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.
“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
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 …
As President-Elect Joe Biden has begun to name his Cabinet – so far, by all accounts competent moderates being greeted with respective sighs of relief in the foreign policy, intelligence and (given the selection of former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary) financial communities — I’m disappointed that I have not seen two names more frequently mentioned: U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Mr. Biden’s choice of Vice President Elect Kamala Harris as his running mate proved, despite my oft-expressed severe misgivings about naming her, a smart pick. It’s a long road ahead, but early handicapping would understandably assign her the inside track on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in either 2024 or 2028. Fair enough; but she never presented a serious challenge to Mr. Biden’s quest for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination.
On the other hand, if Sen. Klobuchar and former Mayor Buttigieg, who had significant support against Mr. Biden in the centrist lane of the Democratic race, hadn’t withdrawn their candidacies and endorsed Mr. Biden when they did, the likely continued division of the Democratic moderate vote would have in effect handed the Democratic nomination to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders – which, given what we have now seen from the November vote totals, almost certainly would have resulted in President Trump’s re-election.
A President should pay his debts … when he can.
During their presidential candidacies, both Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg were at least as strong with white Democratic moderates as Mr. Biden; what ultimately doomed their prospects was their inability to gain support from African American Democrats.
Subject to the caveat below, I would nominate Sen. Klobuchar to be the United States Attorney General if she wanted the position. She is a former prosecutor, but since the Biden Administration Department of Justice is certainly going to be involved on the side of minorities in any civil rights cases, Ms. Klobuchar’s high visibility in those efforts, and her necessarily sympathetic interaction with black leaders across the country, will enable her to establish positive relationships in the African American community that might facilitate a future presidential run. The big caveat: Minnesota Senatorial prospects. In a state that is more conservative than generally thought, before making such a selection Mr. Biden would need to conclude that the Democrat appointed to replace Ms. Klobuchar would be able to hold the Minnesota Senate seat against a Republican challenge in 2022. If the odds aren’t right, nominating Ms. Klobuchar isn’t feasible.
By the same token, I would nominate Mr. Buttigieg for Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development. I have heard his name mentioned as a potential Director of Veterans Affairs, but VA is a political landmine and doesn’t seem to provide a boost for a prospective presidential candidate. Mr. Buttigieg is well-known – “Mayor Pete” – and since the Biden Administration HUD is certainly going to be sympathetic to minority concerns, Mr. Buttigieg would have ample opportunity as HUD Secretary – as Ms. Klobuchar would at Justice – to establish relationships with the African American community across the nation that would facilitate a future presidential run.
It is clear that Mr. Biden would not have won the Democratic presidential nomination without the enthusiastic support of U.S. SC Rep. James Clyburn, who is reportedly concerned that not enough African Americans have yet been named to the Biden Cabinet and has suggested a candidate for HUD. Mr. Clyburn’s sentiments need to be among those carrying the greatest weight with the President-Elect; that said, Mr. Clyburn’s preferences appear more general and can presumably be addressed through other appointments without slighting Mr. Buttigieg.
Progressives are reportedly increasingly concerned about the moderate nature of Mr. Biden’s first named nominees. Their interests need to be addressed; Mr. Biden would not have won the presidency without progressives’ active support, even if their enthusiasm arose much more from loathing for Mr. Trump than regard for Mr. Biden. I have heard Sen. Sanders say he would accept a position as Labor Secretary in the Biden Administration. I would suggest that nominating Mr. Sanders to the Cabinet is too risky a step for Mr. Biden; no president can hire somebody he can’t control and can’t politically fire. That said, Mr. Biden’s nominee for Labor Secretary should be someone that Sen. Sanders will enthusiastically support.
Although former GA Rep. Stacey Abrams’ expressed desire to be the President-Elect’s running mate was a pipe dream, Mr. Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia, which has given him breathing room during the Trump Conspiracy’s treasonous efforts to undercut the election, is a result of the organization that Ms. Abrams built in her 2018 run for the Georgia governorship. She deserves something high profile in the Biden Administration to position her for another gubernatorial campaign against unpopular GA Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022.
