[These pages may well address on another day the continuing flagrant – if hardly surprising – depravity we are witnessing as the Trump Administration dissolves. It seems that the remainder of at least this week is best devoted to what Mr. Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address called, “the better angels of our nature.”]
Perhaps you believe that God sent His (hopefully all will excuse this note’s use of male pronouns for the Almighty) only Son into the world as the Sacrificial Lamb that redeemed us from our sins. Perhaps your Faith, proclaimed by the Prophets, holds the promise of a Messiah yet to come. Perhaps you worship Allah, and abide by the teachings promulgated by his Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad. Perhaps you devoutly follow one of the great Eastern or other sacred Faiths, of which my own knowledge is embarrassingly inadequate (a gap on my retirement list yet to be addressed). Perhaps you have placed your trust in the Great Spirit of Native American tradition, or have made your own peace with a Being beyond our comprehension. I believe that one who lives a life pleasing to the Almighty will be reconciled to Him, no matter by what path one has chosen to reach Him. After a terribly challenging year on so many levels – including a virus which might be characterized as a plague, by Biblical standards – let us hope that as we take heart from what will be an uncommonly limited level of community with family and friends as this year ends, the Almighty provides us the strength, grace, and wisdom to have greater understanding in the coming year for the justifiable concerns of others, and that we work together so that by the end of next year, life will be at least a little better for at least some of those of our citizens and around the world beset by so many burdens.
“The President … shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4
As indicated in these pages close to a year ago, as soon as I read the word, “Biden,” in the White House Memorandum of the call between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which undisputedly showed an American President pressuring the leader of a vulnerable foreign ally to help him politically against another American, Mr. Trump’s despicable conduct – call it a “high Crime” if you prefer; I considered it Treason — was ample evidence that he was unworthy of the office he holds, and of the American people. While he was impeached in the House of Representatives, the Republican sycophants in the Senate refused to remove him from office, more concerned about their own careers than about the good of our nation, Congressional responsibility, and our democratic processes.
“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”
United States Constitution, Amendment XXV, Section 4
A number of trustworthy news outlets have recently reported that during the past week, President Trump inquired about the feasibility of a scheme, offered on a conservative media outlet by his convicted and now pardoned former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, that Mr. Trump impose martial law in the swing states won by President-Elect Joe Biden and have the military redo the presidential election in those states. It has also been credibly reported that Mr. Trump has suggested that the Department of Homeland Security should seize voting machines in swing states in order to investigate baseless claims of election fraud thrown out across the country by judges of every judicial philosophy. If the reporting is accurate, these and other far-fetched strategies have been, thus far, shut down by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who have been two of the President’s staunchest loyalists – hardly pillars that give one confidence that our Constitutional safeguards will hold.
We have no idea at this point whether Mr. Trump actually believes the lies regarding election fraud that he has so perniciously spread over the last six weeks. His niece, Dr. Mary Trump, stated in her book, Too Much and Never Enough, “The people with access to [Mr. Trump] are weaker than Donald is, more craven, but just as desperate. Their futures are directly dependent on his success and favor. … His pathologies have rendered him so simple-minded than it takes nothing more than repeating to him the things he says to and about himself … to get him to do whatever they want …”
Most charitably, the President has come to believe his own fantasies, and is now dangerously unbalanced. More malevolently, he knows his claims are lies and simply seeks to hold on to power at any cost. (Although such intent would constitute treason, there is no longer time for Congressional impeachment and removal proceedings, even if such had any prospect of success.) In either event, Mr. Trump is manifestly “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” (For as steadfast a defender of the President, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, to stage as abrupt a reversal as he has in recent weeks – first indicating that there was insufficient evidence of fraud to affect the outcome of the presidential election, more recently declaring, despite the President’s protestations, that Russia was responsible for the recent deep and widespread hack of federal government systems and adding that there was no ground for the federal government to seize swing state voting machines or for a special prosecutor to investigate Hunter Biden or the election – makes one ponder whether Mr. Barr has noted something increasingly disquieting in Mr. Trump’s conduct since the election.) Despite all of this, can we have any hope that Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of Cabinet officers will have the courage to institute proceedings under Amendment XXV to protect our nation? To ask the question is to answer it.
