On the McAuliffe-Youngkin Virginia Gubernatorial Race: a Postscript

Of course, former Virginia Governor and Democratic Candidate Terry McAuliffe lost the Virginia Gubernatorial race to Republican Candidate Glenn Youngkin.  In this October 30 post, I made an off-hand remark that Mr. McAuliffe’s electoral prospects might be adversely affected by, among other factors, the fact that “Congressional Democrats currently don’t look like they can run a two-car funeral.”  Although a number of pundits have opined that Mr. McAuliffe’s defeat was due more to his politically unwise debate declaration that parents shouldn’t be telling schools what they should teach than to Congressional Democrats’ currently cloudy national fortunes, three thoughts:

The first:  having now had a chance to see a few more clips of Mr. Youngkin, I think he could present a long-term disquieting picture for Democrats.  He is conservative, but appears happy and upbeat.  He seems to have a likable visage more akin to former President Ronald Reagan’s than to not only former President Donald Trump’s, but to the dark, angry, confrontational demeanors exhibited by Trump Wannabes such as FL Gov. Ron DeSantis and TX Gov. Greg Abbott.  In Tuesday’s election, Mr. Youngkin demonstrated Mr. Reagan’s ability to attract strident conservatives while appealing to moderate Republicans and Independents.  For a Republican in a “blue” state, he won by a respectable margin.  We’ll see how he does, but if Mr. Youngkin governs moderately and seemingly successfully, he may have that “something” that the Trump Wannabes lack – which is a scary prospect for Democrats.   

The second: I saw it reported yesterday that House progressives are reportedly seeking to reinsert the recently-eliminated paid leave measure into the human infrastructure package notwithstanding the apparently continuing opposition to the provision of U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin, without whose vote nothing (that’d be:  nothing) will pass the Senate.  Putting aside whether paid leave is substantively good or bad policy, one is left to wonder: 

Should it stay or should it go now?  If it goes, there will be trouble; and if it stays, it will be double.   Democrats need to come on, and let us know:  Should it stay or should it go now? 

I apologize for putting the lyrics in your head that will stay with you for the rest of the day; but the Democrats’ philosophic … er … Clash … has now reached comedic proportions ;).

Finally: after the post, a good friend that follows these pages sharply disagreed with my characterization of Congressional Democrats’ management abilities; his assessment:  that they can’t run a one-car funeral.  I fear that the American electorate is already making up its mind as to whether they should stay or go.

On the McAuliffe-Youngkin Virginia Gubernatorial Race

At this point, it take no political prescience to predict that Republican Virginian Gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin has a good chance to defeat his Democratic opponent, former Virginia Governor and longtime Clinton aide Terry McAuliffe, in Tuesday’s Virginia Gubernatorial race.  The polling trends currently favor Mr. Youngkin; in a state particularly influenced by national politics, Mr. McAuliffe’s fortunes cannot help but be affected by President Joe Biden’s dropping favorability ratings, that Congressional Democrats currently don’t look like they can run a two-car funeral, and the inevitable voter backlash immediately following presidential elections against whichever party then occupies the White House.  I would suggest that there is, also, the visceral.  Looking at pictures of Messrs. Youngkin and McAuliffe, an observation occurred to me from one of the blizzard of books I have read over the years describing the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon campaign:  that in an era when Americans were migrating from the east to the west coast, and so many seemingly marvelous new things were being advertised and brought to the American people – televisions, dishwashers, automatic vehicle transmissions, instant coffee ;), toothpastes with new and improved formulas to make one’s teeth gleam – John Kennedy – exuding vigor and a bright smile as contrasted with the old, bald men of both parties who had run the country for decades — was aligned with America’s aspirations as he proclaimed a New Frontier, that we needed to get the country moving again  … while Richard Nixon was in effect left to argue that the old ways were still good.

The reaction of someone very close to me, when looking at a picture of Mr. McAuliffe, was that he “looked tired.”  Mr. Youngkin – who, from a handicapping standpoint, has seemingly done a good job maintaining Trumplicans’ support without embracing former President Donald Trump in a way that antagonizes and energizes those Virginians who detest Mr. Trump – looks young and vital.  I consider President Bill Clinton the best pure politician of my lifetime; one of his most-quoted observations is, “Campaigns are about the future.”  Putting aside the fact that if a Virginian, I would most certainly vote for Mr. McAuliffe, to me he looks like yesterday.

