The FVA, the Constitution, the “Ryan Syndrome,” and the Filibuster: Part I

A bit lost in the reporting on the Democrats’ continued infrastructure dithering was the October 20 vote by all 50 Senate Republicans against commencing debate on The Freedom to Vote Act (my acronym:  the “FVA”), a voting rights measure that U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin, and other Democratic and Independent Senators drafted specifically to attract bipartisan support for federal electoral reform.  A link to a summary of the bill set forth on Ms. Klobuchar’s Senate website (that in turn provides a link to the almost-600-page text of the bill itself, of which I confess that I have only read Title III, Subsection A, which restricts states’ right to remove their local administrators of federal elections) is attached below.  Among other things, the measure would make Election Day a public holiday, provide for uniformity in voter registration, state voter registration administration and voting procedures, increase security for cast ballots, and require disclosure of “Secret Money” contributed to campaigns.  It would also prohibit partisan interference or control of local election officials in the conduct of their federal election responsibilities and require states to engage in nonpartisan congressional redistricting.  Seemingly noncontroversial stuff – if one ignores the decade-long nationwide Republican Party efforts at state partisan gerrymandering, and, more recently, to restrict voter access and to take legislative control over federal election results they don’t like. 

Again, the Senate vote wasn’t upon the bill’s passage, but merely upon whether it could be debated.

https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2021/9/klobuchar-colleagues-introduce-legislation-to-protect-freedom-to-vote-and-strengthen-our-democracy

After taking Constitutional Law in law school, I spent no time – zero — in the area during my legal career, so there are undoubtedly a number of legal eyes — and, I suspect, a number of eyes that who don’t have legal degrees 😉 – reading these pages who know a bunch more about Congress’ authority to regulate federal elections than I do.  Its power appears fairly straightforward in some respects, in others perhaps not as obvious as media reports imply.  A link to “The Scope of Congressional Authority in Election Administration,” a report issued by the United States General Accounting Office (the “GAO”) to Congress four months following the Bush/Gore 2000 presidential election, is immediately below.  I don’t claim that this is the best or most current authority – merely that it is most pertinent that I located ;).

Two parts of the Constitution seem of particular import:

Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 [known as the “Elections Clause”]: 

“The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the places of chusing [sic] Senators.”

Article II, Section 1, Clauses 1-3:

“[A] President of the United States … shall … be elected, as follows:  Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress …. The Congress may determine the Time of chusing [sic] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”   

One doesn’t need a legal degree to see that Congress’ Constitutionally-prescribed power under the Elections Clause to regulate the elections of Senators and Representatives is broader than its stated authority to regulate presidential elections under Article II.  As the GAO noted in its report, “At the time of the Constitution’s adoption in 1787, general elections for President were not contemplated.  The Constitution provides, instead, for the election of the President by electors appointed by each state.  The state legislatures are empowered to direct the manner in which the electors shall be appointed, and all 50 states and the District of Columbia, in turn, currently provide that presidential electors be elected by popular vote.”

In its report, the GAO cites a number of United States Supreme Court opinions regarding Congress’ power to regulate federal elections.  The two arguably of most interest, Smiley v. Holm (1932) and Burroughs v. United States (1934), ironically issued by Courts whose members would later be railed against by President Franklin Roosevelt for curmudgeonly finding unconstitutional various New Deal measures, each strongly upheld Congress’ right to supersede the states’ power to administer federal elections.  While the holding in Smiley, dealing with reapportionment of congressional districts, was perhaps not surprising given Article I’s straightforward text regarding Congress’ right to “amend” states’ regulations affecting congressional elections, the Court’s holding in Burroughs was textually a longer stretch.  The petitioners in Burroughs alleged that given the narrower scope of authority over presidential elections granted to Congress in Article II, the federal law under which they had been convicted of conspiracy could not be properly applied to their use of funds to influence the election of a state’s presidential electors.  As the GAO indicated in its Report, the Court found such a narrow a view of Congressional power “without warrant.”  The GAO quotes the Court as adding:   

“To say that Congress is without power to pass appropriate legislation to safeguard [a presidential] election from the improper use of money to influence the result is to deny to the nation in a vital particular the power of self-protection.   Congress, undoubtedly, possess that power, as it possesses every other power essential to preserve the departments and institutions of the general government from impairment or destruction, whether threatened by force or by corruption.”

Reasonable?  Certainly.  In the one part of the ponderous FVA that I have read – limiting statewide election authorities’ power to override local elections officials – the FVA’s drafters went out of their way to assert that Article I’s Elections Clause grants Congress broad power over administration of “Federal Elections.”  The Elections Clause actually only authorizes Congress’ power over Congressional Elections.  I’ve previously suggested in these pages that the Trump presidency demonstrated that at this point in our history, it is the character of the President, not the power of Congress, that is our bulwark against autocracy.  Given Congress’ more limited Constitutionally-described powers with regard to presidential elections, taken together with the fact that the Supreme Court specifically declared that the statute it upheld in Burroughs did not “… in purpose or effect … interfere with the power of a state to appoint electors or the manner in which their appointment shall be made,” how confident are you today, with the conservative literalists sitting on the Supreme Court, that the Court would uphold a federal law insofar as it was cited as authority to limit a State’s administration and assessment of the outcome of its presidential election, and reject that State’s claim that such federal law violated the state’s Constitutional right for its legislature to appoint its presidential electors in the manner of its legislature’s choosing?

This is long enough.  I’ll repeat the above caveat:  I was never a constitutional lawyer.  I would welcome the guidance of anyone who can cite authority placing Congress’ authority to regulate presidential elections on firmer ground than suggested here, and/or the reassurance of anyone who is confident that I’m being paranoid. 

The “Ryan Syndrome” and the Filibuster in Part II.

