On Ukraine Today

My sense – although the impression, even if now accurate, can be dispelled by NATO allies’ future decisive action – is that Ukraine might be starting to slip away.

“Putin knows that unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy. … This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them. … Having back-up plans means learning from past mistakes as well as successes.”

  • Mr. Putin; Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy

After initially misunderstanding Ukrainians’ devotion to a Ukrainian state, underestimating Ukrainian grit and determination, grossly overestimating the competence of the Russian military, misjudging NATO unity and resolve, counting on a cold winter to cause Europeans to prioritize Russian fuel over Ukrainian sovereignty, and hoping that vague threats of nuclear weaponry would deter NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin has adjusted his war strategy to four pillars:  holding the Ukrainian territory Russia now controls; terrorizing the Ukrainian population through continuous missile strikes (simultaneously destroying symbols of Ukrainian heritage); transitioning Russia to a wartime footing by mobilizing Russian industry for military production while conscripting a massive number of additional soldiers (i.e., following a centuries-old Russian tradition of feeding untrained Russian bodies into the meat grinder to compensate for Russian officer cronyism and incompetence); and waiting the West out. 

Mr. Putin is now literally seeking to grind it out.  Evil.  But savvy.

For much of the conflict, I consider the United States’ response to have been almost pitch-perfect.  The Biden Administration first sought to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine by publicizing its intelligence on Russian plans and deployments.  President Joe Biden then masterfully marshaled NATO unity and action.  Thereafter, understandably concerned that the conflict could lead to nuclear war (although those fears currently appear abated), America and its NATO allies have (in then-Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby’s word) “curated” their military assistance to Ukraine – a tit for every Russian tat – an approach designed to maintain a fiction that NATO is not at war with Russia.

The irony is that Mr. Putin maintains no such illusions; he considers NATO to be at war with Russia.  You know what?  He’s right. 

At the time this is typed, NATO allies are divided over whether to and which tanks to provide to Ukraine.  Reportedly, the United States doesn’t want to provide its Abrams tanks to Ukraine because … they require a lot of training and need a lot of gas.  Germany isn’t yet willing to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine because … it isn’t.  (Germany reportedly is willing to let other NATO nations send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and the U.K. is sending 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.)  This follows diddling over whether to and who should provide planes to Ukrainians, diddling over which and how many missile defense systems are suitable for Ukraine (so far, we’ve provided one Patriot system), and hand-wringing over what firepower has too much range to provide to the Ukrainians.  (God forbid that they start taking the battle to Russia in Russia, although this might cause some Russians to question Russian media claims about Russia’s success.)

Last week, President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass made a point that resonated with me:  slow escalations rarely work; the enemy simply adapts.  He used Vietnam as an example, and although that war otherwise has little in common with the Ukrainian conflict, the analogy is apt.  NATO has slowly escalated, and Russia has correspondingly adapted.

It’s time for America and its NATO allies to conceptually and viscerally internalize the fact that although at this point only Ukrainians are actively fighting and dying, NATO is indeed at war (albeit so far conventional) with Russia.  Poland understands this reality – it has experienced life under Russian rule – which is why, despite its elected leadership’s increasingly illiberal leanings, it is among the NATO allies most aggressively assisting Ukraine’s defense.  Finland and Sweden understand Russia’s voraciousness when it is guided by a KGB soul such as Mr. Putin, which is why they seek NATO membership after decades of reluctance.  (The Biden Administration should put maximum pressure on Turkey and Hungary to vote to admit Finland and Sweden to NATO immediately.  NATO Treaty provisions are what they are, but how to deal with two states that are now at best quasi-allies is an issue that the Alliance needs to consider.)  Once NATO as a whole accepts the reality that it is at war with Russia, the steps that follow largely dictate themselves.  In America’s case, I would submit that we should refrain only from providing Ukraine nuclear weaponry and the resources required to help rebuff any Chinese invasion of Taiwan; otherwise, within the confines of the Ukrainian aid package Congress passed at the end of 2022, we should furnish Ukrainians whatever we can that they either know or can be trained how to use.  

Our national debt is now approaching World War II levels.  I wholeheartedly agree that at some time in the not-too-distant future, we do need to lay a plan to curb our spending and increase our revenues.  Given their past support of costly initiatives of former Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, any protests for fiscal conservatism put forth by Republicans during this Congress will obviously be patently hypocritical, but I would further submit that any such claims asserted by MAGAs in the context of limiting future aid to Ukraine will also amount to a cloak for anti-democratic aims.  No matter the size of our debt, this is NOT the time to back off on aid to Ukraine – a position I believe to be shared by sensible members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is frequently compared to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  During the last year, I have frequently turned to the World War II speeches Mr. Churchill rendered in the months after France fell to the Nazis and before the United States entered the war.  It is clear that Mr. Churchill then believed that if Britain could just hold on long enough, America’s entry into the war – with its military and manufacturing resources – would ultimately ensure victory.  Mr. Zelenskyy is now nervous and exhausted, and he’s showing it.  I am confident that he is acutely aware that in one vital respect, his position is in fact the reverse of Mr. Churchill’s so long ago:  since the Russian invasion, although seemingly teetering at times, has not collapsed, it is Mr. Putin that is calculating that if he can just hold out long enough, NATO will lose the will to support Ukraine, and then … Ukraine will be Russia’s.

If Mr. Putin was going to be internally deposed for this Russian military debacle, he already would have been.  If he is to be externally judged for this monstrous insult to humanity and international order, that reckoning is a long time off.  We and our NATO allies need to grasp that we are at war, quit diddling, and give it all we have – now and into the foreseeable future.

On Classified Documents

[Warning:  Viewer Discretion Advised.  There is absolutely nothing in this post that you haven’t already thought, heard, and/or read.  Sometimes, one cannot resist adding two cents.  🙂 ].

We had family visiting most of the past week, and accordingly, were only able to absorb smatterings of information regarding the classified documents from President Joe Biden’s term as vice president that were discovered first in Mr. Biden’s private nongovernmental office, then in his Delaware home, and apparently then in his garage … near his Corvette.  I did see one video clip in which the President sought to minimize the severity of this security breach by noting that the garage was locked [I’m sure that his garage door lock would have proven impregnable to Russian or Chinese specialists  😉 ], and actually uttering the word, “Corvette.”  (D’oh!)  At another point we did hear that a Special Counsel has been appointed to investigate the situation.  (Ouch!)

[At least as far as I am aware, no Top Secret documents have yet been found in a school backpack in Hunter Biden’s childhood bedroom. 🙂 ]

In the one edition of MSNBC’s decidedly-liberal Morning Joe we saw last week, the members of the panel, while conceding that these discoveries were terrible political optics for the President, almost literally tried to stand on their heads to distinguish the Biden discoveries from the discoveries of classified documents at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

From a legal perspective, they may well be right; national security laws were never within my legal purview.  That said, perhaps because we formed our impressions from only the highlights of the reports on the discovered documents — much as do working Americans who don’t have the time to absorb nuances of current events – I would venture that there is very little chance that the average citizen is not going to conceptually equate Messrs. Biden’s and Trump’s security breaches.