A concluding lament about former U.S. U.N. Amb. Susan Rice, whom I considered the most qualified to be president of the three women ultimately listed as finalists to be Mr. Biden’s running mate. Amb. Rice accepted being passed over with good grace, and deserved to be nominated for Secretary of State. That said, given her misinformed remarks about the 2012 attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya — although subsequent Congressional investigation found no evidence that she had intentionally misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the attack — Mr. Biden, wisely in my view, elected not to nominate her in order to avoid what certainly would have been a hyper-partisan Senate confirmation process. While I am confident that Mr. Biden is pleased with his choice of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State, I hope he feels more than a pang of regret for Ms. Rice. I do.
No one that has read these pages for any length of time can doubt the antipathy I have for President Trump and his hoard; I consider him to have taken us to the brink of authoritarianism, and despite current indications that his treasonous activities to undermine our democracy are losing steam, I frankly won’t breathe entirely easily until I see President-Elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., actually take the oath of office in January. That said, despite the understandable outrage now felt by anyone with a shred of interest in justice about Mr. Trump’s recent pardon of former Trump Administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – and the prospect of a steady stream of pardons in the coming weeks of Trump collaborators including his wife, his children, Trump Organization executives, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone (this time a full pardon), etc., etc., etc., probably ultimately culminating in an attempt by the President to pardon himself – I would suggest that if Mr. Trump makes promiscuous use of his pardon power, he may be unwittingly assisting Mr. Biden’s attempts to tone down our current hyper-partisan atmosphere.
Given our nation’s need to uphold the rule of law, the depth of hostility that perhaps the majority of Mr. Biden’s supporters feel about Mr. Trump, and the fact that Mr. Trump obviously has no intent to retire from the world stage when he leaves the White House, I don’t see how, unless Mr. Trump makes broad untoward use of his pardon power, the Biden Administration will have any choice but to thoroughly investigate the activities of and if appropriate pursue criminal convictions against various members of the Trump cohort including Mr. Trump himself. At the same time, such activities, however justified, will carry the tinge of political persecution and require establishment Republicans to close ranks behind Mr. Trump when they are probably quietly thrilled at the prospect of seeing his outsize influence within their party gradually dissipate. Mr. Biden has pledged to try to unify our nation, and as perhaps as unlikely as that might be in a hyper-partisan environment stoked not only by Mr. Trump but an alt-right media complex whose profits are driven by broadcasting ever-more-outlandish conspiracy theories, any prosecutions of Trump principals by the Biden Administration will undoubtedly merely serve to aggravate the divisions among our citizens and cripple Mr. Biden’s attempts to effect moderate change that the majority of Americans, if they can be made to look at policy through other than a rancorous partisan lens, might support.
So if advising Mr. Biden, I would actually counsel: let’s hope Trump actually does a broad and thorough job of pardoning his entire band. Let’s hope he actually tries to pardon himself. He’s doing you a favor. The more justification your Administration has for ignoring Trump – for not letting him hold center stage – the better for your presidency and the nation. Let the natural survival instincts of establishment Republicans – some of whom harbor their own presidential ambitions, and want their party back – and Fox News – which undoubtedly realizes that the more it pumps Trump, the more it is assisting an undoubted media competitor — kick in: they want Trump to fade. After January 20, Trump will hold perhaps half of the 70 million people that voted for him for a while; and while 35 million people is far from nothing, it still only amounts to about 10% of the population – which is about the percentage of crazies we have always had with us. As Mr. Trump ages, his ardent following – demonstrably having short and easily-distracted attention spans – may well become attracted to some other shiny bauble.
A President cannot pardon those who are convicted of state and local offenses. It seems highly likely that the Attorney General of the State of New York will chase Mr. Trump. Let the then-former president be distracted by challenges not attributable to the Biden Administration as the Administration seeks to address the myriad of daunting challenges facing our nation. If nothing else, the recent election results demonstrate that the country is not as liberal as progressives proclaim, and that some of the growing demographic constituencies that Democrats have been projecting to sustain them in the future are not as monolithic as they had supposed. The Democrats’ best hope to hold the White House in 2024 is for Mr. Trump’s continued machinations to ultimately divide the Republican Party between its establishment and its crazies.
