On the Republican Convention

[The tone of this note is a bit less restrained than that I generally strive to maintain in these pages; today, I just can’t help it.]

I confess it:  I didn’t watch the Republicans’ Convention.  After the first few minutes of the first night, I decided that I don’t have enough life space left to squander any of it observing what seemed certain to be four nights of an alternate universe – a genteel way of saying, “four nights of lies.”  (I instead spent one of the evenings reading Mein Kampf passages in which the then-future Fuhrer describes the importance, approach, and target populations for effective propaganda, and am confident that I learned more about propaganda from he who made it an art form than by simply watching the Republicans practice it.)  The snippets of the Convention speeches that I saw while carrying on over the last few days fully confirmed my initial impressions.

One unnerving note:  a kind and elderly soul we know well, who before the Republican Convention indicated that she was going to vote for Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden because she is repulsed by President Trump’s aberrant behavior, but wanted to watch the Republican Convention because she wanted to “listen to both sides,” told us during the last four days that she was reconsidering voting for the President after hearing of all he had done for the nation.  It was a stark reminder:  even after the last four years, a broad segment of our citizens – even those who are not habitual Fox and alt-right media followers – understandably have terrible difficulty internalizing the notion that the leader of our nation – the President of the United States — and his cohort will simply stand before our people and lie, and lie, and lie.

Another note:  how quickly we become anesthetized to atrocity.  I would submit that the shooting of Jacob Blake was every bit as malevolent an abuse of power as the murder of George Floyd (although Mr. Blake, unlike Mr. Floyd, was “only” paralyzed rather than murdered).  We all saw the tape.  The officer, gun drawn, followed Mr. Blake out to his car.  It is alleged that there was a knife in the car.  Under the circumstances presented, I would suggest:  If so, so what?  Mr. Blake was apparently seated in the driver’s seat, the officer – on high alert, gun drawn – hovering above him.  Even assuming that Mr. Blake had gotten the knife in hand – as far as I know, not established — how, given the two men’s relative positions, could Mr. Blake have realistically done serious harm to the officer?  Aren’t officers supposed to be able to deal with situations like this without shooting an alleged suspect in the back, seven times?  The outrage in white middle America nonetheless seems incredibly muted compared to that which attended Mr. Floyd’s killing.  I have seen reports – which I admittedly can’t confirm, since I didn’t watch – that the Republicans made no reference to the officer’s conduct toward Mr. Blake at any time during their convention.  They appear confident that too many of our citizens are instead becoming preoccupied with the danger that protests over police malfeasance may do to their lawns.

All that said:  I have also seen any number of pundits, including those that in no way support the President, indicate that the Republicans put on four nights of television that could well have been effective with swing voters in swing states.  As anyone that reads these pages is aware, I have thought and continue to fear that the contest between Messrs. Trump and Biden is going to be perilously close.  This campaign seems likely to be particularly akin to a professional prizefight. Mr. Biden landed some effective blows last week in what was, practically speaking, Round One; the President countered this week in Round Two.  Last Monday morning, on the eve of the Republican Convention, I recorded Mr. Biden’s respective swing state leads over Mr. Trump as depicted in FiveThirtyEight.com.  While given polls will reflect different results, it is the trends that matter.  I would suggest that the extent by which FiveThirtyEight.com’s findings show a week from today how much Mr. Biden’s lead over Mr. Trump has (inevitably) narrowed will be the measure of the effectiveness of the Republican Convention.  I would further venture that there will then be little movement in public sentiment until we citizens get a chance to see the two candidates square off against each other (perhaps another fitting boxing allusion) in the first debate on September 29.

I also understand that during their Convention, the Republicans sought to cast the Coronavirus in the past tense during their gathering.  Do you think it’s behind us?

Stay safe.