This Biden classified document fiasco markedly corrodes what I consider the President’s core “brand” attribute among objective Americans:  competence.  Through his marshaling of NATO assets to help Ukraine confront Russia and the undeniably-impressive array of legislative achievements passed during the first two years of his term, before the recent revelations Mr. Biden had seemingly expunged the taint of incompetence engendered by our bungled Afghanistan withdrawal.  What’s worse for him is that, unlike the Afghanistan debacle – which an open-minded American might conclude resulted from Mr. Biden’s understandable reliance on U.S. military and intelligence sources’ erroneous assessment of our Afghan allies’ readiness to withstand the Taliban – this blunder can be laid directly at the President’s feet.   

Both parties indulge in “Whataboutism,” and the Republicans excel at it.  That said, I have recently suggested in these pages that the Republicans sometimes tend to let their hyper-partisan venom get in their own way; that their attacks on the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness initiative and the Administration’s attempts to retire certain Trump Administration southwest border immigration limits actually appeared to me to help Mr. Biden politically and/or substantively.  While it seems overwhelmingly likely that Republicans will yell loud and long about the Biden discoveries as justification for defending Mr. Trump, I would venture that if they indeed adopt that course, they will again be too smart by half.  Surveys indicate that most Republicans, even those that retain an affinity for Mr. Trump, want a different presidential standard-bearer in 2024; Paul Ryan, former Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives turned Board Director for the Murdoch Family-controlled Fox Corporation – and thus, now a mouthpiece of Murdoch sentiment — recently called Mr. Trump “a proven loser” on CNN.  If conservative media outlets are savvy – and hopefully they aren’t this shrewd – they will pivot their coverage and use the recent Biden document discoveries as a cudgel to politically bludgeon both Messrs. Biden and Trump.

May Democrats, and President Biden himself, not be so Pollyannish as to think that Republicans – still yelling not only about Hunter Biden’s laptop, but about the Steele dossier, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, and how unfairly the autocratic Pharaoh was treated by Moses — will let the President’s classified document peccadillo drift away.  While actually I am aware that most legal specialists have opined, based upon reporting to date, that Mr. Biden probably isn’t in any criminal trouble for this embarrassing mess, I am hoping that the President, presumably still mulling whether to run for re-election, is aware that Republicans will be talking about this not only as long as he is in office, but, if Ms. Clinton’s experience is any example, perhaps as long as he is alive.  It’s a weight, along with his age, that he can’t afford in a re-election bid.  I will submit that if Mr. Biden’s unauthorized retention of classified documents had been discovered in the weeks before the 2020 election, Mr. Trump would have been able to exploit the controversy to eke out a narrow victory.

So for those of us that laud Mr. Biden’s accomplishments to date, but fear that any run he makes for re-election will be fraught with peril for American democracy (given the likely attitudes of whomever is the Republican nominee), there is perhaps a silver lining in this clumsy snafu, although it is not among the rationales painfully posed by liberal talking heads.  As a close friend emailed me last week:  “Perhaps a silver lining is that this is the lever that gets Biden not to run again.” 

An Early January Potpourri

A series of random thoughts as 2023 begins:

I have heard commentators declare that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republicans’ antics in their ongoing efforts to elect a Speaker don’t constitute a flaw, but rather a facet, of a vibrant democracy.  Although an exchange of clashing viewpoints has been one of the wellsprings of American democracy from the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, such is only the case if such differing viewpoints are offered in good faith – i.e., with the sincere intent to select a better leader or reach a better policy approach for the greater good of America.  I don’t have any insight into the views or motives of the vast majority of Republican House members who are refusing to vote for U.S. CA Rep Kevin McCarthy for Speaker.  I have already indicated in these pages that if a GOP representative, I myself wouldn’t be supporting Mr. McCarthy because he has shown that he doesn’t have the steadfastness for the job.  That said, I would submit that there is strong evidence that at least two of Mr. McCarthy’s most vocal opponents, election-deniers U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert, are simply hyper-partisan, self-promoting provocateurs.  I see little to indicate any motive for their current drive to oust Mr. McCarthy beyond personal ambition.

The current Republican (Animal) House dysfunction is troubling on a deeper level.  As Mr. McCarthy concedes more and more to the most rabid members of his caucus, how will he – and therefore, we – manage when a crisis needing unanticipated funding and unity inevitably occurs during the next two years?  Will the agitators come away from this internecine party battle with the power to prevent a vote on a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, causing the United States to default on its full faith and credit?  Will they be able to block additional needed aid to Ukraine, or aid to assist Taiwan, should Mainland China elect to invade the island?  Will they hinder the provision of assistance to California if it suffers an earthquake, or to Puerto Rico if it is battered by another devastating hurricane, because they don’t consider these to really be part of their America?  Will they fund the Biden Administration’s efforts if we are suddenly hit with another pandemic – or declare the announcement of a new virus merely a hoax?  You may dismiss these concerns as unduly alarmist.  If so, I hope you’re right.

Next:  the situation at the southwest border is human tragedy, a logistical quagmire, and a political nightmare.  Immigration has been a visceral issue for Republican voters, and generally a political winner for Republicans, for most of this century.  On Thursday, the President announced new approaches that may have value and/or simply be a bandage.  I have no substantive solutions to offer for the challenges we face.  I would venture this:  if Mr. Biden intends to seek re-election, his Administration had better achieve notable improvements to our humanitarian and security challenges at the border this year.  If not, immigration may well prove to be the issue that Mr. Biden’s Republican opponent can wield most effectively against him in the upcoming campaign.

Next:  I find it ironic that Republican-controlled states’ immediate reflex to oppose anything that the Biden Administration proposes is, in certain areas, helping the Administration either substantively or politically.  Republican lawsuits thus far successfully thwarting Administration efforts to dismantle Title 42 – a Trump Administration initiative used to quickly expel immigrants at the southwest border – have, by keeping Title 42 in effect, perhaps prevented even greater politically-damaging border havoc for the Administration.  (In an irony within an irony, the Administration’s new border protection measures reportedly expand the practice of immediate expulsion authorized under Title 42 to unsponsored migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.)  Likewise, Republican-led states’ efforts to throw out Mr. Biden’s plan to forgive federal student loan debt – no matter what one thinks of the Administration policy substantively – undoubtedly redounds to Mr. Biden’s benefit politically.  (The President can justifiably say to all those whose obligations would be forgiven or reduced:  “I tried to help you, and they wouldn’t let me.”)  Who are those borrowers going to vote for in 2024?

