Whew!

As I suspect every conscious American is now aware, most or all of the credible mainstream news outlets in this nation, including the Wall Street Journal (which I specifically note, given its conservative editorial bent) have declared that former Vice President Joe Biden [now President-Elect Biden ;)] has won sufficient states to claim an Electoral College victory, and thus, the presidency of the United States.

Are there Democrats that are too progressive for me?  A bunch.  Are there Republicans who are too reactionary for me?  A bunch.  Will there be pitched policy battles over the next two, and then the succeeding two, years?  You bet.  Are there millions of Americans who feel disrespected by the elites — on both sides of political aisle — who deserve to have their justifiable concerns addressed?  Absolutely.  But as I just noted to a friend … I feel that I can breathe for the first time in four years.  It will come as no surprise to anyone that has read these pages, given my numerous allusions to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that I consider President Trump to have Fascist inclinations, and that I genuinely feared that another four years of a Trump presidency seriously risked the destruction of the American Dream.  I’ve been watching presidential election nights since 1960; there have been a number in which I was joyful, others in which I was despondent.  Never in my life have I felt this level of exhilaration, combined with an equal sense of … relief.

Do we have immediate risks over the next ten weeks, both at home and abroad?  Without doubt; Mr. Trump’s reaction to his loss – and what that will mean to our domestic tranquility and what actions it might precipitate around the world – remains to be seen.  But I hope that the Lord will not consider me blasphemous if I take the liberty of paraphrasing the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable,  Luke 15:32:  Today, it is right that we make merry and rejoice, for the American Dream seemed likely to perish, and has come to life; it seemed lost, but … is found.

On Mr. Trump and Mr. Hamilton

By this time, all who care are aware that last night, President Trump indulged in a self-pitying rant about the progress of the presidential election, including remarks such as:  “If you count the legal votes, I easily win”; “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us”; “We were winning in all the key locations by a lot, actually, and then our numbers started miraculously getting whittled away in secret and they wouldn’t allow legally permissible observers,” “They [presumably, Democrats] want to find out how many votes they need, and then they seem to be able to find them.  They wait and wait, and then they find them, and you see that on Election Night”; “Our goal is to defend the integrity of the election.  We’ll not allow the corruption to steal such an important election,” and “[W]e can’t allow silence, anybody to silence our voters and manufacture results,” “This is a case where they’re trying to steal the election.  They’re trying to rig an election and we can’t let that happen.  Detroit and Philadelphia, known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country easily, cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race, a very important presidential race.”

Despite his years of malign behavior, the President’s wanton and apparently baseless effort to undercut confidence in the process that has sustained this nation for over two centuries was still shocking to me. (I know; I’m slow.)  No matter that anyone with a modicum of discernment should readily see through Mr. Trump’s transparent fabrications; his fervent supporters believe him.  Equally disconcerting was his tone:  this is a man in fantasy land, beset by delusions wrought by a maimed psyche.  I would suggest that any rational observer — even one that identifies with Mr. Trump’s substantive policies, grievances, and manner — has to question his relationship with reality.  Put aside the moral judgements; he lacks to mental stability to conduct the office he holds.

Mr. Trump’s harangue drove me back to Federalist No. 68, in which Alexander Hamilton, speaking as Publius, defended the Electoral College process for selecting the President set forth in the Constitution:

“It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.  This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. … Nothing was more to be desired than that every practical obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption.”

As far as I know, there is not one case of election fraud to substantiate any of the claims the President made last night.  Election officials across the country of both political persuasions have attested to their efforts to conduct free and fair elections according to the rules of their respective states.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called upon the President and his cohort to produce evidence of the election fraud they allege.  So far, they haven’t.  Until they do, they are the source of the “tumult and disorder” and the “cabal, intrigue, and corruption” in the selection of the President that concerned Mr. Hamilton over 200 years ago. 

It is ironic that specifically because the electoral process has been so measured, if every vote is indeed counted, and Mr. Biden’s vote tally fails to exceed Mr. Trump’s in a sufficient number of states for Mr. Biden to secure victory in the Electoral College, Mr. Trump’s re-election will cause me to despair over the disposition of our citizens and to dread the future for our nation and the world – but I will not feel that his election was a fraudulent one.

All that said … hopefully, today is the day we begin to put this dark chapter in our history behind us.

