Where is the Line? Part I

As all are aware, in recent days, in the wake of the unjustified killings of George Floyd and other African Americans, there has arisen heated discussion – and in some instances, action – regarding whether to maintain or remove monuments existing throughout our country to various figures bearing a relationship to our national history of racism.  (In the context of this note, a “Monument” includes not only physical statues and the like, but also memorials via naming, such as Lee High School in Baton Rouge, LA (named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee), and the United States installation Fort Bragg, NC (named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg).  Conceding that as a white man, I cannot feel the pain and insult that many of these memorials cause our African American citizens, I would suggest that there should be an effort to find an objective basis upon which to distinguish which Monuments should be retained and which removed (if not destroyed, moved to a museum with a thorough explanation of the subject’s deeds).

First, the most straightforward for me:  subject to what might be called a “Gettysburg Exception” described below, Monuments to men and women whose service in the rebellion of the Confederate States of America was the distinguishing aspect of their lives should be removed from general public settings.  These individuals were traitors to the nation and by their actions were seeking to perpetuate the enslavement of other human beings.  Defenders of these Monuments can try to rationalize regarding the historical value of these exhibits as they will; I doubt many of these memorials state, “We spent the money to put up this statue to teach you that this wo/man was a traitor to our country who sought to retain slavery.”

A more subjective case:  the American Museum of Natural History in New York City recently asked the City to remove from a Museum entrance the City’s sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by indigent and African men on foot.  Even those that approve of this removal recognize Mr. Roosevelt’s contributions as President, but decry the apparent “white hierarchal colonialist” appearance of this particular rendition.  The statue’s sculptor, James Earle Fraser, long ago claimed that the two walking men were guides symbolizing Mr. Roosevelt’s efforts in America and Africa.  Mr. Roosevelt was a great President but no saint (more on that in Part II).  He hunted worldwide.  He provided many specimens to this particular Museum.  The statue is an arguably historically accurate reflection of an aspect of Mr. Roosevelt’s life.  While understanding the distaste felt by some, I would have considered it a defensible posture had the Museum wished to retain the sculpture.  It has chosen to have the work removed.  Its call. 

More difficult questions – at least for me – now present.  On June 18, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi ordered removed from the “Speakers Lobby” in Congress the portraits of four men who served as Speaker of the House during the 1800s – three before the Civil War, but one afterward — because these men also served the Confederacy.  I disagree with Ms. Pelosi’s decision.  I suggest that the distinguishing features of these subjects’ lives were their respective Speakerships in service of the United States of America.  Given the relative population concentrations in the country when each man was elected Speaker, each had to have received some support from northern Representatives.  Attaching explanatory cards to these portraits acknowledging these men’s transgressions would be appropriate, but removing the portraits is, to me, inappropriate.

The most moving National Park TLOML and I have visited since retiring is unquestionably Gettysburg National Military Park.  It is located upon one of our nation’s most sacred tracts of land.  A tone of respect is maintained for the commitment of all who struggled and died there, North and South alike.  Although the park has more Monuments commemorating the Northern Army, there are a number recognizing the Confederate forces, primary among them the State of Virginia Monument, placed near the spot where in 1863 Gen. Lee surveyed the battlefield, which includes a 40-foot bronze statue combining a depiction of Mr. Lee on horseback and a bronze statue of figures representing different parts of the Virginia Confederate forces.  Although I have seen no suggestion of it and the Park is substantively an outdoor museum, in a climate not characterized by appreciation for nuance, it is likely we will:  Should the Virginia and other Monuments to the Confederates be removed from this hallowed ground, and other parks of like historical import?  My view:  Assuredly not.

The remainder of this note — including a brief observation on sainthood 😉 — will appear in Part II.  Stay safe; it appears that another COVID surge may be upon us.

The Fourth Election: Part II

[This is longer than the general post; I saw no place for a logical break.]

On February 5, 2020, President Donald Trump was acquitted by the United States Senate at the conclusion of his impeachment trial.  Two days after the acquittal, President Trump removed from their respective positions European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondlund and Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, two witnesses whose undisputedly truthful testimony implicated the President in a scheme to pressure a vital but vulnerable ally for his own domestic political purposes.  Four days after the acquittal, the United States Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, said that it was reducing the sentence it was recommending for convicted Trump confidante Roger Stone – described by former Trump Administration Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon during Mr. Stone’s trial as an “access point” to Russia conduit Wikileaks for the Trump Campaign — after the President tweeted that the 7-9 year term initially recommended by DOJ was “disgraceful” and a “miscarriage of justice.”