I am tired of Donald Trump. I am tired of writing about Donald Trump. (Something of which the President himself is only too well aware: he shrinks without a spotlight.) This should be the time focus on the myriad of daunting substantive domestic and foreign policy concerns that will confront us upon Mr. Biden’s inauguration. That said, we may still be facing the most perilous 30 days that our nation has seen since the darkest days of World War II, or perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis – brought upon us not only by Mr. Trump’s deformed psyche and his enablers, but by the rank cowardice of so many Republican office holders that could – as a group, if not singly — have stood in the breach and defended our nation, but have not.
‘Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’”
William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II
Yesterday, the Electoral College cast its votes for president. Despite the apparently inevitable Trump Conspiracy histrionics that will continue until Congress counts the Electoral College votes on January 6, and the likelihood of partisan Republican obstructive tactics during that Congressional proceeding, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s election to the presidency will then and there be formally acknowledged.
For those of us who feared America’s descent into fascism had President Trump been re-elected, the Electoral College’s official rendering provided a significant sense of relief; but my overall reaction to yesterday’s news was bittersweet. Even as the Electoral College results arrived and the trucks carrying vaccines rolled, we reached 300,000 American Coronavirus deaths — many of which seem indisputably a result of the President’s abject incompetence. Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s manifestly undemocratic conduct of office throughout his entire term, my suspicion persists that his gross mishandling of our COVID response was the primary factor in his narrow loss of the combined 37 Electoral College votes of the pivotal states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. If such was indeed the case, let us pray that despite the fringe elements, we can move ahead as a nation – that the avoidable virus deaths we have suffered across our land, and those tragically to come, will not be entirely in vain.
Fifty years ago tomorrow – December 12, 1970, also a Saturday – at a about 4 in the afternoon, I left my Marquette University dormitory, McCormick Hall at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and 16th Street in Milwaukee, and walked 12 blocks east to the bus stop at 4th and Wisconsin, outside the side entrance to Boston Store, in order to catch the westbound 57 Center bus. The University’s semester class schedule had just concluded; final exams were to begin the following Monday. I was (hopefully) bound for the home of my date, in Wauwatosa, WI, a bedroom community immediately adjoining the city. I was significantly weighted down; the bus fare was 40 cents, and I was carrying 24 dimes – four to get me to my companion’s house, eight to get us both back downtown, eight to subsequently get us back to her house, and four to get me back downtown at the end of the night. Our evening’s primary activity was to be watching Coach Al McGuire’s national powerhouse Marquette Warriors host the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Milwaukee Arena; I had secured her ticket to the game from a dorm mate who had opted to spend the night studying for his upcoming finals.
I had met my evening’s companion the preceding August, before the start of my very first Marquette class. I had signed up for 8AM Spanish – incredibly naïve and stupid scheduling for a college student lifestyle; I never took another 8AM class – and when I reached the classroom door, I surveyed the scene, went and sat down next to the best-looking girl in the room – sparkling dark eyes, stunning very curly dark brown, almost black, hair, bright smile – and started talking.
Spanish class met four days a week, and we ended up talking much of the time. She was a townie – living in Wauwatosa (“The next city over,” she had to enlighten my Chicagoland consciousness). Both of us had a free hour after Spanish, and ever more as the semester went on, I walked her from Spanish to Marquette’s Union, frequently staying to visit further before we separated for the day. Sometimes, because I couldn’t study in the racket that is any men’s college dorm, I would run into her at the end of the day in the lobby of the Marquette Library, and wait with her until her brother came to pick her up.
