Election Day Reflections

In the last weeks, some liberal commentators have shown satisfaction as they have described how President Trump “doubled down” on his attacks on immigrants as the mid-term elections approached.  While they appropriately and undoubtedly genuinely abhor his stoking of prejudices and fear mongering, they claimed surprise – and in some cases, apparently were surprised — at his strategy, which seemed likely to alienate moderate voters in the “swing” House districts that the Republicans need to retain control of the House of Representatives even as it bound the President’s fervent supporters more tightly to him.  Many came to speculate that since the polls indicated that the House was very likely to fall under Democratic control (today, we’ll see how accurate the polls were), Mr. Trump shaped his message to do what he could to ensure that the Republicans maintained their current advantage in the Senate.  Mr. Trump himself has suggested that this was his objective.

Say what you will about the President – and I’ve obviously said my share – he is bright, possessed of an uncanny intuition about popular reaction to him, and savvy.  I wonder, in what is admittedly the purest of speculation, if Mr. Trump really cares that much whether the Senate remains in Republican hands in January; I consider him, as I’ve mentioned in previous notes, a brilliant showman who knows that a good show needs a worthy antagonist.  Whether he has one House of Congress or both bedeviling him might make little difference to him, since there is seemingly no chance that there will be 67 Senate votes in the next Congress to remove him from office, no matter what the House does.

I would offer that the goal that the President might have been primarily seeking to achieve through his campaign rhetoric is to harden his base against the evidence in the Special Counsel report widely expected to be issued not long after Election Day.  I suspect that most Americans, whether they support or oppose Mr. Trump, expect the Mueller Team to issue a report which will include fairly damning particulars incriminating senior members of the President’s staff, including his son and son-in-law, and perhaps the President himself.  (Given the email string Donald Trump, Jr., has admitted to relating to the senior campaign staff’s Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives in the summer before the election, it’s hard to envision that Messrs. Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner won’t be charged with something.)

Perhaps the overriding impression one gained from Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury (it was released only 10 months ago, but it seems like a decade ago), was that Mr. Trump never intended or wanted to be President; that the campaign was an immense publicity venture intended to further his business and media interests.  (Some credence for this is provided by the behavior of some of the nationally-experienced leaders in the campaign, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who presumably would have behaved more circumspectly than they did had they thought that Mr. Trump might actually win.)  If this was Mr. Trump’s true campaign goal, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that it might remain so.  If such is the case, he may have concluded that his and his family members’ ability to escape this endeavor unscathed and to reap the harvest that their efforts have wrought lies in convincing a substantial part of the electorate – through his own efforts and those of his megaphone, Fox News and the rest of the alt-right conservative media — that no matter what is presented against them by Mr. Mueller’s team or other authorities, it’s a “lie,” “fake news,” “biased,” and “rigged”; that black is white.

As anyone that reads these pages is aware, I believe that the President and his cohort habitually lie and distort facts for their benefit, while I consider the mainstream media – unquestionably given to nit-picking, hyperventilation, and liberal coloring – to have generally had the better part of describing what the facts actually are.  That said, what might be the most disturbing aspect of our current national condition is that too many of our people seem to almost wantonly cling to what they want to believe.  The President’s obvious fabrications and racially-tinged messages over the last couple of years have kept me hoping that a substantial part of his base would come to see his demagoguery for what it is.  That hasn’t happened – indeed, his supporters seem more avid now than they were the day he took office.  This trend will certainly help Mr. Trump and his family weather any coming storm from the Mueller investigation, but his behavior has eroded and I fear will in the future further eat away at our capacity to agree upon truth, value compromise, and respect the input of all well-intended citizens.  If we cannot together figure out a way re-embrace these principles, our system will cease to flourish.  Today’s results – in terms of both outcomes and the level of turnout among various segments of our electorate – will provide us a measure of the size of the task we as a nation face starting … tomorrow.

How Will We Answer Lynyrd Skynyrd and Mrs. Trump?