Anecdotal Reactions to Democrats’ Human Infrastructure Machinations

My frustration with the Democrats’ machinations over human infrastructure is increasing exponentially, and recently caused me to rip off the email set forth immediately below – admittedly not of the tone I generally try to maintain in these pages — to a few friends that tend to be more progressive than I am:

“Put [a]side whether or not the “Human Infrastructure” bill that Progressives are pushing, and its final size, is a good or bad thing.  What they’re missing is:  for the future of democracy, it doesn’t matter.  Those that hatch all these conspiracy theories and the whackos that believe them aren’t going to be dissuaded by benefit structures.  If Democrats had any sense, they’d pass a measure all could agree on, call it a victory (which, compared to where we’ve been, it will be), and focus on voting rights.  That’s where our system will be lost or perhaps (only, “perhaps”) preserved.  I’m very concerned … “   

The responses were instructive:

“… The Human Infrastructure bill … matters in the sense that if the Democrats are trying to motivate all their voters they need to pass it to show the Progressives that voting with the Democrats can lead to progress on their agenda. … You are right the “wackos” aren’t going to be dissuaded by benefit structures nor will the denial of those benefit structures dissuade them. … I do agree that the final size is probably of less importance.  … I agree that the voting rights bill is even more critical to our whole system of government and that’s where our system will be lost or perhaps (only, “perhaps”) preserved. The real battle will be over voting rights and the end of the filibuster necessary to protect those rights. … I am very worried.


My anxiety is growing (again) as well.  … We are careening.  Take the $1T infrastructure, take the $?T lowest common denominator of everything else and move on.  Means test it.  Roll back some of the Trump tax cuts as ways to reduce deficit and inflationary pressures.  Seems obvious to us centrists.  Indicates that “democrats” are not one party.  The only unifying principle is ‘Never Trump.’  They need to boil up some statesmanship and act for the good of the country.


I agree completely.  While sympathetic to the Progressive agenda, I’d tell them, look…the cold hard truth is that we simply don’t have the votes to pass what you want.  You can piss and moan about that and not vote at the mid-terms, but be prepared for the dire consequences of that action.  Plus, the orange Godzilla monster is going to follow that up 2 years later and you’ll really know what hell is.

TLOML is in an exercise group composed of women who are all progressively inclined. She advises that a recent discussion indicates that all of these women are exasperated by progressives’ intransigence and unwillingness to face reality.  They want what is doable to be done. 

From this small and obviously anecdotal sample, I would suggest that Congressional Progressives are fighting for principle when the majority of those sympathetic to their views are willing to compromise in order to actually achieve … progress.  While one can sympathize with Progressives’ annoyance with moderate Democrats’ objections to some parts of their human infrastructure proposal – U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin’s objections to certain of the measure’s climate-protection provisions, while understandable for a coal state representative, are perhaps particularly galling — it’s time for them to agree on infrastructure bills, pass them, declare victory, and move on. 

To borrow the arresting phrase of a wise [at least, when he agrees with me ;)] man:  Democrats need to start focusing on the prospect of the resurrection of the orange Godzilla monster.  Yet, there’s scant indication, based upon their internecine antics to date, that they appreciate that their dithering may be paving hell’s way.

On the Politics of the Debt Ceiling

Since President Joe Biden’s inauguration, I have been disinclined to write much about politics, being painfully cognizant that there will be ample opportunity to expound in that theater beginning, unfortunately, in January and continuing right through to the next presidential inauguration.  (While I recently noted in these pages that a sizeable minority of our citizens is clearly willing to ignore truth, to cast aside democratic norms, and to establish an American Apartheid, I consider this a substantive domestic threat, no longer a political issue.)  Even so, I indulge here:  the President’s and Congressional Democrats’ recent thrashings, apparently attempting to get significant Republican support to raise the debt ceiling, are a waste of time and energy.

Put aside the catastrophic effect on our and the world’s economy that a U.S. default would cause – a loss of credibility from which, in my view, we would never fully recover.  (Today, our defensive strength is our military apparatus; but our offensive strength is our economic power — our ability to assert our will across global financial systems).  Put aside the fact that all who care are aware that we need to raise the debt ceiling to pay for obligations already incurred through measures supported by members of both parties.  Put aside the fact that the debt ceiling has been raised numerous times under presidents of both parties, generally on a bipartisan basis.  Even put aside that we shouldn’t have a law setting a debt ceiling:  the Constitution doesn’t call for one; most advanced nations reportedly don’t have one; and politicians of both parties have long since given up any real concern about escalating deficits.  We are where we are.