I tend to buy books in clusters.  Largely driven by these Trump Administration actions (and, as it turned out, shortly before the oncoming Coronavirus so drastically changed our normal life patterns), I went to my local bookstore to acquire specific titles that I considered appropriate supplements to my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer:  Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy; The New Sultan, the story of Turkey’s President (and now autocratically inclined) Recip Tayyip Erdogan, by Soner Cagaptay; Fascism:  A Warning, by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and … a final selection — a volume generally available, but a title that causes you to lower your voice when requesting:  Mein Kampf (in English, “My Struggle”), by Adolf Hitler.

At my last request, the young woman with whom I’d been working glanced up at me a bit sharply, then relaxed; apparently – thankfully — I look like a researcher, not a believer.  She located Hitler’s opus, glanced at the price, added it to my pile, and observed sympathetically, “That’s a lot for such trash.”  Then she added:  “My Dad says I shouldn’t wear this necklace out like this.”  I hadn’t previously noticed, but saw then:  at the base of her neck was a small Star of David. 

That is where we are today.  Throughout President Trump’s term, we have seen countless instances of his deliberately sowing seeds of division among us, his lying, racism, religious bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, bullying, instability, narcissism, erraticism, avarice, pettiness, and flouting of norms, rules, and laws, his virulent attacks on the principled who disagree with him, a free press, and free speech, and his collaboration with foreign enemies for his own ends.  Even so, never seriously did I contemplate the potential for his dictatorial inclinations until – after he was acquitted in the Senate — he dismissed Messrs. Vindman and Sondlund and meddled in Mr. Stone’s sentencing.  Since that time, the Justice Department has sought to drop its prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn (after Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty), Mr. Trump has dismissed four Inspectors General (dismissals U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney called “a threat to accountable democracy”), he has issued an Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship after Twitter added corrective links to his completely unsubstantiated tweeted claims of fraud related to mail-in voting, he has called upon the nation’s Governors to “dominate” protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and on June 1 had peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Square, in part through the use of chemical agents, in order to provide himself with a photo opportunity.    

The above list isn’t exhaustive, but it is indicative.  Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his 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?  If Democrats can’t get out of their own way sufficiently so as to be able to convince the appropriate number of voters in the pivotal states that Mr. Trump needs to be removed this year, I am gravely concerned about our nation’s future.

Right now, Democrats and liberal media are gloating over the President’s repeated political missteps and his sinking approval ratings.  They are currently chortling about what the Trump Campaign obviously recognizes was an extremely disappointing June 20 Tulsa rally. I would counter:  it’s too early.  The election is going to be close.  What I glean from the polls is that Mr. Trump is well within striking distance in the swing states that will decide the election.  For perspective, we are now approximately as far from Election Day (November 3) as we are removed from early February — the period in which the President was acquitted, our nation had fewer than 20 Coronavirus cases, and two and a half months before George Floyd’s killing.  Like the momentum of a football game, the pendulum could well begin to swing back in the President’s direction:  even if there are future serious Coronavirus outbreaks, states will be loath to again shut down their economies, so hiring may improve and the stock market may rise; a bipartisan federal bill regarding police behavior and techniques is expected to pass, which may provide a surface salve sufficient to quiet protestors’ concerns through Election Day; presumed Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Joe Biden – satisfied to remain in his basement under cover of COVID while Mr. Trump has continued to politically shoot himself in the foot – will have to emerge at some point, which will lead to Mr. Biden’s own gaffes and glitches that will be trumpeted by Republicans; whomever Mr. Biden names as his running mate will provide not only advantages but vulnerabilities that Mr. Trump can exploit and will cause Democrats disenchanted with the pick to revel in self-righteous indignation; we will have a number of candidate debates that might yield a pivotal moment; and there will be at least one other significant occurrence, such as FBI Director James Comey’s October, 2016, announcement that he was reopening the Bureau’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, which at this point we cannot even fathom.

