Truly Random October Monday Thoughts

If polls are to be believed, President Trump’s standing has fallen sharply among seniors.  Commentators have generally attributed Mr. Trump’s apparent loss of senior support to his mishandling of our Coronavirus response.  If he has indeed lost senior support, I wonder whether it doesn’t have more meaning than that:  while COVID has brought into stark relief Mr. Trump’s incompetence and disregard for seniors’ safety, it has also caused seniors to confront the sheer lunacy of his presidency.  Seniors remember when the president, even if you disagreed with his particular policies, at least … made sense.  While Bernie, Elizabeth, or Pete might have conjured up fears of continued craziness, Joe Biden offers the prospect of … sanity.  Even if some fellow seniors don’t share my deep abhorrence for the president’s lies, bullying, racism, and dictatorial inclinations, I suspect that many share my attendant wish for a stop to the noise and the craziness.

I’m fascinated that in recent days the Republicans have tried to resurrect their allegations about … wait for it … former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Trump has spoken about it; Vice President Pence threw in references to Sec. Clinton near the end of the Vice Presidential debate; I saw one clip in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured us (complete with sardonic smile, almost diabolically rubbing his hands in glee) that he has Ms. Clinton’s allegedly deleted emails and will tell us more before the election.  This is obviously designed to elicit the Pavlovian response from the Republican faithful.  We ourselves have family members (of both genders) who get terribly exercised at the very mention of Ms. Clinton.  My reaction to Mr. Pompeo’s claim:  unless he produces a validated Clinton email which says, “I told Joe Biden that I was intentionally violating email security protocols and exposing our most sensitive information to Russia and China, and Joe said, ‘Great – Go for it!’”, what swing voter – upon whose vote the outcome of the presidential election will rest — cares anymore?  While she’s perhaps not the most likeable, I have never understood the Republican rabid Hillary Clinton fixation.  As First Lady and then Secretary of State, her responsibility was to support the policies of the sitting President.  Has there ever been a more inept national politician?  With all of the Clintons’ institutional advantages in 2008, how does one lose to a 2-year Illinois U.S. Senator, no matter how charismatic he is?  In 2016, how does one lose to … Donald Trump?  Let her rest in peace.

I haven’t been able to muster up that much interest in Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings or Judge Barrett’s impending ascension to the Supreme Court.  As all that read these pages are aware, I’m terribly troubled by the Republicans’ hypocrisy in thwarting Judge Garland’s Supreme Court nomination while pushing Judge Barrett’s; to me, it’s not about what the Senate had the right to do or not do, it’s about partisan Senate Republicans’ failure to honorably do what they should have done.  That said, it’s clear that Judge Barrett seems overwhelmingly likely to be confirmed.  Since she is undisputedly eminently qualified (albeit staunchly conservative) and apparently has no objective disqualifying factors such as drug addiction, I believe she should be.  I will nonetheless venture that if Mr. Biden wins the election and the Democrats gain control of the Senate, the liberal angst about Ms. Barrett’s ascension is overwrought.  Demographic and cultural mores sweeping this nation will not be held back by six conservative Justices, including the three Trump appointees, frantically trying to hold back the tide.  Public perception of the Court is no longer of robed oracles on pedestals as it was when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed his court packing plan in 1937.  Although Mr. Roosevelt’s initiative resulted in the most stinging political defeat of his career [although it didn’t stop him from being re-elected – twice – thereafter ;)], some scholars suggest that Mr. Roosevelt’s legislative overture caused “the switch in time that save nine” – conservative Justice Owen Roberts’ sudden joining with the liberal Justices to uphold New Deal positions.  I predict that independent voter support for court packing will mushroom if the Affordable Care Act is struck down or Roe v. Wade overruled.  The current conservative Justices will ultimately either accommodate their rulings to changing American sensibilities, be neutered by a legislative increase in Supreme Court seats, or depart the Court via “voluntary” retirement or impeachment.  On the other hand, if Mr. Trump is re-elected, a conservative Supreme Court majority will be among the lesser of our problems.