Not long after the United States’ entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt, in consultation with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, decided upon a “Europe First” strategy: that the United States would concentrate its efforts, in concert with its British and Russian allies, upon the defeat of Nazi Germany, while it maintained a “holding action” against the Japanese Empire in the Pacific theater. Although some of the heaviest American casualties came on Pacific islands while the war waged in Europe, America only turned its full attention to the Pacific after victory over Germany was achieved.
I would submit that today, we are again engaged in a two-front war, at home: against our internal divisive hyper-partisanship and the Coronavirus. I think President-Elect Biden is pursuing an effective war strategy. Although perhaps as driven by practical realities as President Roosevelt arguably was in 1942, Mr. Biden seems focused on tacitly addressing our divisiveness by (at least outwardly) exhibiting a calm inevitability while doing what he can regarding the Coronavirus.
On the Divisiveness Front, I would suggest that Election Day was much akin to D-Day in 1944. Although the war raged for months afterward, D-Day marked the turning point of the war in Europe. My personal greatest fear – that America might descend into autocracy due to the continuation of President Trump’s constitutional powers combined with his dictatorial tendencies — is now seemingly abating. All but the most oblivious Trump supporters understand that Mr. Trump lost. I have yet to find a definitive count of the number of Trump supporters at the Washington, D.C. rally this past weekend; Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski mentioned 20,000. Let’s say it was 35,000. This would amount to approximately 1 percent of the votes Mr. Trump garnered within about two hours’ drive of D.C. Although Mr. Trump’s maimed psyche is currently being supported by the greedy and the cowardly – the alt-right media that profit by feeding sugar to the gullible, and the feckless Republican officials more interested in their political careers than in what is good for our nation – the Trump rally turnout hardly constituted a groundswell of rebellion. The mainstream media is turning off the Trump Show. The President’s electoral antics haven’t merited an actual front-page story in the Murdoch-controlled Wall Street Journal for days. That said, winning on the Divisiveness front has arguably moved from achieving Mr. Trump’s departure to obtaining the grudging acquiescence of the majority of Mr. Trump’s less extreme supporters. By maintaining his poise in the face of the President’s irrational provocations, Mr. Biden is enabling the air to continue to seep out of the Baby Trump balloon.
If advising Mr. Biden, I’d have only one suggestion on this front: when he speaks, continue to condemn violence on all sides. Reports of Saturday’s rally indicate that some anti-Trump groups went seemingly seeking confrontation. Mr. Biden should declare that all Americans are entitled to peacefully demonstrate, and that those that oppose the President should avoid going to pro-Trump rallies. Mr. Trump needs a fight to maintain relevance – and if none is offered, his avid support will continue its shrivel to the fringes.
On the Coronavirus Front: In all other realms of national security aside from the virus response, I’d be very surprised if Mr. Biden isn’t informally getting virtually all of the information in the President’s Daily Brief: members of the intelligence community sharing a repast with old friends outside the Administration, who in turn visit with members of the incoming Administration, and … there you have it. And/or: in addition to the fact that Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris gets briefed as a member of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, have U.S. VA Sen. Mark Warner and U.S. CA Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic heads of the two Congressional intelligence committees, stopped by to … er … congratulate Mr. Biden in person? Maybe. Would any information passed to Mr. Biden through these avenues constitute a violation of federal law? Probably. Any likelihood of detection and consequences? Little … and none.
As to the Coronavirus response itself: while noting in his news conference yesterday that “We are a war with the virus,” when asked about the Trump Administration’s unwillingness to work with his team, Mr. Biden prodded Mr. Trump by warning that “More people may die if we don’t coordinate” and “You’d think he’d at least want to go off on a positive note,” but acknowledged that if necessary, the Biden team will “try to pull together a serious and consistent plan so we’re ready on Day 1.” It is apparent that Mr. Trump is so locked up in his own narcissistic malaise that no entreaty will move him. My guess: the drug companies and health equipment manufacturers are already sharing at least as much detail regarding their current status and projections with Biden representatives as they are with the Trump Administration. Since Mr. Trump seems intent on inaction, no meaningful federal progress will be made until Inauguration Day even if/when the Trump Administration provides all of its data and plans to the Biden Transition Team. Given comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci, I have hope that the Administration may actually have workable plans.
