Easter Reflections on the Georgia Election Law

As all who care are aware, the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature recently passed the state’s “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” purportedly to address alleged irregularities in the state’s voting processes that, according to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and as established by several state presidential vote recounts, were never there.  The law appears a pretty ham-handed attempt by Georgia Republicans to limit the voting opportunities of Democratic-leaning voters in a state that has, judging by the narrow 2020 victories of Democrats President Joe Biden and U.S. GA Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the potential to trend increasingly Democratic.

A provision in the statute that has garnered a fair amount of attention is Section 33, which in the guise of preventing voter inducement, prohibits anyone but a poll officer from “… giving … food and drink, to an elector” in the vicinity of a polling place.

Clearly, anyone determined to wait in line to vote despite a notable thirst has already affirmatively decided how s/he will vote; the rationale that evil doers might be able to persuade a malleable voter to change his/her vote by offering the elector a drink of water – when the voter, if s/he cared so little about the substance of his/her ballot, could simply leave the line and slake his/her thirst — is on its face absurd.  The repressive aspect of the measure has been extensively noted; however, what also struck me were the ironies related to the provision.

First, the prohibition on furnishing food or drink to an elector waiting in the vicinity of a polling place evinces such mean-spirited pettiness that it has made me ponder whether such an obvious display of cancerous partisanship might even cause a conscientious conservative jurist to question the statute’s constitutionality.

That said, what seems to me the sharpest irony arising from this provision — perhaps brought to mind by the Easter Season, combined with a high level of confidence that the majority of the Republican Georgia legislators who voted for the Act consider themselves Christians — is embedded in the Gospel:

“Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’”

John 19:28-30

Georgia Republican legislators have prohibited the provision of a humane accommodation to fellow Georgians seeking to exercise their constitutional rights that Roman soldiers provided to one they had just crucified as a criminal.

May you have the opportunity to celebrate this time of the year, including as it does holy days sacred to those of multiple Faiths, in the manner you consider most fitting.  Stay safe.

The Process IS the Point

Without checking, I suspect that these pages have been as quiet during the last eight weeks as they have at any time since they were launched in 2017.  Frankly, with President Joe Biden’s assumption of the presidency allaying my fears of our devolution into an autocratic state and my inclination to let the Biden team settle in before making any pronouncements, it has been a pleasure to think about something else [although wrestling with income taxes, one of the last weeks’ preoccupations, can only be considered a “pleasure” in this context  ;)].  I suspect that my reticence will continue for much of the remainder of the President’s first 100 days.  This note is in no way a comprehensive assessment of the steps Mr. Biden has taken in his first weeks, but simply a few reactions:

The President and his team came in with a clearly-expressed, single-minded focus on manufacturing and dispensing COVID vaccines to Americans.  They have effectively set low expectations, and have over-delivered.  I would venture that if we have flare-ups of the Coronavirus in the future, no thinking American will consider such caused by any Administration oversight.  Thus far, an excellent job.

The President’s “luxury” of single-minded focus on COVID has now ended.  The migrant challenge at the border — which I do not think it is unfair to say has been exacerbated by what I believe is the true perception of Mr. Biden’s empathy for the downtrodden — and our two recent mass shootings are reminders that no President is ever truly in control of his/her agenda.  Mr. Biden must address these and other erupting issues without losing focus on his priorities – no small task.

There has been some media comment that Mr. Biden views himself as a “transformational” president, in the mode of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson.  I hope not.  During their presidencies, Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson enjoyed overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  As a veteran of the Senate, I assume that Mr. Biden realizes that his opportunities are more limited in a Congress almost evenly divided between the parties.  I would venture that his greatest chance of success is not, as we have so frequently heard expressed, in “going big,” but rather, in “going small”:  e.g., pushing a limited bill setting a path to citizenship for DACA recipients rather than comprehensive immigration reform; supporting a bill addressing only an expansion of background checks for gun sales rather than aggressive overall gun regulation.  If he “goes big,” he has a significant chance of achieving nothing. 