Initial Impressions

At the time this is typed, the Associated Press has called Maine, the only state besides Nebraska to apportion its Electoral College votes by Congressional District, by the same split that prevailed in 2016.  NBC has called Wisconsin for former Vice President Joe Biden, although the Trump Campaign has indicated that it will demand a recount.  Mr. Biden is ahead in Arizona.  Vote in the large metro areas of Michigan and Pennsylvania is still being counted, with Democrats apparently optimistic about their chances in Michigan.  Pennsylvania, despite a currently sizeable lead for President Trump, has too much outstanding vote to readily lend itself to forecast, but Democrats clearly believe that they have a solid opportunity to win the state.  Mr. Biden leads in Nevada, the only state won by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 still in question. 

If Mr. Biden achieves the Electoral College victory arguably – but far, far from securely – within his grasp, the Trump Campaign will almost certainly mount various challenges to the reported results.  Former U.S. MO Sen. Claire McCaskill provided what was at least for me a reassuring reminder earlier this morning:  unless it’s over a few hundred votes, state recounts rarely overturn initial results.  This year, it could be closer, since the Trump Campaign, aided by Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, will be looking to have invalidated as many of these states’ mail-in votes as it can, but the Democrats will seemingly retain the edge. 

The Trump Campaign might bring a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump now leads, to halt the counting of ballots that could provide Mr. Biden with a victory and the state’s 20 Electoral votes.  Any such challenge will obviously go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Perhaps Pollyannish:  I don’t think even Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court appointees will issue a ruling that will have the effect of invalidating Pennsylvania ballots rendered according to the state’s then-existing rules.  (This does not mean that Mr. Biden will ultimately prevail when all the votes are counted.)

The gaping divide among U.S. citizens demonstrated by the election results is clearly worthy of a future note, but not here.  My only comment:  assuming for the moment that Mr. Biden does win the presidency by what will clearly be very small margins in a decisive number of states, it’s hard not to conclude that but for the Coronavirus, Mr. Trump would have secured a second term.  Such suggests that the gap within the U.S. citizenry may yawn even more widely that the Electoral College results might ultimately reflect.

Finally, amidst another unbelievable polling debacle, Arizona, its vote count currently significantly favoring Mr. Biden, is the only swing state for which polling results even remotely resembled its final vote tallies.  If the Grand Canyon State’s 11 Electoral College votes are pivotal in winning Mr. Biden the presidency, I was particularly struck by an observation made last night by an Arizona reporter:  that Arizona Republicans may not “have come home” as Republicans did in a number of other supposed swing states because they have not liked Mr. Trump’s incessant bitter criticisms of the late U.S. AZ Sen. John McCain, one of the state’s revered favorite sons.  There will never be any way of knowing for sure, but if Mr. Trump, a man with glaring dictatorial aspirations – whom Sen. McCain called his “adversary” — loses the White House in part because of the unwarranted disrespect he spewed upon Mr. McCain – and is ironically replaced by Mr. McCain’s close friend, Joe Biden, who gave the eulogy at the Senator’s private burial service – I suspect that this late American hero might feel that by his drawing the enemy’s fire, victory for America was achieved; that his service to his country is now complete; and that he can rest in peace …   

It’s Time

While I’ll obviously be thrilled with a Biden victory achieved through any combination of states’ Electoral College votes, I would venture that this suggestion, despite its obvious nature, makes it no less prescient: if Mr. Biden wins Pennsylvania, he will be our next President.  If he doesn’t, he won’t.

The Noise … out.

Election Eve Reflections

As Election Day approaches, I have found my mood oddly vacillating:  at times, gripped by a fanatical focus on a Biden victory and an attendant Trump defeat; at other moments, strikingly detached.  I truly fear that the consequences I have alluded to in these pages over the last several years will befall our nation and the world if President Trump is re-elected, but when at emotional remove realize that the American dream depends upon our ability to see ourselves as one people.  If we can’t, we aren’t.  If enough of us aren’t able to grasp the significance of what he is – a close friend recently wrote me, “Reinforcing a lying cheating vulgar human being with a win is just too much to consider” – or discern the corrosive nature of what Mr. Trump has unloosed, he really isn’t the issue; the poison is within us.  I have heard projections that the President will lose the popular vote by at least the 3 million margin by which he lost in 2016; there seems the possibility that in a year of record turnout, he’ll lose by significantly more if all votes are counted.  Even if Mr. Trump legitimately wins the election under the Constitution’s Electoral College formula – or worse, is awarded a disputed victory in bitterly contested litigation with Justice Amy Coney Barrett casting the deciding vote in the Supreme Court — how long will we hold together as a people when a shrinking minority seeks to control a growing majority via constitutional stranglehold?