Next:  On a human level, all of us who are aware are saddened by the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin in last Monday night’s NFL football game.  As this is typed, Mr. Hamlin’s prognosis is reportedly improving.  (I heard some ghoul ask one of Mr. Hamlin’s doctors this week whether he might recover sufficiently to return to the game.  Really? That reporter should be made to face an unblocked rush from the San Francisco 49er defensive line.)  All hope for Mr. Hamlin’s quick and complete recovery.  At the same time, I am perplexed by the calls I hear from some for the NFL to “do something” to prevent afflictions such as that suffered by Mr. Hamlin.  All who read these pages are aware that I am an NFL fan.  Make no mistake:  I believe that the NFL and its owners are much more concerned with protecting the multi-billion colossus they have created than they are with player safety.  That said, having watched thousands of NFL tackles in my lifetime, I saw nothing unique or untoward about the collision that stopped Mr. Hamlin’s heart.  Assuming that the NFL tests all players for cardiac fitness as part of its initial processes, I don’t know what the NFL could have done before or do now to guard against tragic disorders such as Mr. Hamlin incurred Monday night.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of football in this country – a popularity, whether one likes it or not, which arises in large measure from the game’s ferocity – perhaps we should ban the game due to the physiological and attendant psychological damage suffered by players resulting from repeated head and other reasonably-foreseeable trauma.  TLOML and I were always happy that our sons never played the game at any serious level.  At the same time, if mine was the voice deciding for all of America whether to keep or ban football, I don’t know which way I would vote.  Our citizens voluntarily choose to downhill ski, sky dive, rock climb, bungee jump, and play soccer (which at advanced levels has its own head trauma challenges).  People are injured or killed every day riding bicycles.  By high school, every football player that chooses to play knows the risk.  Even though the average NFL career is short, the NFL annual base salary is over $700,000; the average American salary is under $55,000 a year.  Even if possessed in my late teens and early 20’s of the wisdom of Medicare-eligible years and aware of the game’s dangers [and despite lacking the coordination to efficiently tie my shoes 😉 ], would I still have gone into the NFL — to make the kind of money that could form a base of financial security for a lifetime — if I had had the ability?  I would have.

Finally:  Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2024.

I have mentioned a number of times in these pages that I hope, for the good of my children and grandchildren, that U.S. Transportation Secretary and former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg is someday president of the United States.  It has been clear, however, that notwithstanding President Biden’s selection of Mr. Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary – an appointment of an extremely able young politician with a seemingly bright future who withdrew from the 2020 Democratic nomination race (along with U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar) just in time for Mr. Biden to corral all moderate liberal support and win the nomination – Cabinet experience is not a sufficient background upon which to mount a credible campaign for the presidency.  If Mr. Buttigieg wishes to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination at some point in the future, he will no longer be able to employ the “Exciting Newcomer” lane he used in 2020; he will need a significant position from which to launch his campaign:  a Governorship or a U.S. Senate seat.  If he can win either office after leaving the Biden Administration, he can bide his time:  he will be 42 on election day 2024, which means that he will be viable, from an age perspective, for at least the five presidential election cycles after 2024 – to 2044 [and, judging by the age of our recent major party presidential nominees, perhaps longer 😉 ].

I suspect that Mr. Buttigieg agrees with my assessment that he will need a substantial post if he wishes to mount another campaign for the presidency.  I suspect that he agrees with my assessment that no Democrat will be elected a U.S. Senator or Governor in Mr. Buttigieg’s native Indiana for many years to come.  I also suspect that he agrees with my assessment that he needs to establish greater rapport with and support in the African American community than he had in 2020 in order to make a viable run.  For some months, I thought that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, might move their family from Washington, D.C., commuting distance down to Baltimore, since the term of Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, 79, will expire in two years.

I was wrong about Mr. Buttigieg’s moving plans.  Last summer, the Buttigiegs established their legal residence in Traverse City, MI, Mr. C. Buttigieg’s home town, and registered to vote.

There are a lot of ambitious politicians in Michigan, as there are in all states.  Many will consider a campaign for Ms. Stabenow’s seat, and all will consider and call Mr. Buttigieg a carpetbagger if he seeks Michigan Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination.  That said, presidential support would be an advantage in a Senate primary contest; the President has compared Mr. Buttigieg to his own beloved son, Beau; and a President pays his debts. 

As former President Donald Trump sometimes says:  We’ll see what happens. 

More than enough Noise for one post.

On Kevin McCarthy

[At the time this is scheduled, U.S. CA Rep. Kevin McCarthy has failed three times to secure the needed 218 votes needed to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.]

I’m flummoxed.  We’ve all heard the clichés intoned by commentators:  “S/He will do anything to get power.”  Or:  “S/He will do anything to keep power.”  These pronouncements have in recent times frequently been made in reference to Republican officeholders bowing to claims of election fraud they know are false, but are equally applicable to rationalizations by politicians of both parties who understand the proper course but decline to take it to protect their own political careers.

What puzzles me about these phrases:  their inclusion of the word, “power.”  The groveling in which U.S. CA Rep. Kevin McCarthy has engaged since the November election to try to appease at least 218 members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican Caucus so he can become the Speaker of the House has been so publicly demeaning – to the extent that Mr. McCarthy has reportedly agreed to a rule that would provide any handful within the Republican majority the right to seek his ouster from the Speakership at any time – that it is obvious that he doesn’t really seek power; he won’t have any.  He covets the trappings of power that would attend having his name etched into some marble Capitol wall under those of recent House Speakers such as Sam Rayburn, Tip O’Neill, Newt Gingrich, and Nancy Pelosi.  No matter what you think of these past Speakers’ respective policy preferences, each was knowledgeable, savvy, and tough. 

If – imagine this 😉 – I was a member of the House Republican Caucus, I’d be a hard No on Mr. McCarthy (unless the only alternative was U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan, whom I consider at this point to arguably present a greater danger to American democracy than former President Donald Trump).  My principal objection to Mr. McCarthy would not be among those raised by House Republicans – a number of whom seek an American Apartheid and a few of whom, if reports are accurate, may have lent support to activities surrounding the insurrection on January 6, 2021 — but because he doesn’t have the fortitude.  For months, he should have been telling the recalcitrant members of his caucus to either vote for him, or go … (you fill in the rest), and then walked away.

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is third in line to the presidency of the United States.  While some negotiation among any group of ambitious, strong-minded individuals is to be expected, Mr. McCarthy hasn’t grasped that attaining the Speakership by bootlicking would reduce his post to a sham.  He apparently lacks the understanding of how to acquire and wield real power, and on this ground alone is unworthy of the position he seeks.  Put aside all of the terribly vital issues upon which we generally focus, including the ongoing existential threats of our democracy; put aside the Democrats’ partisan chortling, and any unseemly guilty satisfaction some undoubtedly feel at the Republicans’ disarray; consider only this:  If as a result of a devastating terror attack or other tragedy, Mr. McCarthy became President of the United States, do you think Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin would take him seriously?  In their places, would you?

On Joe Biden

With the coming of the new Congress, in which a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives seems more intent on dragging us into a maelstrom of hyper-partisan maneuvering and antagonism than serving us, this seems an appropriate time to review President Joe Biden’s first two years in office and ponder his political future.

All presidents since World War II have at least one notable positive achievement to their respective credits.  (Even those of us who abhor President Donald Trump must concede that the development of extremely effective COVID-19 vaccines in an unprecedentedly-short amount of time through his Administration’s Operation Warp Speed probably saved millions of lives.)  That said, I would submit that at this point in his term, the most consequential American president we have had since Franklin Delano Roosevelt is Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

The positive value of a president’s accomplishments is determined by the gravity of the challenges s/he faces.  I consider Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mr. Roosevelt to be our three greatest presidents due to the manner in which they successfully addressed the existential threats to our nation that respectively confronted them.  President Biden has – thus far, successfully – faced challenges of the same character.