I understand that there is bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill, which is reported to be the Administration’s next major priority (although predictably, the parties are apparently not aligned on infrastructure priorities).  I am concerned about accounts that in addition to targeted tax hikes, the Administration intends to fund a significant part of its infrastructure proposal – indicated to be in the $3T range – through further deficit spending.  I fear that yet more massive deficit spending on top of the recent 1.9T COVID relief package will ultimately have significant consequences.  To me, the greatest peril is not the potential impact upon inflation (although bond traders – smart people – clearly generally harbor some doubt about U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank claims that any unhealthy inflation arising from these massive spending measures can be readily controlled), but from the seeming current perception that we can limitlessly borrow.  I’m aware that there is an economic school that preaches that deficits don’t matter; I believe that at some point, they will matter.  Our standing as the world’s foremost super power – a standing we do indeed still enjoy – arises from equally important dual pillars:  we have the most weapons and the best financial condition.  Our military is our defense, but our economic strength is our offense.  Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly appreciates this, given the manner in which his regime is attempting to reinforce the underpinnings of China’s economy and extend China’s influence in the world’s economy.  The world lends to us and will continue to lend to us at low rates – despite our profligate spending – as long as we remain the best credit risk in town.  We endanger our standing if we continue to borrow like a rich kid with his parents’ credit card.  To do so does not threaten us now, but — as the fictional Consigliere Tom Hagen advised Don Vito Corleone in a different context in The Godfather – perhaps ten years from now.  There is nothing inevitable or immutable about American primacy.  When my mother-in-law, still with us, was born, Great Britain was the world’s preeminent power.  If we had any really old Romans still with us, I’m confident that they’d observe that world preeminence cannot be taken for granted.  We can’t continue to fritter away our financial strength through irrationally inadequate tax revenue generation and indiscriminate wish list spending.

Finally, although I concede that the early signals regarding the possibility for constructive bipartisanship aren’t encouraging – few Republicans voted to impeach/remove former President Donald Trump, despite his clear culpability for the Capitol insurrection, on the pretext that their brainwashed constituents didn’t support impeachment, but nonetheless voted against Mr. Biden’s COVID package although the majority of their supporters did favor the bill – if advising Mr. Biden I would encourage him to keep on trying – and try harder.  Although I may change my mind, I do not yet favor complete abandonment of the Senate’s Filibuster Rule. (If I change my mind, what will tip me over is Senate Republicans’ blocking of the voting rights act recently passed in the House of Representatives.) While I share many of the Democrats’ priorities, it seems that in their enthusiasm regarding what they can achieve if they need but 51 votes in the Senate, Democrats somehow remain oblivious that what can be achieved with 51 votes can just as readily be undone with 51 votes.  Presidents traditionally lose Congressional support in mid-term elections.  Does anyone have any illusions as to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will do if the filibuster is ended and the Republicans gain control of Congress?  I would recommend to Mr. Biden that he get together with Mr. McConnell and literally ask him to come part way for the good of the nation – they’re both old men, who have perhaps waged their last campaigns — lest Mr. Biden, in order to retain the loyalty of the Progressive Caucus, is left with no choice but to lend his support to ending the filibuster.  I would also suggest that Mr. Biden, notwithstanding any expressions of displeasure by progressive Democrats, redouble his efforts to maintain rapport and collaborate with open-minded Republican Senators such as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney – to exploit the feelings they must have of being outcasts in their own party.  I would seek to gently remind the President of what he already knows:  that from Messrs. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton through Messrs. Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, progress through reconciliation of sincerely held competing views is the heart of the American legacy.  It’s too early to give up on bipartisanship.  I would submit that with a few exceptions, in our system the policy is not the point.  The process is the point.

Foxconned

This week, a close friend forwarded me the March 2nd Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) article, linked below, which recounts various initiatives that Foxconn Technology Group has announced over the last several years that it would undertake in the state of Wisconsin.  The title for this post was the title of his email; it was too good not to repeat here.

What came to mind as I read the piece was the picture of the June, 2018, groundbreaking of what was then promised to be a major Foxconn manufacturing facility based in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, that would provide thousands of jobs, depicting Republicans then-President Donald Trump, then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, and then-Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, wielding shovels and grinning broadly.

Mr. Ryan is, of course, gone, now a member of the Board of Directors of Fox Corporation (the owner of Fox News Channel), a guest lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, and otherwise living the life of an undoubtedly well-compensated Republican frat boy.

Mr. Walker, is, of course, gone, now the president of Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization listing Stephen Miller (yes, that Stephen Miller) as an alumnus, which reportedly counts among its donors the Koch Brothers and members of the DeVos family.

Mr. Trump is, of course, gone.  We know where he is.

The homes in Mount Pleasant displaced for the project and their owners, are, of course, also gone.

What remains are vacant buildings and holes in the ground as empty as Foxconn’s promises.