As Mr. Biden also noted yesterday, things are going to get “much tougher before they get easier” on COVID during the coming months. That said, we can all help ourselves. Let’s end where we started, with WWII: in December, 1944, six months after D-Day, German forces that had been in retreat staged a massive counter-offensive, resulting in what became known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” American forces in Bastogne, Belgium, were outnumbered, outgunned, and short of supplies. The Germans demanded American surrender. The American commander, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, responded: “Nuts.” Despite being surrounded and ill-equipped, the Americans held on against the German assault until reinforcements arrived. For the good of our families, our fellow citizens, and ourselves, we likewise have to do our best to hold on. The key to prevailing on the Coronavirus front is within our control – by wearing masks and limiting if not avoiding indoor social gatherings – as we wait for federal reinforcements to arrive as soon as feasible after Inauguration Day.
It has been widely reported that in this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act, a number of conservative Justices expressed sentiments which led Court observers to suggest that the Court will reject the Republican challenge. My comment: this may have become a political softball for the Court’s conservatives. The law is enmeshed in our country’s healthcare system, and to find it unconstitutional will create chaos during the ongoing COVID pandemic and wreak havoc on a huge part of the American economy. There is a legal rationale to let it stand – providing the appearance that the Court is open-minded and taking some of the steam out of partisan Democrats calling for the Court’s drastic reorganization. I’m guessing that the vote will ultimately be at least 6-3 to uphold the law, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a unanimous Court.
In the same vein: I’ve sensed throughout Chief John Roberts’ tenure that his most fervent hope is that “his” Court will never be called upon to decide a bitterly partisan political dispute over presidential succession such as Bush v. Gore. That said, inasmuch as the results of the Biden-Trump contest are sufficiently clear, Mr. Biden’s victory is supported by the vote in a wide variety of states, and no credible evidence of voting irregularities has surfaced that would materially affect the election’s outcome, I’m not sure that the Chief Justice, and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, might not want to have one of the President’s bizarre legal challenges reach them – so they can vote against him. As with any Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, it will enable the two junior Justices to shed some of the partisan taint that will otherwise forever dog them and their legacies among liberal legal and public policy commentators.
As to the Republicans: As President Trump’s petulance continues with regard to an election that all – including him – know that he lost by a clear, if in some states not overwhelming, margin, I would suggest that Republicans perhaps fall into three categories:
The (somewhat) politically brave: Republican Senators including Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Ben Sasse, who have acknowledged that Mr. Biden won. (There are a few other Republican Senators, such as James Lankford, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey and John Cornyn, who have had the patriotic temerity to suggest that President-Elect Biden should be provided access to national security information, although they haven’t acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory.) I consider even the first group only “somewhat” brave because they have either just won re-election and/or manifestly maintain standing with their constituents apart from Mr. Trump.
The scurrilous: The political hacks pandering to Mr. Trump’s whims and putting party over country, whether due to political cowardice or deep (and frankly, un-American) partisanship. This is the majority, but I want to single out for particular mention Wisconsin’s own Senator Ron Johnson, who keeps inhaling oxygen that the rest of us could put to better use. (Below for your viewing pleasure is a link to the Talking Points Memo article, “The Award For Most Bad Faith Refusal To Acknowledge Biden’s Win Goes To… Ron Johnson.”)