The Democrats should devote all of their efforts to raising the debt ceiling via their own means — through the Senate reconciliation process, a carve-out to the Senate’s filibuster rules, or by whatever other legislative maneuver best serves the purpose. As my mother would say, it is as plain as the nose on your face:  The Republicans have no good faith.  They have no interest in doing the responsible thing if they believe that acting irresponsibly will gain them political advantage.  If the President and Congressional Democrats can’t see that by now, the only positive point one can still make about them is that they remain a better alternative than President Trump and a Senator Mitch McConnell-led Congress — the faintest, most backhanded praise imaginable.

The good news for Democrats:  Independents and sensible Republican citizens offended by their nominal party’s reactionary spasms — the groups that decide elections in swing jurisdictions, and ultimately, the balance of power in our country – understand that the debt ceiling needs to be raised.  Democrats can easily cast aside any Republican harrumphing; Republican claims will have no legs with pivotal voter segments.  On the other hand, if through legislative hand-wringing the Democrats, despite their control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, do allow a default to occur, the decisive voting blocs will hold them responsible for the default and the ensuing consequences – in my view, justifiably.

One of former President Ronald Reagan’s favorite stories was about a psychologist who tried to cure a patient’s undue optimism by leading him to a room filled with horse manure.  The President would relate that instead of being dismayed, the optimist jumped right into the manure pile and started digging.  When the psychologist asked the optimist what he was doing, Mr. Reagan, grinning, would deliver the optimist’s reply:  “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”

Mr. President, Madam Speaker, and Mr. Senate Majority Leader:  when it comes to the overwhelming majority of Congressional Republicans on the vast majority of issues facing this country, there is no pony.  In this case, doing what the Republicans decry won’t even have meaningful political repercussions.  Hopefully, you have already started the motions to take whatever legislative steps are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. 

Get it done.

[Late note:  in fairness to Democrats, since this was scheduled to run, there are reports indicating that they understand their need to act unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling, and are considering a carve-out to the Senate filibuster rules to achieve the goal.  If that is indeed the route they take, Republicans may find that their intransigence on this easy debt ceiling issue was too smart by half; once Democrats cross the threshold of tinkering with filibuster carve-outs, it might become easier for those Democratic Senators, heretofore reluctant to change Senate rules, to abide a carve-out to the filibuster to allow the passage of laws protecting the integrity of federal elections.]

On the Quest for an American Apartheid

Earlier this week, I entered a link in these pages to Robert Kagan’s September 23, 2021, Washington Post essay, “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.”  There, Mr. Kagan wrote in part:

“Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of Trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with Trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — ‘losers,’ to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the ‘Mitch McConnell Republicans.’ His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity.”

While Mr. Kagan spent much of his piece focusing on the dangers to our system of government presented by former President Donald Trump and his nationwide network of Republican acolytes, in the passage above he referenced what I consider to be the primary source of our danger: us. We are no longer, as we were taught in the Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation … indivisible.”  United States citizens have two wildly divergent and deeply engrained inclinations as to what makes America.  Speaking in generalizations, one segment — demographically older, white, professed Christian, sexually straight, English-speaking, and more rural in outlook — views America to be the product of traditional American ethnicities, customs, cultural experience, and memory; the other segment — younger, multi-complexioned, multi-theistic/atheistic, multi-lingual, multi-sexual and -gender, and more urban, with relatively lesser regard for traditional American experience and memory – views America as a system of government providing each individual the freedom, within the purview of the safety of the body politic, to not conform to traditional American customs and values. 

What makes America … America?

If any reader of these pages is willing to review a volume s/he may well find abhorrent, I would recommend State of Emergency, written by former Republican Presidential Candidate Patrick Buchanan in 2006.  Mr. Buchanan, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White Houses, is – although reportedly called out for bigotry during his career by conservative commentators William F. Buckley, Jr. and Charles Krauthammer – both fluent and unquestionably knowledgeable about American history and policy.  State of Emergency is primarily an assault on what Mr. Buchanan perceived as an unhealthy influx of Mexicans into American society.  It is a book that Mr. Trump, if he knew history, would have conceived; if he could write, would have written.  My familiarity with alt-right theorists isn’t that wide, but Mr. Buchanan’s candidacies were in retrospect clearly forerunners of Mr. Trump’s, and in State of Emergency he set forth what may be among the most articulate expression of the theories underlying what has become Trumpism:

“[Patriotism] is a passionate attachment to one’s own country – its land, its people, its past, its heroes, literature, language, traditions, culture, and customs. … There is a rival view … that America is a different kind of nation.  Unlike Ireland, Italy, or Israel, the United States is not held together by the bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil [Note:  “Blood and Soil” was a Nazi slogan].  Rather, America is a creedal nation, united by a common commitment of all her citizens to a set of ideas and ideals. … Demonstrably, this is false.  Human beings are not blank slates.  Nor can they be easily separated from the abiding attachments of the tribe, race, nation, culture, community whence they came.  Any man or any woman, of any color or creed, can be a good American.  We know that from our history.  But when it comes to the ability to assimilate into a nation like the United States, all nationalities, creeds, and cultures are not equal.  To say that they are is ideology speaking, not judgment born of experience. … Should America lose her ethnic-cultural core and become a nation of nations, America will not survive.”