Shyness around women has never been one of my prevailing traits, and I liked this girl. At the same time, she was — as my dorm mates frequently noted – a townie. They pointed out that there were literally hundreds of coeds living on campus within a five minute walk from our dorm. Half the people in my classes were women, and – at a point when Wisconsin’s legal drinking age was 18 – the campus bars teemed on the weekends. I obviously had no car, and those that know me won’t be a bit surprised that my male dignity, however inapposite, would never allow for the suggestion that my Spanish classmate could drive us on a date. Heeding my dorm mates’ advice, I ventured out with several charming Marquette women during the semester; although those outings were fun, I was in Spanish four days a week, and couldn’t escape the fact that I really liked … this girl. While we had gotten well acquainted, she had never indicated whether she was dating anyone (although one conversation made clear that she had had to sequence a series of prom dates the preceding Spring – not exactly a boost for a young man’s morale ;)], or dropped any veiled hint that I should ask her out.
As the semester drew down, I was torn: I was running out of weekends in the semester. There was really no longer time for dating; I needed to study to do well in finals. There was always next semester to ask her out. I certainly did not relish taking a Milwaukee city bus for the first time for what I was pretty sure wouldn’t be a short ride over dark and cold (Milwaukee gets cold in winter) unfamiliar night terrain. And yet … I liked this girl. Even then, I understood that Marquette was big; we didn’t share a major, and our paths had only crossed because we had happened to take the same general language elective during the same idiotic early morning slot.
At the beginning of the last week of class, I made up my mind, and made the leap: I asked if she’d like to go with me to the Marquette game that Saturday night. She immediately said yes. She offered to drive (I found out later that she had gone on dates during the semester in which she had picked the guys up at the dorm). I said that I preferred that we take the bus; how did we do that? I could tell: she liked that. She told me what the fare was – that they only accepted exact change — where the bus stop was, where I could get a schedule, and that it was going to be about a 45-minute ride. She gave me her address in Wauwatosa, told me what stop to get off, and the directions to her house from the stop. We were on.
The memory of the evening itself is a warm glow. The bus was on time; the fare was right; I got off at the right stop; I found the house. In a sense more a high school date setting than a college meet, I met her parents. (I found out later that her father, who I came to revere before he left us too soon, liked me immediately because I insisted on taking the bus.) On that Saturday evening, she was every bit as open, dark and exciting, as I had come to know her, but a bit more mysterious. We took the bus downtown, saw the game (it was a blowout), had dinner at a nondescript place afterward that had looked better through the window in early reconnaissance than it was in reality (she didn’t seem to mind), got back on the bus and to her home at the right time. It appeared … that she had enjoyed herself (a lady, I came to find out later, never lets a gentleman know all of what she is thinking). She agreed to go out with me again after finals before I went home. I was … on top of the world. Finals starting Monday? No worries. What brought me back to earth: standing on a bus stop in Wauwatosa, WI, at 1AM in the dark of December in a whipping wind waiting for the last bus downtown. I pulled out a dorm mate’s stocking cap that he had insisted I take – I never wore a hat in those hirsute days – clamped it on, and held on until the bus arrived.
McCormick Hall has been demolished. The Marquette Union has been replaced, the Marquette Library has been expanded beyond recognition. The Marquette Warriors became the Marquette Golden Eagles a quarter of a century ago. Al McGuire, on that December 1970 night still years away from his 1977 NCAA Championship, will be dead twenty years this January. The Marquette basketball team vacated the Milwaukee Arena (now the Milwaukee Mecca) for the Bradley Center “eons ago,” as Coach McGuire would say – and has now moved on again, to the Fiserv Forum. The Boston Store, long a city fixture, is physically gone, now merely an online brand of bailout owners. The unremarkable restaurant in which we dined that night has disappeared. She and I never had another class together, and even after she moved to campus starting our sophomore year, we didn’t coincidentally run into each other on the street more than a few times during our remaining years at Marquette. There is still a bus route from downtown Milwaukee to Wauwatosa, but it is no longer the 57 Center.
I still have the notes I jotted down of her directions to the bus and her house. Those sparkling dark eyes now sometimes look up at me over the brightly-colored frames of her reading glasses, as she lifts her gaze from her iPad galleries of our children and grandchildren.