Those at the epicenter: This may sound a bit Pollyannish, but I would submit that there may be some appearing to placate the President that are actually desperately striving to keep our democracy functioning at a time of continuing uncertainty. While some of those within the Administration, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seem to be putting up with behavior that none of us would tolerate in a 3-year old, I would offer this: we would probably placate the 3-year old if he walked into the room waving a loaded gun. That may be where we are right now. As deferential as Messrs. Pence and Pompeo appear, and notwithstanding the fact that each obviously harbors post-Trump political ambitions, former Trump Administration National Security Advisor John Bolton – himself no coddler – makes pretty plain in The Room Where It Happened that there were times that Messrs. Pence and Pompeo kowtowed to the President in order to maintain sufficient influence with him to nudge him from disastrous impulses such as withdrawing the United States from NATO. As for Attorney General William Barr, it may be worthy of note that his recent Memorandum, altering the policy of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section’s Election Crimes Branch to authorize U.S. Attorneys to investigate voting irregularities before election results are certified, cautioned against the U.S. Attorneys’ pursuit of “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims.” Given the lack of credible claims of voter fraud that have surfaced since the election, Mr. Barr’s Memorandum could be designed entirely to keep a childlike President from wielding his power to the detriment of the Republic.
“Only those that lived through the fervid atmosphere of those months can fully appreciate the debt the nation owes [Nixon Administration Chief of Staff] Al Haig. By sheer willpower, dedication, and self-discipline, he held the government together. … He served his President loyally but never forgot his duty to his country. His methods were sometimes rough … But the role assigned to Haig was not one that could be filled by choir boys. He had to preserve the sinews of America for its indispensable mission of being the last resort of the free, the hope of the oppressed, and the one country that with all its turbulent vitality could be relied upon to walk the paths of mercy. It is not necessary that in an hour of crisis America’s representatives embody all of these qualities so long as they enable our nation to do so. … [H]e sustained the President while moving him toward the resignation that Nixon dreaded, resisted, and yet knew increasingly to be inevitable. Haig kept the faith with his President and he kept it with the institutions of this country.”
Henry Kissinger: Years of Upheaval
Hopefully, such will be the case now, as it was in 1974.
In a past note, I offered some observations as to how Russian President Vladimir Putin might react, if President-Elect Joe Biden won the presidency, during the interregnum between the determination of Mr. Biden’s victory and his Inauguration Day. There are obviously many parties with interests to pursue during the coming ten weeks, particularly since President Trump seems, at least at this point, intent on futilely thrashing about. How a number of pivotal players might view their respective opportunities and challenges:
Mr. Biden first: He’s already doing it. The President-Elect is projecting momentum, inevitability, moderation, and unity. He is executing his Coronavirus policy, and either has or will (critical: after securing the Trump Administration’s approval) publicly and privately expressing American stability to both allies and adversaries. While Mr. Biden has already alluded to a slew of Executive Orders he intends to issue on Inauguration Day (e.g., extending DACA, re-entering the Paris Climate Accord and appropriately rescinding overtly biased-based Trump Administration actions such as the Muslim ban), he should defer announcing dramatic policy reversals that don’t have a tinge of bias, such as those relating to fracking regulations and the Iranian nuclear deal.
I earlier indicated that during any interregnum between Trump and Biden Administrations, Mr. Trump’s failings will render American foreign policy at its most impotent in over a century; that said, Mr. Trump’s foibles and instability may cause many of our adversaries to tread gingerly.
Mr. Putin: I have come to the opinion that if Mr. Putin – who has yet to extend congratulations to Mr. Biden — thinks inflaming American domestic passions will make future relations with Mr. Biden more difficult, he won’t. I think Mr. Putin will be tempted to exert influence in Belarus and might probe Ukraine.
Chinese President Xi Jinping: Having recently secured the Mainland’s position in Hong Kong, and being aware of President Trump’s erraticism and that Mr. Trump may well blame Mr. Xi for his defeat due to Mr. Xi’s early Coronavirus dissembling, I expect Mr. Xi to standvery still. Although an overt move against Taiwan is undoubtedly tempting, it’s too likely to provoke a bellicose response from Mr. Trump.
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un: Will do what Mr. Xi tells him to do. See above regarding the dangers of provoking an unstable Mr. Trump.