On Mr. McCain and Mr. Rivers

There are two links below – the first to a tweet by Conservative Bill Kristol contrasting remarks by President Trump and the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain when each was campaigning for the presidency, the second to Los Angeles Clippers’ Head Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers’ comments regarding the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI.  The 2008 remarks of Sen. McCain, taken together with those of Coach Rivers, offer the most eloquent rebuttal to the claims currently being spewed at the Republican National Convention.

On the 2020 Conventions, Past and Ahead

To join the chorus:  Given what the Democrats had to accomplish last week, I would score their effort 9 out of 10.  I was very concerned during the first hour of the first night, which was both uneven and boring (a friend called the early minutes “a snooze”), and would maintain that the Democrats’ use of celebrities as moderators was less than befitting given the importance of the event, but starting with the second hour of the first night, I found it surprisingly arresting throughout.  A few impressions:

Putting aside until later the acceptance speech of Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, of the Convention’s many effective presentations – including one by former President Barack Obama, who clearly considers President Trump to be the existential threat to the American way of life that I have suggested in these pages — I found particularly powerful the talks by former U.S. AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords, a victim of gun violence, regarding our need for greater gun regulation, and by Kristin Urquiza, who declared of her father, a Trump supporter who had succumbed to COVID-19, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump [that the Coronavirus was under control], and for that, he paid with his life.” That said — and speaking as a somewhat jaundiced political junkie that has seen, figuratively and perhaps literally, a thousand political speeches – I consider the words of young Braydon Harrington, who struggles with stuttering, on his relationship with and belief in Mr. Biden, as moving as anything I have ever witnessed.

For reasons I can’t readily describe, I have mentally paired what was to me a haunting part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech and the presentations of former OH Gov. John Kasich and former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.  In her remarks, Sec. Clinton stated, “For four years, people have said to me, … ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ – or worse – ‘I should have voted.’” [Emphasis by Ms. Clinton – in the sense that she uttered the italicized words in her speech, but they are not in CNN’s published text.]  I found Messrs. Kasich’s and Powell’s message, that it was acceptable for Republicans distressed by Mr. Trump’s presidency to vote for Mr. Biden, both encouraging and disappointing — encouraging because these gentlemen have greater credibility than any liberal in coaxing conflicted Republicans to vote for Mr. Biden; disappointing because some of our citizens are so rigidly party-bound that despite deep misgivings about the leader of their party, they nonetheless require reassurance that it’s “okay” to break ranks.

As to Mr. Biden’s speech:  it was undoubtedly the Republican ticket’s worst nightmare.  He was cogent, energized, caring.  He didn’t look befuddled or scary, and the Republicans needed him to look one or the other.  What’s more, he did something that I didn’t think he had in him:  make us believe that he truly believes that America’s best days are ahead.  All Presidents and presidential candidates mouth it, but none since Ronald Reagan – including Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama, despite their oratory skills – have declared it in a manner such that I actually thought they believed it.  Joe Biden believes it.  Until his speech I had been pleased to support him because I considered him honorable, qualified, and the most generally-acceptable alternative to the wide swath of voters needed to defeat Mr. Trump; I considered Mr. Biden’s contribution to the nation if elected was likely to be limited to ridding us of the malignant Trump presidency.  His words and manner in his acceptance actually made me contemplate the possibility that a President Biden, despite his age and if he has a Democratic Congress, could, by drawing on input from disparate constituencies in old-school style, be a healer and achiever rather than simply a caretaker.  His speech made me more affirmatively for Joe.  One cautionary note:  While Mr. Biden’s thundering declaration, “If I’m your president, we’re going to protect Social Security and Medicare. You have my word,” undoubtedly played well in Florida, a pivotal Electoral College state, it also carried echoes of then-Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush’s similarly-thundering declaration, “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”  Social Security and Medicare will undoubtedly need revision over the next four years, but many of the actions proposed by experts to perpetuate these programs, as well as measures likely to be necessary to reduce our seemingly-crushing deficits after the Coronavirus has been brought under control, may well lend to an accusation that Mr. Biden failed in his pledge to “protect” these hallowed programs.