As the polls indicate – whether or not accurately – a potential “Blue Wave” in unlikely places such as Texas and Georgia, I wonder whether former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former GA State Rep. Stacey Abrams have experienced pangs about rejecting the Democratic National Committee’s repeated requests that they run for the U.S. Senate in their respective states in 2020.  While their reluctance earlier this year was understandable – both had come off close defeats in a non-presidential election year, and presumably didn’t like their electoral prospects against apparently popular incumbent Senators in a presidential election year – arguably the enthusiasm each engendered in their narrow 2018 defeats, against a backdrop of a seemingly dramatic shift in voter sentiment brought about by Mr. Trump, might in hindsight have given either or both of them a springboard to victory.  Two years ago, everyone knew of Mr. O’Rourke and Ms. Abrams; how many can name the current Texas and Georgia Democratic Senate candidates?

A good friend recently sent me the following link to an article reporting upon the State of Wisconsin’s ongoing negotiations with Foxconn.  The arrangement touted with such fanfare in June, 2018, by President Trump, then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and then WI Gov. Scott Walker is — and there is no kinder way to accurately describe it — a debacle.

https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/12/21512638/wisconsin-foxconn-tax-subsidies-lcd-factory-rejected?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWW1VeE1XRmlOVFprWVRWaCIsInQiOiJGVG0rSjJOdHdGelJqVjR3b2d4SWpOVGVETVRqVkVRayt1WlpQWnU4R0M5RUkxNXZUbFhSUkVSajB6RitGUEdRbkZmMlQ0RTE5a2pRaTk0QlVpOUgxRXhreG1EaThQSGtURTZ1ZEMzUzlUV25xYmIrYU1qWHFKWlBZcW5VXC83SXcifQ%3D%3D

All reports indicate that we’re going in the wrong direction on COVID.  Be careful.

Trump Has Convinced Me

A close friend, no fan of President Trump, texted me a few days ago, and said in part:

“As you know, I’m voting in person.  It’s not a political statement, but a practical statement.  The way your vote doesn’t count is screwing up filling out the ballot properly.  I know I won’t screw it up in person.”

I have also decided that I’m going to vote in person.  Although I’m at least as likely to screw up a mail-in ballot as our friend is, mine is a practical decision born of a different concern.  In a note a while back, I indicated, “I hope it won’t be necessary, but if it is, on November 3, for the country I want my children and grandchildren to live in, I will be willing to shake the hands of 20 desperately ill COVID patients and hug 20 more if that is what is required to reach a ballot box to vote against Donald John Trump.”  It’s time to back that up.  While measures that extreme probably won’t be necessary, given the malevolent manner in which Mr. Trump has sown distrust in a process which provides more of our people an opportunity to vote (an approach for which there is no credible evidence of any significant fraud having ever occurred in this country, and an approach he himself uses), the high likelihood that his lawyers will seek court orders to prematurely stop the counting of mail-in ballots in swing states such as Wisconsin, and the equally high likelihood of complicity to keep Mr. Trump in power by the bitter and resentful Republican Relics that control my state’s legislature, I refuse to be disenfranchised.  If there are but two Wisconsin votes recorded for Mr. Biden on Election Day [our friend undoubtedly being the other ;)], I want to know that one of them is mine. 

Impressions on RBG’s Passing: Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  ;)]

Upon hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and my estimation that it was likely that Republicans would immediately move to fill her seat, I feared that given progressives’ capacity for uncontrolled outrage, exacerbated by Republicans’ inexcusable refusal to act on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland four years ago, progressives wouldn’t be able to contain themselves.  In a random sampling of liberal outlets over the weekend, there appeared wall-to-wall liberal apoplexy about Republicans’ filling Justice Ginsburg’s seat.  I would suggest that such frenzy is counterproductive.  Bob Woodward reports in his book, Rage, that Presidential Advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s “… core understanding of communication strategy … is, ‘Controversy elevates [Trump’s] message.’”  If – while it remains to be seen how big an “if” it is — Senate Republicans suffer no more than three defections in seeking to confirm Mr. Trump’s nominee, they hold the winning Senate procedural hand.  For progressives to expend undue emotional reserves on a contest that they’re likely to lose at the expense of a contest that they can win – the presidential election – is at best a political gamble and at worst, detrimental to their strategic electoral designs.