“A lady asked Dr. Franklin, ‘Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’ ‘A republic,’ replied the Doctor, ‘if you can keep it.’”

  • Notes of Maryland Constitutional Convention Delegate James McHenry

 “[T]hat agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.  ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’  … I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

  • Abraham Lincoln

“This is a very trying issue for our time:  the individual’s right to be free and the individual’s respect for others.  One hopes that we can reason together …”

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life … in my mind, it was a tall proud city … God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace …”

  • Ronald Reagan

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

  • Mark, 3:24-25

I see our hope in a Biden victory.  Although far from a panacea — we will need to address the poison that has metastasized beyond our hateful fringes — I am hopeful that Mr. Biden – by his very nature, inoffensive – will lance the mysterious spell gripping what I truly believe is the significant majority of Trump supporters, and we can move from the existential to a good faith debate about the best approach to address “mere” issues such as the Coronavirus, justice for all of our citizens, the global economy, the environment, our ballooning deficit, and America’s role in the world. 

May God still have a modicum of mercy for the United States of America.

Requiescat in Pace

[A brief – but entirely warranted – respite from the political maelstrom upon us.]

“In the glass, the grey-blue eyes looked back at him with the extra light they held when his mind was focused on a problem that interested him.  The lean, hard face had a hungry, competitive edge to it.  There was something swift and intent in the way he ran his fingers along his jaw and in the impatient stroke of the hairbrush to put back the comma of black hair that fell down an inch above his right eyebrow. It crossed his mind that, with the fading of his sunburn, the scar down the right cheek that had shown so white was beginning to be less prominent …”

“And what could the casual observer think of him, ‘Commander James Bond, C.M.G., R.N.V.S.R.,’ also ‘something at the Ministry of Defence, the rather saturnine young man in his middle thirties sitting opposite the Admiral?  Something a bit cold and dangerous in that face.  Looks pretty fit.  May have been attached to Templar in Malaya.  Or Nairobi.  Mau Mau work.  Tough-looking customer.  Doesn’t look like the kind of chap one usually sees in Blades.”

“Bond knew that there was something alien and un-English about himself …”

Moonraker, 1955:  Ian Fleming

Put aside that in today’s world, James Bond’s womanizing was profane and his drinking habits gargantuan (in the books – unlike the films — 007, despite regular vodka martinis, drank a wide range of different beverages, including Dom Perignon champagne, scotch highballs, sake, and Red Stripe beer); to many young men coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s — which included me – the British Secret Service Agent with the “Licence to Kill” brought to life in 13 books by Ian Fleming between 1953 and 1965 (the last published posthumously) was the epitome of duty, elegance, worldliness and working class grit.  He provided our first inside look at countries such as France, Turkey, Switzerland, Japan and the Bahamas. 

I suspect that those of us who view James Bond primarily through Mr. Fleming’s works – rather than through what I consider for the most part to be special effects films — are a shrinking number.  For those that developed a mental picture of 007 through the novels, Sir Sean Connery, who just passed away, was James Bond come to life – in the same way that Al Pacino was Michael Corleone of the Godfather novel and, in an earlier era, Clark Gable was Rhett Butler rising from the pages of Gone with the Wind.  As Bond, Mr. Connery perfectly projected the written character’s blend of suavity, courage, toughness, and resilience.  The only places where Sir Sean’s portrayal deviated from the written character was with the double-entendre dialog, which was a movieland construct; the written Bond was a working agent who considered himself expendable and, world-wise though he was, didn’t engage in witty repartee.  And … Mr. Connery had brown eyes :).  Of Sir Sean’s successors as Bond, Daniel Craig has come the closest to Mr. Connery’s standard, because Mr. Craig captures the written Bond’s essence – the working class grit – but unlike Mr. Connery, Mr. Craig doesn’t look like Bond and his tuxedo always figuratively seems a bit ill-fit.  Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, both distinguished actors and otherwise favorites of mine, made fine Bond fops but failed to credibly project the seriousness of the character.  Only Mr. Connery had it all.

