The Only Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone with the Wind … and Beaver Cleaver

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

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

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields

Called the Old South …

Here in this pretty world …

… was the last ever to be seen …

Of Master and of Slave …

… it is no more than a dream remembered.

A Civilization gone with the wind ….”

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

There was a land of Leafy Streets and Baseball Fields

Called ‘50s America …

Here in this pretty world

Elvis was King.

Cadillac to harmonica —

Made in America.

Of faiths, two:

Christian; a rare Jew.

White was right.

Black was set back.

Sex was clear …

No room for the Queer.

Suits were gray and skirts chaste;

Every woman knew her place.

Shame for the wimpy;

Shadows for the gimpy.

Ike was liked; Lucy, loved.

Jackie tolerated; Mick, lionized.

The Duke was boss … 

The Injuns lost.

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

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

Here was the last ever to be seen of

Black and White TV,

Bald Presidential Candidates,

A Rebel without a Cause.

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

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

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

The Fourth Election: Part II

[This is longer than the general post; I saw no place for a logical break.]

On February 5, 2020, President Donald Trump was acquitted by the United States Senate at the conclusion of his impeachment trial.  Two days after the acquittal, President Trump removed from their respective positions European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondlund and Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, two witnesses whose undisputedly truthful testimony implicated the President in a scheme to pressure a vital but vulnerable ally for his own domestic political purposes.  Four days after the acquittal, the United States Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, said that it was reducing the sentence it was recommending for convicted Trump confidante Roger Stone – described by former Trump Administration Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon during Mr. Stone’s trial as an “access point” to Russia conduit Wikileaks for the Trump Campaign — after the President tweeted that the 7-9 year term initially recommended by DOJ was “disgraceful” and a “miscarriage of justice.”

I tend to buy books in clusters.  Largely driven by these Trump Administration actions (and, as it turned out, shortly before the oncoming Coronavirus so drastically changed our normal life patterns), I went to my local bookstore to acquire specific titles that I considered appropriate supplements to my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer:  Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy; The New Sultan, the story of Turkey’s President (and now autocratically inclined) Recip Tayyip Erdogan, by Soner Cagaptay; Fascism:  A Warning, by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and … a final selection — a volume generally available, but a title that causes you to lower your voice when requesting:  Mein Kampf (in English, “My Struggle”), by Adolf Hitler.

At my last request, the young woman with whom I’d been working glanced up at me a bit sharply, then relaxed; apparently – thankfully — I look like a researcher, not a believer.  She located Hitler’s opus, glanced at the price, added it to my pile, and observed sympathetically, “That’s a lot for such trash.”  Then she added:  “My Dad says I shouldn’t wear this necklace out like this.”  I hadn’t previously noticed, but saw then:  at the base of her neck was a small Star of David. 

That is where we are today.  Throughout President Trump’s term, we have seen countless instances of his deliberately sowing seeds of division among us, his lying, racism, religious bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, bullying, instability, narcissism, erraticism, avarice, pettiness, and flouting of norms, rules, and laws, his virulent attacks on the principled who disagree with him, a free press, and free speech, and his collaboration with foreign enemies for his own ends.  Even so, never seriously did I contemplate the potential for his dictatorial inclinations until – after he was acquitted in the Senate — he dismissed Messrs. Vindman and Sondlund and meddled in Mr. Stone’s sentencing.  Since that time, the Justice Department has sought to drop its prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn (after Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty), Mr. Trump has dismissed four Inspectors General (dismissals U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney called “a threat to accountable democracy”), he has issued an Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship after Twitter added corrective links to his completely unsubstantiated tweeted claims of fraud related to mail-in voting, he has called upon the nation’s Governors to “dominate” protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and on June 1 had peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Square, in part through the use of chemical agents, in order to provide himself with a photo opportunity.    

The above list isn’t exhaustive, but it is indicative.  Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his acquittal, and has felt free to exact revenge and pursue vendettas against those he considers to have wronged him or his entourage.  Does anyone think that Mr. Trump will be more restrained if he is re-elected?  Does anyone wish to wager that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has at times displeased the president with his candid assessment of the extent of COVID crisis, or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who each publicly separated themselves from the President’s actions in Lafayette Park, won’t be removed from their positions if and when Mr. Trump no longer considers such removals a danger to his re-election prospects?  If Democrats can’t get out of their own way sufficiently so as to be able to convince the appropriate number of voters in the pivotal states that Mr. Trump needs to be removed this year, I am gravely concerned about our nation’s future.