Anecdotal Reactions to Democrats’ Human Infrastructure Machinations

My frustration with the Democrats’ machinations over human infrastructure is increasing exponentially, and recently caused me to rip off the email set forth immediately below – admittedly not of the tone I generally try to maintain in these pages — to a few friends that tend to be more progressive than I am:

“Put [a]side whether or not the “Human Infrastructure” bill that Progressives are pushing, and its final size, is a good or bad thing.  What they’re missing is:  for the future of democracy, it doesn’t matter.  Those that hatch all these conspiracy theories and the whackos that believe them aren’t going to be dissuaded by benefit structures.  If Democrats had any sense, they’d pass a measure all could agree on, call it a victory (which, compared to where we’ve been, it will be), and focus on voting rights.  That’s where our system will be lost or perhaps (only, “perhaps”) preserved.  I’m very concerned … “   

The responses were instructive:

“… The Human Infrastructure bill … matters in the sense that if the Democrats are trying to motivate all their voters they need to pass it to show the Progressives that voting with the Democrats can lead to progress on their agenda. … You are right the “wackos” aren’t going to be dissuaded by benefit structures nor will the denial of those benefit structures dissuade them. … I do agree that the final size is probably of less importance.  … I agree that the voting rights bill is even more critical to our whole system of government and that’s where our system will be lost or perhaps (only, “perhaps”) preserved. The real battle will be over voting rights and the end of the filibuster necessary to protect those rights. … I am very worried.

Another:

My anxiety is growing (again) as well.  … We are careening.  Take the $1T infrastructure, take the $?T lowest common denominator of everything else and move on.  Means test it.  Roll back some of the Trump tax cuts as ways to reduce deficit and inflationary pressures.  Seems obvious to us centrists.  Indicates that “democrats” are not one party.  The only unifying principle is ‘Never Trump.’  They need to boil up some statesmanship and act for the good of the country.

Another:

I agree completely.  While sympathetic to the Progressive agenda, I’d tell them, look…the cold hard truth is that we simply don’t have the votes to pass what you want.  You can piss and moan about that and not vote at the mid-terms, but be prepared for the dire consequences of that action.  Plus, the orange Godzilla monster is going to follow that up 2 years later and you’ll really know what hell is.

TLOML is in an exercise group composed of women who are all progressively inclined. She advises that a recent discussion indicates that all of these women are exasperated by progressives’ intransigence and unwillingness to face reality.  They want what is doable to be done. 

From this small and obviously anecdotal sample, I would suggest that Congressional Progressives are fighting for principle when the majority of those sympathetic to their views are willing to compromise in order to actually achieve … progress.  While one can sympathize with Progressives’ annoyance with moderate Democrats’ objections to some parts of their human infrastructure proposal – U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin’s objections to certain of the measure’s climate-protection provisions, while understandable for a coal state representative, are perhaps particularly galling — it’s time for them to agree on infrastructure bills, pass them, declare victory, and move on. 

To borrow the arresting phrase of a wise [at least, when he agrees with me ;)] man:  Democrats need to start focusing on the prospect of the resurrection of the orange Godzilla monster.  Yet, there’s scant indication, based upon their internecine antics to date, that they appreciate that their dithering may be paving hell’s way.

On the Politics of the Debt Ceiling

Since President Joe Biden’s inauguration, I have been disinclined to write much about politics, being painfully cognizant that there will be ample opportunity to expound in that theater beginning, unfortunately, in January and continuing right through to the next presidential inauguration.  (While I recently noted in these pages that a sizeable minority of our citizens is clearly willing to ignore truth, to cast aside democratic norms, and to establish an American Apartheid, I consider this a substantive domestic threat, no longer a political issue.)  Even so, I indulge here:  the President’s and Congressional Democrats’ recent thrashings, apparently attempting to get significant Republican support to raise the debt ceiling, are a waste of time and energy.

Put aside the catastrophic effect on our and the world’s economy that a U.S. default would cause – a loss of credibility from which, in my view, we would never fully recover.  (Today, our defensive strength is our military apparatus; but our offensive strength is our economic power — our ability to assert our will across global financial systems).  Put aside the fact that all who care are aware that we need to raise the debt ceiling to pay for obligations already incurred through measures supported by members of both parties.  Put aside the fact that the debt ceiling has been raised numerous times under presidents of both parties, generally on a bipartisan basis.  Even put aside that we shouldn’t have a law setting a debt ceiling:  the Constitution doesn’t call for one; most advanced nations reportedly don’t have one; and politicians of both parties have long since given up any real concern about escalating deficits.  We are where we are.

The Democrats should devote all of their efforts to raising the debt ceiling via their own means — through the Senate reconciliation process, a carve-out to the Senate’s filibuster rules, or by whatever other legislative maneuver best serves the purpose. As my mother would say, it is as plain as the nose on your face:  The Republicans have no good faith.  They have no interest in doing the responsible thing if they believe that acting irresponsibly will gain them political advantage.  If the President and Congressional Democrats can’t see that by now, the only positive point one can still make about them is that they remain a better alternative than President Trump and a Senator Mitch McConnell-led Congress — the faintest, most backhanded praise imaginable.

The good news for Democrats:  Independents and sensible Republican citizens offended by their nominal party’s reactionary spasms — the groups that decide elections in swing jurisdictions, and ultimately, the balance of power in our country – understand that the debt ceiling needs to be raised.  Democrats can easily cast aside any Republican harrumphing; Republican claims will have no legs with pivotal voter segments.  On the other hand, if through legislative hand-wringing the Democrats, despite their control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, do allow a default to occur, the decisive voting blocs will hold them responsible for the default and the ensuing consequences – in my view, justifiably.

One of former President Ronald Reagan’s favorite stories was about a psychologist who tried to cure a patient’s undue optimism by leading him to a room filled with horse manure.  The President would relate that instead of being dismayed, the optimist jumped right into the manure pile and started digging.  When the psychologist asked the optimist what he was doing, Mr. Reagan, grinning, would deliver the optimist’s reply:  “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”

Mr. President, Madam Speaker, and Mr. Senate Majority Leader:  when it comes to the overwhelming majority of Congressional Republicans on the vast majority of issues facing this country, there is no pony.  In this case, doing what the Republicans decry won’t even have meaningful political repercussions.  Hopefully, you have already started the motions to take whatever legislative steps are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. 

Get it done.

[Late note:  in fairness to Democrats, since this was scheduled to run, there are reports indicating that they understand their need to act unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling, and are considering a carve-out to the Senate filibuster rules to achieve the goal.  If that is indeed the route they take, Republicans may find that their intransigence on this easy debt ceiling issue was too smart by half; once Democrats cross the threshold of tinkering with filibuster carve-outs, it might become easier for those Democratic Senators, heretofore reluctant to change Senate rules, to abide a carve-out to the filibuster to allow the passage of laws protecting the integrity of federal elections.]