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei: The Iranians undoubtedly consider Democrats like Messrs. Obama and Biden easier to work with than erratic and warlike Republicans [Note: I agree with the Republicans on this one ;)]. Mr. Trump probably hates Iran even more than he hates China. If you are Iran, this is the time to stand pat and avoid provoking Mr. Trump.
The Taliban in Afghanistan: This group is so driven by hate that it can’t get out of its own way. Although Richard Haass commented in A World in Disarray, “[D]iplomacy and negotiations tend to reflect [armed conflict] realities on the ground, not change them,” I would nonetheless venture that if it was smart, the Taliban would throttle down its violence in Afghanistan, continue its peace talks with the Afghan government, avoid provoking Mr. Trump, give Mr. Biden the psychological space to remove our remaining troops – all but a foregone conclusion if the Taliban can restrain itself — and then overrun the country. Since the Taliban has never demonstrated a shred of strategic thinking, this seems the Middle East’s, and perhaps the world’s, wildest card.
Our allies: Whether happy or sad at Mr. Trump’s defeat, these nations need the United States. They’ll seek to make accommodation with Mr. Biden. If I were Mr. Biden, I would see what if anything could be done with German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the ally most obviously thrilled at the prospect of Mr. Trump’s departure — to obstruct Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with Russia.
On the domestic sphere:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Mr. McConnell will quietly pull the party trappings out from under Mr. Trump. Although some commentators are talking about establishment Republicans’ desire to hold Mr. Trump’s base sans Mr. Trump, my guess is that the pros realize that a movement like Mr. Trump’s needs a charismatic demagogue. They rode Mr. Trump to a lot of conservative judges; they know they can work with Mr. Biden; and … they know that Mr. Trump was never qualified to be president.
Rupert Murdoch: By far the dominant voice in the alt-right propaganda echo chamber. His Wall Street Journal and New York Post have already called the election for Mr. Biden. Some liberal talking heads are talking about “what the Fox News hosts will do.” I am surprised by that; these hosts have the platform that Mr. Murdoch gives them. If/when Mr. Murdoch tells them to shift their perspective from “The election was rigged” to regret that “Mr. Trump lost, and it’s time to look forward,” they’ll do as they’re told. Attacking Democrats will be at least as good for Fox’ business as hyping an obviously unstable and unqualified loser who is probably going to seek to become Fox’ competitor.
The following will sound paranoid, but Mr. Trump is unpredictable, and retains control the federal machinery for another ten weeks. If any of the following individuals, I would take the following steps to guard against risks to the Republic during the interregnum in the event that Mr. Trump either resists leaving office, demonstrates irrationality or paralysis as he absorbs his defeat, or otherwise conducts his office in a manner dangerously deleterious to American domestic or international interests. Almost certainly unnecessary; but precautions perhaps worth taking:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: There is undoubtedly a lawyer – undoubtedly a man 😉 – elegant, cultured, who is at the epicenter of Democratic Party power politics. Call him, “Mr. Clifford.” (If one Googles “Clark Clifford,” you’ll see the prototype.) If I was Ms. Pelosi, I would have already called Mr. Clifford, and – her lips to his ear — asked him to draft a generic Article of Impeachment for use if necessary.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley: I’d very quietly have trusted outside counsel advise me as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.
Vice President Mike Pence: After consulting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I’d have trusted outside counsel advise me regarding the 25th Amendment (this last almost certainly won’t happen).
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett: The ball is almost certainly not going to be hit to them in any meaningful way. I’d already be relaxing in a warm bath with a glass of fine wine [or in Justice Kavanaugh’s case, a cold beer ;)].
President Trump: Every one of us has suffered an emotionally crushing setback at some point or other. I would suggest, with genuine sympathy – despite the danger his instability presents — for the unspeakable anguish that the President, a man beset by crippling insecurity, is now undoubtedly experiencing, that he consider the following clip, the conclusion of the portrayal of another talented, proud, and deeply flawed man in a film that I guarantee that all men of the President’s and my vintage absorbed at the time. It provides perspective if not solace …
As I suspect every conscious American is now aware, most or all of the credible mainstream news outlets in this nation, including the Wall Street Journal (which I specifically note, given its conservative editorial bent) have declared that former Vice President Joe Biden [now President-Elect Biden ;)] has won sufficient states to claim an Electoral College victory, and thus, the presidency of the United States.