That said, there is a distinction between luxuriating in incendiary rhetoric and outwardly temperate expression (even if seething inwardly) of distress and concern with the impact another conservative Supreme Court Justice might have on American rights, and with the blatantly partisan nature of the Republicans’ maneuvers.  The Democrats’ target audience, persuadable swing voters, could be alienated if they make hyper-partisan declarations, but may well be amenable to reasoned arguments and indignation.  While Republicans will attempt to make the fight about abortion, I would offer that Democrats’ best approach will be the line that some have already adopted:  how another conservative Trump appointee might adversely impact the now widely-popular Affordable Care Act, with dispassionate commentary on the contrast between the Republicans’ refusal to proceed with Judge Garland’s nomination and their rush to judgement on the Trump nominee.  Then, get back to the Coronavirus.  They should follow the wise advice of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, near the end of the film, Pulp FictionBe cool.  I’m somewhat reassured that at least Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden apparently understands this; reports indicate that he said nary a word about the Supreme Court during a recent trip to Wisconsin. 

Recent accounts indicate that the Trump Campaign is calling upon Mr. Biden to identify whom he would nominate to the Supreme Court if elected, and that Mr. Biden is rebuffing such calls.  Here, I think he is missing a golden opportunity.  He should declare that he will re-nominate Judge Garland.  I submit that such a declaration would be brilliant politically.  Progressives will grumble, but faced with the prospect of another Trump term and Trump Supreme Court nominees, will ultimately stay in line behind Mr. Biden; Mr. Garland will have the aura of having been previously nominated by Mr. Obama, providing Mr. Biden cover with his constituencies preferring a nominee of color; Mr. Biden’s naming of Judge Garland, a moderate, would destroy Mr. Trump’s argument that Mr. Biden is a tool of the “alt-left”; and Mr. Biden’s selection of Mr. Garland would seem fitting to swing state swing voters offended  by Republicans’ unfair treatment of him.  I believe that if Mr. Biden would name Judge Garland, he “wins” the Supreme Court debate with persuadable voters no matter what the Republicans do with a Trump nomination.

While political prognostication is engaging, Justice Ginsburg’s passing and the potential fallout has left me with a couple of more fundamental impressions.  The first – perhaps to the surprise of those who are aware of my obsessed keyboard frothing about Sen. Mitch McConnell’s contemptible, despicable, execrable dereliction of duty in refusing to proceed with the Senate confirmation process for Judge Garland – is that President Trump should put forth a nominee, and if, after appropriately-paced and illuminative confirmation hearings, the nominee is found to be judicially qualified and without other objective “disqualifying” factors such as drug addiction (not subjective legal views), the nominee should be confirmed.  Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides:  “[The President] … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme [sic] Court.”  Four years ago, I wrote U.S. IA Sen. Charles Grassley, then the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:  “I see nowhere in the [Constitution] any language limiting the President’s powers of nomination and appointment to the first three years of his/her term.”  Mr. Trump is the President.  He is within his term.  He has not just the “Power” but the duty to put forth a Supreme Court nominee.  As the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain once urged in another context:  Let’s return to regular order.  To me that needs to apply whether or not one finds “regular order” convenient.  As abhorrent as I find Messrs. Trump and McConnell, there is no value to enshrining the notion that a President cannot perform a vital Constitutional function a quarter of the time.  As our mothers taught us:  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We were with good friends [at a socially-distanced outside gathering ;)] when word came of Justice Ginsburg’s death.  All felt a deep sadness both for the passing of a great American and for what it might mean for our country.  My thoughts initially drifted to the likely political ramifications of Ms. Ginsburg’s passing, but as I contemplated the fire, I considered that no issue so divides our people as does abortion — which Supreme Court nominations have come to symbolize in the public mind — and that Justice Ginsburg’s passing, coming right when it did – neither early enough in Mr. Trump’s term that progressives would ultimately emotionally reconcile themselves to another conservative Supreme Court Justice, nor after Mr. Biden’s inauguration (if such occurs), when conservatives would emotionally accept that Ms. Ginsburg would be replaced by another liberal – could violently deepen the cultural chasms already existing between us; that the impending Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process has the potential to further rip and salt our deepest wound. It is easy to presume that as her condition reached its final stages, Justice Ginsburg explored with her physicians whether there was any way to keep her medically alive through January 20.  There obviously wasn’t. Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

Notwithstanding Mr. Biden’s apparently encouraging lead in the polls, as we enter what I consider the most dangerous months for the future of our democracy since the defeat of Nazi Germany, it is difficult not to have concerns; we seem beset on so many sides. Yet, I find solace in Proverbs 3:5:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not .…”  

May we hold ourselves together.