Right now, Democrats and liberal media are gloating over the President’s repeated political missteps and his sinking approval ratings.  They are currently chortling about what the Trump Campaign obviously recognizes was an extremely disappointing June 20 Tulsa rally. I would counter:  it’s too early.  The election is going to be close.  What I glean from the polls is that Mr. Trump is well within striking distance in the swing states that will decide the election.  For perspective, we are now approximately as far from Election Day (November 3) as we are removed from early February — the period in which the President was acquitted, our nation had fewer than 20 Coronavirus cases, and two and a half months before George Floyd’s killing.  Like the momentum of a football game, the pendulum could well begin to swing back in the President’s direction:  even if there are future serious Coronavirus outbreaks, states will be loath to again shut down their economies, so hiring may improve and the stock market may rise; a bipartisan federal bill regarding police behavior and techniques is expected to pass, which may provide a surface salve sufficient to quiet protestors’ concerns through Election Day; presumed Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Joe Biden – satisfied to remain in his basement under cover of COVID while Mr. Trump has continued to politically shoot himself in the foot – will have to emerge at some point, which will lead to Mr. Biden’s own gaffes and glitches that will be trumpeted by Republicans; whomever Mr. Biden names as his running mate will provide not only advantages but vulnerabilities that Mr. Trump can exploit and will cause Democrats disenchanted with the pick to revel in self-righteous indignation; we will have a number of candidate debates that might yield a pivotal moment; and there will be at least one other significant occurrence, such as FBI Director James Comey’s October, 2016, announcement that he was reopening the Bureau’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, which at this point we cannot even fathom.

I have read passages from all of the books I bought last February, but confess that given the diversion of the COVID crisis, haven’t yet read any in its entirety.  Although perhaps those that read these posts are already aware of this, it is nonetheless worth noting that Messrs. Hitler, Putin, and Erdogan all first assumed their leadership positions by Constitutional means in what were then actual democracies; none had to overthrow an established order before beginning their accumulation of control over their respective nations.  While I draw a measure of solace from the manner in which Messrs. Esper and Milley have recently distanced themselves and the military from Mr. Trump’s Lafayette Park stunt – one can’t be an autocrat without an army – there are plenty of other Defense Secretary candidates and Generals from whom Mr. Trump can choose from if he is re-elected.  I have seen a number of pundits suggest that Mr. Trump’s presidency is “over.”  I suggest that we need be watchful, lest his dictatorship start.

Former President Barack Obama is reportedly fond of a statement by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  With all due respect to Messrs. King and Obama, I consider the sentiment poppycock.  What is right and just is not inevitable; it must be defended.  Messrs. Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, and Messrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur didn’t prevail in their struggles because they were right; they won because they had more troops and better weapons than the enemy.  I would submit that this is the Fourth Election in which the American way of life is at stake.  We citizens have only votes to defend the freedom this nation provides.  The existential threats I referred to in Part I of this note were brought about by outside circumstances beyond the control of the Presidents called upon to address them; in this election, the sitting President is the existential threat.  His presidency has revealed both the strength and fault lines within our system of government.  I am pleased that Mr. Biden is poised to become the Democratic nominee because he is by all indications an honorable man, but any person of honor of any political philosophy will do for me.   

Even as I type this, I recognize that some of it seems a bit … well … paranoid ;).  There is nothing that I’d like better than to have friends laugh at me over a refresher in happier [and COVID-managed  :)] times.  That said, I’ve reflected in recent days about my father, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.  He volunteered after Pearl Harbor, willing to give his life for his country.  Aside from paying taxes – to which I’ve always considered it churlish to object, given the opportunities this nation provides — I’ve had to do virtually nothing to avail myself of the blessings of American citizenship.  I hope it won’t be necessary, but if it is, on November 3, for the country I want my children and grandchildren to live in, I will be willing to shake the hands of 20 desperately ill COVID patients and hug 20 more if that is what is required to reach a ballot box to vote against Donald John Trump.

Hours Before the Trump Tulsa Rally

[Part II of “The Fourth Election” will post Monday; as the note below will make clear, its subject struck me today.]