Mr. Biden resolved to run for the presidency after watching Mr. Trump’s waffling response to the unrest arising from the white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, VA, in August, 2017.  The President has indicated that after Charlottesville, he considered Democrats’ primary mission to remove Mr. Trump from the White House in 2020, and that he believed (as voting patterns ultimately demonstrated, correctly) that he was the only Democrat who could defeat Mr. Trump (an assessment shared by Mr. Trump).  Through his (albeit uncomfortably narrow) victory (by less than 1% in each of the states of Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which provided him the decisive 57 Electoral College votes), Mr. Biden saved America from descending into the fascist autocracy that many of us feared would attend Mr. Trump’s re-election – a fear since confirmed by the uncontested findings of the U.S. House’s “January 6th” Committee.

One could argue that simply by beating Mr. Trump and thus (at least at present) protecting American democracy, Mr. Biden should be placed at the head of his post-WWII peers.  Although the President has begun to tout the legislative achievements wrought during his first two years in office, I consider the way he has conducted the presidency – decent, stable, open – and the effective manner in which his Administration dispensed the COVID vaccines becoming available as he took office to be his most notable domestic contributions.  I view his legislative accomplishments, while unquestionably impressive given the faction-driven Congress with which he had to deal, to pale in comparison to the manner in which he has protected America and other global democracies by first fostering cohesion among NATO allies when Russia invaded Ukraine – a point at which the alliance was in its greatest disarray since its founding — and since marshalling its effective support of Ukraine while deftly managing American domestic sentiment.  Putting aside the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin would obviously be dancing in Kyiv today had Mr. Trump been re-elected, I would venture that none of Mr. Biden’s other living presidential predecessors could have done as well in the face of the Russian aggression as Mr. Biden did within the circumstances he found the world when he took office.

The President hasn’t been perfect – no president is.  I think the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a strategic mistake, there is clearly an unresolved mess at our southwest border, and I question – without knowing the innards of both Congressional and Democratic caucus maneuvering — whether a “small ball” approach to legislation might not have achieved more than his “Go Big” approach, but Mr. Biden has gotten a lot more right than he has wrong.

All Americans owe President Biden a debt of gratitude, whether they see it or not.  Even so, he should announce before his upcoming State of the Union Address that he is NOT going to seek re-election.

The President has frequently asserted that we overstayed our mission in Afghanistan, which is why he ordered the withdrawal.  If counseling him today, I would remind him that the reason he got into the presidential race in 2020 – the mission – was to beat Donald Trump. He was the only guy who could.  He did.  The mission was accomplished.  Whether by divine providence or fortunate happenstance, he was probably the only 2020 American presidential candidate who, when the situation demanded it, could have as effectively rallied NATO against Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.  He did.  That course is set. 

That’s enough.

Presidential elections are about matchups.  While Mr. Biden correctly assessed that he was the only Democrat who could defeat Mr. Trump in 2020, I will venture that given Mr. Trump’s obviously significantly-weakened political standing with independent voters, if Mr. Trump wins the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, any moderate (or even moderately-progressive) Democratic candidate facing Mr. Trump, not just Mr. Biden, will be able to claim enough swing voters in enough swing states to win the presidency.

I would suggest to Mr. Biden that his focus for the 2024 presidential election shouldn’t be premised on Mr. Trump winning the Republican nomination; it should be based on what happens if he doesn’t.  Mr. Trump’s outsized presence has dominated our collective view of the political landscape since at least the day he assumed the presidency.  If Mr. Biden runs and faces any Republican challenger in 2024 save Mr. Trump – across a gamut as wide as FL Gov. Ron DeSantis to (about to be former) U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney – voters’ focus will no longer be centered on Mr. Trump, but will be where it generally is when an incumbent President seeks re-election:  on the President. 

I find it disconcerting that at least according to some reports, Mr. Biden and his team believe that the Democrats did much better than expected in the 2022 mid-term elections because of Mr. Biden’s and Democrats’ affirmative domestic and foreign policy achievements.  One can certainly argue that those accomplishments should have been the reasons that the Democrats fared as well as they did, but I consider it a dangerous misperception to believe that they were; if they had been, Mr. Biden’s approval rating would be significantly higher than it is.  While Democrats’ fortunes were clearly politically aided by the Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justices’ vitiation of women’s U.S. Constitutional abortion rights, I would assert that they did better than expected – while in reality, doing no more than squeaking by – principally because a majority of Americans (if not a majority of Republicans) couldn’t stomach the notion of turning their government over to election deniers – i.e., either liars or fools.  Such hardly constituted a resounding mandate for Democrats.

I would submit that if the President seeks re-election in 2024 and Mr. Trump is not the Republican nominee, one issue will dominate voters’ minds:  Mr. Biden’s age.  He would be running for re-election when 4 years older than President Ronald Reagan was when he left the White House. 

As most that read these pages are aware, we live in Madison, WI, perhaps the chief citadel of progressivism between the coasts.  Even so, when the prospect of another Biden campaign comes up in conversation, almost to a person our friends – if called upon, certain Biden 2024 votes — either cringe or shrug.  “He’s so old,” they say – the italics implicit in their tone.  A decade younger than Mr. Biden, I myself wonder:  How does Mr. Biden keep up the pace?  Even if the President doesn’t fall subject to some significant physical ail during the next six years:  How can he possibly maintain the presidential pace until he is 86?  Any political handicapper cannot help but consider:  If Mr. Biden’s age is a paramount concern to those who will be committed Biden supporters, how well will Mr. Biden score with independent voters in what promises to be an extremely tight race against committed Republican opposition if his (probably significantly younger) Republican opponent is not so overtly autocratically toxic as Mr. Trump?      

A key part of a great performance is knowing when to leave the stage:  an understanding shared by Johnny Carson and Joe DiMaggio, not grasped by Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.  Aside from what seems at least to me to be a very uncertain political route to a second term, I would suggest to Mr. Biden that it is not substantively good for the country to have a president as old as he is; only the existential dangers to the country presented by Mr. Trump even made him consider a candidacy in 2020.  As long as he remains a viable political presence, the House Republicans will be hell-bent on tarnishing his name and dragging his son, Hunter (whom he clearly truly loves) through the mud.  It is a presidential power maxim that a president loses the ability to get things done when s/he either can’t run or indicates that s/he won’t run for another term; I would venture that in Mr. Biden’s case, the opposite might be true.  He can govern above the fray, establish an apolitical credibility.  Republicans will lose interest in his son the minute he announces he isn’t seeking re-election.  Since no progressive legislation is going to get through the House Republicans in any case, Mr. Biden might be able to achieve some moderate bipartisan agreements with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and swing district House Republicans they don’t see such resulting legislation as directly aiding a Biden re-election effort.