Impressions on RBG’s Passing: Part I

[Comment:  These notes frequently take shape over several days.  Although I dislike regurgitating old ground, I have taken the liberty of leaving in concepts drafted before they were confirmed by subsequent events or expressed by pundits, such as the likelihood that President Trump would nominate a woman for Justice Ginsburg’s seat and the political conundrum that the Justice’s passing creates for GOP Senators such as Sen. Collins.]

I never engaged in Constitutional Law during my decades of law practice, and never developed any detailed understanding of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s jurisprudence beyond that she was a liberal icon.  What I found notable about her was the extent to which she “broke through” to the public as a woman’s rights icon and a person of grit and stamina respected across the political spectrum.  Even President Trump, who never misses an opportunity to be churlish in his description of anyone who doesn’t agree with him, was gracious in his initial comments after learning of her passing.  I’d wager that if last week, a cross section of Americans was asked to name members of the Supreme Court, the highest percentage would have mentioned Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Roberts, and Brett Kavanaugh [I suspect that the latter would rather not be as readily remembered as he is  ;)].     

At this point, the political maneuvering is well underway.  “All politics is local” is a well-known maxim most closely associated with the late former Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Jr.; I would suggest that the maxim is a subtler way of saying, “All politics is personal survival.”  How Justice Ginsburg’s passing will affect individual politicians will seemingly vary greatly.  We’ll get to the President in a minute.   

First, the easiest:  Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  The play for Sen. McConnell – or if you prefer, Moscow Mitch, The Man of Many Chins, or The Evil Weasel — is obvious:  push the nomination through.  Mr. McConnell views the conservative stacking of the federal judicial system as his legacy.  He has no qualms about fairness or decorum.  He undoubtedly realizes that this could be his last chance to put another conservative on the Supreme Court.  Even so, perhaps the most important point for him:  despite the egregious hypocrisy involved in proceeding with efforts to confirm any Trump nominee given his thwarting of former President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland four years ago, I’ll venture that the majority of Kentuckians will approve of his moving forward.  Such an approach may well seal his victory in his 2020 U.S. KY Senate race.  At a guess perhaps born of northern ignorance, an aggressive Republican move also seems to help Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Thom Tillis (NC), and Sonny Perdue (GA) in their tighter-than-expected races.

At the other end of the spectrum is U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins and perhaps other Republican Senators in close races in more moderate states, such as Republican Sens. Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), and Joni Ernst (IA).  None will win without rabid support among committed conservatives but perhaps can’t win without some support from moderates who may be offended by a blatantly political Republican move to cram a nominee into Ms. Ginsburg’s seat. Calls by Sen. Collins and her friend, U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski, to delay any Senate confirmation vote until after Election Day demonstrate that they understand that the upcoming process places Sen. Collins in acute political peril. The decision by Messrs. Trump and McConnell to proceed — although it arguably reduces their odds of maintaining a Republican Senate majority in January — simply confirms that at bottom, all politics is … personal survival.

As to the President:  He has already indicated that he intends to send a nominee to the Republican-controlled Senate in short order.  The nominee will undoubtedly be an avid cultural conservative and pro-life advocate.  I’ll be shocked if it’s not a woman; the Trump Administration will attempt to defuse by at least a bit the feminist ire that would result from women “losing” a seat on the Court.  No matter whom the President chooses, going forward with the nomination is the obvious play for him.  He would absolutely grievously offend and lose vital support among evangelicals and cultural conservatives if he doesn’t proceed.  The beauty of this from his perspective – although he has already proven too ham-handed to take advantage of it – is that he could have gained political advantage for himself – all he cares about – and while seemingly sticking to the high ground:  a Supreme Court Justice has died; he’s President; he’s going to put forth a nominee to fill the seat, as the Constitution requires; he had no part in the Senate’s lack of action on the Garland nomination; what the Senate does with his nomination is up to the Senate.  Since he isn’t subtle enough to stick to that tack, Mr. Trump could well lose some swing state suburban moderates who may be concerned that an unfairly partisan rushed confirmation process will endanger pro-choice and health care protections, but this is obviously an electoral risk he intends – and from the standpoint of his cold political need for staunch religious conservative support, has — to take.

All that said, I would submit that the most important political advantage the nomination provides Mr. Trump:  every day the discussion is about the Supreme Court and not about the Coronavirus is a good political day for him.