As to the Republican Convention upon us:  I have seen comments that the GOP will strive to have upbeat sessions, and that the President has been advised to primarily focus on the perceived strength of the pre-pandemic economy and assert that he is best suited to resuscitate it.  My comment:  the President is congenitally incapable of being uplifting.  Where he’s comfortable and effective from a political standpoint is hate, fear, resentment, and bitterness.  I have no doubt that he recognizes that he’s never going to get anybody to like him that doesn’t already, and fully expect that he intends to stick with what got him the presidency:  hate, fear, resentment, and bitterness.  Since there are almost certainly not enough heretofore nonvoting Trump supporters to overcome his apparent poll deficits, and Mr. Biden’s speech has pretty well dispelled the notion among the few remaining swing state undecideds that Mr. Biden isn’t up to the presidency, one can anticipate that Mr. Trump will try to scare those few undecideds back into the Trump camp with the “Biden is the prisoner of the socialist left that will seek to cancel you” claim.

As per the link below, the Republicans have decided to forego a party platform and simply “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”  For a party known for its bitter internecine platform battles over the last 70 years from those between Eisenhower internationalists and Taft isolationists to those between regulars and tea partiers, and currently between those who respectively favor and oppose more robust Congressional Coronavirus aid, I confess that even given Mr. Trump’s dominance, I am surprised at this level of the party’s capitulation to the President. 

https://prod-cdn-static.gop.com/media/documents/RESOLUTION_REGARDING_THE_REPUBLICAN_PARTY_PLATFORM.pdf?_ga=2.109560193.504857691.1598219603-2087748323.1598219603

“[H]ow often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the vanity, to the conceit, to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind.”

Publius (Alexander Hamilton):  The Federalist No. 70

On Mr. Trump … and the Prophet Ezekiel

A couple of weeks ago at a Cleveland campaign stop, President Trump indicated that Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, was “against God,” and that if elected president, Mr. Biden will “hurt God” and “hurt the Bible.”  I found the President’s rant both absurd and shocking, but it was, like so many before it, shortly driven down my stream of consciousness by Mr. Trump’s continuing torrent of malign inanities. 

I am also a Catholic, albeit deeply flawed.  What caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s Cleveland rant – faith-based attacks uttered by one who for all practical purposes espouses racism, has bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, has belittled the handicapped, has approved the intentional separation of children from their parents at our borders, has sought to downplay the scope and effect of a deadly virus upon our people in order to enhance his own political fortunes, and has most recently referred sympathetically to Qanon, an alt-right fringe group embracing the notion that some Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles — was the following, read during one of this week’s daily Masses:

Thus says the Lord GOD:  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.  You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. ….

As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep ….

I swear I am coming against these shepherds.  I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. ….”  

Ezekiel, 34: 1-5; 8; 10

Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech last night seemed to me most fundamentally that … of a caring shepherd.  Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s references to God and the Bible, I think it’s fair to assume that the President has little familiarity with the Book of Ezekiel.  From his perspective, perhaps just as well.

Mr. Bloomberg: Where Are You?