We have all attended many weddings, and heard many a groom describe the nervousness he felt as he prepared to propose to his bride. When it came time for me to propose to her, on a December night five years after our first bus ride, a delay born of the extended education regimes we undertook as part of our life’s plan, I felt no apprehension [as a matter of fact, on the night I formally proposed, I think she kinda expected it, as I kinda expected that she would say yes ;)]. The hard decision wasn’t to ask her to marry me; the hard decision – the most important of my life – had come when I decided that I liked this girl enough to risk taking the 57 Center bus.
Inasmuch as the death throes of the Trump Administration will undoubtedly include the President’s granting a number of distasteful pardons – perhaps including an attempt to pardon himself – this seems an appropriate time to recall the Constitutional law instruction of our greatest fictional President, regarding the limits of his Article II pardon power.
[Full disclosure: I heard David Ignatius of the Washington Post express many of the substantive concerns set forth below on MSNBC’s Morning Joethis morning. I still consider it appropriate to post this because it was written yesterday.]
So much for feeling a modicum of sympathy for President Trump’s anguish in defeat.
As all who care are aware, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was relieved of his duties yesterday by Mr. Trump. Mr. Esper has been replaced by Christopher C. Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, described in some accounts as a loyalist to the President. (No confirmation as to Mr. Miller’s political sentiments here; I had never heard of him until yesterday.) While it probably matters little at this point to Mr. Esper personally, the inferences one might draw regarding the potential significance of his removal for the nation are worthy of reflection.
In a note I published last June, “The Fourth Election: Part II,” I commented in part as follows:
“Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his [Senate impeachment] acquittal, and has felt free to exact revenge and pursue vendettas against those he considers to have wronged him or his entourage. Does anyone think that Mr. Trump will be more restrained if he is re-elected? Does anyone wish to wager that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has at times displeased the president with his candid assessment of the extent of COVID crisis, or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who each publicly separated themselves from the President’s actions in Lafayette Park, won’t be removed from their positions if and when Mr. Trump no longer considers such removals a danger to his re-election prospects? [Italics in Original]”
I noted in these pages yesterday: “… 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. [:] … 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.”
Is Mr. Esper’s removal no more than an instance of Trump retribution? Almost certainly. A portent of anything more significant? Almost certainly not. Canaries undoubtedly occasionally die in coal mines for reasons other than inhalation of poisonous gas. That said, Mr. Trump has fired the civilian in the chain of command between the military and himself who was resistant to the use of American troops against our citizens, and replaced him with an individual that at least some consider more loyal to Mr. Trump. (It would be fascinating to know whether Mr. Esper had indeed been researching rules of the Military Code relating to removal of a superior officer that I suggested yesterday that he might.) While Mr. Esper’s removal probably has little meaning other than to provide any American who has regrets about voting against Mr. Trump further reassurance that his/her vote for Mr. Biden was well entered, Mr. Trump’s future exercise of his presidential power arguably bears closer watching than all the hoorah arising from his electoral antics.
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 …
At the time this is typed, the Associated Press has called Maine, the only state besides Nebraska to apportion its Electoral College votes by Congressional District, by the same split that prevailed in 2016. NBC has called Wisconsin for former Vice President Joe Biden, although the Trump Campaign has indicated that it will demand a recount. Mr. Biden is ahead in Arizona. Vote in the large metro areas of Michigan and Pennsylvania is still being counted, with Democrats apparently optimistic about their chances in Michigan. Pennsylvania, despite a currently sizeable lead for President Trump, has too much outstanding vote to readily lend itself to forecast, but Democrats clearly believe that they have a solid opportunity to win the state. Mr. Biden leads in Nevada, the only state won by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 still in question.
If Mr. Biden achieves the Electoral College victory arguably – but far, far from securely – within his grasp, the Trump Campaign will almost certainly mount various challenges to the reported results. Former U.S. MO Sen. Claire McCaskill provided what was at least for me a reassuring reminder earlier this morning: unless it’s over a few hundred votes, state recounts rarely overturn initial results. This year, it could be closer, since the Trump Campaign, aided by Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, will be looking to have invalidated as many of these states’ mail-in votes as it can, but the Democrats will seemingly retain the edge.