In an effort to keep these posts to at least a somewhat manageable length, what remains of this note will appear in Part II.

A Profile in Courage

Other obligations have limited the time I’ve had to devote to these pages in recent days, but I want to note the video posted yesterday by Olivia Troye, attached below.  There are now so many “tell-all” accounts regarding President Trump that they no longer seem worth noting [I declare as I’ve spent some time going through Bob Woodward’s book, Rage ;)]; to borrow from the Lord, all that have ears to hear regarding the President’s malign character and blatant incompetence … have already heard.  Even so, I want to echo what I’ve seen a couple of others note:  Ms. Troye, a lifelong Republican who until recently served as Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism Advisor to Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Pence’s lead staff member on the COVID-19 response, is, out of love of our nation, risking what has been shaping up to be a noteworthy career to speak out about Mr. Trump’s manifest unfitness for the presidency.  Her courage is of the type shown by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and others who might be described as “just regular public servants,” and puts to shame all of the gutless current Republican officeholders who know – who know – that the President is unfit, people such as former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan who ran from the field with their tails between their legs rather than speak out about the President, and most particularly … her former boss, Vice President Pantywaist.  The selfless courage of Americans such as Ms. Troye provide our greatest hope for the future.

End of July Random Thoughts

Thoughts as we head into what has traditionally been the hottest part of the Midwest summer:

I have seen reports that the Trump Campaign believes that the development of a Coronavirus vaccine by Election Day will boost the President Trump’s electoral prospects.  I don’t see why.  Even assuming one is developed within that time frame and it is entirely safe and effective (more on substantive questions about the vaccine below), I would submit that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden will still have the upper hand if he asks, “Based upon our nation’s experience over the past year, which candidate do you trust more to see that the vaccine is competently, quickly, fairly, and affordably made available to our people?”

Given Mr. Biden’s age, his choice of a running mate will clearly be assessed by voters as someone that could be President.  I have seen speculation in the last week that Mr. Biden is seriously considering picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris.  I hope he does not, for all of the substantive and political concerns I have already expressed in earlier notes. That said, I would add another risk related to a selection of Sen. Harris, visceral and potentially explosive.  Do an internet search on the term, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  Although Ms. Harris’ presidential bid collapsed before any of her Democratic competitors had any incentive to raise the matter, after reviewing a few of the apparently reasonably-accurate accounts of Ms. Harris’ long-ago close personal relationship with Mr. Brown (a man 30 years’ Ms. Harris’ senior, and then Speaker of the California State Assembly) and the seeming boost that Mr. Brown provided to Ms. Harris’ early political career, it is perhaps not unreasonable to ask how the Trump Campaign, the Russians, Fox News, and the rest of the Trump cohort might seek to exploit the old Brown-Harris relationship to dampen support for the Democratic ticket among feminists and swing voters in swing states.  I would respectfully suggest to anyone who says, “It won’t matter to voters if they take that tack.  Look at Trump’s past,” that s/he needs to reconsider.  Ms. Harris isn’t Mr. Trump, and California isn’t America.  Mr. Biden can’t afford a salacious distraction, and we can’t afford to have him lose. 

As polls continue to show decent leads for Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in most key measures, I have seen speculation that the polls are flawed because respondents won’t admit that they favor Mr. Trump.  While it seems a near certainty that some 2016 Trump supporters who now truthfully tell pollsters that they lean toward Mr. Biden will return to the President’s fold by Election Day – for example, I think the continuing unrest in Portland, OR, is starting to help Mr. Trump as the outrage that initially attended the killing of George Floyd fades in some voter segments – I would suggest that although there are presumably latent Trump voters (those who didn’t turn out for him in 2016), there are no longer many secret Trump voters.  While there is always a tendency to generalize based upon one’s own experience, the Trump supporters we know are vehemently, unabashedly, and proudly so.  Mr. Trump’s divisive conduct of the presidency  and the manner in which he has dominated the national consciousness over the last four years have arguably surfaced those of his supporters who, due to the social stigma then perceived to exist in some quarters, were reluctant to admit to their support for him in 2016.