President Trump’s repeated claims (without any evidence) that mail-in-voting creates election fraud, buttressed by his recent (and, amazingly, acknowledged) efforts to impede the United States Postal Service’s activities because he perceives that an efficient November mail-in voting process will assist the Democrats’ electoral prospects, is simply the latest evidence of his willingness to do anything to remain in power.  (Mr. Trump did backtrack a bit late last week to indicate that he would agree to a Coronavirus relief package that contained funding for the post office.  Even if money is allocated, I fear it may have little effect unless accompanied by nonpartisan oversight ensuring that the funding is promptly spent in a manner that actually facilitates nationwide balloting.)  Consider the malevolent genius of it.  Mr. Trump has picked an election element – mail-in-voting – that is particularly vital in this COVID era, and labeled it the source of election fraud.  (He could actually more credibly claim that elections held on Tuesdays have historically been subject to a certain level of fraud.)  If Mr. Trump loses to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, he hopes to have instilled a belief in at least a segment of his millions of followers – who seemingly believe anything he, his cohort and his propagandists at Fox News and other alt-right media trumpet – that the election was stolen from him (and them) by fraudulent mail-in voting.  What happens if he refuses to concede despite a tight but discernable loss?  Even if he departs, his claims of fraud are an attempt to create popular unrest with the potential to cripple a Biden Administration while continuing a media spotlight for Mr. Trump – the latter unquestionably his primary focus.  But even if Mr. Trump wins, the recent demonstrations in Portland and elsewhere are a clear portent that if those opposing Mr. Trump believe that the Administration’s actions have stolen the election from them, riots will ensue across the nation. Mr. Trump will use these as a pretext to impose autocratic restraints upon those who oppose him.  A close outcome in either direction accordingly seems likely to threaten the American way of life.  I would suggest that in order to reclaim our future, Mr. Biden must not only win; the Democratic ticket must determine a way to win by decisive margins in a sufficient number of the battleground Electoral College states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) to yield an impressive Electoral College margin.  I would submit that the Democrats need to wage their political war between now and Election Day on two fronts, and that at this stage, their overall success perhaps depends less upon the conventional – persuasion – and more upon the unconventional – education

The conventional is straightforward:   political professionals and pollsters of all stripes seemingly agree that although polls are starting to tighten, if all legally-eligible voters that wish to vote in November are actually able to vote and have their votes counted, Mr. Biden will defeat Mr. Trump in the Electoral College.  I would assert that deep antipathy among the electorate toward Mr. Trump is “baked in.”  Mr. Biden doesn’t need to win over any current Trump supporters to secure the presidency; he needs only a persuasion campaign to stave off material erosion in his current level of support.  Unless either Mr. Biden or presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris commit a grotesque gaffe during their respective debates with their Republican counterparts, the Electoral College victory seems near at hand.  Apparently reassuring – but I fear not enough by itself to secure a stable American future.

In my view, to facilitate Mr. Biden’s victory and enhance its legitimacy, the Democrats and their allies need to mount an extensive and effective education campaign – admittedly bordering on propaganda, to counteract the Trump and related alt-right barrage – to educate the electorate in the six battleground states regarding the states’ respective mail-in voting processes.  Even where local officials are well-meaning, neither local governments nor battleground state Democratic organizations have the funding nor the expertise required to develop and broadcast sufficient effective informational spots to reassure an electorate that polls show has increasing reservations about mail-in voting.  I see literally 25 different spots:  Four for each of the battleground states, to be run in the states’ respective progressive and independent markets, which in turn address:  (1) the given state’s voter registration requirements and deadlines, how to register online (all six allow online registration), and how a voter can obtain assistance for an in-person or online registration process; (2) the period within which the given state’s registered voters can request a ballot online, how to request a ballot, and any state nuances regarding the ballot’s completion; (3) a notice of the date by which registered voters should mail in their ballots to be confident that the votes will arrive in time to be tabulated; and (4) a notice that the date by which registered voters could confidently expect that their mailed-in votes would be tabulated has passed coupled with the observation that any eligible voters wishing to vote that haven’t already sent in their ballots should plan to vote in person, together with Coronavirus safety tips and information as to how the voter can find his/her voting place.  A last spot should be run predominantly on Fox News and other conservative outlets in conservative markets nationwide and describe, primarily through Republican election officials, the incredibly low incidence of historic mail-in voting fraud and lay expectations that tabulation delays will necessarily attend anticipated massive mail-in voting.