I have read passages from all of the books I bought last February, but confess that given the diversion of the COVID crisis, haven’t yet read any in its entirety.  Although perhaps those that read these posts are already aware of this, it is nonetheless worth noting that Messrs. Hitler, Putin, and Erdogan all first assumed their leadership positions by Constitutional means in what were then actual democracies; none had to overthrow an established order before beginning their accumulation of control over their respective nations.  While I draw a measure of solace from the manner in which Messrs. Esper and Milley have recently distanced themselves and the military from Mr. Trump’s Lafayette Park stunt – one can’t be an autocrat without an army – there are plenty of other Defense Secretary candidates and Generals from whom Mr. Trump can choose from if he is re-elected.  I have seen a number of pundits suggest that Mr. Trump’s presidency is “over.”  I suggest that we need be watchful, lest his dictatorship start.

Former President Barack Obama is reportedly fond of a statement by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  With all due respect to Messrs. King and Obama, I consider the sentiment poppycock.  What is right and just is not inevitable; it must be defended.  Messrs. Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, and Messrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur didn’t prevail in their struggles because they were right; they won because they had more troops and better weapons than the enemy.  I would submit that this is the Fourth Election in which the American way of life is at stake.  We citizens have only votes to defend the freedom this nation provides.  The existential threats I referred to in Part I of this note were brought about by outside circumstances beyond the control of the Presidents called upon to address them; in this election, the sitting President is the existential threat.  His presidency has revealed both the strength and fault lines within our system of government.  I am pleased that Mr. Biden is poised to become the Democratic nominee because he is by all indications an honorable man, but any person of honor of any political philosophy will do for me.   

Even as I type this, I recognize that some of it seems a bit … well … paranoid ;).  There is nothing that I’d like better than to have friends laugh at me over a refresher in happier [and COVID-managed  :)] times.  That said, I’ve reflected in recent days about my father, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.  He volunteered after Pearl Harbor, willing to give his life for his country.  Aside from paying taxes – to which I’ve always considered it churlish to object, given the opportunities this nation provides — I’ve had to do virtually nothing to avail myself of the blessings of American citizenship.  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.

Hours Before the Trump Tulsa Rally

[Part II of “The Fourth Election” will post Monday; as the note below will make clear, its subject struck me today.]

It will come as no surprise that aside from Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, we watch very little Fox News [although we were regulars for Shepard Smith’s weekday report before he resigned 🙂 ]; even so, surfing between stations yesterday, I paused at a report by a typical young antiseptically-handsome Fox male reporter describing Chicago’s Juneteenth commemorations.  After briefly describing the Chicago activities, he pointed out the boarded-up storefront he had chosen as his backdrop and described for a while how the small businesses that had been located there had had to suspend their operations due to damage resulting from riots arising from the killing of George Floyd.  While not inaccurate reporting, I found his emphasis instructive.

This morning, I was again moving between cable news stations [FYI:  on Madison cable, Fox News is between CNN and MSNBC  ;)] and while passing Fox, heard a reference to “rioting.”  Perhaps purely a coincidence that within two days, I heard two very small Fox News snippets emphasizing the same aspect of the consequences of Mr. Floyd’s death; perhaps not.  There was assuredly violence for days following Mr. Floyd’s killing, but it is my understanding – perhaps merely a reflection of the news sources I do rely on — that the number of incidents of rioting has been sharply reduced for some days and that even at their peak, never amounted to more than a minority of the overall outpouring brought about by Mr. Floyd’s death.

Early yesterday, Mr. Trump tweeted regarding his campaign rally in Tulsa tonight:  “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”

As many are aware, on Thursday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum had at the request of the Tulsa Police Chief and the Secret Service imposed a curfew on his city covering yesterday and today.  Yesterday afternoon, the President Trump tweeted that he had talked to Mr. Bynum.  Mr. Bynum has rescinded the curfew, indicating that the Secret Service no longer saw a need for it.

A lot of the reporting about the Tulsa rally has focused on Mr. Trump’s need for the adulation of his supporters and upon the COVID risks inherent in amassing a large group of people, presumably the majority eschewing masks, indoors.  In addition to his desire for reaffirmation, I have an impression – more than a surmise, less than a conclusion – that the President sees another potential value to tonight’s rally – a notion I have seen intimated elsewhere, but not specifically stated:  Mr. Trump believes discord arising between protestors and his supporters will help his electoral prospects.

Hopefully, those that come within the vicinity of Tulsa’s BOK Center to protest against his policies are wise enough not to take the bait.

