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. 

A Day of Deeply Conflicting Emotions

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

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

The Resentment That Never Sleeps

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

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

Our Next Greatest Danger

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

  • attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Winston Churchill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Prognostications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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