Although I strongly suspect that everyone that sees this either has or intends to vote, it recently struck me that two questions posed 45 years apart sum up what is facing us in the next week.  In its song, Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynrd asked in 1973:

“Now, Watergate does not bother me.
Does your conscience bother you?  Tell the truth …”

Although Melania Trump has perhaps never heard of Lynyrd Skynyrd, she seemingly posed much the same question to us last June when she wore a jacket bearing words that she later confirmed were intended “… for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me …”:

“I really don’t care.  Do U?”

I don’t believe that criticism of a First Lady is generally warranted unless she chooses to actively participate in a substantive policy realm (which Mrs. Trump hasn’t).  Skynyrd’s reference was obviously to another time when an otherwise able President was ultimately driven from office because he let his partisan fervor override his respect for our laws.  Even so, I would offer that Mrs. Trump and Skynyrd were in their respective ways asking us:  Do you care enough to address what you see happening in your country?

We have to care.  My stomach is genuinely upset by the level of intense conflicting emotions currently loosed in our country.  I want to “turn off” – to focus on sports, hiking, the Weather Channel, whatever.  I’m not allowing myself to.  I’ve been extraordinarily blessed to be an American, and it’s time to stand up for what our country is – which has nothing to do with skin color, religion, sexuality, or like differentiators.  It’s time to begin returning to responsibility, civility, and good faith compromise between informed citizens of different perspectives seeking truth; to decency.  While “political correctness” can admittedly be carried too far, it’s time for some in our citizenry to remember (and for some, if necessary, to learn) that ugly emotions – such as anger, resentment, greed, intense dislike (or worse) of those not like us — should be suppressed, indeed, need to be suppressed for us to thrive as a nation … not given free rein.

The outcome of no one election – certainly not of the impending one — will quell the caldron of passions – I would suggest the demons – in our national psyche unleashed during President Trump’s campaign and presidency.  Still, we have to start somewhere.  I acknowledge that if the Democrats gain control of one or both Houses of Congress next Tuesday, the most immediate outcome of a divided government will be yet more rancorous exchanges while giving the President the foil that, as a great showman, he knows he needs in order to continue to stoke his followers.  I absolutely agree that Democrats, every bit as subject to their special interests as Republicans are to theirs, have a significant share of the responsibility for exacerbating the tensions we must now overcome.  That said, since Mr. Trump is demonstrably incapable of doing anything other than inciting division amongst us – indeed, he and his enablers have a unique talent for and revel in making Americans of different persuasions ever more intensely dislike each other – I would submit that any vote that serves to thwart them will, like the very first movement of a long and painful physical therapy regime, begin our nation’s process of returning to a stable footing.

Hopefully, we will answer:  Yes — Our conscience does bother us.  And yes — We do really care.

On Polls of Wisconsin Governorship and U.S. Senate Races

I am more than a little puzzled by the discrepancy between the respective margins that I’ve seen polling organizations recently report in the races for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat and the Wisconsin Governorship.  I understand that pollsters are currently finding that Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin leads her opponent, Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir, by perhaps as many as 15 points, while Republican Governor Scott Walker is indicated to be trailing his opponent, Democratic Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, by only a few points – either at or within the margin of error.

While incumbency has always been a distinct advantage in American electoral politics, in the hyper-partisan, polarized environment currently existing both within the country and the State of Wisconsin, it’s hard for me to believe (as one seemingly should, if the polls are to be credited) that up to ten percent of the Wisconsin electorate will split their tickets to retain both Sen. Baldwin and Gov. Walker.

Although voter sentiment could swing heavily one way or the other in the ten days remaining before Election Day – those with longer memories will recall that the Carter-Reagan Presidential race was razor-thin until the electorate split heavily for then-Candidate Reagan in the weekend before the 1980 Election Day – it seems to me that the reported narrow margin between Gov. Walker and Superintendent Evers is closer to the existing state of our Wisconsin political climate than the wide margin reported to exist between Sen. Baldwin and State Sen. Vukmir.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see both races decided (either way) by fairly narrow margins.

On the Caravan

There are certain positions embraced by large numbers of our citizens that I don’t understand – literally, “don’t get”; perhaps foremost among them is the visceral desire so many of our people have to keep immigrants out of our country.  The President is obviously currently in the process of inciting a frenzy amongst his supporters about the “caravan” of Hondurans now making their way north from their country through Mexico.