The Fourth Election: Part I

I would submit that of the 57 presidential elections our nation has thus far conducted, three stand above the others in their importance to the establishment and maintenance of the American way of life:  that of 1788; that occurring seventy-two years later, in 1860; and that coincidentally occurring seventy-two years after that, in 1932.

The presidential election of 1788 was the first under a Constitution that had been ratified earlier that year despite Americans’ misgivings that included a fear of institutionalizing a monarch-like President.  Alexander Hamilton — who, while writing The Federalist with James Madison and John Jay under the pen name, “Publius,” had spent the years before ratification seeking in part to persuade the citizenry that the Constitution would not create a de facto American monarchy – understood that the people needed reassurance in adopting the new governmental structure.  Mr. Hamilton wrote retired General George Washington, the most respected person in the country, to encourage him to stand for the post:  “… [T]he point of light in which you stand at home and abroad will make an infinite difference in the respectability in which the government will begin its operations in the alternative of your being or not being the head of state.”  After Mr. Washington indicated that he would assume the presidency, he was unanimously elected in the newly-established Electoral College.  Mr. Washington’s stature and the manner in which he conducted the presidency brought harmony from cacophony sufficient to enable the fledgling United States of America to establish credibility – and sustainability — with its citizens and abroad. 

Given the paroxysm of emotion surrounding slavery at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election – after secession but before the commencement of hostilities, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens called slavery the “immediate cause” of the separation, although Mr. Lincoln’s Republican Party’s 1860 platform did not propose to abolish slavery where it already existed – it seems clear that the Southern States’ attempt to divide the Union would have come, if not in 1860, at some point under some president during the last half of the 19th Century.  President Lincoln’s insistence on saving the Union was not universally embraced.  Another president in 1860 or a later time might well have reasonably decided that maintaining the union wasn’t worth the blood.  Putting aside the immorality of perpetuating slavery, had the North acquiesced to the South’s departure, it is hard to see from a geopolitical standpoint how two separate nations would have withstood the pressures of the 20th century.  Mr. Jay foresaw as much when he argued, writing as “Publius” in Federalist No. 5, that a single union of states brought strength, while separate confederacies of states couldn’t be relied upon to work together:  “Hence it might and probably would happen that the foreign nation with whom the Southern confederacy might be at war would be the one with whom the Northern confederacy would be the most desirous of preserving peace and friendship.  [Emphasis Mr. Jay’s].”

According to the Library of Congress, at the time of Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932, a quarter of American workers were unemployed due to the Great Depression and that “… hunger marches and small riots were common throughout the nation.”  There was unrest worldwide:  In Russia, Communists controlled Russia after overthrowing a provisional government that had been intended to arrange for free elections and espoused universal suffrage and freedom of press and assembly; in Italy, Benito Mussolini, advocating for “revolutionary nationalism” and proclaiming the inferiority of Slavs, “blacks” and “yellows,” had after being named Prime Minister supplanted the existing democracy, and as Duce of Fascism ruled as dictator; and in Germany, as part of an effort to bring order to the financial and social unrest in the Weimar Republic, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers – Nazi — Party – was about to be named Chancellor.  Although the Communists and Fascists had markedly different philosophies, in practice their approaches had one thing in common:  the preeminence of the state over the rights of the individual.  A well-known anecdote sums up the challenges faced by Mr. Roosevelt upon his election:  a friend told him that if he succeeded, he would go down in history as the greatest American President.  Mr. Roosevelt replied:  “Yet if I fail, I may be the last one.”  He was obviously ultimately called upon not only to steer the nation through the Depression but to lead it in its death struggle against Nazi imperialism.

I consider these three presidents our greatest specifically because they alone among the presidential cohort had to address existential challenges to the American way of life.  (I would suggest that Soviet and other nuclear weapons clearly have and do constitute a threat to American life, but not to its way of life.)  The challenges these three presidents faced were brought about by outside circumstances.  In each instance, we were blessed to have the right person at the right time.  I would venture that it was because of the rigor through which our structure was effectively maintained by Franklin Roosevelt and the majority of his successors that our nation managed to travel more than 72 years since we last faced an existential threat to our way of life.  I would submit that another such existential threat, of a different nature, now faces us.  Although the direction of the rest of this note is obvious to anyone that has read virtually any of these pages, it will appear in Part II.