It will come as no surprise that aside from Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, we watch very little Fox News [although we were regulars for Shepard Smith’s weekday report before he resigned 🙂 ]; even so, surfing between stations yesterday, I paused at a report by a typical young antiseptically-handsome Fox male reporter describing Chicago’s Juneteenth commemorations.  After briefly describing the Chicago activities, he pointed out the boarded-up storefront he had chosen as his backdrop and described for a while how the small businesses that had been located there had had to suspend their operations due to damage resulting from riots arising from the killing of George Floyd.  While not inaccurate reporting, I found his emphasis instructive.

This morning, I was again moving between cable news stations [FYI:  on Madison cable, Fox News is between CNN and MSNBC  ;)] and while passing Fox, heard a reference to “rioting.”  Perhaps purely a coincidence that within two days, I heard two very small Fox News snippets emphasizing the same aspect of the consequences of Mr. Floyd’s death; perhaps not.  There was assuredly violence for days following Mr. Floyd’s killing, but it is my understanding – perhaps merely a reflection of the news sources I do rely on — that the number of incidents of rioting has been sharply reduced for some days and that even at their peak, never amounted to more than a minority of the overall outpouring brought about by Mr. Floyd’s death.

Early yesterday, Mr. Trump tweeted regarding his campaign rally in Tulsa tonight:  “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”

As many are aware, on Thursday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum had at the request of the Tulsa Police Chief and the Secret Service imposed a curfew on his city covering yesterday and today.  Yesterday afternoon, the President Trump tweeted that he had talked to Mr. Bynum.  Mr. Bynum has rescinded the curfew, indicating that the Secret Service no longer saw a need for it.

A lot of the reporting about the Tulsa rally has focused on Mr. Trump’s need for the adulation of his supporters and upon the COVID risks inherent in amassing a large group of people, presumably the majority eschewing masks, indoors.  In addition to his desire for reaffirmation, I have an impression – more than a surmise, less than a conclusion – that the President sees another potential value to tonight’s rally – a notion I have seen intimated elsewhere, but not specifically stated:  Mr. Trump believes discord arising between protestors and his supporters will help his electoral prospects.

Hopefully, those that come within the vicinity of Tulsa’s BOK Center to protest against his policies are wise enough not to take the bait.

The Fourth Election: Part I

I would submit that of the 57 presidential elections our nation has thus far conducted, three stand above the others in their importance to the establishment and maintenance of the American way of life:  that of 1788; that occurring seventy-two years later, in 1860; and that coincidentally occurring seventy-two years after that, in 1932.

The presidential election of 1788 was the first under a Constitution that had been ratified earlier that year despite Americans’ misgivings that included a fear of institutionalizing a monarch-like President.  Alexander Hamilton — who, while writing The Federalist with James Madison and John Jay under the pen name, “Publius,” had spent the years before ratification seeking in part to persuade the citizenry that the Constitution would not create a de facto American monarchy – understood that the people needed reassurance in adopting the new governmental structure.  Mr. Hamilton wrote retired General George Washington, the most respected person in the country, to encourage him to stand for the post:  “… [T]he point of light in which you stand at home and abroad will make an infinite difference in the respectability in which the government will begin its operations in the alternative of your being or not being the head of state.”  After Mr. Washington indicated that he would assume the presidency, he was unanimously elected in the newly-established Electoral College.  Mr. Washington’s stature and the manner in which he conducted the presidency brought harmony from cacophony sufficient to enable the fledgling United States of America to establish credibility – and sustainability — with its citizens and abroad. 

Given the paroxysm of emotion surrounding slavery at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election – after secession but before the commencement of hostilities, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens called slavery the “immediate cause” of the separation, although Mr. Lincoln’s Republican Party’s 1860 platform did not propose to abolish slavery where it already existed – it seems clear that the Southern States’ attempt to divide the Union would have come, if not in 1860, at some point under some president during the last half of the 19th Century.  President Lincoln’s insistence on saving the Union was not universally embraced.  Another president in 1860 or a later time might well have reasonably decided that maintaining the union wasn’t worth the blood.  Putting aside the immorality of perpetuating slavery, had the North acquiesced to the South’s departure, it is hard to see from a geopolitical standpoint how two separate nations would have withstood the pressures of the 20th century.  Mr. Jay foresaw as much when he argued, writing as “Publius” in Federalist No. 5, that a single union of states brought strength, while separate confederacies of states couldn’t be relied upon to work together:  “Hence it might and probably would happen that the foreign nation with whom the Southern confederacy might be at war would be the one with whom the Northern confederacy would be the most desirous of preserving peace and friendship.  [Emphasis Mr. Jay’s].”