In the last two years, Mr. Biden has successfully protected democracy at home and abroad.  While I sincerely hope that this will not always be the case, it seems overwhelmingly likely that in order to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, the Republican candidate will need to accommodate MAGAism to at least some extent, which I would assert means that s/he will, to at least that extent, present a continuing danger to American democracy.  I would advise Mr. Biden that the best way he can secure what he has won for us is to step aside for another Democrat better positioned to defend his advances against what will undoubtedly be a fierce and cohesive Republican onslaught.

Thank you for the honor of sharing these posts with you again in 2022.  May you and all of your family and friends enjoy a Healthy and Happy New Year.

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Although I consider President Joe Biden to have done an exceptional job during the first two years of his term, I would submit that neither the policies of the Democrats nor of the Republicans received a mandate in this last election season; it was Americans’ belief in democracy that won.  Right now, let us savor it with proclamations by our greatest real and fictional presidents.

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

… I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday in the month of November … as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.  And I recommend to them that, while offering up ascriptions justly due Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become … sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

 

The West Wing – “I Get to Proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving” – YouTube

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Election Reflections

“I would be thrilled to be proven overly-pessimistic, and recognize that Democrats may still maintain control of the Senate, but inflation currently appears to be the Death Star through which the Empire will strike back.”

  • McCoy’s Noise, November 2, 2022 

Although I didn’t actually rule out the possibility that Democrats would hold the Senate, I am indeed thrilled to find myself guilty of having had too little faith in the American majority’s appreciation of the MAGA danger to democracy 🙂 .  As the results have rolled out in the days following the election, a few disparate reflections:

The most important and heartening first:  voters’ nationwide general – not total, but general – rejection of 2020 election deniers.  If we are going to rebuild faith in our democracy and reverse the distrust in our election systems and workers despicably sown in so many of our people by former President Donald Trump, this was a necessary first step.  Part of Democrats’ better-than-expected showing was seemingly Mr. Trump’s aggressive reentry into the campaign during its last month, and the galvanizing counter-effect it had not only on progressives and liberals but independents and moderates.  More – there is always more — on Mr. Trump below. 

Notwithstanding the delight [or relief  😉 ] felt by those of us encouraged by the recent results, at the time this is typed it seems highly likely that MAGA-infected Republicans will control the House of Representatives.  (The numbers aren’t finalized yet, but it appears Republicans may command a House majority at least in part because of aggressive Florida gerrymandering effected by Republican FL Gov. Ron DeSantis, while a similar Democratic gerrymandering effort in New York was struck down by that state’s highest court.  While on principle I’m glad that the Democrats’ New York effort was overturned, it’s infuriating that rabidly-partisan Republican gerrymandering in states like Wisconsin and Florida have been allowed to stand.)  While the GOP’s subpar performance may – but only may – dampen its appetite for the most excessive partisan mischief such as impeaching President Joe Biden, investigating Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, cutting Social Security and Medicare, or passing a nationwide abortion ban, the House seems overwhelmingly likely to seek to restrict funding for Ukraine’s defense and play politics with the debt ceiling – i.e., with the full faith and credit of the United States. 

Many will recall that in a lame duck session following WI Gov. Tony Evers’ defeat of then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, the MAGA-infected Wisconsin State Legislature passed a series of laws hobbling Mr. Evers’ ability to undo some of Mr. Walker’s programs and policies.  Given the paralysis and partisan histrionics that seem overwhelmingly likely to ensue when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, I would hope that for the good of the nation, during the upcoming lame duck Congressional session Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (due to the power of the filibuster) can agree to pass measures that have received or could garner bipartisan support to blunt some of the most destructive future MAGA impulses.  (Any bills passed by the next Congress to repeal such bipartisan enactments will succumb to President Joe Biden’s veto.)  Below is a short list of such potential measures.  There are undoubtedly others that I have overlooked.

  1. Raising the federal debt limit to an amount projected to carry the United States through to April 1, 2025.  Our citizenry will really decide the future direction it wishes the nation to take based upon whom it elects president in 2024.  In the meantime, the full faith and credit of the United States should not be held hostage to partisan rabble.
  • Authorizing the President, under his Constitutional powers as Commander-in-Chief, to reallocate such amounts of the United States’ military budget to support NATO’s effort against Russian military aggression as he deems fit and proper, provided that the president cannot disproportionately reduce defense expenditures in any state.
  • Revising the Electoral Count Act.  The House has already passed revisions; the Senate has reported revisions out of committee with bipartisan support.
  • Providing those qualifying under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a path to U.S. citizenship. 
  • Enacting the Afghan Adjustment Act to assure that those Afghans who were brought to safety by the U.S. military may apply for protection to stay in the U.S. long-term.

I concede that given the strongly-worded criticisms of Mr. McConnell I have lodged in these pages over the years, even I find it surprising that I sincerely hope that Senate Republicans name Mr. McConnell their leader to ensure that some level of sanity continues in the Senate. 

I was obviously elated by Mr. Evers’ 3-point victory over Trump-endorsed Republican Wisconsin Gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.  Mr. Evers’ re-election reduces the risk to the integrity of Wisconsin’s 2024 electoral process and enables at least somewhat balanced administration of my state’s government.  Some close friends have indicated to me that they attribute the 1-point loss of Democratic U.S. Senate Nominee WI Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, an African American, to U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson primarily to racism.  While those notions undoubtedly contain some truth, I recall another black candidate, former President Barack Obama, who won here handily twice – the latter time with a Wisconsinite on the opposing ticket.  In a close race, there are many factors at play.  I consider Mr. Barnes’ demonstrable inclinations on police funding and immigration enforcement, despite his campaign protestations, to have been a genuine political liability in Wisconsin’s polarized political environment.  I will always suspect, given the narrowness of Mr. Barnes’ defeat, that as the Democratic Senate nominee, WI Treasurer Sarah Godlewski might have squeaked past Mr. Johnson.  ‘Nuff said; it is what it is.

Two final notes on Mr. Trump:

I consider his recent declaration of his candidacy for the 2024 Republican Party’s presidential nomination, while presenting a fascist threat to the country and being politically bad for the Republican Party, clearly the smart move for him personally, which is all that he has ever cared about.  More on that as we move into the parties’ respective 2024 political machinations.

The most delicious last:  of all of the Trump acolytes running in this past cycle, I considered Republican AZ Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake the most dangerous.  She was the Trump acolyte that some pundits have opined had captured Mr. Trump’s personal affection and mantle – his spiritual heir, with much of his charismatic appeal – the one in whom he placed the most store.  Like Mr. Trump before her, during her campaign Ms. Lake sharply criticized the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain.  At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) shortly after she won her party’s gubernatorial primary, she declared, “We drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine.”  At a rally shortly before the election, she referred to Mr. McCain as a “loser” and told “McCain Republicans” “to get the hell out” of the gathering. 

As all are aware, Mr. Trump lost Arizona to President Joe Biden in 2020 by three-tenths of one point.  As all who care are aware, analysts have recently projected Ms. Lake the loser to Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate and AZ Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by less than one percent.  I hadn’t yet seen anyone else make this point when it occurred to me:  After an oft-recounted courageous military career, Mr. McCain was easily elected to the U.S. Senate by Arizonans six times beginning in 1986.  He died in 2018.  His service to his country still wasn’t completed.  He has since in effect beaten Donald Trump in Arizona.  Twice.  From the grave.