I suggested to a Trump/Walker supporter I know well, at some point before the pandemic hit – probably in the summer of 2019, when the grand designs promised by Foxconn and Republican politicians were already clearly unraveling — that the last we’d see of Foxconn in this state was Election Day, 2020.  He completely disagreed.  We did agree – amicably, now a rarity between citizens of contrary political views – that there was no need to debate; time would bear out which of us was correct.

I could send him a link to this WPR article, but won’t.  He would undoubtedly respond that I have been proven wrong – that Foxconn is still in Wisconsin – but more importantly, since he is a fine man, I don’t want to risk hearing him say how wonderful it will be when our state is the epicenter of the world’s production of electric vehicles.  

https://www.wpr.org/failed-partnerships-and-vacant-buildings-foxconns-wisconsin-commitment-remains-standstill

Discerning Mr. Biden’s Mandate

[The remainder of the “Pushing the Big Truth” post published on January 29 has not been forgotten, merely deferred  ;)]

Yesterday, ten more or less moderate Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins, and U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski journeyed to the White House to present an alternate $600B COVID relief package to the $1.9T COVID relief package offered by the Biden Administration.  Tellingly, neither Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor any of his Senate Republican Leadership Team were among the ten.  Equally illuminating is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly declared that Senate Democratic Leadership is sticking to the Administration package, and, undoubtedly still smarting from being manhandled by Mr. McConnell and his Senate cohort for the last decade, has criticized the attempt to bypass Senate Democrats in COVID negotiations.

The fact that the Republican Senate group numbers ten is vital; if ten Senate Republicans and all 50 Senate Democrats agree to support a given COVID relief bill, it would be filibuster-proof in the Senate.

The Democratic package seems an opening negotiating “kitchen sink” salvo, even including a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 (which, no matter how one feels about the measure on its own merits, presumably not even the most ardent progressive can claim is directly related to COVID relief).  The Republican proposal is, presumably, an opening “low ball” response, and I understand continues Republicans’ reflexive resistance to assistance to state and local governments (which I find silly, and partisan).

There is no dispute that Congress’ earlier COVID relief bills employed a shotgun approach necessitated by the immediacy of the crisis, and left some Americans without the relief that one would have wanted them to receive — which Democrats now seek to remedy through their package — while providing other Americans inappropriate windfalls — which Republicans now seek to avoid through their response.

One can, of course, find an economist on virtually every side of every issue.  Some very reputable economists, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, feel that it is critical for the federal government to provide massive amounts of aid to the economy at this point in order to stave off recession and unnecessary hardship.  Other reputable economists, while acknowledging the necessity of addressing areas of genuine American need, caution that too much indiscriminate aid will overheat the economy, ignite inflation, make our already-huge deficit hole even deeper than it needs to be, thereby endangering our future ability fund other critical programs (see Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid).

The Republican initiative creates a pivotal dilemma for Mr. Biden.  Much of the actual COVID relief components of his bill can apparently be passed with simple Congressional majorities via a legislative mechanism called, “budget reconciliation.”  As it stands, the GOP overture is too stingy; but if the Republicans are willing to meaningfully increase their offer, if advising Mr. Biden I would suggest that as he weighs the relative political and substantive merits of a compromise with Republicans against budget reconciliation, he should consider:  What exactly does he think his mandate is?  Why did the American people choose to hire him rather than retain Donald Trump?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him — due to his pledge to more effectively combat the Coronavirus than Mr. Trump did?  Or to get the minimum wage raised to $15?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they want him to seemingly indiscriminately spread money across the economy (virtually everyone has heard of someone who got more from the first COVID packages than they were making before the pandemic)?  Or because they hope that Mr. Biden can restore a sense of decency and decorum to the presidency?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they relish the notion that now Democrats can unilaterally impose their policy ideas on America in the same manner as Republicans did while they controlled Congress?  Or because they hope that Mr. Biden could restore a spirit of compromise to our legislative process?

Mr. Biden has thus far issued a slew of Executive Orders that could have come as no surprise to either Mr. Biden’s friends or foes.  For the most part, these Orders were foreseeable and haven’t impaired his overall standing with the American people (he has issued a couple of more controversial Executive Orders that I would have deferred, but that’s for another day’s note).  But he pledged during the campaign and in his inaugural address to be the President for all the people.  He clung to the notion throughout the Democratic presidential nomination contest — a notion that seemed an albatross in the early days of the campaign when contrasted with the more stridently partisan positions of his adversaries — that Republicans could be worked with, and that he had a record of successfully working with them.  (In this one particular, query whether Mr. Biden’s campaign claim was substantively different from Mr. Trump’s 2016 declaration that he “knew how to make deals.”)