According to the Library of Congress, at the time of Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932, a quarter of American workers were unemployed due to the Great Depression and that “… hunger marches and small riots were common throughout the nation.”  There was unrest worldwide:  In Russia, Communists controlled Russia after overthrowing a provisional government that had been intended to arrange for free elections and espoused universal suffrage and freedom of press and assembly; in Italy, Benito Mussolini, advocating for “revolutionary nationalism” and proclaiming the inferiority of Slavs, “blacks” and “yellows,” had after being named Prime Minister supplanted the existing democracy, and as Duce of Fascism ruled as dictator; and in Germany, as part of an effort to bring order to the financial and social unrest in the Weimar Republic, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers – Nazi — Party – was about to be named Chancellor.  Although the Communists and Fascists had markedly different philosophies, in practice their approaches had one thing in common:  the preeminence of the state over the rights of the individual.  A well-known anecdote sums up the challenges faced by Mr. Roosevelt upon his election:  a friend told him that if he succeeded, he would go down in history as the greatest American President.  Mr. Roosevelt replied:  “Yet if I fail, I may be the last one.”  He was obviously ultimately called upon not only to steer the nation through the Depression but to lead it in its death struggle against Nazi imperialism.

I consider these three presidents our greatest specifically because they alone among the presidential cohort had to address existential challenges to the American way of life.  (I would suggest that Soviet and other nuclear weapons clearly have and do constitute a threat to American life, but not to its way of life.)  The challenges these three presidents faced were brought about by outside circumstances.  In each instance, we were blessed to have the right person at the right time.  I would venture that it was because of the rigor through which our structure was effectively maintained by Franklin Roosevelt and the majority of his successors that our nation managed to travel more than 72 years since we last faced an existential threat to our way of life.  I would submit that another such existential threat, of a different nature, now faces us.  Although the direction of the rest of this note is obvious to anyone that has read virtually any of these pages, it will appear in Part II.

The Right Choice

With our nation literally and figuratively aflame, we are obviously at a terribly precarious point in our history.  Since even before our recent upheavals, I’ve been preoccupied with – TLOML might suggest that I’ve been obsessing on – the larger issues facing us, the subject of this note seems painfully myopic:  whom former Vice President Joe Biden should choose as his running mate.  Even so, Mr. Biden’s choice is vital, given its potential impact on the course of our nation.

In an earlier unpublished draft of this post, I declared that the terrible tragedy of George Floyd’s death, taken together with the consequent outrage and demonstrations (completely justified) and rioting (never justifiable, and wildly counterproductive for those seeking to rectify this country’s racial injustice), have now presented Mr. Biden with a dilemma regarding his choice of a running mate requiring “not only the sagacity of a Franklin Roosevelt but the wisdom of King Solomon.”  I noted that Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police – and the systemic racism in the Minneapolis police department it has brought to national attention – has seemingly dimmed if not destroyed the chances of U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar.  Reviewing alternatives, I first repeated my posted reservations about U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren.  Then, turning to the most widely-touted African American female prospects, after reciting my oft-stated misgivings about former GA Rep. Stacy Abrams and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris, I alluded to the latest media favorite, U.S. FL Rep. Val Demings.  I observed that although Rep.  Demings (whom I haven’t researched in any depth, and have never heard speak) appears an impressive person, she would need to be introduced to the American people and, in only her second term in Congress and third year in Washington, like Mses. Abrams and Harris arguably lacks the requisite experience for the presidency.  I concluded with the comment that although Mr. Biden has faced inordinate personal hardship in his life, and has sat next to a President of the United States as that President had to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, Mr. Biden’s selection of a running mate is perhaps the first time, at least within the public realm, that he faces a decision of presidential weight.

The draft was misguided in two vital particulars.  While the former Vice President’s selection of a running mate is indeed a decision of presidential weight, what Mr. Biden needs in addition to King Solomon’s wisdom is not Franklin Roosevelt’s sagacity but Abraham Lincoln’s strength and perseverance.  The note was also too tactically focused.  Given Mr. Biden’s age, the good of the country demands that he choose the successor that he considers most qualified to assume the presidency on “Day 1.”  If he believes as I do that is Ms. Klobuchar, he should pick Ms. Klobuchar.  If he believes that another female alternative is the most qualified to assume the presidency, that’s the woman he should pick.  There is no candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities that will have to be explained.  He 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.