Requiescat in pace, sir.  Unless we need you again in 2024.

Is Brazil’s Allegiance to Democracy Stronger than Ours?

As many that read these pages are aware, we have family members based in Brazil.  We have visited the nation twice over the last several years and taken a particular interest in its affairs.  The country dominates South America, ranking 7th in the world in population and possessing the globe’s 12th largest economy.  The Brazilians are a warm, sensual, creative people and their land is both bountiful and beautiful.  Like the United States, Brazil was first claimed a colony by a European power – in its case, Portugal (making it the only South American nation whose native language is Portuguese rather than Spanish) – and, like the United States, has a history marred by African slavery.  Unlike the United States, its democratic roots are surprisingly short.  After being governed through the centuries by monarchy or military dictatorship with sporadic stabs at democracy, Brazil’s true democratic system of government only took hold in the 1970s.

Current rightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was elected in 2018, in the aftermath of corruption scandals which engulfed then-President Dilma Rousseff.  Mr. Bolsonaro has been called “the Trump of the Tropics.”  His COVID denials and their devastating effect on his people, combined with his policies facilitating deforestation (he would call it, “development”) of the Amazon jungle so crucial to combat Climate Change, have caused Americans to take greater note of Brazilian issues and politics than would otherwise have been the case.  His effective use of social media was core to his election victory, and thereafter pivotal in building an even deeper loyalty among his followers after he took office.  He has consistently maintained a flagrant disdain for those who oppose him, engendering an antipathy in his adversaries corresponding to the allegiance of his adherents.

Perhaps because of the relatively short tenure of true democracy in Brazil, the merits of the system are a subject of genuine debate among Brazilians.  When we visited this past summer, a Rio de Janeiro paper reported upon a poll indicating that a solid – but not overwhelming – majority of citizens favored democracy over autocracy, while at the same time a similarly-sized majority believed that the country would run more efficiently under autocracy than it did under democracy.  

As all who care are aware, Brazil has just emerged from a bitterly-partisan presidential election in which Mr. Bolsonaro was defeated by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by a margin of slightly less than 2% of 120 million votes cast.  Mr. Bolsonaro, who before the election consistently criticized the Brazilian electronic voting system that impartial experts find above material reproach, declared in August that he would only accept the outcome of his contest against Mr. da Silva if the vote was “clean and transparent,” and that he saw only three alternatives for his future:  “being arrested, killed or victory.”

Earlier this week, almost two days after Brazilian election officials announced Mr. da Silva’s victory, Mr. Bolsonaro (through an aide) acknowledged his defeat and indicated that he would facilitate the transition to Mr. da Silva.  Despite this acknowledgement, unrest currently continues among Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters.

There was no notion of this post on the docket.  I was prompted to enter it by a November 2nd Wall Street Journal report of Mr. Bolsonaro’s concession:  “… [E]nding a tense silence of 45 hours in which he had refused to acknowledge the results even as his allies urged him to do so. … On Tuesday, the governor of São Paulo state … became one of the latest to call for the president to concede.  ‘The elections are over, we live in a democracy,’ he told reporters. … Mr. Bolsonaro’s [de facto concession] came as politicians called on him to acknowledge the outcome to help tame protests … [Emphasis Added].”

One can reasonably surmise that during the “tense … 45 hours” described by the Journal, Mr. Bolsonaro and his sons (his closest aides) were soliciting the assistance of military and political allies across Brazil to contest Mr. da Silva’s electoral victory.  If such was indeed the case, it is clear that not enough of these followers were willing to engage in an attempt to overturn what they knew was a valid election result to keep Mr. Bolsonaro in power.  I suspect that Mr. Bolsonaro conceded not because he wanted to, but because he had no choice.      

The Journal report made me reflect what might have been here, in 2020.  The vote totals of the state presidential races considered too close to call on Election Night were announced within a week after the election, a determinative number in favor President Joe Biden.  It’s all good – and indeed, vital to our system of government – to respect the legal process; even I initially nodded at Republican bromides asserting that Mr. Trump had the right to contest his defeats in court.  That said, professional politicians know their states.  Republican former WI Gov. Scott Walker, both the most savvy and virulently-partisan Wisconsin politician of his generation, made clear via tweet within hours after Wisconsin results were announced – before he or others grasped that then-President Donald Trump would simply choose to disregard facts in his quest to retain power — that although the contest was close, Mr. Biden had won Wisconsin.  Most if not all of the Republican party leaders and officials in each of the states narrowly won by Mr. Biden undoubtedly understood early on that that Mr. Trump’s challenges would have no appreciable effect on the election’s outcome.  They didn’t need to wait for their states’ respective formal election certifications or Congress’ January 6th formal counting of the Electoral College votes to acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory.  Had they and right-wing propagandists such as Fox News done what Mr. Bolsonaro’s political allies have done – as soon as the result was objectively clear even if avenues for futile legal challenges remained, called in chorus upon Mr. Trump to concede and gracefully lay the ground for his opponent’s succession – it seems, at least to me, that despite his inevitable subsequent thrashing, Mr. Trump would have been politically hobbled, surrounded by a small cabal insufficient to sow the level of cancerous doubt and seditious impulse which we now confront.

But they didn’t have the … guts.  (You know that wasn’t the word I was thinking as I typed this, or you were thinking as you read it.)  Despite over two centuries of American experience, they didn’t have the love and respect for democracy shown by officials in a South American nation with scant experience in true self-government.

Brazilians have a wry saying about their country: “Brazil is the future, and it always will be.”  Maybe so; but right now, the future of its democracy seems brighter than ours.

An Election Lament

[I have always taken a greater interest in national issues and politics than in those of my state of Wisconsin.  There are followers of these pages who are deeply versed in Wisconsin policy and politics.  I would welcome any markedly different analysis offering other – hopefully, happier — views.] 

Wisconsin is one of our truly swing states.  The Marquette University Law School (“MU”) poll — considered the “gold standard” for political polling in the state – released today found Democratic WI Gov. Tony Evers in a literal tie with Republican and Trump-Endorsed Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Tim Michels, while Republican U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson held a 2-point lead over the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, WI Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.  Compared to the preceding MU poll released in October, the results constituted a slight decline for Mr. Evers, a 4-point improvement for Mr. Barnes.

Since the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s political rise, MAGA vote has been consistently under-detected by pollsters.  The last MU poll before the 2020 presidential election found President Joe Biden leading Mr. Trump by 5 percentage points in a race Mr. Biden ultimately won by a little over half a percentage point.  It does not seem unreasonable to apply this differential to any MU polling data.