The Trump Campaign might bring a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump now leads, to halt the counting of ballots that could provide Mr. Biden with a victory and the state’s 20 Electoral votes. Any such challenge will obviously go all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Perhaps Pollyannish: I don’t think even Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court appointees will issue a ruling that will have the effect of invalidating Pennsylvania ballots rendered according to the state’s then-existing rules. (This does not mean that Mr. Biden will ultimately prevail when all the votes are counted.)
The gaping divide among U.S. citizens demonstrated by the election results is clearly worthy of a future note, but not here. My only comment: assuming for the moment that Mr. Biden does win the presidency by what will clearly be very small margins in a decisive number of states, it’s hard not to conclude that but for the Coronavirus, Mr. Trump would have secured a second term. Such suggests that the gap within the U.S. citizenry may yawn even more widely that the Electoral College results might ultimately reflect.
Finally, amidst another unbelievable polling debacle, Arizona, its vote count currently significantly favoring Mr. Biden, is the only swing state for which polling results even remotely resembled its final vote tallies. If the Grand Canyon State’s 11 Electoral College votes are pivotal in winning Mr. Biden the presidency, I was particularly struck by an observation made last night by an Arizona reporter: that Arizona Republicans may not “have come home” as Republicans did in a number of other supposed swing states because they have not liked Mr. Trump’s incessant bitter criticisms of the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain, one of the state’s revered favorite sons. There will never be any way of knowing for sure, but if Mr. Trump, a man with glaring dictatorial aspirations – whom Sen. McCain called his “adversary” — loses the White House in part because of the unwarranted disrespect he spewed upon Mr. McCain – and is ironically replaced by Mr. McCain’s close friend, Joe Biden, who gave the eulogy at the Senator’s private burial service – I suspect that this late American hero might feel that by his drawing the enemy’s fire, victory for America was achieved; that his service to his country is now complete; and that he can rest in peace …
[A brief – but entirely warranted – respite from the political maelstrom upon us.]
“In the glass, the grey-blue eyes looked back at him with the extra light they held when his mind was focused on a problem that interested him. The lean, hard face had a hungry, competitive edge to it. There was something swift and intent in the way he ran his fingers along his jaw and in the impatient stroke of the hairbrush to put back the comma of black hair that fell down an inch above his right eyebrow. It crossed his mind that, with the fading of his sunburn, the scar down the right cheek that had shown so white was beginning to be less prominent …”
“And what could the casual observer think of him, ‘Commander James Bond, C.M.G., R.N.V.S.R.,’ also ‘something at the Ministry of Defence, the rather saturnine young man in his middle thirties sitting opposite the Admiral? Something a bit cold and dangerous in that face. Looks pretty fit. May have been attached to Templar in Malaya. Or Nairobi. Mau Mau work. Tough-looking customer. Doesn’t look like the kind of chap one usually sees in Blades.”
“Bond knew that there was something alien and un-English about himself …”
Moonraker, 1955: Ian Fleming
Put aside that in today’s world, James Bond’s womanizing was profane and his drinking habits gargantuan (in the books – unlike the films — 007, despite regular vodka martinis, drank a wide range of different beverages, including Dom Perignon champagne, scotch highballs, sake, and Red Stripe beer); to many young men coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s — which included me – the British Secret Service Agent with the “Licence to Kill” brought to life in 13 books by Ian Fleming between 1953 and 1965 (the last published posthumously) was the epitome of duty, elegance, worldliness and working class grit. He provided our first inside look at countries such as France, Turkey, Switzerland, Japan and the Bahamas.