Over the last 20 years, through incompetence, greed, hubris, naiveté, and malevolence, we’ve frittered away much of the reservoir of international good will and overwhelming objective global advantage we enjoyed at the dawn of – remember it? – Y2K.  While picking the running mate most qualified to assume the presidency is good politics for Mr. Biden because it would be consistent with his “brand” – a thoughtful, good guy trying to do the right thing — the most important reason to do so is this:  our future and perhaps that of the world depends upon us having the most able leaders with the strength and integrity to make the hard decisions without regard to self-interest that they believe are in the best interest of our nation, its people, and the peoples of the world.  Given our dithering during the last score of years culminating with the destruction wrought by President Trump, if we can’t do what is best now, what was it all worth?

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XIV

Via Twitter on May 25, President Trump threatened to relocate the August Republican National Convention from its currently-designated Charlotte, NC, site unless North Carolina – governed by Roy Cooper, a Democrat – agrees to relax its social distancing restrictions sufficiently to allow a late August close gathering of what has been estimated to be about 50,000 people. In his tweet, the President lamented the “jobs and economic development” that would be lost to North Carolina due to such a move. At the time this is typed, the state is pondering its response.

A sly ploy. If North Carolina – a true 2020 swing state — holds fast to its current reopening approach — which the state administration presumably considers safest for its people — and the Republicans transfer their convention to either Georgia or Florida – both, with salivating Republican Governors eager to boost their respective political standings severely damaged by their mishandling of the Coronavirus – many North Carolinians will blame Gov. Cooper for their lost revenue, and their sentiment may well swing the electoral votes of North Carolina from former Vice President and putative Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden to Mr. Trump. If Mr. Cooper capitulates to Mr. Trump, and COVID-related infections and deaths meaningfully increase in North Carolina following the convention, Mr. Trump will certainly somehow blame Mr. Cooper.

No one can deny the President’s genius at mass media manipulation. Although I have agreed with those analysts opining over the years that Mr. Trump’s ongoing rallies have been as much about psyching himself up as influencing his supporters, and acknowledge that his insistence upon a full Convention almost certainly – in addition to politically sticking it in the eye of Gov. Cooper — contains an element of defiant affirmation of his Coronavirus approach, his demand for a jam-packed hall may involve something more fundamental. While any gathering of a political, religious, or business group – certainly including the Democrats — is in part intended to stir the attendees’ enthusiasm, Mr. Trump intuitively understands that inciting fervor among the Republican convention crowd (remember “Lock Her Up”) – which, through the projection of mass media, will virtually incorporate his nationwide adherents – is crucial to reinforcing the allegiance of those of his followers whose support polls show is wavering due to his bungling of the federal Coronavirus response. If Mr. Trump can’t maintain the spell: he loses.

The mass meeting is … necessary for the reason that in it the individual, who at first, while becoming a supporter of a young movement, feels lonely and easily succumbs to the fear of being alone, for the first time gets the picture of a larger community, which in most people has a strengthening, encouraging effect.

But the community of the great demonstration not only strengthens the individual, it also unites and helps create an esprit de corps. The man who is exposed to grave tribulations, as the first advocate of a new doctrine … absolutely needs that strengthening which lies in the conviction of being a member and fighter in a great comprehensive body. And he obtains an impression of this body for the first time in the mass demonstration. When … he feels very small, he steps for the first time into a mass meeting and has thousands and thousands of people of the same opinions around him, when … he is swept away by three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine and for the first time arouse doubt in the truth of his previous conviction – then he himself has succumbed to the magic influence of what we designate as ‘mass suggestion.’ The will, the longing, and also the power of thousands are accumulated in every individual. The man who enters such a meeting doubting and wavering leaves it inwardly reinforced: he has become a link to the community.” [Emphasis in Original]

  • Adolph Hitler:  Mein Kampf

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XIII

We’ve seen any number of reports of “scientists around the world” working to develop effective Coronavirus treatments and a vaccine. Most of these reports assume a cooperative humanitarian distribution of these resources when they are developed. Aside from the inevitable competition between biomedical companies for what will be trillions in revenue, it seems not inconceivable that the outcome of these efforts could also have global political ramifications. While the nation whose scientists are the first to develop effective remedies will almost certainly not seek to exploit the virus as a biologic weapon against its adversaries while protecting its own populace, it will have the capability to resuscitate its own economy while other nations still struggle, and there might also be at least the temptation to secure significant concessions from competing nations in return for granting access to effective treatments or a vaccine. Although one can presume that humanitarian instincts will hold sway among all nations, it nonetheless seems advisable on geopolitical as well as humanitarian grounds for the U.S. to be the first to develop effective means to combat the virus.