On the Quest for an American Apartheid

Earlier this week, I entered a link in these pages to Robert Kagan’s September 23, 2021, Washington Post essay, “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.”  There, Mr. Kagan wrote in part:

“Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of Trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with Trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — ‘losers,’ to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the ‘Mitch McConnell Republicans.’ His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity.”

While Mr. Kagan spent much of his piece focusing on the dangers to our system of government presented by former President Donald Trump and his nationwide network of Republican acolytes, in the passage above he referenced what I consider to be the primary source of our danger: us. We are no longer, as we were taught in the Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation … indivisible.”  United States citizens have two wildly divergent and deeply engrained inclinations as to what makes America.  Speaking in generalizations, one segment — demographically older, white, professed Christian, sexually straight, English-speaking, and more rural in outlook — views America to be the product of traditional American ethnicities, customs, cultural experience, and memory; the other segment — younger, multi-complexioned, multi-theistic/atheistic, multi-lingual, multi-sexual and -gender, and more urban, with relatively lesser regard for traditional American experience and memory – views America as a system of government providing each individual the freedom, within the purview of the safety of the body politic, to not conform to traditional American customs and values. 

What makes America … America?

If any reader of these pages is willing to review a volume s/he may well find abhorrent, I would recommend State of Emergency, written by former Republican Presidential Candidate Patrick Buchanan in 2006.  Mr. Buchanan, who worked in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White Houses, is – although reportedly called out for bigotry during his career by conservative commentators William F. Buckley, Jr. and Charles Krauthammer – both fluent and unquestionably knowledgeable about American history and policy.  State of Emergency is primarily an assault on what Mr. Buchanan perceived as an unhealthy influx of Mexicans into American society.  It is a book that Mr. Trump, if he knew history, would have conceived; if he could write, would have written.  My familiarity with alt-right theorists isn’t that wide, but Mr. Buchanan’s candidacies were in retrospect clearly forerunners of Mr. Trump’s, and in State of Emergency he set forth what may be among the most articulate expression of the theories underlying what has become Trumpism:

“[Patriotism] is a passionate attachment to one’s own country – its land, its people, its past, its heroes, literature, language, traditions, culture, and customs. … There is a rival view … that America is a different kind of nation.  Unlike Ireland, Italy, or Israel, the United States is not held together by the bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil [Note:  “Blood and Soil” was a Nazi slogan].  Rather, America is a creedal nation, united by a common commitment of all her citizens to a set of ideas and ideals. … Demonstrably, this is false.  Human beings are not blank slates.  Nor can they be easily separated from the abiding attachments of the tribe, race, nation, culture, community whence they came.  Any man or any woman, of any color or creed, can be a good American.  We know that from our history.  But when it comes to the ability to assimilate into a nation like the United States, all nationalities, creeds, and cultures are not equal.  To say that they are is ideology speaking, not judgment born of experience. … Should America lose her ethnic-cultural core and become a nation of nations, America will not survive.”

There are, ironically, corresponding echoes of Mr. Buchanan’s comments in Mr. Kagan’s essay:

“Most Trump supporters are good parents, good neighbors and solid members of their communities. Their bigotry, for the most part, is typical white American bigotry, perhaps with an added measure of resentment and a less filtered mode of expression since Trump arrived on the scene. But these are normal people in the sense that they think and act as people have for centuries. They put their trust in family, tribe, religion and race. Although jealous in defense of their own rights and freedoms, they are less concerned about the rights and freedoms of those who are not like them. That, too, is not unusual. What is unnatural is to value the rights of others who are unlike you as much as you value your own.

The events of Jan. 6 … proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms, just as revolutionary movements have in the past. While it might be shocking to learn that normal, decent Americans can support a violent assault on the Capitol, it shows that Americans as a people are not as exceptional as their founding principles and institutions. Europeans who joined fascist movements in the 1920s and 1930s were also from the middle classes. No doubt many of them were good parents and neighbors, too.  People do things as part of a mass movement that they would not do as individuals, especially if they are convinced that others are out to destroy their way of life [Emphasis Added].”

I infer from some passages in Mr. Kagan’s column that he considers regular Trump supporters — if not the arguably more sophisticated and partisan Republican Party officialdom — credulous, and to actually believe Mr. Trump’s claims of fraud; he left at least me with the impression that he thinks that if regular Trump supporters understood the truth, they’d begrudgingly accept the will of the majority even if they disagreed with it.  If that is indeed his view, I am less sanguine.  I would suggest that the majority of regular Trump supporters are simply choosing to indulge in the self-delusion of a fraudulent electoral process because it enables them to rationalize the anti-democratic steps they are either taking or condoning; that in their deepest recesses, the majority do know that Mr. Trump lost, and – much more importantly – have come to viscerally grasp that if our nation’s current demographic and political trends continue unchecked, what they consider America to be (in Mr. Buchanan’s phrase, “bonds of history and memory, tradition and custom, language and literature, birth and faith, blood and soil”) will fade away.

To Mr. Kagan, “… the American experiment in republican democracy requires … what the Framers meant by ‘republican virtue,’ a love of freedom not only for oneself but also as an abstract, universal good; a love of self-government as an ideal; a commitment to abide by the laws passed by legitimate democratic processes … ”

To Mr. Buchanan, America is as he quoted Framer John Jay from Federalist No. 2:  “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs …”

I’ve previously noted in these pages that William Galston reported in Anti-Pluralism that Mr. Trump himself indicated in a speech in May, 2016, that “The only important thing is the unification of the people.  [T]he other people don’t mean anything [Emphasis Added].”  

It has become cliché that the voter suppression measures being enacted by cooperative Republican-controlled state legislatures and the current dust-ups in various states about alleged 2020 election fraud aren’t, despite Mr. Trump’s protestations, about the 2020 outcome, but rather to limit opposition voter turnout, lay a foundation of doubt about the veracity of our electoral processes, and have in place the mechanisms (state legislative overrides; friendly election officials; sympathetic judges) to avert any 2022 and 2024 electoral outcomes that Mr. Trump and his followers don’t like.  (They must have realized the need for these latter official safeguards given the determinative number of Independents and traditional Republicans that voted against Mr. Trump in 2020.)  Trumplicans have come to recognize that if all legally authorized voters cast ballots, they will lose significantly more than they win – either now, or in the foreseeable future.  They don’t believe that “constitutional and democratic norms,” to use Mr. Kagan’s phrase, constitute America.  Their measures are intended to save their America of (paraphrasing Mr. Jay) ancestry, language, religion, manner and custom.