The effort, expertise, and cost to create, produce and broadcast accurate infomercials in the appropriate outlets would be an enormously expensive proposition – generally beyond the grasp of any campaign.  At the same time, if the content is appropriately cast, such spots would seem outside the proscriptions of campaign finance law.  At one point during former New York City, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign for the presidency, the New York Times reported that Mr. Bloomberg indicated that he “wouldn’t rule out” spending as much as $1 billion to defeat Mr. Trump.  During his campaign, Mr. Bloomberg showed that he has not only the funds but the team expertise necessary to create effective campaign spots. 

Mr. Bloomberg:  Where are you?

A Dangerous Pick

I’ve made no secret in these pages of the concerns I had if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden selected U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.  I acknowledge that this note is primarily lament.

Given Mr. Biden’s age, Sen. Harris will clearly be assessed by voters as someone who could be President.  Ms. Harris isn’t qualified.  Three-plus years as a United States Senator after a career as a prosecutor does not prepare one for the presidency.  Fans of former President Barack Obama might point out that Mr. Obama assumed the presidency after the same period of Senate service.  I would counter – while having complete respect for Mr. Obama’s rectitude and offering tremendous credit for his lifting the national mood at the lowest point of the Great Recession and leading us to the Affordable Care Act – that comparing Ms. Harris to Mr. Obama is as much indictment as endorsement; Mr. Obama consistently stumbled in foreign policy, lacked the canniness to master Congressional relations, and showed no ability to establish rapport with or address the needs of the disillusioned citizens in states like Iowa and Ohio who voted for him in hope and later turned to then-candidate Donald Trump in despair.  Ms. Harris has no notable foreign policy expertise and evinces no greater affinity for these dispossessed citizens than Mr. Obama had — while lacking the former President’s charisma.

Ms. Harris’ oft-repeated phrase during the Democratic presidential debates – “I will prosecute the case against Donald Trump” – brought to my mind another potential weakness.  Any trial lawyer on a major case does exhaustive discovery to learn all s/he can about the dispute and then attempts to conceptualize the appropriate response to all variations of all aspects of whatever might come up at trial.  A daunting task – but even in complex litigation, the variables are finite.  In a presidential campaign, the variables are infinite, and cannot all be anticipated.  Presumably, Mr. Biden saw Ms. Harris’ political experience as an asset when compared to (for example) former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice.  While Ms. Harris is good when scripted, I saw her clutch several times in the early months of the presidential campaign when reporters asked her questions she did not expect.  In one of the debates, Ms. Harris blanked when U.S. HI Rep. Tulsi Gabbard claimed that Ms. Harris, when a prosecutor, withheld evidence of innocence against a defendant in a capital case.  (Different issue:  if Ms. Gabbard’s claim is substantially true — I haven’t seen any fact checking on it – I expect the Republicans to use it to attempt to suppress turnout in this George Floyd era.)  In the next three months, Ms. Harris will be asked everything from her favorite brand of running shoe (Is it made in China with child labor?) to whether we should intervene to protect the citizens in an obscure Yemen town under siege.  How she holds up will be pivotal to the Democratic ticket’s chances.  (To see what havoc an uninformed answer can wreak, do an internet search on the phrase, “Gary Johnson  Aleppo”.)  Ms. Harris also proved predictable; I do not look forward to the many times we will hear in the coming months that she ran the nation’s second largest Justice Department, and that she’s been to more funerals than she can tell us.

Ms. Harris has indisputably softened some of her more conservative “law and order” prosecutorial positions as she has sought the Senate and the presidency, which seemingly makes her vulnerable to Republican attacks both that she’s too soft on crime and a flip-flopper to boot.  I consider her California residence a weakness:  many Americans will viscerally accept the Trump Campaign’s allegations that Ms. Harris is a “radical California leftist” and perhaps pay heed to the Trump claim that Mr. Biden is under the control of the “radical left.”  On a more objective note:  Mr. Biden is going to win California’s electoral votes no matter whom he picked, so a chance to establish additional affinity with a swing state through the VP selection has been forfeited.