There are, ironically, corresponding echoes of Mr. Buchanan’s comments in Mr. Kagan’s essay:

“Most Trump supporters are good parents, good neighbors and solid members of their communities. Their bigotry, for the most part, is typical white American bigotry, perhaps with an added measure of resentment and a less filtered mode of expression since Trump arrived on the scene. But these are normal people in the sense that they think and act as people have for centuries. They put their trust in family, tribe, religion and race. Although jealous in defense of their own rights and freedoms, they are less concerned about the rights and freedoms of those who are not like them. That, too, is not unusual. What is unnatural is to value the rights of others who are unlike you as much as you value your own.

The events of Jan. 6 … proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past. While it might be shocking to learn that normal, decent Americans can support a violent assault on the Capitol, it shows that Americans as a people are not as exceptional as their founding principles and institutions. Europeans who joined fascist movements in the 1920s and 1930s were also from the middle classes. No doubt many of them were good parents and neighbors, too.  People do things as part of a mass movement that they would not do as individuals, especially if they are convinced that others are out to destroy their way of life [Emphasis Added].”

I infer from some passages in Mr. Kagan’s column that he considers regular Trump supporters — if not the arguably more sophisticated and partisan Republican Party officialdom — credulous, and to actually believe Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud; he left at least me with the impression that he thinks that if regular Trump supporters understood the truth, they’d begrudgingly accept the will of the majority even if they disagreed with it.  If that is indeed his view, I am less sanguine.  I would suggest that the majority of regular Trump supporters are simply choosing to indulge in the self-delusion of a fraudulent electoral process because it enables them to rationalize the anti-democratic steps they are either taking or condoning; that in their deepest recesses, the majority do know that Mr. Trump lost, and – much more importantly – have come to viscerally grasp that if our nation’s current demographic and political trends continue unchecked, what they consider America to be (in Mr. Buchanan’s phrase, “bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil”) will fade away.

To Mr. Kagan, “… the American experiment in republican democracy requires … what the Framers meant by ‘republican virtue,’ a love of freedom not only for oneself but also as an abstract, universal good; a love of self-government as an ideal; a commitment to abide by the laws passed by legitimate democratic processes … ”

To Mr. Buchanan, America is as he quoted Framer John Jay from Federalist No. 2:  “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs …”

I’ve previously noted in these pages that William Galston reported in Anti-Pluralism that Mr. Trump himself indicated in a speech in May, 2016, that “The only important thing is the unification of the people.  [T]he other people don’t mean anything [Emphasis Added].”  

It has become cliché that the voter suppression measures being enacted by cooperative Republican-controlled state legislatures and the current dust-ups in various states about alleged 2020 election fraud aren’t, despite Mr. Trump’s protestations, about the 2020 outcome, but rather to limit opposition voter turnout, lay a foundation of doubt about the veracity of our electoral processes, and have in place the mechanisms (state legislative overrides; friendly election officials; sympathetic judges) to avert any 2022 and 2024 electoral outcomes that Mr. Trump and his followers don’t like.  (They must have realized the need for these latter official safeguards given the determinative number of Independents and traditional Republicans that voted against Mr. Trump in 2020.)  Trumplicans have come to recognize that if all legally authorized voters cast ballots, they will lose significantly more than they win – either now, or in the foreseeable future.  They don’t believe that “constitutional and democratic norms,” to use Mr. Kagan’s phrase, constitute America.  Their measures are intended to save their America of (paraphrasing Mr. Jay) ancestry, language, religion, manner and custom.

Most of us have some background regarding South African Apartheid, which prevailed in some form from about 1910 until the early 1990s, most virulently starting in the late 1940s.  My own information was limited to an understanding that it was legalized subjugation by a small white minority (about 15% of the population) over the significant black majority (85%).  One of the theories for the institution of Apartheid, according to “The Origins of Apartheid” by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, is that white Afrikaner Nationalists “feared that the Afrikaner’s very existence was threatened by the mass of Africans that confronted them in South Africa;” and that this fear resulted in “a range of laws that were passed … to preserve this ‘God-given’ Afrikaner identity [Emphasis Added].”  In “The Evolution and Fall of the South African Apartheid State:  A Political Economy Perspective,” John M. Luiz wrote, “[In 1948 the manifesto of the National Party (NP)] was that of apartheid and Afrikaner empowerment … [S]oon after coming into power, the government put into operation a three-pronged strategy designed to further the interests of Afrikaner nationalism. … The government set about Afrikanerising [sic] every state institution by appointing Afrikaners to every level of the civil service, state corporations, and security forces.”