As has now been widely reported, in a call with supporters on May 8, former President Barack Obama, who has generally been fairly circumspect in his references to the Trump Administration, observed that the decision by the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to drop its prosecution of former Trump Administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – who has twice pled guilty to lying to the FBI – indicated that our nation’s “basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk,” and at another point during the call, declared the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus response an “absolute chaotic disaster.” Several reports of the call stated that Mr. Obama’s comments were “leaked.” President Trump and his retinue have been predictably yelling about Obamagate – that’s “OBAMAGATE!” – ever since. Although the following reactions are not unique to me, I feel that it remains appropriate to record them here since I had them before I saw others voice them: Mr. Obama has proven himself too savvy a political operative to express such incendiary remarks where they might “leak” unless he intended it. He baited Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump fell for it. The more Mr. Trump attacks Mr. Obama – who will not be on the ballot in November — the less fire the President and his cohort are directing at former Vice President Joe Biden [although Mr. Trump has peripherally included Mr. Biden in his claims, the fact remains that neither he nor his collaborators are calling this trumped up {so to speak 😉 } scandal, “BIDENGATE.”] The attacks seem likely to backfire on Republicans with swing voters in swing states who turned out decisively for Mr. Obama in two elections, will arouse the defensive instinct in those constituencies in which Mr. Obama is particularly strong (Republicans aren’t the only ones seeking to increase turnout within their base), and further tie Mr. Biden to Mr. Obama in the eyes of Mr. Obama’s supporters – which Mr. Biden himself seeks to do at every turn. I note that despite Mr. Trump’s calls upon U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham to call Mr. Obama before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Graham, Mr. Graham has demurred – I’m confident not out of any sense of decorum, but because Mr. Graham must realize that Mr. Obama would relish the opportunity to come before the Judiciary Committee; he would crush the Republicans with swing voters in what would be the media circus of the decade. Only Mr. Trump has seemingly failed to grasp that.

I have genuinely increasing concern that the pressure of the COVID crisis and his falling polls are causing Mr. Trump to become dangerously unbalanced (he does, after all, control our nuclear codes). His widely noted suggestion that the novel Coronavirus might be combatted by injecting disinfectant into a patient’s body was an unnerving glimpse of his grasp of reality. His more recent claim that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine – which at this point even Republicans are generally aware is a medication with potentially serious side effects that the medical community has discounted as an effective way to prevent COVID-19 – seems a particularly blatant rejection of scientific expertise (even prompting an uncharacteristically direct – and commendable — refutation by a Fox News commentator, Neil Cavuto). If Mr. Trump is indeed taking the drug, it doesn’t appear a means to garner him additional electoral political support; it is hard not to conclude that he is actually electing to entrust his health to the Wizard of Oz.  If he isn’t actually taking the medication, and such is ultimately determined (which it will be), he has – and will be shown to have — capriciously risked the lives of those who decide to take it because they have faith in him. Either way, his declaration that he is taking hydroxychloroquine frankly makes him appear less than — to use his own words — “very stable.”

At the time this is typed, the United States, Russia, and Brazil lead the world with the most confirmed Coronavirus cases. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Jair Bolsonaro … a Kingston Trio for one to imagine. Understandably, Mr. Putin would claim the center and sing lead; Messrs. Trump and Bolsonaro would flank him and — appropriately given their records — provide the backup chorus.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XII