Mr. Biden’s obviously genuine belief that progress can be made through amicable compromise – along with an expectation that he would more competently address the COVID crisis — was, I submit, the most important reason he defeated Mr. Trump.  If he turns his back on compromise now, I fear that the parties will immediately return to gridlock.  Granted, he needs to get a bill that addresses the most glaring areas of need, but I believe that Sens. Romney, Collins, and Murkowski are reasonable people [I don’t know enough about all ten ;)].  If Mr. Biden can get a bipartisan package less than his current proposal that nonetheless addresses the nation’s critical COVID needs, I think he should eschew budget reconciliation and do the deal, as long as he also gets – and can publicly recite – a pledge from his “Republican friends” that they will collaborate upon further relief in the future if, as Democrats believe, such proves necessary.  He has the means to avoid Republican stalling through the “hammer” of budget reconciliation, a process already begun; the GOP group is undoubtedly aware that their window to achieve a compromise is short before the substantive and political pressure on Mr. Biden to proceed unilaterally will become too great.

To Mr. Schumer, perhaps to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, perhaps to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, perhaps to U.S. NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if any are disgruntled with the compromise, Mr. Biden should say:  I got elected.  This is why.  Trump would have beaten any one of you.  My mandate was to treat the nation’s divisiveness as well as its Coronavirus.  Are you going to help me, or not?

Snow Shoveling Reflections

It’s snowed some in Madison during the last week.  Enough to require tending, but insufficient to require focus; the kind of chore that allows one’s mind to wander.

In order to be a successful President, one needs many qualities; some need to be visible, others perhaps best kept from public view.  I would venture that one of those that needs to be apparent to our people, whether real or feigned, is empathy for them.  President-elect Biden clearly genuinely possesses this attribute, to even an unusual degree.  That said, there are other qualities that a President must manifest to our people and the world in order to be successful:  among them, that s/he is decisive; and that s/he is a winner.

When the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) staged a strike in 1981 not allowed by law, believing that President Ronald Reagan had no choice but to accede to its demands, he instead fired the strikers and installed substitutes.  His presidency was then undoubtedly in psychological peril – if a plane had crashed due to the incompetence of a substitute controller, all would have justifiably blamed Mr. Reagan, and his Administration would have been figuratively over. No plane crashed.  Whatever one thinks of what he did – there is much educated commentary to the effect that PATCO’s unauthorized action and Mr. Reagan’s aggressive response had a sharply deleterious long term effect on the American labor movement — the general public perception at the time was that Mr. Reagan had “stood tall”; and – since no plane had crashed – that he had prevailed, was a winner.  After what was considered too much well-meaning but ineffectual equivocation by President Jimmy Carter, the majority of Americans supported it.  It set a tone that despite an outwardly amiable manner, Mr. Reagan was not to be trifled with – an impression that served both him and the country well throughout his presidency.   

Current media reports indicate that Mr. Biden is electing not to “weigh in” on Congressional Democrats’ impeachment efforts.  I would suggest that if such reports are accurate, the President-elect is making a strategic mistake.  I believe that he should indeed carefully weigh, and then weigh in upon, whether he wants the Senate to conduct an impeachment trial of then-former President Donald Trump during the first days of the Biden Administration.  More important than the time that the trial will syphon from Biden priorities, if the trial goes forth, Mr. Biden must win to maintain momentum with the American people, and Mr. Trump must lose – i.e., Mr. Trump must be convicted.  (I give little credence to the argument that no matter the outcome of the impeachment trial, Republicans need to be “put on the record” for supporting Mr. Trump.  Any Senate Republican who places political considerations above Constitutional duty when voting to acquit Mr. Trump will have first calculated that there will be no significant adverse consequence to being “put on the record.”) 

By all accounts, the President-elect enjoys a reasonably amicable relationship with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.  Mr. Biden should call Mr. McConnell directly, and essentially say this:  “Mitch, you want Trump gone as much as I do.  You know he should be convicted.  One thing neither of us want is to have him acquitted at trial – it’ll look like he won and we lost.  If you can guarantee me 20 Republican votes to convict [note:  only 17 Republican votes are needed if all 50 Democrats vote to convict, but in such a toxic environment, a little leeway would seem vital], I’m going to tell Pelosi and Schumer that I think they should get the ball rolling right now, while the iron is hot.  If you can’t, I’m going to tell Pelosi that I strongly believe that she should hold the impeachment article for a while.” 