No one that reads these pages will be a bit surprised that I am most comfortable with traditional norms.  Although I’ve been told by someone very close to me that I am privileged, I feel no guilt about being who I am.  In my estimation, the so-called “Woke” frequently overreact, sometimes grossly so.  That said, I subscribe to the view that America is a creedal nation; that it should be governed through a system that pursues the will of a majority of its citizens who are all able to vote under an impartially-administered set of fair rules, while at the same time furnishing sufficient safeguards for the civic and human rights of the minority.  I fear that those sympathetic to Mr. Trump and the actions of his acolytes think otherwise.  While I concede that many Trump supporters are seeking to protect what they view as America, a significant number seem unfazed by the prospect that preserving their America may involve the suppression of the will of a peaceful, multi-complexioned and -faceted majority of U.S. citizens.  Although I suspect that most would recoil if confronted with the notion, they are either actively or passively on a quest to establish an American Apartheid.

Things That Make You Go, “HMMM.”

I’m channeling my inner Arsenio Hall.

Make no mistake:  I haven’t lost sight of the fact that President Joe Biden, by his willingness to run for the most challenging office in the world at an age more than a decade older than most people – including me — retire, showed a level of selflessness and patriotism we’ve rarely seen in our public officials in recent years.  Mr. Biden is a good man.  I remain thrilled that he is in the White House.  That said, for an Administration whose primary foreign policy pledge has been closer cooperation with allies, it’s been Amateur Hour.

Put aside whether our decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was correct; I don’t think so; many do.  It was Mr. Biden’s call; he’s the President of the United States.  What is becoming apparent is that the allies who got embroiled in the Middle East quagmire 20 years ago because of a grotesquely misguided series of decisions by former President George W. Bush felt inadequately consulted and little considered by our decision to so abruptly withdraw.  This seems an unnecessary error in allied relations.

As I’ve already lamented in these pages, it was pretty darn clear to anyone who read any credible news accounts on Taliban activity in Afghanistan during 2020 and 2021 that it was pretty darn likely that Afghanistan was going to fall to the Taliban almost the minute we withdrew.  In fact, it fell to the Taliban before we withdrew, and it was only under its auspices that we were able to get a lot of Americans and our collaborators out.  To not anticipate that such a precipitous Taliban takeover was at least a possibility, and plan for it, I find a disconcerting oversight on the part of the Administration’s foreign policy team.

Perhaps the most glaring:  The grievous insult to France recently perpetrated by the announcement of our AUKUS arrangement with Australia and the United Kingdom.  I think the arrangement itself – providing nuclear-powered submarines to Australia to help it patrol waters in which China has been increasingly aggressive – is exactly the type of step we need to be taking as we adjust our foreign policy to fit current realities.  That said, anybody with a shred of sense – and Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team is supposed to be comprised of professionals – should have seen that in not being advised and mollified in some fashion before it was announced that they were losing a $60 billion submarine contract with the Australians, the French would feel outraged and humiliated.  French President Emmanuel Macron, in tight political competition with right wing political groups sympathetic to Russia that we do not want to see take control of France, was belittled.   It is reported that Biden Administration National Security Advisor Jake Sherman was aware of all of the AUKUS machinations as they were occurring.  Whether he was or not, this was a stunning unforced blunder.

In a separate vein, I am mystified by Congressional Progressives’ indications that they will withhold their support from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package already passed in the Senate unless Democrats also pass most or all of the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package currently under their consideration.  Since no Republican support is expected for the human infrastructure package, its passage it will require the support of all Senate Democrats and virtually all House Democrats, moderates as well as Progressives.  If I thought that Progressives’ thundering was merely posturing, it wouldn’t bother me; as it is, I am concerned that some of the self-righteous among them may actually be serious.  If so, I would suggest that their harrumphing is akin to someone who threatens to jump off a roof unless others do what he wants.  Progressives should take whatever they can get on human infrastructure, and be satisfied.  It seems that too many continue to be oblivious that the majority of our citizenry – not only Republicans, but moderate Democrats and many Independents (including me) — have misgivings about the scope and extent of some of their policy aims; and that while their seats are mostly not imperiled by seeking the moon, many moderate Democrats’ seats will be at risk if the party is seen as acting too rashly, and the Democrats could end up forfeiting control of Congress to Republicans.  What will happen to their priorities then?  If Progressives indeed scuttle a bipartisan infrastructure bill that has widespread public support because they can’t get a number of initiatives that a significant segment of our people, correctly or incorrectly, have sincere question about, they deserve their fate.