On General Mark Milley’s Statement

As most are aware, Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — who on June 1, wearing battle fatigues, had been among the group that accompanied President Donald Trump in his walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church after the Square had been cleared of peaceful protestors by the use of chemical agents — concluded a pre-recorded speech that aired on June 11 to National Defense University graduates with the following statement:

“Always maintain a keen sense of situational awareness.  As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune. As many of you saw, the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.  I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.  We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation, and we must hold dear the principles of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the essence of our Republic.”

It is well known that our nation’s most renowned World War II military leaders, Five Star Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, accustomed to reporting a giant, President Franklin Roosevelt, had little regard for the former haberdasher to whom they reported at the end of World War II, President Harry Truman.  It is said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Kennedy Administration had little confidence in President Kennedy, despite Mr. Kennedy’s WWII service record.  It can seemingly be presumed that the senior military leaders of their respective times retained doubts about Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, given Messrs. Clinton’s and Obama’s lack of military service.  Nonetheless, in each instance the military obeyed the orders of its Commander in Chief.   

I would suggest that the spineless acquiescence to President Trump’s unscrupulous conduct by Mr. Trump’s Congressional supporters – those whom the Founding Fathers had expected to place national above political allegiance to provide a ballast against a President’s autocratic tendencies – is what has created the circumstances that made it necessary for Gen. Milley and other active senior military officers, as well as retired senior military men such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis, to so sharply distance themselves from Mr. Trump’s actions.  The statements of these honorable Americans are, for those of us deeply concerned about the President’s dictatorial inclinations, for the most part reassuring.  At the same time, I believe that these expressions by active senior military officers constitute the first time in our history that the military has given an overt indication that it might independently judge whether it will follow an order of the Commander in Chief.  We have yet another perilous precedent arising from Mr. Trump’s blatant disregard of his hallowed trust.

Mattis: In Union There Is Strength

For anyone not yet aware, what follows is the statement issued today by former Trump Administration Secretary of Defense James Mattis.  A link to CNN’s account of Mr. Mattis’ statement is below the text.  Hopefully, his statement will prove a marker on our way out of the darkness of the Trump presidency.

In Union There Is Strength

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

James Mattis

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/03/politics/mattis-protests-statement/index.html_

The Right Choice

With our nation literally and figuratively aflame, we are obviously at a terribly precarious point in our history.  Since even before our recent upheavals, I’ve been preoccupied with – TLOML might suggest that I’ve been obsessing on – the larger issues facing us, the subject of this note seems painfully myopic:  whom former Vice President Joe Biden should choose as his running mate.  Even so, Mr. Biden’s choice is vital, given its potential impact on the course of our nation.

In an earlier unpublished draft of this post, I declared that the terrible tragedy of George Floyd’s death, taken together with the consequent outrage and demonstrations (completely justified) and rioting (never justifiable, and wildly counterproductive for those seeking to rectify this country’s racial injustice), have now presented Mr. Biden with a dilemma regarding his choice of a running mate requiring “not only the sagacity of a Franklin Roosevelt but the wisdom of King Solomon.”  I noted that Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police – and the systemic racism in the Minneapolis police department it has brought to national attention – has seemingly dimmed if not destroyed the chances of U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar.  Reviewing alternatives, I first repeated my posted reservations about U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren.  Then, turning to the most widely-touted African American female prospects, after reciting my oft-stated misgivings about former GA Rep. Stacy Abrams and U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris, I alluded to the latest media favorite, U.S. FL Rep. Val Demings.  I observed that although Rep.  Demings (whom I haven’t researched in any depth, and have never heard speak) appears an impressive person, she would need to be introduced to the American people and, in only her second term in Congress and third year in Washington, like Mses. Abrams and Harris arguably lacks the requisite experience for the presidency.  I concluded with the comment that although Mr. Biden has faced inordinate personal hardship in his life, and has sat next to a President of the United States as that President had to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, Mr. Biden’s selection of a running mate is perhaps the first time, at least within the public realm, that he faces a decision of presidential weight.

The draft was misguided in two vital particulars.  While the former Vice President’s selection of a running mate is indeed a decision of presidential weight, what Mr. Biden needs in addition to King Solomon’s wisdom is not Franklin Roosevelt’s sagacity but Abraham Lincoln’s strength and perseverance.  The note was also too tactically focused.  Given Mr. Biden’s age, the good of the country demands that he choose the successor that he considers most qualified to assume the presidency on “Day 1.”  If he believes as I do that is Ms. Klobuchar, he should pick Ms. Klobuchar.  If he believes that another female alternative is the most qualified to assume the presidency, that’s the woman he should pick.  There is no candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities that will have to be explained.  He might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve all American people and their interests.