As the testaments to Sir Sean, recounting his many roles, have rolled in over the last couple of days, for me two beside Bond stand out: learned scholar Dr. Henry Jones, the father of Harrison Ford’s Dr. Henry (“Indiana”) Jones, Jr., in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; and British Agent John Mason in The Rock, a role in which Mr. Connery in many ways combined his James Bond and Henry Jones personas.

Sir Sean was one of those actors for me that when you hear of his/her passing, you feel genuine regret.

Requiescat in Pace.

On Polls and Perceptions

As anyone who reads these pages is aware, I have been – along with President Trump and apparently the rest of America’s political junkies – taken with polls.  At the time this is typed, FiveThirtyEight.com (538) shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a lead in every swing state I’ve obsessed upon during the last year, with a lead above 5 points in all three of the Upper Midwest states in which Mr. Trump eked out his 2016 victory.  I will be fascinated to see how closely 538’s findings on the morning of Election Day square with the battleground states’ final results.  I expect that Mr. Biden’s final 538 swing state margins over Mr. Trump will differ from the candidates’ final swing state vote totals, for two reasons: 

First, the Democrats’ substantive and political approach to the Coronavirus has necessarily required them to rely heavily on what in some states have heretofore been “non-traditional” voting methods – mail in, early drop-off, etc. – which seems likely to result in a proportionately greater number of Democratic than Republican votes being rejected for legitimate (and in some cases, illegitimate) reasons.

The second is more fundamental:  the reluctance by some poll respondents to admit that they support the President.  In a past note, I discounted that factor; now, I’ve tentatively concluded that there is indeed an “undervote” that will lift Mr. Trump (to what extent remains to be seen).  I’ve changed my mind because by all objective measures, the President should be trailing by much more than he is.  When pundits bore down into polling results, they note that while Mr. Trump is usually found to lead Mr. Biden narrowly in “the Economy,” he loses to Mr. Biden by notable margins in areas such as, “He cares about people like me,” “Handling the Coronavirus,” “Healthcare,” “Protecting Social Security and Medicare,” “Maintaining America’s Place in the World,” “Addressing Climate Change,” “Environmental Policy,” even – surprisingly – “Maintaining Law and Order.”

I fear that the dichotomy lies in what Mr. Trump has proven to us:  Emotion trumps [if you will ;)] reason.  Rationalists (which, at least in this context, apparently include me) fail to appreciate this. I would venture that if approached in a way that eliminates partisan overlay, many of the President’s supporters would prefer Mr. Biden’s substantive policies to Mr. Trump’s.  I suggest that the polls don’t accurately reflect the deep affinity that a large share of Americans have for Mr. Trump because pollsters don’t ask the right questions (and to which they wouldn’t get a full share of accurate answers even if the respondents are willing to admit it to themselves):

Yes or No:  Are you angry that your life hasn’t turned out as well as you expected?

Yes or No:  Do you believe that America should be white, Christian, and straight?

Yes or No:  Do you just want things to be … the way they always were?

For some, all three questions conjure images of a golden homogeneous carefree past, where everything made sense … that actually never was.  Put aside that we shouldn’t go back; we can’t. Former President Bill Clinton, whom I consider the most gifted politician of my lifetime, famously said, “Elections are about the future.”  I would submit that the outcome of this one will indicate whether we are ready to meet the opportunities and challenges of our future — one of the qualities that actually made America great — or are determined to drown in misshapen memories of our past.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

As all who care are aware, Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris respectively spent yesterday in Georgia and Texas.  I feel personally responsible; I may have jinxed their campaign by observing in a note before the last presidential debate, “No matter the election outcome, I consider former Vice President Joe Biden to have run a smart and disciplined campaign from beginning to end …” It has since been one blunder after the next: the Biden Campaign’s insistence on muted microphones for parts of the last debate, which seemingly psychologically caused President Trump to look as presidential as Mr. Trump can look; the Biden Campaign’s idiotic decision to try to expand its Electoral map – in places like Georgia and Texas; and, given that Mr. Biden’s surest path to 270 Electoral College votes is through Pennsylvania, a fracking state, the granddaddy gaffe of them all — Mr. Biden’s debate declaration that he would transition away from the oil industry.  The latter has in the days since the debate caused images of Gerald Ford’s debate denial of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, Bill Buckner, and Jackie Smith to dance through my head.  [For anyone for whom the references to Messrs. Buckner and Smith are too obscure, simply do internet searches of each of those names together with “YouTube,” and watch  ;)].

