Reflections on a Requiem for a Republic

Requiem

2a. A solemn chant (such as a dirge) for the repose of the dead; [2]b.  Something that resembles such a solemn chant …”

  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

For someone who fully anticipated the Senate’s Saturday impeachment acquittal of former President Donald J. Trump, I nonetheless found myself unexpectedly despondent. 

My disappointment, at least on Saturday, surprisingly did not relate directly to the damage to our nation that Mr. Trump himself, given the high likelihood that he will soon start loudly proclaiming that he was exonerated by the Senate, may now seek to wreak.  Although one would certainly never count him out, there seems a substantial chance that the former president, reportedly a pariah among serious financiers, will struggle to find lenders willing to help him address the $400 million debt his businesses face in the next few years; he will undoubtedly be dogged by criminal investigations in the State of New York and other parts of the nation, and perhaps in civil venues by those seeking recompense for his part in the Capitol raid or otherwise; and despite his apparent strength among rank-and-file Republicans, his execrable legacy will forever unite quarrelling liberals and progressives and repulse sensible centrists and conservatives.  These factors will arguably make it difficult for him to mount another winning national campaign.

Nor was my ill humor primarily wrought by the knaves and nincompoops that have enabled Mr. Trump:  malignantly ambitious connivers such as U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, or those that can’t find the bathroom (or, if they can find it, are concerned about being exposed to Jewish lasers while within it) such as U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.  We have always had and will always have our share of nitwits and nefarious.

Nor did I feel any regret for the rioters who actually genuinely believed they were saving their country and now face lives forever altered, at least one ended.  They are adults who should have recognized the grotesque nature of their enterprise.  (I do wonder whether it will dawn on the elite-loathing segment of the Trump cult that while many who heeded his call will suffer, the former president himself will almost certainly “walk” – i.e., face no criminal exposure for his part in causing the riot.)

What troubled me was the fact that 135 more Republican House Representatives voted by secret ballot to keep U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and condemned his behavior in the strongest terms, in GOP House leadership than had the courage to vote to impeach him themselves.  What troubled me were credible reports that if the Senate’s impeachment trial vote had been secret, there would have been 80 to 90 votes – i.e., 30 to 40 Republican votes rather than the seven actually cast — to convict Mr. Trump, presumably including Senate Minority Leader U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell, given his dramatic denunciation of Mr. Trump following the Senate trial.

This amounts to approximately 30% of our national representatives who, when facing the most direct internal challenge to our Republic in 150 years, didn’t have the courage to do their duty although they knew better.  Even U.S. AL Sen. Richard Shelby and U.S. OH Sen. Rob Portman, who are retiring from the Senate and are reputed to be serious men – voted to acquit, presumably pulling a Paul Ryan:  finding it safer to abide un-American behavior than risk being exiled from the safe Republican cocoon in which each has dwelt his entire adult life.  It has made me question whether even imposing term limits on Congressional careers will remedy politicians’ urge to prioritize pleasing their supporters above all other values.

I have no illusions that had the demagogue confronting us been a Democrat, that Congressional Democrats would have performed appreciably better than the Republicans have.

I have heard mixed reviews of Sen. McConnell’s comments after the trial even among those that agreed with their substance.  A very close friend noted to me that although – as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi noted – the blatant hypocrisy existing in the contrast between Mr. McConnell’s vote and his statement were manifest, Mr. McConnell’s remarks were of exactly the nature that I have indicated that I hope will persuade non-cult Trump followers to abandon him.  Perhaps; but what actually came to my mind as I listened to Mr. McConnell was the oft-quoted observation of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in November, 1863 – words that in their modesty were perhaps the most inaccurate ever publicly uttered by Mr. Lincoln, but ironically apropos to Mr. McConnell’s post-trial protestations and the Republicans’ acquittal votes Saturday:  “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” 

Since Mr. McConnell cannot believe the poppycock he was spouting about the unconstitutionality of the Senate proceeding, it would appear that either he voted in concert with the Trump zealots – after signaling his sentiments in advance — because he feared ever regaining a Republican Senate majority if a substantial number of Republicans voted to convict Mr. Trump, or he feared losing his leadership mantle if he voted contrary to the wishes of his caucus majority.

Sen. McConnell is undoubtedly familiar with the 18th century Irish-Anglo statesman Edmund Burke, one of the founding fathers of modern conservative thought, who embraced the belief that reliance upon traditional institutions, community, and customs is the best way for a society to advance itself.  Addressing his constituents, Mr. Burke once declared, “ [A representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.  Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

As all are aware, I never have any sympathy for Mr. McConnell.  That said, I sensed remorse in his rationalizations.  There is no real justification for what the Republicans have done.  He knew – he knew – that when facing the most perilous internal challenge to our nation in his lifetime, he and his caucus abandoned their duty by failing to convict Mr. Trump.  His remarks seemed akin to a chant; perhaps he felt in his own words a Requiem for a Republic.