Unless I’ve missed it, the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients remains uncertain as parties’ Congressional delegations wrangle over wider immigration reform.  For years, there has been widespread support, including among the Republican electorate, for granting these young(er) people, who were brought here illegally in their youth, a path to permanent legal status.  I believe that the House of Representatives has already passed a measure to safeguard DACA recipients.  Every minute Democratic Senate leadership delays, a law becomes more difficult, since immigration will undoubtedly be a contentious issue in the 2022 campaign.  I don’t understand why that leadership doesn’t put a simple bill on the Senate floor, requiring all Senators to vote, designed to secure legal status for these blameless individuals.  Either the DACA recipients get protection or the Democrats get an emotive issue.  My guess:  it would pass.

Finally, a good friend asked me recently why I haven’t posted on the Packers.  I never watch preseason games, and I missed the 38-3 debacle while we were vacationing, so my first look at the team was last Monday night’s victory over the Detroit Lions.  Green Bay seemed a long way from a Super Bowl champion to me.  Granting that one of its primary rushing threats, Za’Darius Smith, was absent, the defense was underwhelming, and I don’t think that the team can maintain a championship offense with only meaningful production from Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Running Back Aaron Jones (who will tire without the assistance of his former backup, Jamaal Williams), and Wide Receiver Davante Adams.  Hopefully, I’ll prove to be sadly mistaken.  Either way, Packer games will provide a wonderful distraction from the other issues we face.

Channeling my inner Mr. Hall was a good way to end the week  ;).  Have a nice weekend.

A Summer Town Hall

We have spent a week in central Wisconsin virtually every August for more than 30 years.  At this time of year, I would submit that the weather in this part of this state is unsurpassed.  Although our political views and those of many of the Wisconsinites that live north of us have diverged ever more widely over the decades, such differences are easily avoided when all can share lakes, sun, and refreshers in congenial – and numerous 😉 – watering holes.

That said, we recently happened upon a town hall meeting conducted on a very pleasant day by a Republican Wisconsin Congressman in the park pavilion of a small community.  The gathering provided insight into both Republican political messaging and the startlingly different concerns of citizens sharing the same state and nation.

The format was customary:  the Congressman spoke first, followed by a question-and-answer period.  Although he is a member of a House committee responsible for immigration issues, I was nonetheless surprised to see how much time and emphasis was placed on border issues.  The Representative made notable reference to the drugs coming across the border, leaving the incorrect impression while not specifically stating that a significant number of those crossing the border are drug runners.  Fear of illegals played well with the crowd, and is clearly a theme that Republicans intend to use with their base nationwide.  What surprised me a bit was how deeply the message seemed to resonate in central Wisconsin.  This is an area of a northern state hardly overrun with illegal aliens.  What’s more, TLOML, whose family had a cottage in the area in the 1950s and 1960s, well recalls Mexican migrants who picked pickles here in those years in sufficient numbers to support Spanish food markets and Spanish movie nights.  Nevertheless, the attendees at the town hall – who, judging by their appearance, are old enough to remember those days of migrant labor – nevertheless seemed suitably worried about the prospect of brown peril at our southern border.  The Congressman was asked whether any of the illegals being processed by the Biden Administration came north, and he said they did, but — clearly experiencing a pang of candor — couldn’t bring himself to claim that he was aware of any illegals processed by the Biden Administration who had come to Wisconsin

The Congressman also mentioned in passing that there was a rumor that the Biden Administration supported teaching “Critical Race Theory” (a teaching based on the premise that race is a social construct) in public schools (although the Administration has specifically separated itself from the concept), stated that he opposed it, and declared that America was “not a racist society,” citing a Hmong family he knew that had made a good life in Wisconsin.  The total number of African Americans we have seen in our decades of coming to the area can be counted on the fingers of both hands.  Issues of African American depravation in Wisconsin’s two major metro areas are not part of the central Wisconsin experience.  The Representative’s declarations nonetheless earned appreciative nods from the crowd.  He observed that Democrats want to defund the police – which, admittedly, some do – while failing to mention that President Joe Biden unequivocally opposes defunding the police. 