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning, Host Joe Scarborough asserted that given the apparently-generally-accepted belief that Mr. Biden’s lead over Mr. Trump is insurmountable in Michigan and Wisconsin and (unacknowledged) indications that Mr. Trump will eke out a close victory in Florida, Mr. Biden should be spending all of his time in Pennsylvania:  that the combined Electoral College votes of the three upper Midwest swing states, together with the states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, wins Mr. Biden the presidency.  Former U.S. MO Sen. Claire McCaskill disagreed, lauding the Democratic ticket’s attempt to expand the map.

I obviously lean more closely to Mr. Scarborough’s reasoning, but not entirely.  Although at the time this is typed, Mr. Biden maintains a 5.2% lead over Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania according to FiveThirtyEight.com (538), 538 also indicates that in Ohio — a reasonable proxy for western Pennsylvania — Mr. Trump has gained 3.2% on Mr. Biden over the last four weeks.  Where I agree with Mr. Scarborough:  Mr. Biden should be spending much of his time in western Pennsylvania and/or determining where he can squeeze out additional votes in Philadelphia – although it is predicted that it will take days to finally tabulate the state’s votes, and Mr. Trump is already telegraphing that he plans to claim that the Philadelphia results are fraudulent.

Pennsylvania will provide its victor 20 Electoral votes.  Where I disagree with Mr. Scarborough:  I would seek to expand the map not in Georgia (where, despite 538’s current showing that Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump by more than 1 %, I still consider Democratic Fool’s Gold) or in Texas (where 538 shows Mr. Biden trailing Mr. Trump by over a point, an outcome seeming sealed by Mr. Biden’s politically idiotic debate declaration about the oil industry), but in Arizona, Iowa, and … Omaha.  538 has shown Mr. Biden to have a steady if not impressive lead over Mr. Trump in Arizona for months; it is a bit under 3 points as this is typed.  Mr. Biden has gained 2.6% on Mr. Trump to take a narrow but seemingly growing lead in Iowa (won twice by former President Barack Obama) over the last month; it seems that Iowans are trending in the direction of Michiganders, Minnesotans, and Wisconsinites.  Finally – something I concede I had forgotten – Nebraska is one of the few states that casts its Electoral College votes by Congressional District.  Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, worth one Electoral College vote, is essentially Omaha.  Another proxy:  538 – in admittedly somewhat dated findings – indicates that the Democratic challenger for Congress in the Nebraska Second, Kara Eastman, has moved slightly ahead of Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon in their contest.  (Mr. Trump sees his vulnerability; he was in Omaha last night.)

Arizona’s 11 Electoral College votes, Iowa’s 7, and Omaha’s 1 equals … 19.  It sufficiently makes up for any loss by Mr. Biden of Pennsylvania’s 20, and gives Mr. Biden the presidency.  Perhaps this strategy makes sense to me because we are the proud parents of Creighton University (based in Omaha) and University of Iowa graduates; my gut says that both of these areas have too much sense to want another four years of Mr. Trump.

Get out of Georgia and Texas.  Go to Pennsylvania, Arizona and Iowa.  Then go to Omaha, and help Ms. Eastman bring home the … er … Bacon.

WWVD? Part II

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously prefers to have President Trump pull off what will be viewed as a second upset Electoral College victory over former Vice President Joe Biden, and is undoubtedly using every means at his disposal to try to help bring that result about.  A re-election of Mr. Trump seems likely to lead to the emasculation if not dissolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and will enable President Putin to take less provocative gradual steps over the next four years to further what he views as Russia’s strategic interests.  Mr. Putin has probably concluded that Mr. Biden’s succession to the U.S. presidency will make such incremental Russian advances more difficult.  I suspect that Mr. Putin sees what we see:  while Mr. Trump might still pull out an electoral victory, the odds – despite the best efforts of the American alt-right propaganda machine and Russia – currently remain in Mr. Biden’s favor.  Mr. Putin is, as well documented by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy in their book, Mr. Putin, a survivalist and superb contingency planner.  What does President Putin do if Mr. Biden is indeed certified the winner of the U.S. Presidential election?  Perhaps a few options:

American domestic relations:  the use of social media and other outlets to spread incendiary disinformation among Trump supporters that the election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump, in an effort to incite violence by the Trump fringe elements and to persuade traditional Trump supporters that Mr. Biden’s presidency is illegitimate, perhaps thereby hobbling a Biden Administration’s ability to thwart Russian initiatives.  A divided enemy is a weak enemy.