Most of us have some background regarding South African Apartheid, which prevailed in some form from about 1910 until the early 1990s, most virulently starting in the late 1940s.  My own information was limited to an understanding that it was legalized subjugation by a small white minority (about 15% of the population) over the significant black majority (85%).  One of the theories for the institution of Apartheid, according to “The Origins of Apartheid” by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, is that white Afrikaner Nationalists “feared that the Afrikaner’s very existence was threatened by the mass of Africans that confronted them in South Africa;” and that this fear resulted in “a range of laws that were passed … to preserve this ‘God-given’ Afrikaner identity [Emphasis Added].”  In “The Evolution and Fall of the South African Apartheid State:  A Political Economy Perspective,” John M. Luiz wrote, “[In 1948 the manifesto of the National Party (NP)] was that of apartheid and Afrikaner empowerment … [S]oon after coming into power, the government put into operation a three-pronged strategy designed to further the interests of Afrikaner nationalism. … The government set about Afrikanerising [sic] every state institution by appointing Afrikaners to every level of the civil service, state corporations, and security forces.”

No one that reads these pages will be a bit surprised that I am most comfortable with traditional norms.  Although I’ve been told by someone very close to me that I am privileged, I feel no guilt about being who I am.  In my estimation, the so-called “Woke” frequently overreact, sometimes grossly so.  That said, I subscribe to the view that America is a creedal nation; that it should be governed through a system that pursues the will of a majority of its citizens who are all able to vote under an impartially-administered set of fair rules, while at the same time furnishing sufficient safeguards for the civic and human rights of the minority.  I fear that those sympathetic to Mr. Trump and the actions of his acolytes think otherwise.  While I concede that many Trump supporters are seeking to protect what they view as America, a significant number seem unfazed by the prospect that preserving their America may involve the suppression of the will of a peaceful, multi-complexioned and -faceted majority of U.S. citizens.  Although I suspect that most would recoil if confronted with the notion, they are either actively or passively on a quest to establish an American Apartheid.

Our Constitutional Crisis is Already Here

Although most who care may already be aware, attached is a link to an essay by Robert Kagan that ran in the Washington Post on September 23, 2021.  I consider it at once the most important and disturbing opinion piece that I can remember.  I remarked in a note a while back that I thought former President Donald Trump was “more than a bit spent”; Mr. Kagan has most assuredly caused me to rethink that notion.  If you have access to the Post, I hope you will bring it up without delay; if you don’t, I most strongly urge you to find a way to to review it.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/23/robert-kagan-constitutional-crisis/

Things That Make You Go, “HMMM.”

I’m channeling my inner Arsenio Hall.

Make no mistake:  I haven’t lost sight of the fact that President Joe Biden, by his willingness to run for the most challenging office in the world at an age more than a decade older than most people – including me — retire, showed a level of selflessness and patriotism we’ve rarely seen in our public officials in recent years.  Mr. Biden is a good man.  I remain thrilled that he is in the White House.  That said, for an Administration whose primary foreign policy pledge has been closer cooperation with allies, it’s been Amateur Hour.

Put aside whether our decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was correct; I don’t think so; many do.  It was Mr. Biden’s call; he’s the President of the United States.  What is becoming apparent is that the allies who got embroiled in the Middle East quagmire 20 years ago because of a grotesquely misguided series of decisions by former President George W. Bush felt inadequately consulted and little considered by our decision to so abruptly withdraw.  This seems an unnecessary error in allied relations.

As I’ve already lamented in these pages, it was pretty darn clear to anyone who read any credible news accounts on Taliban activity in Afghanistan during 2020 and 2021 that it was pretty darn likely that Afghanistan was going to fall to the Taliban almost the minute we withdrew.  In fact, it fell to the Taliban before we withdrew, and it was only under its auspices that we were able to get a lot of Americans and our collaborators out.  To not anticipate that such a precipitous Taliban takeover was at least a possibility, and plan for it, I find a disconcerting oversight on the part of the Administration’s foreign policy team.

Perhaps the most glaring:  The grievous insult to France recently perpetrated by the announcement of our AUKUS arrangement with Australia and the United Kingdom.  I think the arrangement itself – providing nuclear-powered submarines to Australia to help it patrol waters in which China has been increasingly aggressive – is exactly the type of step we need to be taking as we adjust our foreign policy to fit current realities.  That said, anybody with a shred of sense – and Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team is supposed to be comprised of professionals – should have seen that in not being advised and mollified in some fashion before it was announced that they were losing a $60 billion submarine contract with the Australians, the French would feel outraged and humiliated.  French President Emmanuel Macron, in tight political competition with right wing political groups sympathetic to Russia that we do not want to see take control of France, was belittled.   It is reported that Biden Administration National Security Advisor Jake Sherman was aware of all of the AUKUS machinations as they were occurring.  Whether he was or not, this was a stunning unforced blunder.

In a separate vein, I am mystified by Congressional Progressives’ indications that they will withhold their support from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package already passed in the Senate unless Democrats also pass most or all of the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package currently under their consideration.  Since no Republican support is expected for the human infrastructure package, its passage it will require the support of all Senate Democrats and virtually all House Democrats, moderates as well as Progressives.  If I thought that Progressives’ thundering was merely posturing, it wouldn’t bother me; as it is, I am concerned that some of the self-righteous among them may actually be serious.  If so, I would suggest that their harrumphing is akin to someone who threatens to jump off a roof unless others do what he wants.  Progressives should take whatever they can get on human infrastructure, and be satisfied.  It seems that too many continue to be oblivious that the majority of our citizenry – not only Republicans, but moderate Democrats and many Independents (including me) — have misgivings about the scope and extent of some of their policy aims; and that while their seats are mostly not imperiled by seeking the moon, many moderate Democrats’ seats will be at risk if the party is seen as acting too rashly, and the Democrats could end up forfeiting control of Congress to Republicans.  What will happen to their priorities then?  If Progressives indeed scuttle a bipartisan infrastructure bill that has widespread public support because they can’t get a number of initiatives that a significant segment of our people, correctly or incorrectly, have sincere question about, they deserve their fate.