Are there Democrats that are too progressive for me? A bunch. Are there Republicans who are too reactionary for me? A bunch. Will there be pitched policy battles over the next two, and then the succeeding two, years? You bet. Are there millions of Americans who feel disrespected by the elites — on both sides of political aisle — who deserve to have their justifiable concerns addressed? Absolutely. But as I just noted to a friend … I feel that I can breathe for the first time in four years. It will come as no surprise to anyone that has read these pages, given my numerous allusions to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that I consider President Trump to have Fascist inclinations, and that I genuinely feared that another four years of a Trump presidency seriously risked the destruction of the American Dream. I’ve been watching presidential election nights since 1960; there have been a number in which I was joyful, others in which I was despondent. Never in my life have I felt this level of exhilaration, combined with an equal sense of … relief.
Do we have immediate risks over the next ten weeks, both at home and abroad? Without doubt; Mr. Trump’s reaction to his loss – and what that will mean to our domestic tranquility and what actions it might precipitate around the world – remains to be seen. But I hope that the Lord will not consider me blasphemous if I take the liberty of paraphrasing the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable, Luke 15:32: Today, it is right that we make merry and rejoice, for the American Dream seemed likely to perish, and has come to life; it seemed lost, but … is found.
By this time, all who care are aware that last night, President Trump indulged in a self-pitying rant about the progress of the presidential election, including remarks such as: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win”; “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us”; “We were winning in all the key locations by a lot, actually, and then our numbers started miraculously getting whittled away in secret and they wouldn’t allow legally permissible observers,” “They [presumably, Democrats] want to find out how many votes they need, and then they seem to be able to find them. They wait and wait, and then they find them, and you see that on Election Night”; “Our goal is to defend the integrity of the election. We’ll not allow the corruption to steal such an important election,” and “[W]e can’t allow silence, anybody to silence our voters and manufacture results,” “This is a case where they’re trying to steal the election. They’re trying to rig an election and we can’t let that happen. Detroit and Philadelphia, known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country easily, cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race, a very important presidential race.”
Despite his years of malign behavior, the President’s wanton and apparently baseless effort to undercut confidence in the process that has sustained this nation for over two centuries was still shocking to me. (I know; I’m slow.) No matter that anyone with a modicum of discernment should readily see through Mr. Trump’s transparent fabrications; his fervent supporters believe him. Equally disconcerting was his tone: this is a man in fantasy land, beset by delusions wrought by a maimed psyche. I would suggest that any rational observer — even one that identifies with Mr. Trump’s substantive policies, grievances, and manner — has to question his relationship with reality. Put aside the moral judgements; he lacks to mental stability to conduct the office he holds.
Mr. Trump’s harangue drove me back to Federalist No. 68, in which Alexander Hamilton, speaking as Publius, defended the Electoral College process for selecting the President set forth in the Constitution:
“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. … Nothing was more to be desired than that every practical obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.”
As far as I know, there is not one case of election fraud to substantiate any of the claims the President made last night. Election officials across the country of both political persuasions have attested to their efforts to conduct free and fair elections according to the rules of their respective states. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called upon the President and his cohort to produce evidence of the election fraud they allege. So far, they haven’t. Until they do, they are the source of the “tumult and disorder” and the “cabal, intrigue, and corruption” in the selection of the President that concerned Mr. Hamilton over 200 years ago.
It is ironic that specifically because the electoral process has been so measured, if every vote is indeed counted, and Mr. Biden’s vote tally fails to exceed Mr. Trump’s in a sufficient number of states for Mr. Biden to secure victory in the Electoral College, Mr. Trump’s re-election will cause me to despair over the disposition of our citizens and to dread the future for our nation and the world – but I will not feel that his election was a fraudulent one.
All that said … hopefully, today is the day we begin to put this dark chapter in our history behind us.