At the same time, the Congressman avoided an overtly partisan tone when discussing the President – unlike the contentious approach of better-know Republicans playing for the camera.  Faced with a direct question regarding the legality of the 2020 presidential election, and while expressing some vague reservations about voting in Milwaukee County, he did not claim that either the Wisconsin or federal election was stolen from former President Donald Trump (clearly the sentiment of the questioner).  While expressing concerns about how the Administration’s and Congressional Democrats’ spending proposals could add to inflation – misgivings I share – he was careful to place a fair part of his inflation concern at the foot of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The question-and-answer period was both illuminating and at times, disconcerting.  There was marked unease about the Biden Administration proposal to eliminate the “stepped up basis” in willed property that legatees currently receive under federal tax law – obviously pertinent to a community in which the predominant value of many estates is appreciated farm land (and a valid point that will make me reflect).  The Representative understandably pledged to oppose the measure.  There was a appreciable attendee support for the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill, particularly as regards expanded broadband access.  The Congressman indicated that he generally supported the bill (since then, Mr. Trump has expressed his opposition to the bill; it would be instructive to learn whether the Congressman has changed his position).  There was criticism of the Administration’s abandonment of the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for abortions).  The Representative pledged to oppose abortion rights.  In response to a question we didn’t catch, he vowed to vote against any measure limiting the Second Amendment – hardly a surprising response in the middle of a hunting state in which a gun is considered a tool.  

At the same time, a notable number of questions dealt with local issues clearly outside the Congressman’s job description, such as concerns some citizens had with solar farm development next to their properties.  (Admitting the need to address Climate Change, one could sympathize with the questioners, but their grievance seemed best directed to town, county, and state officials, not the federal government.)  Most unsettling:  the citizen that asked what the CIA was doing about the UFO threat.  While at this point my visceral association with Republicans is at a pretty low ebb, I have to admit that at that moment, I identified with the Congressman:  How is he going to handle this one without either justifying the question or insulting this guy?  I should have realized that anybody that reaches Congress is a professional at dealing with absurdities by inoffensive means:  the Representative indicated that he didn’t have much familiarity with the issue, and invited the voter to provide his UFO information to the Representative’s staff for his later review.

The Representative did not discuss COVID vaccines; for a Republican facing what was undoubtedly a vaccine-skeptical crowd, undoubtedly the wisest political course.  There was nary a question about the Capitol riot or foreign policy; unfortunately, when surrounded by Wisconsin cornfields, it is easy to overlook that threats to our system of government presented by seditionists and malign foreign powers are, like objects in a vehicle’s side mirror, closer than they appear.

There is a book report feeling to this note, but the town hall was a new lesson in American democracy for this citizen. In a phrase most closely associated with the late former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., “All politics is local.”  I suspect a town hall conducted by a Democratic Representative would offer similar doses of manipulation and pandering.  While there was a sense of dignity to it, of Norman Rockwell, at the same time the session made one wonder whether the man in the well-known Rockwell town hall drawing was rising to ask whether the road in front of his farm really needed to be expanded from one to two lanes; and how a nation can proceed when so many of its citizens are too determined to largely denounce its past, while as many others are too determined to tenaciously cling to it.

Rage Surfing

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, March 31, 2016:

“I bring rage out.  I do bring rage out.  I always have.  I don’t know if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do.”

  • Rage, Bob Woodward, 2020

It is clear that former President Trump is authentically enraged.  Throughout his public life and perhaps throughout his entire life he has genuinely felt disrespected, and what he considers rightly his to have been unfairly taken from him.  It doesn’t matter, in this context, whether such feelings are reasonable; they are sincere.  It enabled him to give voice to a large swath of Americans stung by the scorn of elites who feel that what makes sense to them, what seems fair and right to them, what should be theirs, has been robbed from them by those with ways foreign to them.  Some of their anger (certainly their resentment at the disdain of the elites) – if not Mr. Trump’s — is justified.  That said, our national fabric seems to be wearing dangerously thin because these — even if in many instances, their plight has resulted from an intentional or oblivious failure to adapt to an evolving world — consider themselves to have been dispossessed.  They are … Enraged.