Over the last 20 years, through incompetence, greed, hubris, naiveté, and malevolence, we’ve frittered away much of the reservoir of international good will and overwhelming objective global advantage we enjoyed at the dawn of – remember it? – Y2K.  While picking the running mate most qualified to assume the presidency is good politics for Mr. Biden because it would be consistent with his “brand” – a thoughtful, good guy trying to do the right thing — the most important reason to do so is this:  our future and perhaps that of the world depends upon us having the most able leaders with the strength and integrity to make the hard decisions without regard to self-interest that they believe are in the best interest of our nation, its people, and the peoples of the world.  Given our dithering during the last score of years culminating with the destruction wrought by President Trump, if we can’t do what is best now, what was it all worth?

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XIV

Via Twitter on May 25, President Trump threatened to relocate the August Republican National Convention from its currently-designated Charlotte, NC, site unless North Carolina – governed by Roy Cooper, a Democrat – agrees to relax its social distancing restrictions sufficiently to allow a late August close gathering of what has been estimated to be about 50,000 people. In his tweet, the President lamented the “jobs and economic development” that would be lost to North Carolina due to such a move. At the time this is typed, the state is pondering its response.

A sly ploy. If North Carolina – a true 2020 swing state — holds fast to its current reopening approach — which the state administration presumably considers safest for its people — and the Republicans transfer their convention to either Georgia or Florida – both, with salivating Republican Governors eager to boost their respective political standings severely damaged by their mishandling of the Coronavirus – many North Carolinians will blame Gov. Cooper for their lost revenue, and their sentiment may well swing the electoral votes of North Carolina from former Vice President and putative Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden to Mr. Trump. If Mr. Cooper capitulates to Mr. Trump, and COVID-related infections and deaths meaningfully increase in North Carolina following the convention, Mr. Trump will certainly somehow blame Mr. Cooper.

No one can deny the President’s genius at mass media manipulation. Although I have agreed with those analysts opining over the years that Mr. Trump’s ongoing rallies have been as much about psyching himself up as influencing his supporters, and acknowledge that his insistence upon a full Convention almost certainly – in addition to politically sticking it in the eye of Gov. Cooper — contains an element of defiant affirmation of his Coronavirus approach, his demand for a jam-packed hall may involve something more fundamental. While any gathering of a political, religious, or business group – certainly including the Democrats — is in part intended to stir the attendees’ enthusiasm, Mr. Trump intuitively understands that inciting fervor among the Republican convention crowd (remember “Lock Her Up”) – which, through the projection of mass media, will virtually incorporate his nationwide adherents – is crucial to reinforcing the allegiance of those of his followers whose support polls show is wavering due to his bungling of the federal Coronavirus response. If Mr. Trump can’t maintain the spell: he loses.

The mass meeting is … necessary for the reason that in it the individual, who at first, while becoming a supporter of a young movement, feels lonely and easily succumbs to the fear of being alone, for the first time gets the picture of a larger community, which in most people has a strengthening, encouraging effect.

But the community of the great demonstration not only strengthens the individual, it also unites and helps create an esprit de corps. The man who is exposed to grave tribulations, as the first advocate of a new doctrine … absolutely needs that strengthening which lies in the conviction of being a member and fighter in a great comprehensive body. And he obtains an impression of this body for the first time in the mass demonstration. When … he feels very small, he steps for the first time into a mass meeting and has thousands and thousands of people of the same opinions around him, when … he is swept away by three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine and for the first time arouse doubt in the truth of his previous conviction – then he himself has succumbed to the magic influence of what we designate as ‘mass suggestion.’ The will, the longing, and also the power of thousands are accumulated in every individual. The man who enters such a meeting doubting and wavering leaves it inwardly reinforced: he has become a link to the community.” [Emphasis in Original]

  • Adolph Hitler:  Mein Kampf

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XIII

We’ve seen any number of reports of “scientists around the world” working to develop effective Coronavirus treatments and a vaccine. Most of these reports assume a cooperative humanitarian distribution of these resources when they are developed. Aside from the inevitable competition between biomedical companies for what will be trillions in revenue, it seems not inconceivable that the outcome of these efforts could also have global political ramifications. While the nation whose scientists are the first to develop effective remedies will almost certainly not seek to exploit the virus as a biologic weapon against its adversaries while protecting its own populace, it will have the capability to resuscitate its own economy while other nations still struggle, and there might also be at least the temptation to secure significant concessions from competing nations in return for granting access to effective treatments or a vaccine. Although one can presume that humanitarian instincts will hold sway among all nations, it nonetheless seems advisable on geopolitical as well as humanitarian grounds for the U.S. to be the first to develop effective means to combat the virus.