International relations:  During the interregnum between any certification of a Biden victory and Mr. Biden’s inauguration, Mr. Trump’s narcissism, bitterness, incompetence, and erraticism will reduce American foreign policy to its most impotent state in over a century.  Although Mr. Putin has certainly relished dabbling in and – due to American missteps during both the Obama and Trump Administrations – having Russia arguably supplant the United States as the most influential outside power in the Middle East, Russia’s strategic interests lie in the former Soviet Socialist Republics — referred to by Russian officials as the “near abroad” — and Europe. Hill and Gaddy report that Mr. Putin indicated in 2014 that he sought to extend Russian influence “… to all the space in Europe and Eurasia that once fell within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR.”   When (given Mr. Trump’s inadequacies, adding “if” to this sentence is absurd) Mr. Putin sees American response effectively neutered during the interregnum period, these are some of the areas in which he might consider proceeding:

Create a pretext, invade and annex the parts of east Ukraine in which the ethnic Russian population exceeds one third of the overall population.  Ukraine, a former Soviet Socialist Republic, is not a member of NATO, and thus, such an overture would not result in the invocation of NATO signatories’ collective defense obligations under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

Provide troops to actively help Russian puppet Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko put down the continuing Belarusian opposition against his recent fraudulent election victory.  Belarus is a former Soviet Socialist Republic.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is reported to have called the continuing protests against Mr. Lukashenko a geopolitical struggle over spheres of interest (dismissing the notion of an intra-national dispute between Belarusians).  The European Union’s recent award of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (ironically, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov) to Belarusian Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her followers is almost certainly seen by Mr. Putin as an EU effort to undermine Russian influence in Belarus.  Mr. Putin might anticipate that Russian military assistance to Mr. Lukashenko would receive international condemnation, but be very unlikely to trigger a more aggressive Western response in what is a non-NATO intra-national dispute. 

Consider stirring unrest in the Baltic States:  Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all former United Soviet Socialist Republics.  Since all three are now NATO nations, they present very different challenges and opportunities from Ukraine and Belarus.  Given the NATO Treaty’s Article 5, Mr. Putin would probably deem overt military operations too risky even with a distracted and figuratively disarmed United States.  Still, covert efforts through infiltrated agents to sow discord in the Baltic States’ civil affairs might increase Russian influence and disrupt NATO relationships, provided that they can be undertaken with Russia’s plausible deniability.

Make Germany a very advantageous offer with a short acceptance window on a long-term arrangement for Russian oil and natural gas.  This would cement the German-Russian energy relationship as the two nations’ Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will provide Russia with additional distribution avenues and greater capacity to provide energy to Europe, nears completion.  The project is bitterly opposed by the Trump Administration and will be by a Biden Administration.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has consistently rebuffed Mr. Trump’s efforts to kill the project, undoubtedly primarily because (whether or not correctly) she views the arrangement in Germany’s best interest, but perhaps with less heed to American concerns than she might have had five years ago given Mr. Trump’s obvious disdain for NATO, the EU and her personally.  Germany is the EU’s economic bedrock.  Mr. Putin understands that there are some areas in which use of military power isn’t feasible; use of energy leverage to unravel NATO and wean core EU nations away from the United States significantly furthers Russia’s interests.

Too dark?  Paranoid?  Perhaps; it is the Halloween Season, and I did indicate at the outset of this note that Mr. Putin is a scary book  ;).  That said, it is a seminal work; it enables one to see through Mr. Putin’s eyes.  It seemingly behooves us to consider how well over the last 20 years a man who came from nowhere has played what was in reality a very weak hand when he came into office.  President Richard Nixon reportedly once told Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev that he respected what Mr. Brezhnev said, but made policy based upon what Russia did.  I submit that Mr. Putin’s record suggests that we ignore the measures he might take at our peril.  I suspect that they will be sufficient to keep a President-Elect Biden awake at night.

Trick or Treat.