As current accounts report that amazing progress is being made toward development of Coronavirus vaccines – it is not unusual to see declarations that processes that normally “take years” are being executed “in months” – I consider such speed a double-edged sword.  While the creation of a truly safe and effective COVID vaccine in such a compressed time frame would be one of the greatest scientific achievements of our lives, any prophylactic created within such a short period will seemingly likely come with unresolved questions regarding effective dosage amount, duration of benefit, unforeseen allergic reactions in certain patient profiles, unknown long-term side effects, etc., etc.  Speaking as one that believes in science, has had all the appropriate vaccinations for a person of my vintage, and gets a flu shot every year, I ponder:  If authorities assure us that through this incredibly compressed process they have a safe and effective vaccine by year’s end, and I am somehow given an early opportunity to receive it, will I get it, or prefer to wait a bit?

As of the time this is typed, we have passed 150,000 Coronavirus deaths in the United States.  One Hundred Fifty Thousand.  There can be a tendency to become oblivious as the numbers slowly rise – like the proverbial frog in the slowly-warming water.  It becomes terrifying when made concrete:  the deaths exceed the populations of the largest cities of at least seven states – Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  They approximate the combined total capacity of Michigan Stadium, the country’s largest stadium – the University of Michigan’s “Big House” – and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  Think about that.  Think of your partner, your family, your friends.  Even if thus far you and your loved ones have been fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the virus, imagine one or more of them … gone.  Anyone that reads these pages recognizes that I am preoccupied with the risk to our nation presented by Mr. Trump’s dictatorial tendencies, but how many of our people have been and will be lost, how badly will our economic downturn be extended and exacerbated, due to the President’s denial, self-absorption, misinformation, and sheer incompetence?  Even if we had a resurrected Franklin Roosevelt in his prime assume the presidency this minute, given where we are now, he’d tell us that times were going to get worse before they got better. 

He’d also tell us that from a safety standpoint, we can be our own best friends.  Each of us individually can only do our best.

Awaiting Opening Day … 2021

In January, 1942, a little more than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball – the team sport which then dwarfed all others in terms of public support – and indicated that if the Judge wished, baseball should continue despite the war.  The President wrote:

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going….  [U.S. citizens] ought to have a chance for recreation …. [Baseball players for whatever reason not able to serve the war effort] are a definite recreational asset to … [millions] of their fellow citizens – and that in my judgement is thoroughly worthwhile.”

An abbreviated MLB season opened a few days ago, to the completely understandable delight of millions.  I appreciate the point that Mr. Roosevelt was making 78 years ago, but for me, baseball’s relaxed pace and old world allure will need to wait a bit.  I don’t begrudge — indeed, I envy – those for whom the game provides a distraction in these times of political, health, and social crisis.  Perhaps, if the National Football League plays games this fall, I will be able to immerse myself in the short, intense once-a-week 3-hour distraction of the Sunday football rite ;).  As for baseball … hopefully, by next spring, the Coronavirus will no longer be raging, we will have put the blight of the Trump presidency behind us, and I can return to the languid charm of the game I love best.  So I’m hesitantly anticipating the prospect of the first pitch of Opening Day … in spring, 2021.  Hopefully, for me, it’ll then be time … to Play Ball.

Sturmabteilung

[This is the second time in recent weeks that an action by President Trump or his Administration has warranted deferring publication of the remainder of a note (in this case, impressions regarding the Biden candidacy) for which the first part has already appeared; I suspect that it won’t be the last time.]

By this time, virtually all who care are aware that at President Trump’s order, federal officers from a number of federal agencies – among them at least the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – have been patrolling the streets of Portland, OR, for part of July, seeking to quell ongoing protests related to the killing of George Floyd.  Apparently tensions between authorities and protestors have actually escalated since the federal officials’ arrival.  There are reports that federal agents, dressed in military fatigues and traveling in unmarked cars, have grabbed a number peaceful protestors off the streets. The Marshalls Service has shot a peaceful protestor in the head, severely injuring him.  Federal agents have used tear gas on protestors – notwithstanding a state law that only authorizes the use of such agents by local authorities after a riot has been declared and those gathered given a chance to depart.

The federal authorities involved here are not the United States military.  Without delving into the full extent of its jurisdiction, DHS is obviously primarily responsible for protecting us against foreign attacks; even accepting that it has a role in safeguarding federal property, it appears undisputed that DHS agents have conducted operations well beyond the perimeter of the federal courthouse.  There likewise seems to be little in the Portland situation that would invoke the jurisdictions of ICE and CBP, federal authorities sharing responsibility for immigration, border enforcement, and customs.   