Although I have never voted for him, it’s a source of considerable embarrassment to me that my state is represented by Mr. Johnson.  I suspect that nine months ago, it was incomprehensible to any rational observer outside Wisconsin, notwithstanding the indications of an electoral “Red Wave” in 2022, that the Senator could win reelection in November.  Given the eccentric range of Mr. Johnson’s untoward and inane activities and statements in the Trump Era – culminating in indications that he was willing to collaborate with Trump loyalists on January 6, 2021, to steal Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory — one can ponder whether Mr. Johnson is a conscious co-conspirator or merely a useful dupe in the MAGA movement to establish an American Apartheid; but whether villain or fool, he is manifestly a danger to our Republic. 

Although lacking the wherewithal to post a version of this note when I first considered it last July, I still have a pang of regret that Wisconsin Democrats nominated Mr. Barnes for the U.S. Senate rather than Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, one of Mr. Barnes’ opponents for the nomination.  Although whomever was the Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate was going to get my vote – Mr. Barnes can chalk my vote up to his column as assuredly as he can his own — I felt then (and feel now) that Ms. Godlewski would be better positioned than Mr. Barnes to leverage the Democrats’ “wedge issues” – abortion and gun control – against Mr. Johnson.  (I admit that I actually know very little about Ms. Godlewski.  I have heard that she is not popular in all Wisconsin Democratic quarters and perhaps she has political skeletons that would have been used against her by the Republicans, but I thought she did well in the Democratic Candidate Senate debate, and I would have loved the debate “visual” of the young woman up against the crusty, hoary Mr. Johnson.) 

Milwaukee is currently plagued by rising violent crime.  Even before Mr. Barnes was nominated, he seemed to me more vulnerable than Ms. Godlewski to Republican attacks on crime and immigration.  Despite his current campaign protestations, an analysis by CNN (hardly a conservative outlet) of Mr. Barnes’ past statements and social media postings indicated that he has signaled that he would support “redirecting or decreasing police funding” and “abolishing ICE [U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement].”  (There has been a picture of him holding up an “Abolish ICE” tee shirt on the internet for years.)  We saw at a Republican town hall meeting in the summer of 2021 how viscerally negatively conservative mid-state Wisconsinites reacted to migrants crossing our southern border.  While Mr. Barnes’ positions are more nuanced than Republican claims would suggest, it was apparent that Republicans could exploit them in Wisconsin’s highly-partisan political environment without even unduly spinning them. 

[NPR’s Tamara Keith recently reported that 70% of Republican ads in the Wisconsin Senate race were about crime.  While the Republican emphasis on crime carries a tinge of racial stereotyping against the African American Mr. Barnes when directed at white suburbanites, it also arguably resonates with some black city residents.  A recent Heritage Foundation study applying 2020 Census Data to 2020 FBI violent crime statistics found that African Americans make up approximately 14% of the U.S. population, but are victims of over 32% of all U.S. violent crime victims and over 54% of U.S. homicides.]

Even so:  in 1992, the presidential campaign of then-AR Gov. Bill Clinton best articulated the primary electoral challenge confronting Democrats today:  “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”  Although I have undoubtedly spent less time in grocery stores over the years than the average American – TLOML was always concerned that sending me would ultimately yield only ice cream and alcohol 😉 — I am nonetheless well aware that the prices of the few staples that I do buy are UP.  A LOT.  While other factors, arguably foreseeable and unforeseeable, have obviously been at play, I don’t think it can be tenably disputed that the Democrats’ last COVID relief bill, despite their good intentions and understandable underestimation of the impact it could have on prices largely quiescent for decades, has accelerated inflationary pressures.  The party in power when inflation climbs dramatically is going to feel the political brunt.  [Those with long memories will recall that one of the factors that contributed to former President Gerald Ford’s loss to former President Jimmy Carter in 1976 was the failure of Mr. Ford’s “WIN” (“Whip Inflation Now”) program.]  It is … what it is.

I have predicted in these pages more than once that the Supreme Court’s elimination of women’s Constitutional abortion right would cause enough moderate backlash to enable Democrats to hold the Senate.  At this point, I concede that I did not anticipate the level of inflation that our citizens would be facing at election time when I made my prediction.  I would be thrilled to be proven overly-pessimistic, and recognize that Democrats may still maintain control of the Senate, but inflation currently appears to be the Death Star through which the Empire will strike back. 

I do not begrudge the economy-driven votes of Americans; too many of us literally can’t afford to ruminate on the dangers the MAGA movement represents to our republic. It is also obvious why those feeling particularly prey to crime might not count saving democracy as their uppermost priority. Although it seems a bit ill-mannered to express my reservations about Mr. Barnes’ candidacy now when I didn’t have the opportunity to do so last summer, my lament is for the future of Wisconsin and its impact on our national fabric.  While Mr. Johnson would probably be leading Ms. Godlewski in the polls at this juncture had she been the Democratic nominee, the suspicion lurks – perhaps only with me — that she would be faring better than Mr. Barnes is.  Given voters’ sharply decreasing tendency to “ticket split,” I fear that any relatively larger margin of defeat for the Democratic Senate candidate may cause Mr. Michels to squeak by Mr. Evers, who for the last four years has held the line against the toxically-partisan MAGA-infected Wisconsin state legislature (which is now seeking a “Super Majority” that would enable it to override Gubernatorial vetoes).  Any ascendancy of Mr. Michels to the Wisconsin governorship will place Wisconsin’s entire state government apparatus in the hands of illiberal elements, which would not only bode ill for the citizens of the state but call into question the state’s willingness to fairly administer the 2024 Presidential election upon which our democracy, as in 2020, will rest.

America Ascendant

It is hard not to be taken up with the difficulties confronting us.  They are generally and regularly addressed in these pages and they obviously will be again.  At the same time, America still has more going for it than any other nation on earth.

One need only travel out of the country as we have over the last decade to appreciate that the vast majority of Americans live in better circumstances than a significant majority of the rest of the world’s population.  Visit Asia, the Caribbean, South America, Africa; get away from the nice sections of their cities and plush tourist enclaves, and see how much better the vast majority of Americans have it than most of those with whom we share the globe. 

Unemployment is low and the dollar is strong.  Inflation is high, and without doubt providing serious immediate hardship to our financially-constrained citizens, but some experts now opine that price pressures may be at the cusp of a decline.  More importantly, if a stable relatively-higher inflation rate results from a concerted effort to replenish the domestic capabilities we’ve allowed to wither over the past 30 years in homage to the Great Corporate God, Lower Cost, such would arguably lead to better employment opportunities for some currently-challenged segments of our people and is a price we should be willing to pay to reduce our global supply chain vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic.  We have the intellectual and financial capital to get this done.  No one else in the world does.

Our immigration policy and practices are obviously currently in shambles — primarily due to Republican grandstanding but also contributed to by Democrats – and we need more effective border controls.  That said, the crush at our southern border exists because – as has been true for centuries of immigrants coming from our east and west – people from other lands understand that this nation offers them and their loved ones the best opportunity for a free, better life.  It remains within our grasp to restore the healthy mix of immigrants that has always been our lifeblood.  Few if any other nations have this opportunity.