Putting aside the fact that the President is blatantly lying about these desperate people – such as calling their progress north an “invasion” (2000 penniless, malnourished, exhausted, unarmed people — including children — over 1000 miles away is hardly a challenge for the most wealthy and armed 300+ million people on earth), while indicating that the caravan was organized and/or encouraged by the Democrats and includes “Middle Easterners” (presumably terrorists) – so as to prey upon his supporters’ fear and intense dislike of Hispanic immigrants for his own political gains, it cannot be ignored that although the President exploits these feelings, he didn’t create them; a significant segment of our populace obviously does feel a deep antipathy toward non-white, non-English-speaking immigrants.

In an economy in which just about everyone that wants a job has one, it’s hard to ascribe these citizens’ abhorrence to fear of job loss.  Perhaps some of it arises from no more than a wary discomfort with what is different.  Perhaps some arises from the notion that immigrants are a drain on our public finances.  (Acknowledging that there are distinctions that should perhaps be taken into account, I have seen any number of economists opine that immigration is an overall a net economic plus for us.)  Since the vast majority of the President’s supporters and virtually all of those that form the backdrop of his rallies are of European Christian descent, it’s hard not to attribute the hostility of some (NOT all) to racial and/or religious bias.

As these struggling people continue their extremely arduous and dangerous journey north, the irony of the anxiety being felt by some of our citizens isn’t merely an “800 pound gorilla” … it’s King Kong.  I see little difference between the struggle those in the caravan are currently enduring to escape intolerable conditions in their own country to seek a better life in our country from that of the European emigres who left intolerable conditions in their countries to come here a couple of centuries ago.  Whether they braved a terribly dangerous journey to cross the sea to an extremely harsh environment because of religious persecution, famine, or otherwise, they came here, as the Hondurans currently intend, because they saw it as their only way to a better life.  The vast majority of them arrived here with no more than those in the caravan carry today.  Those of English, French, German, Russian, Irish, Polish, Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish, and other descent certainly must have considered the languages, customs, faiths, and skin tones (between northern and southern Europe) of the others strange and perhaps threatening.  They got over it.

I absolutely agree that those that immigrate here should make every effort to assimilate and contribute – for their good as well as ours.  That said, while we need immigration laws, they should be tolerant ones.

There is a dominant American DNA strand, the strand that actually made this country great:  that without regard to ethnicity, gender, religion or other particulars that distinguish us from one another, our forebears that chose to make the journey here carried the same gene in their psyches — the courage to risk everything for the promise of a better life.  These Hondurans possess the same DNA strand.  Whether they ever reach and/or are admitted to our country, they already are, in the most fundamental way, citizens of the United States …

The Portrait of President Trump Amongst Republican Presidents

Although I suspect that most of you are aware of this, in President Trump’s recent 60 Minutes interview, the camera apparently captured a portrait hanging in the White House painted by a Trump supporter that depicts President Trump sitting at a table in the company of past Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and … Abraham Lincoln.  All except Mr. Lincoln (who is shown with his back to the observer) are portrayed with broad smiles on their faces, as if sharing some congenial moment with Mr. Trump.  Although – now back from travels – I really do want to get to substantive topics, the irony of this (apparently lost on Mr. Trump, or he wouldn’t have had the picture hung) is more than I can let pass …

What would Mr. Roosevelt – who, despite his wealth and standing, chose to fight in his late 30’s in the Spanish-American War and led the charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill, as President legendarily suspicious of big business and its abuses, the “Trust [Monopoly] Buster,” the regulator of railroads, the rabid outdoorsman who loved the environment and established and expanded national parks during his term — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?  (Of all his table companions, if I was Mr. Trump, I’d fear TR, the only one likely to just … slug me.)