While President Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis appears at this point to have hurt his reelection prospects, it would seem that in Republican U.S. NC Sen. Richard Burr’s decision to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, due to allegations that he traded stock inappropriately shortly after he received information in classified Senate briefings about the pandemic’s prospective effects on the economy, the virus may by carom have tossed Mr. Trump a high card. Throughout the President’s term and to the Administration’s evident displeasure, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Burr and the Committee’s Ranking Democrat Member, VA Sen. Mark Warner, has consistently reported on a bipartisan basis that Russia, and not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 15 that the last installment of the Committee’s findings, expected in coming months, is focused on whether the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential contest. Mr. Burr’s vacation of the Chair, even on a temporary basis, may have given the Administration the opportunity to stifle and politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee in the same manner that for a couple of years it neutered the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee through its Republican Chairman stooge, CA Rep. Devin Nunes. Any Senate Intelligence Committee Republican that would even temporarily replace Mr. Burr as Chair is either a straightforward Trump supporter – ID Sen. James Risch, AK Sen. Tom Cotton, TX Sen. John Cornyn, and MO Sen. Roy Blunt – or has maintained a namby-pamby profile with regard to the President’s claims and antics — ME Sen. Susan Collins, FL Sen. Marco Rubio and NE Sen. Ben Sasse. None can be expected to resist the intense political pressure to downplay Russia’s involvement in the 2016 or 2020 elections certain to be applied by Mr. Trump and his cohort. To be sure, whether or not untoward behavior by Sen Burr is ultimately established, and regardless of whether the Trump Administration is exerting greater rigor in investigating Mr. Burr’s actions than it is similar behavior by Trump supporter U.S. GA Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Mr. Burr’s trades created an obvious appearance of conflict of interest and constituted a colossal failure in judgment. Since Mr. Burr, 64, has already indicated that he will not seek reelection in 2022, one can sympathize with any uneasiness he might have felt at the damage the virus would inflict on his retirement portfolio, but his lapse may have materially weakened our country’s security just as Mr. Trump calls for an investigation into an “Obamagate” that he cannot describe and craven U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham has announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs plans to hold hearings on – with the obvious intent to discredit — the Russia probe.

This past week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a lead member of the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, indicated in testimony to the Senate, “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control” if the economy is opened too quickly or inappropriately. Later in the week, Mr. Trump – who had earlier toured a Pennsylvania mask-manufacturing plant without wearing a mask — declared at a news conference with Dr. Fauci standing behind him, “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.” This dichotomy is obviously just the latest in a long line of conflicting messages sent by the two men (although I – presumably unlike the President — consider Dr. Fauci to have been extremely tactful in marking out their differences). What are the odds that either during the campaign, if the spotlight no longer shines so brightly on the government’s virus response, or after Election Day if the President wins a second term, that Dr. Fauci will be peremptorily removed from his post? The only saving grace: since he turns 80 this year, Dr. Fauci will be able to look back on a full career of service – rather than a career destroyed, like so many others, by Mr. Trump’s malevolence.

There’s a restaurant not far from our home. We first went there a number of years ago on a bitterly cold January Wisconsin night right after it opened, simply because it was too cold to go too far. Rick was our waiter. He and I hit it off immediately. There weren’t many people in the place. The food was excellent. We went back often. Over the years, the business has flourished – a product of wonderful food, excellent service and reasonable prices. Because we were early patrons, we are always treated like VIPs. Rick’s daughter is one of the hostesses. We are seated at one of Rick’s tables. We inquire about his family; he, ours. Since the pandemic hit, we have ordered out from the restaurant every weekend (before COVID, we went periodically, but far from every week). Since March, I, masked, have appeared in the parking lot at the designated time, and Rick, masked, has come out with our dinners. Last weekend, I asked him how it was going. His response: “It depends upon the numbers [of Wisconsin COVID cases]. If they stay stable, we’ll probably be all right [presumably, because traffic will pick up]. But if they go up [which will presumably keep traffic at its pandemic levels], we’re screwed.” For years, we’ve watched this team work hard, seen their efforts slowly bring success. This is just one of millions of groups that either has or soon could see years of effort wiped out … in a matter of 90 days.

This is a difficult time. It seems best to conclude with something I saw recently that although not COVID-related, may, given the time of year, bring a smile to baseball fans with long memories [and who don’t mind extremely blue language ;)]: the late Orioles Manager Earl Weaver in an exchange with longtime Umpire Bill Haller. (Umpires hated Mr. Weaver :)]. Part of the fun of the clip: Mr. Haller expressing doubt that Mr. Weaver would enter the Hall of Fame (he did). Others: the “Sigh; Here we go again” demeanor of Hall of Famer Oriole Firstbaseman Eddie Murray (No. 33); and the occasional views of Tiger Coach Dick Tracewski, a three-time World Series Champion.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XI

All of us know the widely-broadcast facts about COVID-19. Even so, I would venture that there remain enough new virus-related perspectives that continuing this vein of posts seems appropriate.