U.S. OR Sen. Jeff Merkley has stated, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

U.S. OR Sen. Ron Wyden has tweeted, “… Trump and [DHS Director] Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”

OR Gov. Kate Brown has stated that she told Mr. Wolf that the federal government should remove federal officers from the Portland streets.  Ms. Brown indicated that Mr. Wolf has refused the request.  She has called the federal deployment “a blatant abuse of federal power.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has indicated that he has told the Trump Administration to take the federal officials out of Portland.  He has added:  “[W]hat I want to do is raise awareness nationally. This could happen in your city. And what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls. And this is a direct threat to our democracy.”  (Mayor Wheeler’s assertion seems strikingly similar to U.S. UT Mitt Romney’s recent description of Mr. Trump’s unwarranted dismissal of four federal Inspectors General as “a threat to accountable democracy.”)

It is cruelly ironic that the Trump Administration – all too eager to cast responsibility for a Coronavirus response on state and local officials so as to shirk accountability for its own inability to deal with the crisis – is unwilling to accede to state and local officials’ request to let them establish and maintain order in Portland, although policing has traditionally been a local charge within our federal system.

Close friends and I recently exchanged emails on the Trump Administration’s deployment of federal policing agencies to the streets of Portland; the same thought had independently struck us:  Brownshirts. 

“In the summer of 1920 … Hitler organized a bunch of rough-neck war veterans into “strong-arm” squads … [T]hey were officially named the Sturmabteilung [the “S.A.”] …. [O]utfitted in brown uniforms … [t]hese uniformed rowdies …soon took to breaking up [meetings] of other [political parties.”

“[T]he S.A. was reorganized … to generally terrorize those who opposed Hitler.”

“From the earliest days of the Nazi movement Hitler had insisted that the [S.A. was] … to furnish the physical violence, the terror, by which the party could bludgeon its way to political power.”

William L. Shirer:  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

“[The S.A. wanted] to protect the prophets of the spiritual goal …. And in this they understood that they were not obligated to undertake the protection of a state which offers the nation no protection, but that, on the contrary, they had to assume the protection of a nation against those who threatened to destroy the people and the state.”

Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf

There is no gentler way to put it:  Since Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made it clear in June that the United States military is not willing to follow Mr. Trump’s orders to act against peacefully protesting American citizens, the Trump Administration has found other federal units more amenable to his political agenda to serve as its private enforcers.  While one can point out that unlike the S.A. – a nongovernmental Nazi militia — the officers deployed to Portland are indeed federal employees, I would submit that such is a distinction without a difference.   Consider: while securing the federal courthouse in Portland is a valid federal objective, it should be relatively straightforward for elite law enforcement agents. The local authorities have asked Mr. Trump’s force to limit its activity to that valid objective, and Mr. Trump’s force has refused. Although I have cautioned in other notes against being distracted from efforts to win the presidential election by the President’s random illiberal acts, I agree with Mayor Wheeler that the Administration’s actions in Portland are a threat to our democracy that can be brought to bear in any city.  Our best defense is to cast a spotlight on such overtly authoritarian activities.  This concludes with a link to those who it is clear are our best soldiers in any struggle to maintain the American way of life.

https://twitter.com/JoshuaPotash/status/1284704272282800128

The Harper’s Letter

The link below is to a letter Harper’s posted online last week (the “Letter”) that has stirred what I find an inexplicably vehement response in some progressive quarters given the benign (a Harper’s Vice President called them “anodyne”) — to me, also commendable – statements expressed within it.  Apparently, the Letter has stirred such acrimony in part because some number of its signatories are claimed to hold anti-transgender views (I have no idea whether or not such is true; the document does not address gender issues) and because it warns against the possibility that resistance to right-wing demagoguery “might harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion.”

I am – this will come as no surprise to anyone that reads these pages – in my own bubble.  I only recognize the names of about ten of the 150 or so signatories.  There are two, New York Times Columnist David Brooks and The Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt, whose work I hold in high regard.  One might suggest that the very fact that the seemingly even-handed sentiments expressed in this Letter have stirred such outrage is some evidence that progressives do, indeed, need to guard against “censoriousness” and their “own brand of dogma.”  I, but a humble amateur ;), would have readily signed this Letter if asked; arguably, by including it within these pages, I have.     

https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/