I fear that we are at a perilous point in this country.  I would submit that while Mr. Trump made the rage socially acceptable, displayed a unique ability to exploit and exacerbate it, and for a while was arguably able to manage it, neither he nor anyone else any longer controls it.  One frequently hears commentators opine that if Mr. Trump would admit the truth about this or that, more aggressively tout COVID vaccines, etc., etc., our social conditions in various areas would improve.  I disagree.  Mr. Trump now appears to me more than a bit spent; he seems to be struggling to maintain his position as titular head of the Enraged to whom he gave license (I recently saw them referred to as, “Trumplicans” – an apt moniker.  I intend to use it.)  The former president is renowned for his ability to “read a room”; I suspect that he realizes that his influence is waning better than bootlicking Republican officials or the talking heads do.  Although he can justifiably claim credit for the development of life-saving COVID vaccines during his presidency, he gives at most tepid support to inoculation efforts because he fears losing the support of the anti-vaxxers.  He’s no longer leading the Enraged; he’s trying to stay in step with them.  Objective observers can appropriately decry Fox News’ despicable failure to accurately cover the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Capitol riot, the Coronavirus, and the value of the COVID vaccines; however, when Fox reports a fact that the Enraged don’t like – for example, (accurately) calling Arizona for President Joe Biden on election night – the Enraged don’t believe Fox but instead abandon it for outlets that will tell them what they want to hear.  The majority of Republican officials can be rightly castigated for spinning fabrications that they for the most part must recognize to be poppycock; I would venture that they, manifestly more desirous of retaining power than abiding by their oaths of office, realize that if they tell the truth, the Enraged will simply replace them with others who will support their reality.  Driving through the middle of Wisconsin this past weekend – six months after President Joe Biden’s inauguration — I saw a huge Trump banner flying above a peaceful corn field.  It used to be that a losing presidential candidate’s banners were quickly dismantled by his disappointed supporters.  Trumplicans are not only enraged … they are defiant

We have always had, and will always have, fringe elements.  What appears alarmingly clear is that at least at this point, a disconcertingly significant segment of our electorate will not accept truth.   One need merely note that 60 judges and innumerable state election officials, many of them Republican, found no merit in Mr. Trump’s electoral challenges in order to understand that he lost the election.  One need merely note the correlation between states’ vaccination rates and where COVID is again raging in order to recognize the effectiveness of COVID vaccines.  One need merely believe one’s own eyes in order to acknowledge that there was a seditious and murderous attack on our Capitol on January 6 undertaken by Mr. Trump’s supporters.  The Enraged are currently intentionally and wantonly choosing to ignore truth easily discerned.

Rather than leading a movement, I would submit that most of those courting Trumplicans are merely surfing the rage.  Some, such as U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson, U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz, and U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, are enthusiastically leaning into it (although I concede that these may be sufficiently unbalanced to actually believe what they are spouting).  Some, such as U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are shamelessly attempting to stay atop it to further their own ambition.  Some, such as Fox News, and, ironically, Mr. Trump himself, are attempting to stay sufficiently abreast of it to maintain their relevance.  Still others, such as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are attempting to simply ride it out.

Rather a distressing picture.  That said, a leaderless cult is more easily divided and quieted; if Mr. Trump’s influence is indeed dissipating, as yet no demagogue combining his rage and animal magnetism has appeared to seize his mantle.  We can only hope that enough of the Enraged can be cajoled into accepting truth soon enough for us to maintain a viable democracy.

A Couple of Postscripts

In a post a while back assessing President Joe Biden’s performance during his first 100 days in office, I awarded him an A+ for his Administration’s efforts against the Coronavirus, indicating that it had consistently under promised and over delivered.  The Administration recently announced that it will not meet its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partly vaccinated by July 4.  I stand by my grade, and think any open-minded American will agree.  The Administration’s failure to meet its goal arises from the lethargy and obstinacy of too many Americans.  As my mother used to say:  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

In a note last week on Infrastructure, I opined that Republican Senators working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill would be unable to muster support for their effort among 10 members of their caucus – the threshold to avoid a Senate filibuster.  While remaining mindful of another of my mother’s sayings – “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” — and despite my suspicion that the Progressives apparently outraged by the compromise could be as intransigent as the Republican Freedom Caucus has been in the past, there is at the time this is posted at least the prospect of passage of a bipartisan bill allocating sums to refurbish our infrastructure that will exceed all such predecessor laws. If such a measure does become law, it will in our toxic political environment be a notable and heartening achievement by the bipartisan Senate group, Mr. Biden, and his team.  Hopefully, the doubts I expressed in my infrastructure post about the bipartisan group’s ability to get legislation enacted will prove to be woefully wrong-headed. 

On Infrastructure and the Art of the Possible: a Correction

A good friend kindly pointed out to me that I incorrectly indicated in this post that the infrastructure proposal currently being put forth by the bipartisan Senate group including U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney is valued at approximately $IB ($billion), when the package is in fact valued at approximately $1T ($trillion).  I appreciate his calling my attention to the oversight; apparently it is true, as apocryphally attributed to the late U.S. IL Sen. Everett Dirksen (whose gravelly voice I fondly remember from my youth):  “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”  😉