As has now been widely reported, in a call with supporters on May 8, former President Barack Obama, who has generally been fairly circumspect in his references to the Trump Administration, observed that the decision by the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to drop its prosecution of former Trump Administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – who has twice pled guilty to lying to the FBI – indicated that our nation’s “basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk,” and at another point during the call, declared the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus response an “absolute chaotic disaster.” Several reports of the call stated that Mr. Obama’s comments were “leaked.” President Trump and his retinue have been predictably yelling about Obamagate – that’s “OBAMAGATE!” – ever since. Although the following reactions are not unique to me, I feel that it remains appropriate to record them here since I had them before I saw others voice them: Mr. Obama has proven himself too savvy a political operative to express such incendiary remarks where they might “leak” unless he intended it. He baited Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump fell for it. The more Mr. Trump attacks Mr. Obama – who will not be on the ballot in November — the less fire the President and his cohort are directing at former Vice President Joe Biden [although Mr. Trump has peripherally included Mr. Biden in his claims, the fact remains that neither he nor his collaborators are calling this trumped up {so to speak 😉 } scandal, “BIDENGATE.”] The attacks seem likely to backfire on Republicans with swing voters in swing states who turned out decisively for Mr. Obama in two elections, will arouse the defensive instinct in those constituencies in which Mr. Obama is particularly strong (Republicans aren’t the only ones seeking to increase turnout within their base), and further tie Mr. Biden to Mr. Obama in the eyes of Mr. Obama’s supporters – which Mr. Biden himself seeks to do at every turn. I note that despite Mr. Trump’s calls upon U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham to call Mr. Obama before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Graham, Mr. Graham has demurred – I’m confident not out of any sense of decorum, but because Mr. Graham must realize that Mr. Obama would relish the opportunity to come before the Judiciary Committee; he would crush the Republicans with swing voters in what would be the media circus of the decade. Only Mr. Trump has seemingly failed to grasp that.

I have genuinely increasing concern that the pressure of the COVID crisis and his falling polls are causing Mr. Trump to become dangerously unbalanced (he does, after all, control our nuclear codes). His widely noted suggestion that the novel Coronavirus might be combatted by injecting disinfectant into a patient’s body was an unnerving glimpse of his grasp of reality. His more recent claim that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine – which at this point even Republicans are generally aware is a medication with potentially serious side effects that the medical community has discounted as an effective way to prevent COVID-19 – seems a particularly blatant rejection of scientific expertise (even prompting an uncharacteristically direct – and commendable — refutation by a Fox News commentator, Neil Cavuto). If Mr. Trump is indeed taking the drug, it doesn’t appear a means to garner him additional electoral political support; it is hard not to conclude that he is actually electing to entrust his health to the Wizard of Oz.  If he isn’t actually taking the medication, and such is ultimately determined (which it will be), he has – and will be shown to have — capriciously risked the lives of those who decide to take it because they have faith in him. Either way, his declaration that he is taking hydroxychloroquine frankly makes him appear less than — to use his own words — “very stable.”

At the time this is typed, the United States, Russia, and Brazil lead the world with the most confirmed Coronavirus cases. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Jair Bolsonaro … a Kingston Trio for one to imagine. Understandably, Mr. Putin would claim the center and sing lead; Messrs. Trump and Bolsonaro would flank him and — appropriately given their records — provide the backup chorus.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XII