Unless I’ve missed it, the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients remains uncertain as parties’ Congressional delegations wrangle over wider immigration reform.  For years, there has been widespread support, including among the Republican electorate, for granting these young(er) people, who were brought here illegally in their youth, a path to permanent legal status.  I believe that the House of Representatives has already passed a measure to safeguard DACA recipients.  Every minute Democratic Senate leadership delays, a law becomes more difficult, since immigration will undoubtedly be a contentious issue in the 2022 campaign.  I don’t understand why that leadership doesn’t put a simple bill on the Senate floor, requiring all Senators to vote, designed to secure legal status for these blameless individuals.  Either the DACA recipients get protection or the Democrats get an emotive issue.  My guess:  it would pass.

Finally, a good friend asked me recently why I haven’t posted on the Packers.  I never watch preseason games, and I missed the 38-3 debacle while we were vacationing, so my first look at the team was last Monday night’s victory over the Detroit Lions.  Green Bay seemed a long way from a Super Bowl champion to me.  Granting that one of its primary rushing threats, Za’Darius Smith, was absent, the defense was underwhelming, and I don’t think that the team can maintain a championship offense with only meaningful production from Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Running Back Aaron Jones (who will tire without the assistance of his former backup, Jamaal Williams), and Wide Receiver Davante Adams.  Hopefully, I’ll prove to be sadly mistaken.  Either way, Packer games will provide a wonderful distraction from the other issues we face.

Channeling my inner Mr. Hall was a good way to end the week  ;).  Have a nice weekend.

Vacation Impressions

We just spent a week touring the eastern part of Wisconsin – some of which, despite its proximity to our residence in Madison, we hadn’t visited since our honeymoon, 45 years ago.  It was a wonderful trip.  (I’m our trip planner, and like George Peppard’s fictional John “Hannibal” Smith of the 1980s television series, The A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together.)  Amid a lot of fun and interesting sights and experiences, a few impressions linger. 

Whether it be as a result of the additional federal $300 weekly stimulus payment which just ended in Wisconsin, workers’ fear of contracting COVID, their assumption of new occupations during the pandemic quarantine period, or otherwise, a significant percentage of pre-COVID hospitality workers have not returned to their jobs at northeastern Wisconsin hotels and restaurants.  Hotel housekeeping services are provided upon request rather than as a matter of course.  Restaurant service is a little slower than one would expect in some establishments, abysmal in others.  “We can’t find anyone” was a common plaint, particularly in Door County (for those from outside the Badger State:  that’s the beautiful and heavily-toured part of the Wisconsin that juts northeast into Lake Michigan).  In a tale of dueling mixologists:  in one town, a genial dispenser of spirits bemoaned others’ unwillingness to work; in another, an equally genial bartender opined that the shortage wasn’t for lack of willing workers, but because employers weren’t willing to pay staff what they should.  My general sense was that the proprietors of many of the businesses we visited were eager to pay anything remotely within reason to get additional help.  Whatever its cause, we will soon see whether the hospitality staffing shortage recedes as benefit checks end and more of the vaccine-hesitant get their shots.  If not, it may require a significant shift in expectations for hotel and restaurant patrons in some parts of Wisconsin and the nation.

One of our stops was in the historic, quaint, and decidedly well-to-do town of Cedarburg, just north of Milwaukee.  At one point during the pandemic, the local authorities apparently instituted a mask mandate, but at this point, the town has adopted an honor system.  Almost every shop had a sign such as, “No need to wear a mask if you are vaccinated,” or “Please wear a mask if you are not vaccinated.”  Since TLOML is the shopper and I am simply her escort, it gave me time to chat with sales people about how they had fared when they had in a sense been required to enforce a mask mandate.  One woman told me that Cedarburg “is very closely divided [politically], which made it very difficult for us.”  Another:  “It gave me PTSD.  I actually hated to see customers come through the door.  If they institute another mandate, I’m closing rather than deal with the abuse.”  Another – from a charming, white-haired woman:  “When I asked a well-dressed older man to put a mask on, he screamed at me and called me, ‘A F*****g Nazi.’  My heart was still beating fast an hour after he left.”

Too many of us have lost our sense of decorum.  While former President Donald Trump clearly provided certain personalities the license to act out, they still have to take responsibility for their own behavior.  Although I have a fiery Irish side and have made it difficult for more than one salesperson in my lifetime [sometimes with good reason; sometimes, in retrospect, perhaps not  ;)], I cannot rationalize making a salesperson’s life difficult when anyone with the slightest sense of awareness should understand that the clerk is simply trying to abide by the law.  Anyone that reads these pages is aware that I support vaccine and mask mandates, and seriously question the sense of those that contest them.  Even so, if one is going to get angry about a mandate, go yell at those that imposed it.   

Finally, we have literally traveled Interstate 94 between Madison and Milwaukee hundreds of times.  There are signs along the highway indicating sights to be seen.  We have never exited.  On this trip, we did.

An early stop was Aztalan State Park, a National Historic Landmark depicting an ancient Middle-Mississippian village existing between 1000 and 1300 A.D.  The Aztalans had an advanced culture for the time based on farming with a clear social structure.  It was fascinating.  We recommend it to all in our area.  That said, aside from one gentleman who has made the study of ancient native peoples his hobby, there was nobody else in the park.  We assumed that the lack of people resulted from it being a weekday after school started.  Our companion advised us that he visited the park regularly, and there is rarely much attendance.

Our last stop of the day was Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, the vacation home of the Lunts, which has also been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, a married couple, are at the forefront of the American theater pantheon.  Their work spanned four decades from the 1920s to 1960.  Mr. Lunt was born in Genesee Depot, and built – some of it with his own hands; he was a clearly multi-talented guy — an impressive home on 100-acre grounds to which the two repaired each summer.  At their estate they entertained such stage and screen luminaries as Sir Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, and Noel Coward.  Mr. Lunt died in 1977, Ms. Fontanne in 1983.  The complex was interesting and certainly worth visiting if one has an interest in American theater history.  Clearly elegant in its day, more than a bit eccentric, now — despite extensive and effective restoration – it is a bit faded, a relic of a former age.  Only two other visitors joined our tour, conducted by two docents, all six of us senior citizens.