Watching the stock market retreat can be disconcerting, but using the Dow Jones Index as the indicator, the lowest point of the recent slide brought us to levels about on a par with late February, 2020, when Donald Trump was wishing away COVID because he didn’t want to alarm the high-flying stock market.  The market could fall roughly another 20% from there (to about 23,000) and be at a level not seen since the prehistoric days of … January, 2019.  Were those in the market feeling poor that day?  Ironically, equity values have fluctuated because economic indicators look strong, which the market realizes will cause the Federal Reserve to keep raising interest rates to battle inflation.  Investors are moving from stocks to bonds because the latter are starting to generate appreciable returns.  Being (as all are acutely aware) no financier, I nevertheless timidly venture that at a macro level, having liquid assets divided more evenly between stocks and bonds is a good thing.  Did anybody think that the market was always going to go up?

We’ve beaten the pandemic.  It was at great cost; over 1 million American lives lost – many, in my view, due to the self-absorption of Donald Trump.  At the same time, through the efforts of the scientific community and the Trump and Biden Administrations, we developed and distributed incredibly effective vaccines in an incredibly short time that got us back on our feet.  We will lose more Americans this winter, but it seems likely that most of these will sadly be lost due to their own misguided decisions.

America’s stature on the world stage hasn’t been as high as it is now since at least before the 2003 Iraq invasion.  While our standing has risen largely due to Russia’s barbaric and blundering invasion of Ukraine, and no one could have predicted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would prove to be a Winston Churchill-like wartime leader, the NATO unity and effective support of Ukraine we’ve seen over the last eight months was anything but certain when the invasion began.  The allied success is a direct result of President Joe Biden’s incredibly skillful marshalling of NATO and deft management of American domestic sentiment.  Russia’s recent sham annexation of Ukrainian regions has been overwhelmingly condemned in the United Nations; China, Russia’s most significant ally, is clearly less than pleased.  The Russian nation will be a crippled pariah as long as Vladimir Putin remains its President.  (More on nuclear weapons below.)

China is also currently off its stride, which clearly augments our global position.  Chinese President Xi Jinping’s own ambition and impatience have significantly slowed and perhaps thwarted his aspirations for “The China Dream.”  Some China experts are opining that Mr. Xi’s recent seizing of a third term as President has sown dissention within China’s hierarchy.  Mr. Xi’s decision to spurn western-developed COVID vaccines for less effective Chinese vaccines and his enforcement of aggressive COVID lockdowns have not only hindered his economy but caused unrest among his people.  His human rights record — the de facto renunciation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy with Hong Kong with attendant suppression of protestors; the bellicose comments about Taiwan; the regime’s concentration-camp treatment of Uighurs — has created deep reservations within the democracies about closer relations with China.  His buildup of Chinese armed forces and attempt to usurp and militarize the South China Sea have disconcerted both China’s Pacific friends and adversaries, causing some to welcome a greater American presence.  Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road initiative – i.e., a concerted effort to curry favor among poorer nations by providing them loans for their infrastructure projects — has saddled China with bad loans while its punitive collection methods on early arrangements have created reluctance to participate in other prospective applicants.  China’s economy is unquestionably slowing; Mr. Xi’s subordination of his predecessors’ freer-market policies to political orthodoxy and imposition of tighter government control over the nation’s economy have cooled global investors’ enthusiasm about China, accordingly strengthening America’s position as the dominant global economy and currency. 

We live, as we have for over 70 years, under threat of nuclear holocaust.  While we certainly cannot discount the possibility of an exchange between squabbling minor nuclear players (if there is such a thing) such as India and Pakistan, I would submit that we retain the same robust objective and psychological defense against a direct attack on us or our allies that we’ve had throughout the nuclear age:  Mutually-Assured Destruction (with the fitting acronym, “MAD”).  As long as the leader of a nuclear power – even one as stressed as Mr. Putin is at present – truly believes that launching a nuclear attack against us or our allies will elicit a nuclear response, I don’t believe s/he will do it.  The media focuses regularly on North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un.  I would assert that Mr. Kim’s posturing is strategically defensive (to protect himself against the U.S. and China) rather than offensive.  He undoubtedly realizes that the one sure thing that will happen if he launches a nuclear strike is that he himself will die.  (If our counterstrike doesn’t get him, the Chinese will.)  While an impending nuclear Iran is obviously of concern, I would submit that the conservative Shia Islam the regime imposes at home casts a patina of theocratic zealotry over its foreign policy aims, which I see as plain-old territorial:  to dominate the Middle East.  I would suggest that similar to Mr. Kim, its leaders must recognize that providing nuclear provocation to either the United States or Israel, no matter how it goes for us, won’t end well for them.  There is, obviously, a key caveat to this:  the world must believe that the President of the United States will respond if either the U.S. or its allies are attacked.  Save Mr. Trump, we’ve had such a President throughout the nuclear age; our safety in this quarter depends on such continuing.

Climate Change threatens us all.  There are those in America who still question its severity but few if any still doubt its existence.  Many of the nations that are now and soon will be suffering the greatest environmental hardship did little to cause the danger and have no ability to meaningfully address it.  The United States cannot fix the problem alone, but we are among the fortunate few nations that have it within our power to make changes, and to encourage others to make changes, to meaningfully reduce its impact.  Perhaps more importantly, at this stage American ingenuity is the most likely vehicle we have to develop new scientific approaches to clean up the mess that we have played such a large part – for decades, clearly unwittingly — in creating.

Despite all of these advantages, I recognize that we are holding elections next month in which it seems likely that the Republican Party – now completely dominated by MAGA fascists and fools and the cowards that bow before them — will gain control of at least one, and perhaps both, houses of Congress.  There is nothing here to cheer those that consider America the “beacon of freedom” described by President Ronald Reagan.  However, no matter the Congressional political complexion as of January, 2023, a good man remains President.  He will be able to defend if not extend what I consider to be an impressive array of achievements over the last two years (an assessment worthy of a separate post).  More importantly from a strategic political standpoint, MAGAs seem poised to overplay their hand in the House of Representatives.  They will dance to Donald Trump’s tune.  They give rein to the excesses of the likes of U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz, U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert.  They will at least try to impeach Mr. Biden and current House Speaker U.S. CA Rep. Nancy Pelosi.  They will hound Hunter Biden.  They will attempt to hold America’s debt ceiling hostage.  They will seek to cut funding to Ukraine.  They will vote to repeal or restrict the Affordable Care Act.  They will propose major changes to Social Security and Medicare.  Almost certainly, they will pass a bill imposing severe national limitations on abortion.  Their legislative efforts will either die in the Senate (even if Republicans control that chamber) or will be vetoed by President Biden.  I believe that what these forays will do – because I believe that the majority of Americans value genuine democracy and hold America to be a well-meaning nation – will cause a backlash against MAGA excesses that will make it easier for the 2024 Democratic Presidential nominee to win the presidency (if the electoral process is fair) than will be the case if Democrats continue to control Congress.  Our experience since President Franklin Roosevelt – brought into the starkest relief by Donald Trump – has shown us that our democracy ultimately depends not on Congress but upon who sits in the White House.

Through the wisdom, industry and perseverance of our forebears and our land’s natural bounty, no other nation on earth has the advantages and opportunities we do today.  Which means:  It’s up to us to keep faith, and to uphold the promise of America.  Stay well.