be addressed through other appointments without slighting Mr. Buttigieg.

Progressives are reportedly increasingly concerned about the moderate nature of Mr. Biden’s first named nominees.  Their interests need to be addressed; Mr. Biden would not have won the presidency without progressives’ active support, even if their enthusiasm arose much more from loathing for Mr. Trump than regard for Mr. Biden.  I have heard Sen. Sanders say he would accept a position as Labor Secretary in the Biden Administration.  I would suggest that nominating Mr. Sanders to the Cabinet is too risky a step for Mr. Biden; no president can hire somebody he can’t control and can’t politically fire.  That said, Mr. Biden’s nominee for Labor Secretary should be someone that Sen. Sanders will enthusiastically support.

Although former GA Rep. Stacey Abrams’ expressed desire to be the President-Elect’s running mate was a pipe dream, Mr. Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia, which has given him breathing room during the Trump Conspiracy’s treasonous efforts to undercut the election, is a result of the organization that Ms. Abrams built in her 2018 run for the Georgia governorship.  She deserves something high profile in the Biden Administration to position her for another gubernatorial campaign against unpopular GA Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022.

A concluding lament about former U.S. U.N. Amb. Susan Rice, whom I considered the most qualified to be president of the three women ultimately listed as finalists to be Mr. Biden’s running mate.  Amb. Rice accepted being passed over with good grace, and deserved to be nominated for Secretary of State.  That said, given her misinformed remarks about the 2012 attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya — although subsequent Congressional investigation found no evidence that she had intentionally misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the attack — Mr. Biden, wisely in my view, elected not to nominate her in order to avoid what certainly would have been a hyper-partisan Senate confirmation process.  While I am confident that Mr. Biden is pleased with his choice of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State, I hope he feels more than a pang of regret for Ms. Rice.  I do.