The day’s lasting impression:  the Aztalans are long gone.  Despite their impressive culture and community, today only a few archeologists know or care that they were ever here.  The Lunts dominated American stage in a way that perhaps no one else has.  Query how many Americans still recall the couple called “the greatest husband-and-wife team in the history of American theater.”  What it made me realize:  how few of us will make the impression upon our times that the Aztalans and Lunts did; and how even these have faded.

Our youngest grandchild is 2.  If I’m fortunate enough to live another 10 years and if he retains his faculties to a ripe old age and if he remembers me fondly, some vestige of a memory that I was even here might last to 2100.  It is more probable that any meaningful memory of TLOML and me will pass when the last of our children passes.  So it’s important to do what you can, while you can.  Help your loved ones.  In an observation perhaps more relevant for retirees with time and resources than for the younger among us having to deal with the obligations of family and career, a portion of one’s time might best be spent volunteering in one’s community.  But by all means, devote yourself now to what you feel is the most important — for however long now might be. Judging by the dimming legacies of the Aztalans and the Lunts, ultimately only the Almighty will remember that most of us were here.

On Vaccinations and Masking: John Stuart Mill … and Joinville, Brazil

Given the fact that three members of our family studied Political Science during their education regimes, we have a disconcertingly extensive collection of the works of political theorists from Plato to J. D. Vance.  [Given Mr. Vance’s transformation from telling observer to pandering politician, I suspect that being linked to Mr. Vance in the preceding sentence has made Plato cringe in the Hereafter ;)].  The persistent resistance of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers to employ or enable others to institute measures now clearly demonstrated to help limit the spread of COVID-19 – on the ground that it is an encroachment upon someone or other’s freedom – recently caused me to pull out John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay, “On Liberty.”  

Considered by some the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, Mr. Mill, an Englishman born in 1806 who was among the first members of Parliament to condemn slavery in America and, author of the 1869 essay, “On the Subjection of Women,” among the first to argue for social equality between men and women, is a founding father of the notion that each person should be free to conduct his or her affairs in his or her own way.  “On Liberty” is an ode to individuality.  In it, Mr. Mill waxed eloquent about our need for eccentrics (he did literally talk about eccentricity).  He did not believe that society was advanced by those in the conforming, complacent majority.  Thus, I was curious to see if I could discern, if he was alive today, how he would assess the views of those staunchly opposing mask and/or vaccine mandates on the ground that such constitute an infringement of citizens’ “liberty.”

It didn’t take much guesswork.  Early in “On Liberty,” Mr. Mill wrote:

[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.  That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.  His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.  He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.  … [T]he conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one [sic] else.  The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others.  In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.  Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.  [Emphasis Added]”

I would venture that given the strong evidence that masking and vaccines have helped check the spread of a deadly disease, Mr. Mill, a Godfather of Liberty, would have no patience with mask and vaccine mandate naysayers.  Some who claim to cling to the libertarian philosophy that Mr. Mill articulated over 150 years ago might still assert that such mandates constitute an infringement of their rights because the science is not completely settled.  Given the data we have, I suspect that at this point such supposed reservations would hold no sway with Mr. Mill.  He was also a scientist who believed that knowledge was derived from experience.  In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, he wrote in 1843:

“After a general law of nature has been ascertained, men’s minds do not at first acquire a complete facility of familiarly representing to themselves the phenomena of nature … [T]his habit, in the case of newly-discovered relations, comes only by degrees. … But in time … a prolonged habit of arranging phenomena in certain groups, and explaining them by means of certain principles, makes any other arrangement or explanation of these facts be felt as unnatural … [The philosopher’s] real reason for rejecting theories at variance with the true one, is no other than that they clash with his experience … he adopts the true theory because it is self-evident …”

While the vast majority of those opposing vaccine and mask mandates as intrusions on their “freedom” probably have no familiarity with Mr. Mill – not all of us can be this geeky; somebody has to get stuff done – FL Gov. Ron DeSantis (possessing a Yale undergraduate degree and a Harvard law degree) and TX Gov. Greg Abbott (possessing a University of Texas undergraduate degree and a Vanderbilt law degree) should be and presumably are well aware of Mr. Mill’s philosophy and of the careful distinctions he articulated over a century and half ago regarding an individual’s right to liberty.  As they exert all of the powers of their offices against imposition of what are demonstrably the most effective measures for preserving the health of their respective states’ citizens, they are shameless, despicable provocateurs.

On a less ponderous note:  in an early April post, I entered portions of a close friend’s email describing the manner in which he had spoofed a young woman getting her first vaccination shot by suggesting that she would receive the inoculation not in her arm, but rather in a lower bodily area in which we have all received other injections.  [He also indicated that she later indicated by gesture that she did not appreciate his sense of humor when she discovered that he had been pulling her leg (so to speak  ;)].  Now, it turns out that our friend was perhaps not that far afield.  There is a link below to a Washington Post article by our favorite correspondent, “Most everyone gets the coronavirus vaccine in the arm.  Butt this Brazilian city is shooting lower,” in which he reports that in the Brazilian city of Joinville, medical personnel providing injections have elected to wage a rearguard action.  As justification for its bottom-up approach, a city spokesman has cited the Brazilian health ministry’s guidance that for vaccinations such as the COVID inoculation, the body’s ventrogluteal region is one of the “best options” for “alternative administration” of the shot.  In light of this guidance, I suspect all reasonable observers will agree with the Joinville medical community that given the world’s vital need for widespread COVID protection,  any twinges we have about vaccines should be put … behind us.

May you have an enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/27/most-everyone-gets-coronavirus-vaccine-arm-butt-this-brazilian-city-is-shooting-lower/

Deck Reflections on Our Forever War

There has recently been less time to devote to these pages as we do chores left to late summer, among them putting a new coat of stain on our deck.  Such chores do provide mind space for reflection.

While the observations of a retired Midwest blogger add little to the avalanche of commentary attending the Taliban’s swift conquest of Afghanistan as America has withdrawn its forces, the final outcome seems all the more tragic because it was so glaringly predictable.  In a May post on President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, I stated:

“I would submit that Mr. Biden’s most significant foreign policy failing thus far is his decision to withdraw U.S. Troops from Afghanistan.  It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Taliban, who oppose the Afghan government we have kept upright, will overrun the country almost as soon as we depart; we leave ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks; we open the door to suppression of Afghan women; and we will appear to have abandoned another set of Middle East allies (remember the Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria), further reducing our credibility in the region [Emphasis in Original].”  