If Mr. McConnell would say that he could deliver the 20 votes, the impeachment track would be clear.  If he would say that he couldn’t guarantee a Trump impeachment conviction, if I was Mr. Biden, I’d call Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and strongly encourage her to hold the impeachment article – not send it to the Senate – until a more propitious time; that the important thing was to avoid a political imbroglio that would endanger the COVID relief package and perhaps delay or derail Administration Cabinet appointments.  If Ms. Pelosi at first demurred – either out of understandable desire to see Mr. Trump punished, or out of concern for her ability to hold her caucus in line – I’d point out, as incoming President of the United States, that I considered it to be in the nation’s best interest for her to temporarily defer; that I saw no value in “making a statement” in a losing cause that would give Trump oxygen; that we needed to win — and McConnell couldn’t assure me we would.  If she needed cover, I was ready to say during my inaugural address that while I would put the full support of the Biden Administration behind all law enforcement efforts to immediately bring to justice all those responsible for the storming of the Capitol, I had asked the House of Representatives to delay for a period in forwarding the article of impeachment against Mr. Trump because I didn’t want any attention diverted from Congress’ need to pass a COVID package to combat a disease that had already killed 400,000 Americans. 

I submit that such a declaration would show both empathy and a clear exertion of leadership of his party by Mr. Biden, who at times has appeared an affable “Not Trump” figurehead. It’s hard to believe that Ms. Pelosi would disregard a request from the incoming President of the United States that he indicated he felt was in the best interests of the nation (which I consider a clear contrast to the obsequiousness of the Congressional Republicans over the last four years, who constantly kowtowed to the illiberal actions of a grotesque psyche that they well understood cared only about what was in his own best interest.)  The delay in proceeding with the impeachment trial provides the added benefit of a sword over Mr. Trump’s head, and does nothing to delay the many criminal investigations reportedly hounding him.

To use one of Mr. Trump’s favorite phrases:  we’ll see what happens.

Two ancillary, yet particularly distressing impressions: 

The most grievous accusations I have heard relating to the events of January 6, save those leveled at Mr. Trump himself, are that Republican members of Congress may have assisted rioters by facilitating their reconnaissance of the Capitol layout in the days before the attack, and may have been texting seditionists during the attack regarding the location of Ms. Pelosi.  If/when authorities establish that these accusations are baseless, such should forthrightly be announced.  If, on the other hand, investigators uncover sufficient evidence of such a conspiratorial relationship between any member(s) of Congress and the rioters to support an indictment against the member(s), such member(s) should be immediately expelled from Congress, face the maximum charges – including sedition – that such evidence will support, and if convicted receive the severest sentence allowed by law.

We have heard multiple reports that a number of Republican House members believed impeachment of Mr. Trump was warranted, but nonetheless voted against the article because they feared for their personal safety or that of their families.  I would submit that such failure, although understandable in human terms, nonetheless constituted Constitutional malfeasance.  These politicians, despite their oath of office, seemingly think they have a seat on Student Council rather than in the legislature of the most powerful nation on earth.  They have forfeited the moral standing necessary to render judgment on any President’s recommendation to send our troops into harm’s way.  Although perhaps harsh, I believe that given the importance of their responsibilities, those that have openly admitted that their fears influenced their House impeachment votes should be encouraged to resign and if they refuse, should be expelled for dereliction of duty.

Although it was snowy this week, it wasn’t too cold.  Hopefully, next weekend, it will be very cold and very snowy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  While there is no chance that Tampa Bay Buccaneer Quarterback Tom Brady, given his years in New England, will be intimidated by Lambeau Field conditions when the Bucs battle the Green and Gold for the National Football Conference Championship next Sunday, hopefully Mr. Brady’s teammates, more acclimated to temperate playing conditions, will be.

In any past year in which the Green Bay Packers were only a game away from the Super Bowl, mullings of their prospects for another Lombardi Trophy would have dominated shoveling ruminations, rather than being mere afterthoughts.  Hopefully, the affairs of our Republic will have stabilized sufficiently during 2021 that customary and more congenial thought patterns will primarily accompany snow shoveling in January, 2022; after all, Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will then be but 38, and Mr. Brady continues to perform at a championship level at age 43.

The driveway and sidewalk are clear.  Time for some hot chocolate. 

How Many Are Reachable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching Unity … and Lancing Sedition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Prologue: Preaching Unity … and Lancing Sedition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning Off the Trump Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year.

The True Trump Derangement Syndrome

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

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