Finally, there remains the internet search, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  I don’t expect to see the Republicans use this line of attack until after Ms. Harris is formally nominated.  If they do, one would have to be Pollyanna on steroids not to believe that it will suppress the Democratic vote of “Me Too” advocates and swing state suburban Republican women heretofore leaning against President Trump.

Presumably, in addition to Ms. Harris’ political experience, Mr. Biden was attracted to her relatively more aggressive style – as contrasted again, for example, with Ms. Rice – for a contest that I have recently heard predicted to be “a knife fight in an alley.”  If so, in this way the pick calls to mind Dwight Eisenhower’s selection of Richard Nixon in 1952 and Gerald Ford’s selection of Robert Dole in 1976; in both instances, the presidential nominee sought to remain above the fray while selecting a brawler as his running mate.  If this was indeed Mr. Biden’s thinking, I hope it is correct.  Sitting in a swing state, my instinct is that the citizens of these states seek less contentiousness and more calm competence.  I am genuinely concerned about how Ms. Harris’ style will fare in her debate with the somnolent Vice President Mike Pence – despite Mr. Pence’s unblemished record as a sycophant, toady, fawner, bootlicker, lickspittle, and kisser of Mr. Trump’s … er … rear.  In the 2016 Vice Presidential debate, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine tried to be aggressive with Mr. Pence, and, contrary to all expectations, Mr. Pence won – handily.

In a note a while back, “The Right Choice,” I suggested, “There is no [potential Vice President] candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities that will have to be explained.  [Mr. Biden] might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve all American people and their interests.” As one who truly feels that the fate of the nation depends upon getting Mr. Trump out of the White House and will vote for the Democratic ticket no matter who the Vice Presidential nominee is, I am disappointed in Mr. Biden’s selection of Ms. Harris.  I can only hope that he didn’t make … the Wrong Choice.

Has it occurred to you …

… how odd it is for President Trump – the incumbent – to be complaining about the possibility of a rigged presidential election in 2020?  Consider some of the world’s most renowned autocracies:  Russia, China, Turkey, and Venezuela.  Add in innumerable little autocratic nations across the globe masquerading as democracies.  Isn’t it usually the challengers that claim an election system is rigged?

Although our presidential electoral “process” – which, based upon a federalized, decentralized structure, is actually 51 (counting the District of Columbia) individual processes – is less amenable to manipulation by an incumbent than those of many autocracies, and while acknowledging that four of the six generally-accepted swing states — Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – have Democratic Governors, I note that each of these four states has a bicameral legislature in which both houses are controlled by Republicans.  Arizona and Florida Republicans respectively control their statehouses and both houses of their bicameral legislatures.  Clearly, and despite Mr. Trump’s claims, Republicans will be in position to monitor the fairness of the elections in these pivotal states.

As of the time this is posted, Congress has yet to renew the federal unemployment relief that expired at the end of July.  The Trump Administration and the Senate are currently balking at the bill extending current unemployment benefits, affording funding for COVID testing, and providing relief to local governments passed months ago by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.  In purely political terms, the Republicans’ intransigence seems to me sheer lunacy.  Certain impressions are too deeply embedded in the American psyche to be readily overcome.  If one asks the vast majority of Americans whether Ronald Reagan ever agreed to an income tax increase during his presidency, they’ll say, “No”; but he did.  Given the widespread and deep [and not entirely inaccurate ;)] conception of Democrats as profligate spenders, most Americans in need will viscerally hold Republicans accountable for the delay no matter the GOP rationale.  While the Republicans figuratively quibble about gas mileage and tire tread, their dawdling – and perhaps in some instances, 2024 political posturing — arguably adds to our death total and undisputedly increases the burden upon our financially desperate people.

From a legislative perspective, there is obviously little we citizens can do but watch and wait; from a health perspective, we need to continue to be our own best friends. 

Stay safe.

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.