I didn’t add – perhaps alone, only recently having become aware – that Afghanistan is said to have significant deposits of rare earth minerals required in common high technology instruments, some strategic defense systems, and applications designed to address Climate Change.  By our departure we have apparently ceded a seeming counterweight in this arena to China, which the Centre for Strategic and International Studies reports to have approximately two thirds of certain rare earth elements.  If still not enough:  In The Room Where It Happened (“The Room”), former Trump Administration National Security Advisor John Bolton noted that he cautioned President Donald Trump against withdrawing from Afghanistan in part because he feared that a Taliban takeover might hasten the fall of neighboring Pakistan, a nuclear power, to terrorists.   

There has been some attempt in the liberal media to place some of the responsibility for our departure on Mr. Trump, since his Administration agreed to the arrangement with the Taliban under which America is withdrawing its forces.  (These have concurrence from an odd bedfellow, Mr. Bolton, who commented in The Room: “[Even] after Trump leaves office ….Trump will be responsible for the consequences, politically and militarily.”)  I don’t buy it.  In a post several years ago, I sharply criticized Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [the actual title of the agreement limiting Iranian nuclear activity (the “JCPOA”)] that the Obama Administration negotiated with the Iranian government – despite the fact that even Democrats now agree that the pact had significant deficiencies — on the fundamental grounds that “we gave our word.”  That consideration does not apply to our agreement with the Taliban.  The international inspectors monitoring Iran’s JCPOA compliance considered Iran to be in compliance at the time we withdrew.  Here, the Taliban have been violating the promises they made to the Trump team from the day they were made.  Mr. Biden had ample grounds upon which to have rejected the agreement had he chosen to do so.

There has also been some suggestion that it’s just that we didn’t expect the Taliban to take Afghanistan … this quickly.  This is sophism.  If we believed that the Taliban was ultimately going to overrun the country, whether it achieved the takeover in a two weeks or six months has no geopolitical strategic significance.  (Such miscalculation was obviously of the first importance insofar as our ability to safely evacuate the Afghans who cooperated with us over the years.  Here our misreading will likely cost of the lives of thousands who relied on us.)

To his credit, as the situation in Afghanistan worsened, President Biden recited the first maxim of presidential leadership:  “The Buck stops with me.”  True.  He also asserted that the Taliban’s swift takeover has proven that this was going to be the result whenever we left.  Most probably true.  He has been widely reported to have chafed against our Afghan involvement over the years because he believed that we should have departed Afghanistan as soon as our initial purpose for entering the country – rooting out the interests that supported Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on us – was achieved.  Arguably his view once had significant merit.  However, it overlooks another precept of presidential leadership:  A President must play the hand s/he inherits.  I disagree with Mr. Biden’s claim that our departure will end a “Forever War.” Afghanistan was no more than a front in our Forever War.

I would submit that our nation has been in a Forever War since at least September, 1940, more than a year before it formally entered World War II, when it began to provide military aid to England and its allies.  President Franklin Roosevelt approved the aid because he realized, notwithstanding most Americans’ complacency born of our ocean buffers, that if Nazi Germany prevailed in Europe, it ultimately would come after us; he did it to prevent our becoming, in his words, “a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.”  By 1945 we had become the world’s preeminent super power.  Since that time, by the very nature of our position, we have been in a Forever War – sometimes hot, sometimes Cold, sometimes via proxy, on military, economic, cyber, advocacy, diplomatic and other battlefronts, and with shifting adversaries, but never truly unchallenged, at peace.  Today we remain, despite our failings and missteps, the world’s preeminent power.  China, Russia, Iran, and other hostile foreign powers are acutely aware of this, which is why they seek to undermine and supplant us either globally or regionally.  I am too much a Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy disciple not to believe that any event that makes us weaker anywhere makes us weaker everywhere.

It has been said that we are right to depart Afghanistan because we could never “win.”  We Americans have a subliminal understanding, given the manner in which we threw off a colonial power over 200 years ago, that determined natives will ultimately prevail over a weary outsider.  Granting that nation building may have been the misguided vision of the George W. Bush Administration, it’s been clear for over a decade that such was not achievable in Afghanistan.  I would nonetheless offer – to use a chess analogy (although all who know me are well aware of how painfully bad I am) – that sometimes achieving a draw is a win.  Our small military footprint constituted a bulwark against terrorist groups likely, if unrestrained, to attack us, and against larger powers whose expansion in the region will only make America strategically less safe:  Iran, Russia, and to an increasing extent, China.  While we could never “win” in Afghanistan, another chess analogy:  it is unwise to voluntarily relinquish a square that thwarts an opponent’s advance. 

While our Afghan withdrawal isn’t, in my view, anywhere near as colossal a blunder as the G. W. Bush Administration invasion of Iraq, I consider it more detrimental to American interests than either President Barack Obama’s failure to follow through on his warning to move against the Syrian regime if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, or Mr. Trump’s 2019 abandonment of our Kurdish allies, because Mr. Biden’s decision may materially increase the prospect of a terrorist attack(s) on our shores.  I also suspect that it is more unnerving to the world community because most understood that Mr. Obama was a foreign policy neophyte and all recognized that Mr. Trump was an untutored loose cannon.  Mr. Biden was supposed to know better, be a return to American competence and stability, to understand the use of power and the obligation to help those who have in good faith helped and relied on us.  An observation that occurred to me that I have seen reported elsewhere:  our precipitous Afghan withdrawal can do nothing but make Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Middle Eastern Gulf States, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia (the latter three Baltic members of NATO on Russia’s doorstep) restive if not outright anxious.  In their places, I would be.  Our hasty departure has weakened our credibility in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, even within the Americas.  I remain confident that we can maintain our preeminent position indefinitely if we act wisely – which has not been the case either domestically or internationally in recent years.  Our global advantage is easily squandered if we continue to blunder.  In 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill could look to us for help.  Today, there is no one behind us to whom we can look for help.    

A couple of very close friends asserted to me recently that as messy as the withdrawal and evacuation have been, Mr. Biden’s decision merely ended a pointless incursion; that with us out of Afghanistan, the region’s terrorist elements will have little remaining interest in us.  I hope they are right.  I fear they are not.  The American people apparently currently largely support our withdrawal, even if they are taken aback by its messy Vietnam-like denouement; I would predict that they will continue to support the withdrawal unless there is a major terrorist attack on our homeland which can be linked to Afghanistan.  If there is, American sentiment will turn on a dime.  Mr. Biden will not be re-elected. 