Since I began this blog in 2017 rather than 2007, I suspect that my low rating of George W. Bush’s presidency hasn’t been apparent; before President Trump, I would have easily ranked him as the worst President of my lifetime (which dates back to the Truman Administration). That said, I was heartened and bolstered like the vast majority of Americans by Mr. Bush’s initial response to the 9/11 attacks. Rarely articulate, he then united and rallied us. As many may be aware, Mr. Bush’s Center released a video on May 1 addressing how our nation can best respond to the pandemic.  It provides a graceful, warm, inspirational message that in part calls upon us to put partisanship aside. A link is provided below.

As one may also be aware, Mr. Trump issued a tweet within a couple of days after the Bush video was released, criticizing Mr. Bush for not speaking in Mr. Trump’s defense during the Impeachment proceedings: “ … [W]here was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside. He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!” Mr. Trump’s tweet is, to be sure, yet another in his countless stream of classless outbursts; even so, it has caused me to ponder whether the President’s generally well-honed political instincts are failing him. Criticizing Mr. Bush, even obliquely, seems ill advised. If Mr. Bush was to issue a statement in, say, mid-October, to the effect: “I didn’t feel that I could speak out four years ago, since my brother was one of President Trump’s adversaries for the Republican presidential nomination. Now I state clearly: during my administration, I asked our people to give their lives in America’s cause. The least I owe them is to tell them directly what I think is best for our nation without regard to party affiliation. I consider the way that President Trump has conducted himself in office to be a greater danger to America than terrorism. I have an honest disagreement with former Vice President Joe Biden on many issues, but he is an honorable man who wants what’s best for America. I intend to vote for Mr. Biden, and encourage you to join me,” such a statement could, notwithstanding Mr. Bush’s diminished national and party standing, cause a decisive sliver of Republican voters in swing states to either vote for Mr. Biden … or stay home. In an election that could be that close, I’m surprised that Mr. Trump would choose to poke a buried landmine.

What follows are links to several articles recently called to my attention. In the first, Erin Bromage, a specialist in immunology and infectious disease at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, concretely describes where our risks may and may not lie as states open their economies. His tone is clearly one of caution. It’s reasonably lengthy – even by the standards of these pages – but I found it informative.

The next is to an Atlantic article by Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. What I find interesting is that Ms. Marcus’ (much shorter) message doesn’t seem to me to be objectively that different from Mr. Bromage’s, but it focuses upon the wellbeing risks that can arise from too stringent a quarantine.  Her article contains a link to an earlier Atlantic piece that provides a helpful FAQ for “Staying Safe as States Reopen.”

The last article is from AARP, describing immunosenescence (a word after my own heart) – the process by which one’s immune system declines with age, correspondingly increasing COVID’s risk. Although “inflammaging” – which means what one would expect — is inevitable, the rate of decline is apparently idiosyncratic to the individual. By a staff writer, it sets forth manners in which one can reinforce one’s immune system. Like Mr. Bromage’s piece, it isn’t short, but offers some information that at least I had not seen reported before.

I have previously ventured that as millions of our people lose their employment-related health insurance, it will significantly increase the support for a government-run Medicare for All. Below is a link to the Brief of an Urban Institute Report recently published by the Robert Wood Johnson Institute, estimating that 25 to 43 million people could lose their employer-based health coverage due to the pandemic. I don’t see how Republicans will be able to effectively scare Americans with a cry of “socialized medicine” as so many lose their health care.

In a previous post, I remarked upon the fogging challenges that wearing a mask creates for wearers of glasses, and noted a friend’s suggestion that smearing spectacles with shaving cream might serve as a remedy. That observation generated a fair amount of feedback – including suggestions that one could avoid the fog by spitting on one’s glasses or go without glasses if one’s eyesight is still acute enough. This weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article on the mask fogging problem. In addition to the suggestions already offered by the followers of these pages, the Journal described Americans that had used a plastic straw protruding from the side of the mask, put tissue paper between the glasses and the mask, or had put the mask on really tight. I’m always gratified to call attention to an issue on this site before it’s addressed by a hallowed news organ  ;).

I’m ready to think about something else, but it seems that no matter what reputable authority one consults, responsible vigilance and diligence remain the key to getting through this. Stay safe.