I suspect that those of us who view James Bond primarily through Mr. Fleming’s works – rather than through what I consider for the most part to be special effects films — are a shrinking number. For those that developed a mental picture of 007 through the novels, Sir Sean Connery, who just passed away, was James Bond come to life – in the same way that Al Pacino was Michael Corleone of the Godfather novel and, in an earlier era, Clark Gable was Rhett Butler rising from the pages of Gone with the Wind. As Bond, Mr. Connery perfectly projected the written character’s blend of suavity, courage, toughness, and resilience. The only places where Sir Sean’s portrayal deviated from the written character was with the double-entendre dialog, which was a movieland construct; the written Bond was a working agent who considered himself expendable and, world-wise though he was, didn’t engage in witty repartee. And … Mr. Connery had brown eyes :). Of Sir Sean’s successors as Bond, Daniel Craig has come the closest to Mr. Connery’s standard, because Mr. Craig captures the written Bond’s essence – the working class grit – but unlike Mr. Connery, Mr. Craig doesn’t look like Bond and his tuxedo always figuratively seems a bit ill-fit. Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, both distinguished actors and otherwise favorites of mine, made fine Bond fops but failed to credibly project the seriousness of the character. Only Mr. Connery had it all.
As the testaments to Sir Sean, recounting his many roles, have rolled in over the last couple of days, for me two beside Bond stand out: learned scholar Dr. Henry Jones, the father of Harrison Ford’s Dr. Henry (“Indiana”) Jones, Jr., in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; and British Agent John Mason in The Rock, a role in which Mr. Connery in many ways combined his James Bond and Henry Jones personas.
Sir Sean was one of those actors for me that when you hear of his/her passing, you feel genuine regret.
As anyone who reads these pages is aware, I have been – along with President Trump and apparently the rest of America’s political junkies – taken with polls. At the time this is typed, FiveThirtyEight.com (538) shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a lead in every swing state I’ve obsessed upon during the last year, with a lead above 5 points in all three of the Upper Midwest states in which Mr. Trump eked out his 2016 victory. I will be fascinated to see how closely 538’s findings on the morning of Election Day square with the battleground states’ final results. I expect that Mr. Biden’s final 538 swing state margins over Mr. Trump will differ from the candidates’ final swing state vote totals, for two reasons:
First, the Democrats’ substantive and political approach to the Coronavirus has necessarily required them to rely heavily on what in some states have heretofore been “non-traditional” voting methods – mail in, early drop-off, etc. – which seems likely to result in a proportionately greater number of Democratic than Republican votes being rejected for legitimate (and in some cases, illegitimate) reasons.
The second is more fundamental: the reluctance by some poll respondents to admit that they support the President. In a past note, I discounted that factor; now, I’ve tentatively concluded that there is indeed an “undervote” that will lift Mr. Trump (to what extent remains to be seen). I’ve changed my mind because by all objective measures, the President should be trailing by much more than he is. When pundits bore down into polling results, they note that while Mr. Trump is usually found to lead Mr. Biden narrowly in “the Economy,” he loses to Mr. Biden by notable margins in areas such as, “He cares about people like me,” “Handling the Coronavirus,” “Healthcare,” “Protecting Social Security and Medicare,” “Maintaining America’s Place in the World,” “Addressing Climate Change,” “Environmental Policy,” even – surprisingly – “Maintaining Law and Order.”
I fear that the dichotomy lies in what Mr. Trump has proven to us: Emotion trumps [if you will ;)] reason. Rationalists (which, at least in this context, apparently include me) fail to appreciate this. I would venture that if approached in a way that eliminates partisan overlay, many of the President’s supporters would prefer Mr. Biden’s substantive policies to Mr. Trump’s. I suggest that the polls don’t accurately reflect the deep affinity that a large share of Americans have for Mr. Trump because pollsters don’t ask the right questions (and to which they wouldn’t get a full share of accurate answers even if the respondents are willing to admit it to themselves):
Yes or No: Are you angry that your life hasn’t turned out as well as you expected?
Yes or No: Do you believe that America should be white, Christian, and straight?
Yes or No: Do you just want things to be … the way they always were?
For some, all three questions conjure images of a golden homogeneous carefree past, where everything made sense … that actually never was. Put aside that we shouldn’t go back; we can’t. Former President Bill Clinton, whom I consider the most gifted politician of my lifetime, famously said, “Elections are about the future.” I would submit that the outcome of this one will indicate whether we are ready to meet the opportunities and challenges of our future — one of the qualities that actually made America great — or are determined to drown in misshapen memories of our past.