While President Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis appears at this point to have hurt his reelection prospects, it would seem that in Republican U.S. NC Sen. Richard Burr’s decision to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, due to allegations that he traded stock inappropriately shortly after he received information in classified Senate briefings about the pandemic’s prospective effects on the economy, the virus may by carom have tossed Mr. Trump a high card. Throughout the President’s term and to the Administration’s evident displeasure, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Burr and the Committee’s Ranking Democrat Member, VA Sen. Mark Warner, has consistently reported on a bipartisan basis that Russia, and not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 15 that the last installment of the Committee’s findings, expected in coming months, is focused on whether the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential contest. Mr. Burr’s vacation of the Chair, even on a temporary basis, may have given the Administration the opportunity to stifle and politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee in the same manner that for a couple of years it neutered the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee through its Republican Chairman stooge, CA Rep. Devin Nunes. Any Senate Intelligence Committee Republican that would even temporarily replace Mr. Burr as Chair is either a straightforward Trump supporter – ID Sen. James Risch, AK Sen. Tom Cotton, TX Sen. John Cornyn, and MO Sen. Roy Blunt – or has maintained a namby-pamby profile with regard to the President’s claims and antics — ME Sen. Susan Collins, FL Sen. Marco Rubio and NE Sen. Ben Sasse. None can be expected to resist the intense political pressure to downplay Russia’s involvement in the 2016 or 2020 elections certain to be applied by Mr. Trump and his cohort. To be sure, whether or not untoward behavior by Sen Burr is ultimately established, and regardless of whether the Trump Administration is exerting greater rigor in investigating Mr. Burr’s actions than it is similar behavior by Trump supporter U.S. GA Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Mr. Burr’s trades created an obvious appearance of conflict of interest and constituted a colossal failure in judgment. Since Mr. Burr, 64, has already indicated that he will not seek reelection in 2022, one can sympathize with any uneasiness he might have felt at the damage the virus would inflict on his retirement portfolio, but his lapse may have materially weakened our country’s security just as Mr. Trump calls for an investigation into an “Obamagate” that he cannot describe and craven U.S. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham has announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs plans to hold hearings on – with the obvious intent to discredit — the Russia probe.

This past week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a lead member of the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, indicated in testimony to the Senate, “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control” if the economy is opened too quickly or inappropriately. Later in the week, Mr. Trump – who had earlier toured a Pennsylvania mask-manufacturing plant without wearing a mask — declared at a news conference with Dr. Fauci standing behind him, “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.” This dichotomy is obviously just the latest in a long line of conflicting messages sent by the two men (although I – presumably unlike the President — consider Dr. Fauci to have been extremely tactful in marking out their differences). What are the odds that either during the campaign, if the spotlight no longer shines so brightly on the government’s virus response, or after Election Day if the President wins a second term, that Dr. Fauci will be peremptorily removed from his post? The only saving grace: since he turns 80 this year, Dr. Fauci will be able to look back on a full career of service – rather than a career destroyed, like so many others, by Mr. Trump’s malevolence.

There’s a restaurant not far from our home. We first went there a number of years ago on a bitterly cold January Wisconsin night right after it opened, simply because it was too cold to go too far. Rick was our waiter. He and I hit it off immediately. There weren’t many people in the place. The food was excellent. We went back often. Over the years, the business has flourished – a product of wonderful food, excellent service and reasonable prices. Because we were early patrons, we are always treated like VIPs. Rick’s daughter is one of the hostesses. We are seated at one of Rick’s tables. We inquire about his family; he, ours. Since the pandemic hit, we have ordered out from the restaurant every weekend (before COVID, we went periodically, but far from every week). Since March, I, masked, have appeared in the parking lot at the designated time, and Rick, masked, has come out with our dinners. Last weekend, I asked him how it was going. His response: “It depends upon the numbers [of Wisconsin COVID cases]. If they stay stable, we’ll probably be all right [presumably, because traffic will pick up]. But if they go up [which will presumably keep traffic at its pandemic levels], we’re screwed.” For years, we’ve watched this team work hard, seen their efforts slowly bring success. This is just one of millions of groups that either has or soon could see years of effort wiped out … in a matter of 90 days.

This is a difficult time. It seems best to conclude with something I saw recently that although not COVID-related, may, given the time of year, bring a smile to baseball fans with long memories [and who don’t mind extremely blue language ;)]: the late Orioles Manager Earl Weaver in an exchange with longtime Umpire Bill Haller. (Umpires hated Mr. Weaver :)]. Part of the fun of the clip: Mr. Haller expressing doubt that Mr. Weaver would enter the Hall of Fame (he did). Others: the “Sigh; Here we go again” demeanor of Hall of Famer Oriole Firstbaseman Eddie Murray (No. 33); and the occasional views of Tiger Coach Dick Tracewski, a three-time World Series Champion.

https://twitter.com/Super70sSports/status/1261451987733839873

Stay safe.