This has been a dense note – in perhaps more ways than one – but it was actually easier to consider the prospect of America’s waning influence than to dwell on yesterday’s gut-wrenching deaths of our soldiers and Afghans seeking evacuation – at the hands of an ISIS faction, seemingly indicating that we face a continuing threat from that quarter — or on the anguish of the Afghans that will be left in our wake.  I believe that all of us reach out to the same God, if through different paths.  I pray for them.

A Summer Town Hall

We have spent a week in central Wisconsin virtually every August for more than 30 years.  At this time of year, I would submit that the weather in this part of this state is unsurpassed.  Although our political views and those of many of the Wisconsinites that live north of us have diverged ever more widely over the decades, such differences are easily avoided when all can share lakes, sun, and refreshers in congenial – and numerous 😉 – watering holes.

That said, we recently happened upon a town hall meeting conducted on a very pleasant day by a Republican Wisconsin Congressman in the park pavilion of a small community.  The gathering provided insight into both Republican political messaging and the startlingly different concerns of citizens sharing the same state and nation.

The format was customary:  the Congressman spoke first, followed by a question-and-answer period.  Although he is a member of a House committee responsible for immigration issues, I was nonetheless surprised to see how much time and emphasis was placed on border issues.  The Representative made notable reference to the drugs coming across the border, leaving the incorrect impression while not specifically stating that a significant number of those crossing the border are drug runners.  Fear of illegals played well with the crowd, and is clearly a theme that Republicans intend to use with their base nationwide.  What surprised me a bit was how deeply the message seemed to resonate in central Wisconsin.  This is an area of a northern state hardly overrun with illegal aliens.  What’s more, TLOML, whose family had a cottage in the area in the 1950s and 1960s, well recalls Mexican migrants who picked pickles here in those years in sufficient numbers to support Spanish food markets and Spanish movie nights.  Nevertheless, the attendees at the town hall – who, judging by their appearance, are old enough to remember those days of migrant labor – nevertheless seemed suitably worried about the prospect of brown peril at our southern border.  The Congressman was asked whether any of the illegals being processed by the Biden Administration came north, and he said they did, but — clearly experiencing a pang of candor — couldn’t bring himself to claim that he was aware of any illegals processed by the Biden Administration who had come to Wisconsin

The Congressman also mentioned in passing that there was a rumor that the Biden Administration supported teaching “Critical Race Theory” (a teaching based on the premise that race is a social construct) in public schools (although the Administration has specifically separated itself from the concept), stated that he opposed it, and declared that America was “not a racist society,” citing a Hmong family he knew that had made a good life in Wisconsin.  The total number of African Americans we have seen in our decades of coming to the area can be counted on the fingers of both hands.  Issues of African American depravation in Wisconsin’s two major metro areas are not part of the central Wisconsin experience.  The Representative’s declarations nonetheless earned appreciative nods from the crowd.  He observed that Democrats want to defund the police – which, admittedly, some do – while failing to mention that President Joe Biden unequivocally opposes defunding the police. 

At the same time, the Congressman avoided an overtly partisan tone when discussing the President – unlike the contentious approach of better-know Republicans playing for the camera.  Faced with a direct question regarding the legality of the 2020 presidential election, and while expressing some vague reservations about voting in Milwaukee County, he did not claim that either the Wisconsin or federal election was stolen from former President Donald Trump (clearly the sentiment of the questioner).  While expressing concerns about how the Administration’s and Congressional Democrats’ spending proposals could add to inflation – misgivings I share – he was careful to place a fair part of his inflation concern at the foot of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The question-and-answer period was both illuminating and at times, disconcerting.  There was marked unease about the Biden Administration proposal to eliminate the “stepped up basis” in willed property that legatees currently receive under federal tax law – obviously pertinent to a community in which the predominant value of many estates is appreciated farm land (and a valid point that will make me reflect).  The Representative understandably pledged to oppose the measure.  There was a appreciable attendee support for the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill, particularly as regards expanded broadband access.  The Congressman indicated that he generally supported the bill (since then, Mr. Trump has expressed his opposition to the bill; it would be instructive to learn whether the Congressman has changed his position).  There was criticism of the Administration’s abandonment of the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for abortions).  The Representative pledged to oppose abortion rights.  In response to a question we didn’t catch, he vowed to vote against any measure limiting the Second Amendment – hardly a surprising response in the middle of a hunting state in which a gun is considered a tool.  

At the same time, a notable number of questions dealt with local issues clearly outside the Congressman’s job description, such as concerns some citizens had with solar farm development next to their properties.  (Admitting the need to address Climate Change, one could sympathize with the questioners, but their grievance seemed best directed to town, county, and state officials, not the federal government.)  Most unsettling:  the citizen that asked what the CIA was doing about the UFO threat.  While at this point my visceral association with Republicans is at a pretty low ebb, I have to admit that at that moment, I identified with the Congressman:  How is he going to handle this one without either justifying the question or insulting this guy?  I should have realized that anybody that reaches Congress is a professional at dealing with absurdities by inoffensive means:  the Representative indicated that he didn’t have much familiarity with the issue, and invited the voter to provide his UFO information to the Representative’s staff for his later review.

The Representative did not discuss COVID vaccines; for a Republican facing what was undoubtedly a vaccine-skeptical crowd, undoubtedly the wisest political course.  There was nary a question about the Capitol riot or foreign policy; unfortunately, when surrounded by Wisconsin cornfields, it is easy to overlook that threats to our system of government presented by seditionists and malign foreign powers are, like objects in a vehicle’s side mirror, closer than they appear.

There is a book report feeling to this note, but the town hall was a new lesson in American democracy for this citizen. In a phrase most closely associated with the late former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., “All politics is local.”  I suspect a town hall conducted by a Democratic Representative would offer similar doses of manipulation and pandering.  While there was a sense of dignity to it, of Norman Rockwell, at the same time the session made one wonder whether the man in the well-known Rockwell town hall drawing was rising to ask whether the road in front of his farm really needed to be expanded from one to two lanes; and how a nation can proceed when so many of its citizens are too determined to largely denounce its past, while as many others are too determined to tenaciously cling to it.