What would Mr. Eisenhower – a man who devoted his life to the military service of his country, was a de facto “general-diplomat” during WWII that respectfully, patiently, tactfully, and thoughtfully held British, French resistance, and American forces in alignment, served as the first Supreme NATO Commander, and as President confronted soviet aggression while nourishing the NATO Alliance — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would Mr. Nixon – a highly intelligent and deeply-schooled foreign policy mind who devoted his life to thwarting soviet aggression – who, despite his personal failings, was as responsible as any single individual for forging and maintaining the American Era between 1945 and 2016, who brought an end to 20+ years of the deepest acrimony between the U. S. and China by forging what has remained a positive relationship with China until the Trump Administration, and established the Environmental Protection Agency [yes, really 😉 ] – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would Mr. Ford – perhaps the most honorable man to live in the White House since President Lincoln, devoted to his wife for 58 years, personally beloved on both sides of the political aisle, who was a trial to his advisors because he was loath to say or think anything bad about anybody, a steadfast supporter of the NATO Alliance, who took the courageous but politically unpopular step of pardoning Mr. Nixon that he knew could cost him re-election because he believed it was the right thing to do – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would Mr. Reagan — who most aggressively of all Presidents confronted Soviet advances, who set the stage for the fall of the Soviet Union (which Vladimir Putin, who President Trump “likes,” has been reported to have called, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”), who amicably compromised at times with the Democrat Speaker of the House, and who described his “City on the Hill” as “… A tall proud city … teeming with people of all kinds … with free ports … open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here …” — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would George H. W. Bush – a man of gentlemanly demeanor, devoted to his wife for 73 years, who, despite his wealth and family standing, enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, as the first American representative to China reinforced the relationship established by President Nixon, as President skillfully crafted a multi-nation alliance to conduct Desert Storm and had the political courage to raise taxes when he felt the nation’s finances required it, and watched Mr. Trump shamefully impugn his son, Jeb, confiding to a friend that he was voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would George W. Bush, perhaps overmatched by the presidency but by all accounts a well-read man who as President provided Medicare Drug Coverage for Seniors and, whether wise or unwise, sought to spread the American ideas of freedom, human rights, and democracy into the Middle East, a fiercely loyal Bush who watched and listened to Mr. Trump disrespectfully impugn his father, his brother, and himself – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

Finally, what would Mr. Lincoln – “Honest Abe,” a reader and self-made man, who fought fiercely to preserve the American Union, declared that “A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand,” freed African slaves and, after a bitter civil war that makes our current travails seem of no account, declared that Americans should move forward “With malice toward none and charity for all” – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?  (Perhaps the painter had the grace to place Mr. Lincoln’s back to the observer because he could only fairly have shown tears in Mr. Lincoln’s eyes.)

The portrait portrays other Republican presidents standing a bit back from the table:  Presidents Grant, Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding.  I am surprised that the artist didn’t place Messrs. Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding at the table with Mr. Trump, since each seemingly has more in common with him than any of the Republican presidents discussed above:  in 1930, Mr. Hoover signed the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, which implemented protectionist policies that raised U.S. tariffs on thousands of imported items and is claimed by some economic scholars to have exacerbated the Great Depression; Mr. Coolidge most famously proclaimed that “The chief business of the American people is business”; and Mr. Harding, of course, presided over the Teapot Dome Scandal, wrongdoing uncovered as a result of an extensive Congressional inquiry that ultimately resulted in Mr. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, doing jail time for taking bribes from oil interests …

P.S. to Last Kavanaugh/Bond Post

After posting last night’s entry, I saw that in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, William Galston made a passing reference in his column to the possibility that Democrats might seek, as “FDR tried,” to expand the number of Supreme Court Justices to counteract the effect of conservative Justices.  While I am an admirer of Mr. Galston, I hadn’t seen his column when I entered the last post  🙂 .

Final Kavanaugh Thoughts … and Determining James Bond’s Political Prescience: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  🙂.