An Apology

In the original version of a post published earlier today that appears immediately below, I disparaged in provocative terms the intelligence and savviness of those that might view differently than I do President Trump’s level of culpability for the Capitol riot and the motives of any Republicans that ultimately vote to acquit him at the conclusion of the Senate’s current impeachment trial.  I regretted the tone of the note almost as soon as I published it.  While I have no difficulty condemning in harshest terms the patent malefaction of Mr. Trump, his enablers, the Capitol rioters, and those such as espousers of racism, gender or religious bigotry, one of these pages’ guiding principles is to maintain a level of civility when referring to those of our citizens who, while maintaining the same fundamental values, may simply weigh the same facts differently than I do.  The note as it now appears makes the same substantive points as the original, but in at least a somewhat gentler manner. 

An apology – and an appropriate consequence of Irish Catholic guilt  ;).

The Perspective of an Aging Packer Backer

I know; it was extremely disappointing – indeed, wrenching – for many of those that follow these pages to watch the Green Bay Packers lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that the Packers should have won.  I doubt many, if told before the game that the Green and Gold, playing in Lambeau Field, would intercept Buccaneer Tom Brady three times, would have predicted a Packer defeat.  Since I consider the officiating mistakes and the two teams’ physical miscues to have about evened out, I would place the loss at the feet of the Packer coaching staff:  it was inexcusable not to impress upon the Packer secondary, with seconds left in the first half, what any sixth grader would realize – Don’t let a receiver get behind you; in going for two points after a touchdown with a lot of time left in the game, rather than taking the almost certain PAT, Head Coach Matt LaFleur was oblivious to what the late Marquette Coach Al McGuire called the “rhythm of the game” – that more points were certain to be scored by both teams and what was needed at that point was to maintain momentum – i.e., avoid the risk of emotional deflation that would necessarily occur if the two-point attempt failed (as it did); and Mr. LaFleur’s coaching malpractice involved in kicking a field goal rather than going for the tying touchdown in the waning minutes.

Fine.  I’m not sure that this would have as readily occurred to me 20 years ago, certainly not 30 or 40:  it is only a game.  Speaking as someone who our nieces and nephews used to say was as entertaining to watch, watching the Packers play, as the game itself – someone who has recorded the vast majority of Packer games for decades rather than watch them live, since his wife didn’t like putting up with the disgruntlement on Sunday nights that invariably accompanied a loss – Packer fortunes, or indeed those of any team, while providing a pleasant distraction from the many cares we face, are indeed that – a distraction.  On the macro level, even if Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers never plays another game, Packer fans can look back on the last 29 seasons – since then-Packer Quarterback Brett Favre threw his first touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor in September of 1992 – and truly say that while the team has at times been an underdog in a given contest, there hasn’t been a game in almost the last 30 years, with Messrs. Favre and Rodgers at the helm, that at the beginning, the team had no chance of winning.  I doubt another pro football franchise can say the same.  We Packer fans have no kick [so to speak ;)] coming.  Was it disappointing for Mr. Rodgers that he didn’t win last night?  Sure.  Given his salary in the tens of millions of dollars – or the fact that every Green Bay player earned at a rate of over $500,000 this season — does his or their disappointment rank with the millions upon millions of afflicted we have around the world?  Obviously not. Regrets devoted to sport today might better be centered on the passing of Henry Aaron, a giant of a man who I submit remains baseball’s true home run king.

So let us reflect on what I consider the brightest national note of 2020 – that by the virtue of a relatively few votes in the states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, we avoided becoming prey to a leader I truly consider deranged, and subject to fascist tendencies.  At the same time, we remember the arguably hundreds of thousands of avoidable American deaths and millions of lives needlessly and terribly disrupted by his twisted malfeasance in dealing with the Coronavirus.  Let us look forward with hopes of doing better in this still-new calendar year.  We are led by a good man who truly means well.  The vaccine, despite distribution hiccups, is in the offing.  Most economists cited in the Wall Street Journal believe that our economy will strongly and quickly rebound.  While we cannot bring back those we have needlessly lost, or repair all of the economic loss so many have suffered, as we remember them we can hopefully be part of a renewal that will make the lives of at least some of us, here and around the world, at least a little better.

I recognize that this note sounds less like the vehement lament of a dedicated Packer backer than the ruminations of an aging citizen; I confess that my thoughts didn’t cover as wide an expanse in the moments after the Packer game as they do as I type this; but age does have its benefits.

Stay safe.

Happy Holidays

[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.

Have Happy and Safe Holidays.   

Not in Our Stars

“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.

“Cassius: 

‘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

A Day of Deeply Conflicting Emotions

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

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.

The Limits of the Presidential Pardon Power

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. 

Have a wonderful and safe Holiday.  

What Might They All Do? On Mark Esper: A Postscript

[Full disclosure:  I heard David Ignatius of the Washington Post express many of the substantive concerns set forth below on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this 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.

What Might They All Do?

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 stand very 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).

Finally:

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 …