8.  A number of pundits have intoned over the last weeks that Justice Kavanaugh will have a “major impact” on American jurisprudence for “the next 30 or 40 years.” I’m not so sure.  The nominee’s baldly partisan performance, as noted in Part I of this post, has cast the Supreme Court as merely another partisan institution of government.  Every American should hope that this impression – and any reality underpinning it – are quickly dispelled.  However, I offer a couple of unintended consequences that might result from the current tarnish upon the Court’s nonpartisan image:

The first, in the near term, is Chief Justice Roberts’ reaction. As many are aware, Supreme Courts of various periods are identified by the names of their Chief Justices:  the “Warren Court,” the “Rehnquist Court,” etc.  I would offer that the history of the Court shows that renowned Chiefs have sometimes been more focused on the reputation of their Courts than they were the outcome of any particular case.  If, as seems likely, the Chief Justice doesn’t want the legacy of his Court to be one of rank partisanship, I’m wondering whether he might not become a swing vote – i.e., that to regain an impartial image for the Court, he might support liberal positions on some matters (such as abortion cases) rather than follow what might be his natural inclination.  Conceding that this suggestion is pure speculation, I do offer one point in its support:  his providing the fifth vote (with the four liberals) to uphold the substance of the Affordable Care Act – on a rationale neither seemingly at the core of the parties’ legal arguments nor aligned with the reasoning espoused by the liberals.  One might suppose that the Chief Justice didn’t want his Court striking down the signature legislation of a duly-elected President and Congress, and crafted a legal argument to effect that result.

There is a second consequence that might arise in the longer term from any enduring popular impression that the Court is politicized: a liberal recasting of the structure of the Court.  The Constitution does not specify the number of Supreme Court Justices.  Congress sets the number.  The number of Supreme Court Justices set by Congress ranged from six to ten during the nation’s first 80 years; the current arrangement of nine Justices was set at nine pursuant to the 1869 Circuit Judges Act.

I suggest that demographics may not abide conservative rulings by the Supreme Court over the length of Judge Kavanaugh’s projected term.  Every day, our voting population has more now-young and now-minority people inclined to view cultural issues – be they gender, race, religion, or other — as Democrats do, and fewer people that view those issues as Republicans – and Justice Kavanaugh – do.  A study released in April by the admittedly-liberal Center for American Progress projects that by 2036, 40% or more of eligible voters in as many as 14 states – including Trump-won states Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana – will be non-white.  In a polarized society in which a growing majority of citizens could feel that their views and rights are being thwarted by what they perceive to be partisan conservative judges, it seems not only possible but perhaps predictable that a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress will simply pass a statute expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court, and thereafter nominate and confirm liberal judges to those posts so as to neutralize the votes of Justice Kavanaugh and any other surviving conservatives.

As virtually all of us recall from our early schooling, what I’m suggesting could occur was proposed by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s, due to his frustration with the Supreme Court’s early vitiation of New Deal laws.  The proposal ended with the most stinging political defeat of FDR’s presidency.  Even the President’s fervent supporters were outraged that he was attempting to tamper with another branch of government.  I would suggest that the reaction might be different within the next 20 years if a popular impression of the Supreme Court as a partisan institution takes hold.  Roosevelt’s proposal met with widespread castigation because in those days – whether correctly or not – the Supreme Court was viewed by the populace as above the fray, indeed, sacrosanct; unless the damage done to the Court’s image by Judge Kavanaugh’s performance is rectified, it doesn’t strike me as that long a reach to suppose that a majority of citizens might within the next score of years come to favor a law that they believe is needed to provide them justice.

9.  Finally, we come to James Bond, and his projection as to which party will be helped in the midterms by the outcome of the Kavanaugh battle. Over the last few days, commentators have pontificated at length as to which party will be more inspired by the result of the struggle – the Republicans by their victory, or the Democrats by their defeat.  While I might feel otherwise if the mid-terms were to be held this Tuesday, I submit that ardor is cooled by victory, and inflamed by defeat.  I believe that the fictional 007 would feel the same.  In Moonraker, after relating Bond’s victory at cards over Hugo Drax in the seemingly harmless early contest between the British Secret Agent and the villain that formed the opening vignette of every classic Bond novel, Ian Fleming wrote:

 

“Before [Bond] slept [that night] he reflected, as he had often reflected in other moments of triumph … that the gain to the winner is, in some odd way, always less than the loss to the loser…”